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But Who’s Counting?

When an employee and freedom love each other very much, sometimes they show that love by creating…

…a retirement countdown clock. Look over to the right and feast your eyes on the most beautiful sidebar widget ever created. This represents my hard-fought struggle to save enough to retire in a few years. The clock runs out at the 20-year mark at my job. That seems like plenty to me.

I recently realized I’d reached the halfway point to my particular combination of minimum years of service and minimum retirement age. While 17 years make an impressive dent in the required 34 years of service, I still have 17 years until “legit” retirement. Can I picture myself putting in another 17 years?

No, I can’t.

Will I actually quit, I mean retire, when the clock hits zero? I don’t know. Freedom is a goal, but earning money is nice too. And it’s probably healthy to have a reason to wear something other than my Butter Fleece cargo pants. But my attitude has improved greatly since setting the timer and knowing that it is, in theory, possible to quit/retire in a few years. Watching the time tick down warms my cold, black heart.

Like It’s 1999

You can accumulate a lot of crap when you work at the same job for over 15 years. I’ve brought a lot of personal stuff into the office. I figured if I was going to spend so much time there, I could at least make it more comfortable. But perhaps all the stuff made me become too comfortable, entrenched even. So I had to laugh when I read Margaret’s post about starting her new job.

She is the anti-me regarding personal stuff at work: “I don’t like to bring anything to work that I can’t fit in my handbag and carry out with me on a moment’s notice.” She concluded she’d like to “leave a little more of myself at work.” But I realized I needed to do the opposite…begin to extract myself. This is one of the reasons I cleaned my office recently. I was so ruthless in my commitment to cleaning, I kept waiting for my coworkers to ask me if I was leaving. I even had a snappy comeback ready: “Is it that obvious?”

I may not be leaving imminently, but I’m creating an environment in which leaving would be a hell of a lot easier.

Here is an assortment of the crap I found in one of my desk drawers, some of it lovingly scanned for your amusement (actually I hoped having scans would make me willing to throw this stuff out). While some accumulation of crap is forgivable in my situation, my physical office has changed locations three times. So all this stuff made it through at least one cull. Some of it I bothered to pack and move three times.

This drawer contained:

Menus for closed restaurants, obsolete carbon paper forms, a handwritten list of blogs I read circa 2007, and a Day Runner I haven’t used since 2001. Of the 37 contacts written into the address section, I have spoken to only six in the last year. I have no idea who one of them is, even after Googling.

The drawer also contained miscellaneous decorations, none of which have been displayed since at least 2006. These include:

1.) The dream catcher Dave’s parents brought back for me from Alaska. It’s been in the drawer since my last office move and the disintegrating leather left dust all over the drawer. Yet I still had trouble throwing it out because Dave’s Mom had given it to me and she’s gone now.

2.) At least three dozen postcards from my travels, many from my 1994 study abroad semester. Anytime I saw a painting I’d learned about in Art History, I bought the postcard. Why wouldn’t you want to look at this during your work day?

Or how about a picture of the Danish Queen, circa 1992. I need to hang on to that, right?

Tracy is very jealous of these emeralds.

3.) Precious child artwork. I can’t say exactly when these masterpieces were created, but since my older nephews are now 20 and 17, I’m guessing it was at least five years ago. Ha.

The black hole in the tree symbolizes man’s search for meaning.

I like the bold use of empty space.










4.) Print out of a 2000 article from the Onion that mentions my favorite element. The yellow highlighting of the relevant line (“Rumors of a longtime feud with molybdenum…”) is now too faded to see…perhaps because this piece of paper is 12 frigging years old.

5.) A yellowed clipping about my favorite tennis player’s 2001 Wimbledon win, which made me cry big fat tears of joy (in 2001, not when I cleaned my office).

6.) Several cards from my Mom, back when she still loved me and sent me cards for no reason (in other words, ten years ago).

Boomerang Bear is sad because Tracy’s Mom doesn’t send random cards anymore.

7.) I have no idea where or when I got this, but I love Paddington Bear and should totally keep this in case my boss gives me a coloring assignment.

8.) Original works of art by yours truly. Meet Knookie the Computer Chip, a comic I made up in 1985. Apparently I got swept away by nostalgia for the 20th anniversary of Knookie’s creation (and/or was really bored on work travel). I have no artistic talent whatsoever…enjoy!
















