Monday, January 21, 2013

A small thought

In days gone past, the volume of one's writing or correspondence was important. People loved getting personal letters that ran for pages, and poems ran for line after line after line.

Now we pride ourselves on fitting communications into 140 characters, or even less if you know the right abbreviations. When was the last time you looked at an e-mail and was glad it was 5 pages long? When you research something on the Internet, don't you skip over the articles that have 10 pages of material in favor of something that is summarized in one or two screens? When did haiku become the "cool" form of poetry?

Somewhere along the way we lost the ability to appreciate longer communications. No one writes letters anymore - heck, most of us barely skim the Christmas letters we receive each winter, so why would anyone bother to write more? We read the first few sentences of facebook status updates, rarely clicking the link to see the whole message unless those first few lines are either shocking or funny. Heck, even audiobooks now have a feature that lets you listen to them at twice or three times their normal speed. For shame, Audible, for shame.

I don't really have a point or a manifesto or anything based on this. I'm not going to run out and write 7-page letters to all of my facebook friends (hell, I don't know half of their addresses, anyway). But it is something worth thinking about next time you dash off a one-line tweet, or try to condense a message to fit in a text. Is this really the way this message deserves to be shared? Or is your zippy approach to it going to just lead to a string of clarifications and explanations going forward? Is this something you might need to devote a little more time, space, and attention to doing right?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Blast from the past

I'm taking an online writing course this month, and today's discussion made me remember a journal I used to keep back in the dark ages when I traveled a lot and didn't have a kid (or a blog).  I took it with me to write down all those random ideas and overheard remarks that you promise yourself you'll remember, but never do.  I found it a few months ago, and it was pretty cool to see how my mind worked back then.  Below are some of my favorites, collected over about three years (and a billion miles):

" ... but that involved a much higher annoyance factor than she was willing to cope with just then."

" The only part of a museum I enjoy is the sight of it in my rear view mirror as I drive away."

"Sorry, buddy, I couldn't hear you over the accordion music."

"comprehensively sick"

"I hate it when hotels close the bathroom door when they're done cleaning - I always expect to open the door and find a dead body in the bathtub."

"She was a cleaner of inconsistent standards, one who would lecture about the evils of uncooked chicken juices while standing in a kitchen remarkable for its grease-filmed cabinets and food-splattered floor."

"Other women fall for their bartenders; I fell for my waiter.  I even know what it was that put me over the edge.  After several nights of struggling to provide English translations of the daily specials, one night he approached my table, laid my napkin in my lap, and spouted out the specials list in obviously rehearsed, perfect English.  Neither of us could understand a word the other said, but from then on, it was love."

"I think there must be one line on the job application at the DMV that asks, "Are you a bitch?" and the answer choices are, "Yes," "Hell, yes," and "What do you think, asshole?"

"Talk to your mother fast, because we have to eat dinner soon so she can go draw pictures of naked people."

"I've got a whole fuckload of fruit salad I've got to power through before it goes bad."

"'How was the meeting?' 'The speaker was boring, the food was awful, and afterwards I was surrounded by a pack of people looking for new jobs.'"

"She had skin so fair she could sunburn in a thunderstorm."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shameful admission

I'll be the first one to admit it - I'm not a great housekeeper.  I'm not the worst ever, and despite what my husband thinks, we're never going to end up on Hoarders.  But the daily grind of picking up the same stuff over and over again, cleaning the same filth only to have it reappear a day later, trying to keep up with two other people who aren't motivated to pick up, either?  I'm bad at it.

Now, overlooking stuff?  That I'm good at.  I can ignore cobwebs and grimy baseboards with the best of people.  A slightly scummy toilet bowl doesn't bother me unless we have guests coming over - and even then, it's probably cleaner than the ones used by all their boy-children at home, anyway.  And that pink mildew in the shower is probably not going to melt the skin off my feet, so it can wait for a few days until I have the energy to deal with it.

Jason, on the other hand, isn't so skilled at overlooking these sorts of small issues.  After living in the house for more than five years, he may not know where the pizza pans get stored, but he can spot a cobweb from a mile away.  Doesn't do anything about them other than complain, most of the time, but he sure sees them.  Which means that he gets grumpy because the person who doesn't work or volunteer two days a week (me) isn't all caught up on cleaning things, while the person who works five days a week (him) gets stuck doing the laundry and unloading the dishwasher.  Some day he'll notice that he hasn't paid a bill, stayed home for a repair person, vacuumed, cleaned a cat box, mowed the grass, shoveled the driveway, taken a kid to the doctor or the hospital, or taken his own stuff to the post office more than a handful of times in the past few years and yet it all seems to miraculously get done, but until then, cleaning is occasionally a contentious issue around here.

Our dishes get clean, our clothes are (mostly) clean.  You're not going to get typhus from sitting on our couch.  On some days the house is even relatively de-cluttered.  But it's not clean.

