Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Alexa: Earmuffs

My niece, nine-years-old and pretty as the day is long, emerged from my old bedroom at Mom and Dad’s farmhouse not long ago. 

“Alexa, what time is it?” she asked. Not a sound followed, except my mom shuffling through cattle registration papers downstairs. Marlee stretched and raised her voice. “Alexa, what time is it?” Again, no response. She tried another question. “Alexa, what’s the weather?”

My mother, extremely confused, stood at the bottom of the steps and asked, “Who are you talking to, Marlee?”

“Your Alexa, Grandma. Where is she?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t even know anyone named Alexa. If you need to know what time it is, there is a clock in the bathroom. It’s about twenty minutes behind. If you need to know the weather, there are four windows in that bedroom. Look outside.” 

Marlee became quite confused, as the generational gap widened. 

For those who might not be familiar with Marlee’s friend, Alexa, she is Amazon’s virtual assistant. She (it) can sit on a table or kitchen counter and pick up simple voice commands, such as turn on the lights, give a weather report, turn down the thermostat, play desired music or add something to the grocery list. She is constantly listening to your household commands. In my opinion, Alexa is much like the super creepy cousin at reunions who doesn’t talk but only observes. 

Recent reports have come out revealing that Amazon is recording conversations with Alexa, on the basis of determining sound quality and interpretation. Anyone who understands modern marketing probably knows that Amazon is likely using these recorded conversations to understand buying trends to better market to certain lifestyles. 

I can be in the same room with my husband and ask him what he’d like for dinner, and he may respond with, “Rain the next three days.” I can ask my toddler if she needs to go to the bathroom and she may respond with, “Mommy. Do you need go to bathroom?” I can tell my 10-month-old baby I love him, and he then bites my shoulder. I don’t need to invest in a nosey robot to misunderstand me in the unbelievable way my family can. 

I think if we did have an Alexa, and she began listening to our family conversations, she’d probably need a vacation. 

Typical day: 

Cody: “Don’t forget. The Brazilians are in the high plains next week, so I fly out Sunday night to Bozeman. East to North Dakota. I’ll fly out of Sioux Falls on Saturday morning. 701 and 3601 may cycle into heat so take the kids out and check them before you guys go to bed if you can. Feed comes Wednesday. Those papers need to be signed by Tuesday, but you can do an electronic signature and just email them.”
Me: “Got it. I need to check my email. I haven’t in days. Do you need dry cleaning done before then? I thought 3601 was bred? Will you be home for supper Saturday? We still need to talk about if I’m flying with the kids or driving to Kansas for the sale. I can do it….If they sleep for twelve hours of daylight. When will you take the cattle?”
Cody: “Not sure yet. Still a way off. About dinner: I’m flying Southwest, so yes, probably.”

Or this:

Caroline: “Mom what’s check heat. Cows hot?”
Me: “No, honey. Cows are in heat when they give piggyback rides. It means they need to be bred.”
Caroline: “Old bread, Mom? Green bread? Like our bread?”
Me: “No, bred means they’re going to have a baby.”
Caroline: “Brother or sister?”
Me: “You mean bull or heifer…….We’re getting into the weeds. You’re only two.”
Caroline: “Weeds itch. Yuck. I don’t like weeds. I am two. Good job, Mom.”

I think sweet, simple Alexa would probably ask to have her batteries removed in order to be put out of her misery. 

We live in such a strange time when people would actually buy something like this to make their life easier. As if taking 37 seconds to turn on the stereo (do those still exist? They do outside Economy, Indiana) and adding toilet paper to the grocery list hanging on the refrigerator was too much work. And perhaps I’m old school. I have, in fact, been wearing mom jeans since I was fifteen. 

Regarding privacy and technology: You all know how I feel about Alexa listening to your dinner table chats - don’t even get me started on Apple watches. The only difference between an Apple watch and a probation bracelet is the watch doesn't alert authorities when you take the trash out. And DNA heritage tests....Nope. Nope. Nope. I'll keep my DNA to myself, thank you. 