9.) And finally, the best thing I found while cleaning out my office, this page from the 2001 Onion calendar (Moses, Moses, Moses). I’m probably not going to throw this out.

How much personal crap do you have at work? Are you entrenched or could you make a quick get-away if necessary?

Basic Needs of a Husband

I will spare you my rationalizations about why I watch the Duggars’ reality show,  “19 Kids and Counting,” and simply say: I am repulsed yet strangely fascinated. Also, I have always enjoyed learning about foreign cultures.

I didn’t think their beliefs could shock me anymore, but the season premiere proved me wrong. The camera scanned ever so briefly across one of Michelle’s public speaking handouts and the title, “Seven Basic Needs of a Husband,” jumped off the page. 

I paused the DVR so I could study up on my husband’s needs.  And so I could take a picture of the screen. Here you go.

Squirming with discomfort, I read about the ways in which I am destroying my husband’s (apparently ridiculously weak) manliness.

For example: wives, did you know that we destroy our husbands’ manliness when we “resist his decisions in our spirit.” That’s interesting, because I don’t stop with resisting in spirit. I say that shit out loud.

Most entertaining were the handout’s practical tips. For example, instead of “resisting his decisions,” you should “learn to wisely appeal to your husband.” Even fundamentalists understand the need to be realistic about who really makes the decisions. Fear not, wives! We need not accept our husband’s decisions, we just need to learn how to be more subtle in our resistance.

These “needs” were so over-the-top ridiculous it was hard to be as pissed as maybe I should have been. When I noticed the “love is killed by self-sufficiency” line, I dissolved into giggles.

But wait a minute…

If you’ve been reading here awhile, you may be aware of my early retirement fantasy

Why is it just a fantasy? A.) our mortgage, 2.) I imagine replacing the time currently spent working and commuting with things I want to do, not what I’d actually be doing (learning to cook, cleaning the house, doing Dave’s laundry, etc…), and c.) as grumpy and depleted as work makes me, my self-worth is largely tied up in how well I perform there and in my ability to earn a living. It would make me (not to mention Dave) uncomfortable to expect Dave to earn all our income.

But the Duggars (actually the “Institute in Basic Life Principles”) were telling me that God wants me to be financially dependent on Dave. My self-sufficiency is killing our love. That doesn’t sound good.

Could Dave really need me to quit my job? Could this really be so simple and easy? I thought I’d consult an actual husband about the accuracy of these needs.

“Dave, I need to show you something. Can you come in here for a minute?”

I played the scene in slow motion so he could peruse his basic needs.

“So, what do you think? Do you need me to quit my job? Because I’m willing to make that sacrifice to support your manliness,” I looked at him hopefully.

Unfortunately, Dave fixated on a different basic need.

“No, but I agree you shouldn’t resist my physical affection.”

“Crap, I hadn’t even noticed that one. I brought you in here to discuss how my self-sufficiency is killing our love.”

“But God wants you to stop crushing my spirit.”

“I don’t think God understands how often you want to have sex. Look, if we worked on meeting your need to have a financially dependent wife first, I’d have so much more time to, uh, stroke your manliness in other ways as well.”

I think he’s starting to warm up to my early retirement. I think it will be more difficult to convince myself.

I joked that God didn’t understand how often men want to have sex, but apparently he does. The only practical tip the handout provides for wives to help them meet this need is: “learn the power of prayer.” Yep, that sounds about right.


If you wonder how I know the “Institute in Basic Life Principles” published this document, that’s because my perfectionism commitment to my blogging craft made me research the source. I may also have ordered my own copy. Hey, there are six more needs the show didn’t even cover, and I’m nothing if not thorough.

Photo Friday: A Complex Food Colloid

From Ice Cream Sixth Edition by Robert T. Marshall, H. Douglas Goff, and Richard W. Hartel:

“Ice cream is a complex food colloid embodied in a product the consumer associates with pure enjoyment. It is paradoxical that what can seem so simple is indeed so complex.”

And that about sums up Ice Cream 101, y’all. In a word…overwhelming. Leave it to me to select a food to sell that is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations. I was trying to get away from working for the man.