So that's why when we got a generous gift from my uncle for Christmas this year, Jason and I decided to put it toward hiring a cleaning service.  It won't cover a whole year, but even six months of getting the house clean - CLEAN - every two weeks will be worth it for the sake of our sanity and marriage.

The initial cleaning was today.  It took three people and an occasional supervisor more than two hours to do the job, which included detailing the kitchen and bathrooms, plus a "normal" clean everywhere else.  My kitchen is so clean I plan to never cook in it again. My toilet shines like the top of the Chrysler building.  My baseboards are clean.  Like, seriously clean.  And the few cobwebs we had lingering in the corners are gone.

Best money I've spent in a LONG time.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Actual conversation tonight

G: If you want comforting bedtime reading, don't look up Norovirus on Google.

J: What's neurovirus?

G: Norovirus - you know, the stomach flu I've had since Monday night? Turns out I'll be contagious for at least 3 days after my symptoms are gone ... Or as long as two weeks. So don't piss me off or I'll sneak into the guest room and lick your face while you sleep.

J: (shuts bedroom door in my face and bolts it behind him)

Guess it's gonna be up to me to Clorox the living shit out of the house in a few days ... And here I had just changed the sheets on Sunday, too.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Blargh. Stomach flu - so much cheaper and more effective than a juice cleanse!

I'm not dead yet, but I kinda wish I was. I'm going to be annoyingly positive so I don't bring everyone else down:
Things I'm looking forward to today:
- shower - DONE
- fresh clothes -DONE
- brush teeth - DONE
- sleeping for more than 10 minutes straight, and not having to worry about waking up soiled -DONE
- getting rid of the sleep deprivation and dehydration symptoms - this headache can go fuck itself - DONE
- my next sip of water, because omg water is the best thing ever and I want more more more but can only drink a few drops every few minutes -DONE
- moaning in an empty house so I don't disturb anyone else with my torment
- cleaning out the stinky puke bucket
- maybe by lunchtime : applesauce!

ETA: dang, I've got most of my list done and it's not even 10am. Time for some celebratory applesauce!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Now I've gone and done it

Turned off the notifications on my phone and iPad for e-mail messages, that is. I'm trying to pursue a more single-minded, less multi-tasking approach to life, and being interrupted every 10 minutes with a request to rate someone on Angie's List isn't helping my flow. I'm going to try to check (and respond) to e-mail and (shudder) Facebook twice a day ... okay, maybe three times, but that's IT.

One of my goals for this year is to live more mindfully. So much of the time we go through life trying to do so much at one time that large swaths of time just evaporate from our memories. It's like when you listen to an audiobook on a long drive - you may be doing a perfectly competent job of driving, and a fine job of listening, but I can almost guarantee that when you arrive at your destination you don't remember 3/4 of the trip. On 12-hour road trips, this is a blessing. But when it happens while you're trying to fix dinner, help with homework, have a conversation, and compose a blog post in your head ... well, you miss out on more important stuff than just the billboards along the Turnpike.

So at least for now I'm going solo - one task, one focus, one goal at a time. If I'm cleaning, that's what I'm focused on doing. If I'm talking to Liza, I'm actually going to give her my full attention. And I'm hoping that I'll be more able to notice the little moments of peace, and calm, and joy, and silliness that I know are in each day but have been passing by unnoticed.

So far today I have:
- Finally remembered to look at Liza's all-snow-man (good thing, too, as it has since melted)
- Looked up in Target and realized I was alone. There was absolutely no one within sight, or within earshot; no one was on the walkie-talkies, no babies were crying on the other side of the store. It was just me and the grocery shelves. Kind of odd, actually.
- Smiled indulgently at the three birds flitting hopefully around my (empty) feeder this morning. I hope they come back now that I have birdseed in it ...
- Found three checks that had become temporarily misplaced in the avalanche of mail and greeting cards on my desk. People who wanted to clear off their 2012 books - Celebrate! Yea verily they have been deposited, and there was much rejoicing!
- Realized that for the first time in 15 years, I could dump an armload of grocery bags on the floor inside the front door and go back for more without worrying about Zach savaging any of the food inside. And then I sniffled a bit for the same reason.
- Written an entire blog post without once checking my e-mail, Facebook, or my blog reader, much less stopping to pay bills or unload the dishwasher. Go, me!

So we'll see how this goes. Tell me, what do you do to make sure the little moments in life don't skip past your notice each day?

Friday, January 04, 2013

Ugh. Today's a telephone day.

You'd think that with all my communication skills (look, I post all the time on Facebook and my blog, and I have the expensive piece of paper to prove that I'm allowed to be a journalist if I want to!), I'd be more fond of the telephone. And yet every month I save up all of my non-critical phone calls - scheduling appointments, checking on things, etc. - until it gets ridiculous and I finally handle them all at once. And 10 minutes later, I wonder why I put it off for so long, because it wasn't so bad ... a fact I conveniently forget next time I need to see if something is in stock at Home Depot.