I guess if I wanted strangers to know the dirty details of my family, where I am every week or what goes on within the confines of our family home….I’d write a weekly blog.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Clear View of the Western Sky

I've never been in a hostage situation. 

Until that darn (local, talented Cambridge City gal and fellow 4-Her) Lindsey Monroe, Channel 13 meteorologist, decided to start her tornado talk on Memorial Day. 

The day had been near perfect. Cyrus slept past 5:00 AM. Cody did all the chores. We treated the kids to lunch at The Dairy, then went to the Hagerstown Park. Then, we really splurged and went back to The Dairy for ice cream. After checking heat, pulling weeds and clearing supper dishes, we were all ready for bed. But instead, we began watching the radar. 

I was two storybooks in, upstairs with the kids when Cody yelled up the stairwell, "You guys need to get down here, now!"

I knew storms were rolling in. From our bedroom, I can look northwest and see anything coming from Randolph or even Delaware counties. The lightening was unreal. The clouds were eerie. The wind was picking up. 

Here is an important detail of this story:

When we were looking for a place to purchase and call home six years ago, we had many stipulations. But probably the one my husband was most adamant about was having a clear view of the western sky. He is a Kansas native, raised in the beautiful Flinthills, and he prefers to see for miles. A clear view of the western sky allows his type to prepare for anything heading our way. 

In our search for the place to start our story (have you read that story?), we walked dozens of farms. And walked away from a few simply because they didn't offer a clear view of the western sky. 

So when Cody summoned the crew back downstairs (sleep seemed so close) and then the tornado warning went off on both our phones, things got serious. Fast. 

He instructed the three of us to sit in the closet under the stairwell. 
Great idea. 
Except the closet under the stairwell is home to six suitcases, five hooks with old jackets hanging on them, four cowboy hat boxes, three Rubbermaid tubs of farm receipts, two king size pillows and air vent tubing leading upstairs. 

No room at the inn. 

So then he suggested the bathroom. 
Great idea. 
Except our almost-three-year-old, who at this point was crying, hanging on my leg, has been demonstrating a peaceful protest against the bathroom since she caught on to our potty training tactics. She avoids the bathroom like the plague. Unless Mom is in there. If mom is in there, she will beat down the locked door with nothing more than a cup of whole milk and one soggy veggie straw. 

Try again, Al Roker.

By this time, the TV had cut out, Cyrus was screaming his head off and Caroline was sitting on the couch under her farm animal umbrella. I could hear the hail pelting the house. I hadn't seen Cody in twenty minutes, but he was kind enough to crack the west windows so we could hear his weather updates from the yard. There was a lot of new vocabulary, and also many, "This is not good."

After we realized the bathroom is far from a safe zone, he then suggested the basement.
Great idea. 
Except I'm scared of the basement on 72-degree sunshine days. Don't even think about putting me down there with two kids under three during a tornado when our protector is one hundred feet away, in the front yard trying to catch hail with a breeding sleeve. 

I lose sleep over a lot of things, but one of those is not content for future science fair projects, because we have a farmhouse basement. 
I have found a cat down there when we did not own one. 
I have found an army of frogs down there in a five-week drought. 
Every time I go to the basement I find a surprise,
and my favorite books were always the "choose your own adventure" kind 
because I don't handle surprises well. 
Especially if they're breathing. 

Try again, Jim Cantore. 

The red cell of fury sat over our farm for an hour. You never want to lie to your children, but on Memorial Day 2019, I told Caroline so many lies about why I had snacks (priorities), flashlights and cell phone chargers in my pockets. Lindsey Monroe finally shifted the spotlight to Ohio and we retreated back to bed, for a second time that night. 

Cody and I only dated for a year and a half before we wed. During that time, and the nearly six years following, never have I faced a tornado situation with him, until this one. I learned that his dire need for a clear view of the western sky isn't completely crazy. I also learned that he goes into super protective father mode when the wind stops and things get oddly still. I also learned that hail, straight-line winds and unbelievable lightning don't seem to phase him near as much as I, as he spent the entire evening standing in the front yard, taking photos and calling home to Kansas. 

I also learned that I should probably clean out a few closets.