If I wait any longer to write about Ice Cream 101, I won’t, so here are my thoughts: 

  • “Ice cream” has a standard of identity defined by the federal government (so recipe development is not as simple as you might think, unless you are willing to sell something you have to call “frozen dairy product.”).
  • The mix must be pasteurized (even if your dairy ingredients are pasteurized). Before the professor hammered this point home, he said, “now is when I shatter your dreams.” We were told 98% of ice cream shop owners purchase their mix and most of us sighed dejectedly.

Who knew ice cream could be such a pain in the ass?

This was hour one of a two-day course. Quite frankly, I tuned out a little the rest of that morning. I want to MAKE ice cream, not flavor and freeze somebody else’s mix.

  • During the tasting lab, I ended up being quite attracted to the version of vanilla made with artificial sweetener instead of sugar. Oops. My taste buds must have been exhausted by then…
  • A presentation on the business side of opening an ice cream shop likened the process to having a baby. Unfortunately, conception is the only part of pregnancy that sounds like any fun, and I worry the ice cream business might feel the same. The part of his talk that stuck with me most was the following off the cuff remark:  “if I could get rid of all my staff and I could get rid of all my customers I would have the best business in the world. Just go down and make ice cream.” Uh-oh.

On the afternoon of day two, several batch freezer (basically a huge expensive ice cream maker) representatives hawked their wares. They demonstrated their machines and let us taste the ice cream. The moment I saw fresh ice cream extruding from the first machine, I was back on board. I wanted to remove the bucket from under the spout and replace it with my open mouth.

  • I’m a very risk-averse person. I learned there is a lot I didn’t know about making ice cream. And I know even less about starting and running a business.

In the short term, I plan to make a lot of ice cream. We’ll see if it’s as much fun as I thought and whether my friends and family think it’s any good. My lovely husband ordered me a snazzy new ice cream maker for Valentine’s Day. Last weekend, I made my first batch of my signature flavor idea, basically ice cream that is supposed to taste like chocolate chip cookie dough (I threw in actual cookie dough for good measure). I couldn’t decide if I should share the full view or close-up, so you get both.

Photo Friday: From Cow to Cone

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post and shared tips. Ice Cream 101 at Penn State was great, but overwhelming. The “it’s 5am and I’m still awake and my alarm is set for 6:05″ insomnia Friday night into Saturday morning didn’t help. I haven’t had a chance to catch up on sleep so I’m still exhausted. In brief, I learned a lot and the class didn’t fully talk me out of this ice cream business idea. I plan to write about what I learned, but only after I’m no longer hallucinating from exhaustion.

In the meantime, here are two photos from the weekend. It was hard to get decent shots with only our small point and shoot and its max ISO of 400.

We got a behind the scenes tour of Penn State’s Creamery. There were pipes running everywhere, all carefully labelled as to their contents (raw versus pasteurized milk, etc…).

I didn’t get any good shots of ice cream being extruded during the batch freezer demonstrations, but here’s a shot I like of ice cream being mixed and frozen in a cool European machine. It seemed like more of a novelty machine than a workhorse. The only way to get the ice cream out of the tub is with this huge paddle-like thing. The company representative demonstrated how you can make the ice cream in front of your customers and then basically shove the paddle full of ice cream in their face offer up the paddle full of fresh ice cream for them to sample. Kind of reminded me of fudge demonstrations at Niagara Falls.

The Second Greatest Gift of All

From The Muppets:
“Walter:  You give people the greatest gift of all.
Kermit:  Children?
Walter:  No.
Kermit:  Ice Cream?
Walter:  No. Laughter. Laughter is the third greatest gift of all.”

I’m going to have to disagree with Kermit and promote ice cream to number one.

Mom ate a banana split daily while pregnant with me. I’ve been obsessed with ice cream since birth. Coincidence? (Probably!) My family visited our friendly neighborhood ice cream shops a lot when I was growing up. One time I had enjoyed my small vanilla cone with Crunch Coat so much that my Dad let me go in and get another one…good times!

My first job was pumping the cream at DQ (ooh, that sounds filthy!) when it was still called Dairy Queen. I also worked at Carvel and I still use a quart container I took from there as a pen holder on my desk at work, 18 years later.

I love ice cream is what I’m saying.

When Dave was still in Syracuse, I caught a glimpse of a certificate of completion for something called the “Ice Cream Short Course” at Penn State while waiting to order at our favorite ice cream shop. It planted a subliminal seed in my brain. In the 15 years since, I have looked into the course several times. But it’s serious: a seven-day course intended for people in the ice cream industry. I filed the course into my mental bucket list.

As you know if you’ve been visiting here awhile, I’ve been thinking about career fulfillment and I appreciate all the encouragement I received after posting about my job apathy last August. Since then I’ve been trying to listen harder for my elusive inner voice.

Last fall, while walking Chuck, I got this idea to throw an ice cream social. Then I thought, I should make all the ice cream for it myself. I brainstormed flavors, toppings, and accompaniments. Then I saw an ice cream shop in my mind…my ice cream shop.

I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head as if savoring a butter rum Life Saver ever since. When I allow myself to daydream about the fun stuff, waves of excitement pulse through me. I have some store names, a logo idea, and signature flavors to develop.

When I force myself to think about the less creative aspects of running a business or things I know nothing about, like developing a business plan and employing people, and things like having to work all the time, including nights and weekends, my brain shuts down. When I remember how close I might be to early retirement if I simply don’t rock the boat, and how my biggest complaint about my current job is how much of my time it eats up, a stomach-seizing anxiety sours the excitement.

I want more free time and I’m a raging introvert. Life as a small business owner in a service industry might be my craziest idea ever.

But I was getting ahead of myself. So I looked up the Ice Cream Short Course and found a newer, two-day “Ice Cream 101” that sounds more like my speed. Before I could talk myself out of it, I registered for the course, booked a hotel room and a flight. I’m going to Penn State this weekend to learn more about ice cream making and running a shop.

Wish me luck, as spending all of my precious weekend free time traveling and being around four dozen strangers (complete with “group luncheons” and a reception providing an “opportunity for networking,” shudder…) is a little out of my comfort zone. But I’m excited and I think this experience will be telling…will it leave me with any excitement for this idea?

At least I’ll come home having learned how to make better ice cream, no? And that’s at least the second greatest gift of all.

Actually, you can do one better than wishing me luck…do you have any tips for how I can not be completely drained by this weekend? Any networking tips for a serious introvert? Since “ice cream lovers, entrepreneurs, and small-business owners” were all “welcome and encouraged to attend,” it’s probably going to be a mix (ha, a little ice cream humor!) of people already in the field and people, like me, who have a job in a different field and no clue.

It’s Good to Be Matt Damon

Two nights before Christmas, I stayed up late to wrap gifts alone. I kept the TV on for company and groaned when Charlie Rose came on with Matt Damon and Cameron Crowe. I expected shameless plugging of their movie We Bought A Zoo and perhaps some vapid discussion of their “craft.” But about 10 minutes in, the interview took a surprising turn that resonated in a bordering-on-creepy way with the two biggest themes I’ve wrestled with over the last year:  career fulfillment and friendships.

Matt Damon is very articulate. And also one lucky son of a bitch.

Phase 1 (in which Matt Damon and Cameron Crowe Confirm My Biggest Fear about Career)

Matt Damon pointed out how Cameron Crowe’s movies center on a main character doing something in the first act that everyone around him thinks is crazy. They do this because “it’s something they need to do…their inner voice is telling them to do it.” You know, just like we all do to choose our path…Oops. 

Amazingly, just as I was thinking, I have no inner voice, and what the hell does an inner voice say anyway, Charlie Rose said, “an inner voice that told you?…”

Matt Damon: “I gotta do that.”

Cameron Crowe said, “Exactly.” Then they both proceeded to rub it in. Their inner voices. That they both had from their earliest memories (Matt Damon’s Mom knew he’d take this path when he was two). That were encouraged by their parents (both of their mothers worked in education). That they reached the pinnacle of success by listening to and actively pursuing (Cameron Crowe wrote a Rolling Stone cover article at 16.). But I’m not jealous or anything.

Cameron Crowe: “Someone told me…if you don’t listen to that little voice it goes away…”

Me: “Yep.”

Matt Damon: “Boy that’s a terrifying thought.”

Cameron Crowe: …”pay attention because to be out there with no instinct guiding you, that’s truly scary.”

Me: “Welcome to my world. Not sure if I ever had the voice, but if I did it’s gone now. Terrifying? Maybe. But definitely overwhelming and frustrating.”

Charlie Rose: “Do you think that everyone if they listened carefully would find it, would hear it? Is it easily unheard?

Me: “No and YES!”

Cameron Crowe just looked confused (“I loved writing, loved the written word, I just had to follow that path.”). Matt Damon: “it probably depends on who you are…for some people it’s pouring out of them, and for others it might be a softer kind of voice.”

Sitting on my Mom’s living room floor, I alternated between cutting, wrapping, taping and staring at the screen in disbelief. How did they get onto this topic? Had they read my blog? Why did I have to be the second kind of person?

I closed my eyes and tried to hear my inner voice. My inner voice was so faint I could barely make it out. It said…

your life would be a lot easier if you were Matt Damon.

Phase 1 post script: I saw this billboard off the Pennsylvania Turnpike coming home after Christmas. Even Kermit the Frog has an inner voice.

Even Kermit has an inner voice.

Phase 2 (in which Matt Damon Confirms My Biggest Fear about Friendship)

The conversation turned to Matt Damon’s early days in the film industry with his best friend Ben Affleck. Just when I thought this interview couldn’t get any more surreal for me, Charlie Rose asked, “what is it that makes a great friendship?”

Me: “No way they are going to dissect friendship now too.”

Matt Damon: “For one thing, when it starts.”

Me: “Uh-oh.”

He and Ben met in high school and had the same goals. Charlie Rose summarized as follows, “the point is that you started early, the bond came early.”

Me: “Whoops!”

Thanks to Matt Damon for tackling two of my big life questions and pretty much taunting me.

I’d been meaning to write about this so thanks to Studio30 Plus for throwing out a writing prompt that fit: The Big Question.

A Fresh Start

By the end of each school year, I was spent. My notes, so carefully written in the beginning, were barely legible by the last pages of my notebooks. The freedom of summer was not only about time, but also baggage. Before I left school, I had to give back all of my textbooks. I gladly tossed my notebooks too.  Next year I would study something else.

Each fall brought the excitement of change with almost no risk. I would be safe in the cocoon of my school, but I could start fresh. My new teachers would ask me to open my textbook to the first page. I would write on the blank pages of my notebooks using pens in need of a shake to make their unused ink flow. My new shoes would squeak on shined floors. Each year had the potential to be my best year ever.

Sixteen years since my last first day of school, fall is different. I still delight in the explosion of color on the trees and the relief of crisp air. But fall no longer brings a new beginning.

Outside my office window, students re-populate the law school across the street. New books weigh down their messenger bags as they walk to class. This could be their best year ever.

I wonder if they will someday sit in an office like mine. Will they wish their new projects weren’t piled on top of ongoing ones? Will they have trouble marking the passage of time like I do? Will they miss starting over each fall?


This week’s RemembeRED memoir prompt:

Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive
autumns. ~George Eliot

For you, what does autumn evoke?

Show us in 300 words or less.

Getting Too Comfortable

I really appreciated all the comments on My Parachute is the Color of Apathy a few weeks ago. I didn’t formally tally the comments into the “pro-change/take this job and shove it” side versus the “pro-stability/milk the 9-5 for all its benefits while you fulfill yourself in your free time” side, but it seemed pretty evenly split to me.

Since I wrote that post, I’ve been exploring ways of making my current work less of a drain. These are “around the edges” kinds of changes; things like working from home more and actually scheduling a long-overdue vacation.

I hate how long my commute is. For years at work, we’ve been told our office would be moving “soon.” Of course, the date kept slipping. Until it stopped slipping and the early 2012 date became real, became soon.

I estimated the change would shave 10-15 minutes from my one hour commute. That’s 20 to 30 minutes of my day I could have back! Let’s just say I was wholly in favor of this move and looked forward to cleaning my office in the tiny bit of downtime we usually have before the holidays.

A few weeks ago, we received an email with the following subject: “Move Delay.”

I hadn’t even realized how much my fragile little flower of a psyche was depending on this move until I got the official word it’s delayed again. Until 2013…almost two years from now.

Do you remember Marie (Carrie Fisher’s character) in When Harry Met Sally…? How early in the movie, she’s always complaining that she doesn’t think the married man she’s seeing is “ever going to leave” his wife? How Marie’s friends always say, “of course he isn’t,” and Marie always responds, “You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right,” but still doesn’t break it off with him?

I ask because a voice saying “your office is never going to move and it won’t make any real difference anyway” went through my head as I read the “Move Delay” email. And the next thing that popped into my head was (because I talk to myself!), “You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right.” But, like Marie in the movie, I wasn’t ready to act on that knowledge.

I’m not saying staying in my job is as dumb as dating a married man. I’m simply saying I can identify with Marie’s inertia.

Marie didn’t really believe the married man would leave his wife. She was probably just afraid of being alone. Maintaining the relationship she already had in hand was easier than the upheaval of breaking it off, of having to think about what she really wanted, of having to do something potentially scary to get it.

I’ve never been a big risk taker, but I used to be more adventurous than I am now. The choices I’ve made as an adult have been informed by a desire to guard against uncertainty and upheaval. But I’ve also been incredibly lucky not to have experienced any uncertainty or upheaval during years when the economy hasn’t always been so solid. I got a secure job in my field directly out of school with good pay and great benefits. In 15 years, I’ve never been forced to make a change.

So I’ve been lucky. But ironically, I have started to wonder if maybe some uncertainty and upheaval might not have been all bad. Maybe it would have forced me to think harder about what I wanted, might possibly have led to a more fulfilling career. Perhaps the lack of external pressure has made me soft, made my adaptation muscles atrophy.

The best thing about having my post Freshly Pressed by WordPress was hearing your stories. Margaret, at Figuring Out Fulfillment, has a great story. I’m very excited to have a guest post from her this Wednesday so she can share it! Margaret chose some upheaval for herself. In addition, the dot-com bust around the time she started her career didn’t let her get too comfortable.

Be sure to come back on Wednesday to hear Margaret’s inspiring story.

Ten Jobs I Would Be Willing To Do Without Pay

Do you know what today is? It’s my anniversary. Today I celebrate 15 years of employed bliss. As I discussed yesterday, one of the reasons I have stayed where I am so long is a lack of a “big dream” to pursue.

I recently saw a suggestion to think about what you would still be willing to do even if you weren’t being paid for it. I guess the theory is it helps you identify your true calling and maybe shake loose a possible idea for turning it into income. I remember laughing heartily at the suggestion, because the only thing that immediately came to mind was sleep. I would definitely be willing to sleep for free. Anyone want to step forward and make my dream of a new career in somnolence come true*?

In honor of my momentous employment milestone, I decided to brainstorm some dream job titles to try to uncover my passion. It must be in there somewhere.

Ten Jobs I Would Be Willing to Do Without Pay (in alphabetical order):

1. Back Rub Critic

2. Dave’s Wife/Stay at Home Dog Mom (additional husbands and windows would require a paycheck). Also, can someone please explain to me why Gwyneth Paltrow kept popping up when I searched for images of “traditional housewives?”

3. Family Photographer. All I mean by this is taking pictures of whatever I feel like. Ironically this photo shows Dave would make a good photographer.

4. Grouch (Oscar’s bound to retire sometime, right?)

5. Ice Cream Taster. This is making me want krunch kote.

6. Lode Runner


7. Lounge Singer (thank you!)

8. Neighborhood Watch President. I would write copious amounts of front porch sitting into this job description. EDITOR’S NOTE: This used to be accompanied by a photo of a very disgruntled older lady wearing a clear babushka, but the link is sadly broken now. So I’ll replace this one with Segway Meter Maid (photo of us on Segway tour is a placeholder until I can sneak a picture of the dude I see writing tickets on a Segway several times a week).

9. Orgasm Reviewer

10. Red Panda Caretaker. The July/August 2011 issue of the National Zoo’s Zoogoer magazine has an article about hand-rearing baby animals, including red pandas, at the zoo. Mother of God did I ever go into the wrong profession. The photos of the baby red pandas made my eyes melt out of their sockets. I haven’t seen the new babies yet, but here is a picture of a regular old, ridiculously adorable, red panda I took a few months ago.


How about you? Are you still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? What would you be willing to do without being paid?

*I realize somnolence means drowsiness. Why isn’t there a Latin word for the act of sleeping?