Why do I do this to myself? It's not like I'm ALWAYS an uncommunicative hermit. There are some days when I talk nonstop to anyone and everyone. But other days I'm perfectly happy to sit there and grunt agreeably to whatever you say, as long as you don't make me hold up one end of the conversation. It's like I just can't handle - or be bothered to try - maintaining all the social niceties AND get my point across AND assimilate information AND make decisions. Rather than screw it up or offend someone, I prefer to be an audience for everyone else. My brain is wrapped in wool roving, and I just can't get it untangled enough to enjoy a conversation. I'll do it if I have to, but there are a lot of really unpleasant household chores I'd rather do instead.

Besides, it's so easy to get side-tracked, or to find (sometimes valid) excuses for why I can't make that phone call now. For example, I can't call about scheduling an appointment unless I've got something to write the date on and have access to my calendar, which is on my phone (hassle to check while using the phone) and my iPad (which I don't usually carry with me, since it weighs as much as a small cat). I won't bother calling to find out about replacing our snowblower until I know I've got someone home to help me hoist the broken one up into a truck to get it back to the store - because what's the point in knowing I COULD take it back today, but CAN'T because the thing weighs as much as a Yugo and I'm here by myself? And once I get started on other projects, before you know it, it will be after 5pm so I can't call the dentist, or after 9pm so I can't call Home Depot. See? Perfectly valid excuses ... at least the first few times I make them.

But Liza's cavity isn't going to get fixed unless I schedule her filling, and my crowns aren't going to magically appear in my mouth, either. The Snowblower Fairy isn't going to repair my machine for me, and several things need to get done on the Super Secret Birthday Event I'm planning for Jason later this month. The carpets need to cleaned of the final round of bodily fluids from the cat, and we had talked about hiring an electrician to install the lights I bought to finish off the front porch renovation. I've also got a couple of notes - real, handwritten notes - I need to write, which I've also been putting off so I might as well take care of them today, too.

So today I'll grit my teeth, pick up the phone, and make the calls.

Right after I finish my yoga ... and scrub the bathtub ... and do some laundry ...

Thursday, January 03, 2013

From the couch, wrapped in an afghan

I've started reading Simple Abundance (again!), and I was struck by today's entry - it listed the six graces of Gratitude, Simplicity, Order, Harmony, Beauty, and Joy. As often as I've read the book, I get something new out of it each time. I think this is the first time I've actually started the book on January 1st - usually I pick it up mid-year and rush through the early parts to get to the entries for whichever calendar month I'm in - and I'm trying to make a practice of actually sitting down and thinking about the entry each day.

Got up early this morning to get the kid to school. We go back a day ahead of the local school district, so it seems like we are the only people on the planet up and moving this morning. Solstice has come and gone, and the days are gradually starting earlier again. Here in the frozen north, that's a good thing - another month or so and we won't have to stand in the dark while waiting for the bus.

No bus today, though - stayed in bed for a few last-minute snuggles before I sent her on her way. So nice to not start the day in a rush - I didn't even have to nag at her to get her out the door on time! It's like some sort of miracle for the new year.

The sun was just rising above the trees and houses in our neighborhood when I got Liza headed for the car - syrupy light just touching the fronts and tops of the snow drifts in our front yard. Our mornings can be a trial, but the chance to see the sun rise, or a rainbow form in the morning mist, or dew or frost on the lawn - it almost makes it worth it. Almost.

Even now, an hour later, the light is picking and choosing what it wants to illuminate. It's much more particular about its job than the all-encompassing light of July. I think I'll take a lesson from that today - I'll just dwell on the things I want to highlight, instead of trying to control everything all at once. Sometimes a little selective attention makes all the difference ...

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year! Now, let's talk about The Hobbit

1. Ten minutes of quaint Shire stuff just to link it to the previous trilogy? Why couldn't it just stand on its own, and people who saw the trilogy could find their own links, rather than being hit over the head with them multiple times throughout the movie? "Look, here's Frodo! (whonk) Look, the Grey Wizard is being an asshole, maybe he's already turning evil! (whonk)"
2. Never in all three trilogy movies did I ever think "God, those are awful prosthetic Hobbit feet." I stopped counting this time after four or five scenes with awful feet. Seriously, those were some hairy, hairy rubber feet, and Martin Freeman is not a hairy individual. There was a visible line where you went from smooth Martin Freeman legs to hairy gross Bilbo feet. And they didn't seem to flex as much as previous ones, so all the Hobbits had this weird gait, especially when running. Sort of looked like they were wearing snowshoes or something. Hairy, hairy snowshoes.
3. Hobbit household tip #1 - put a fucking lock on your door, and a peephole would be a good idea, too.
4. Hobbit personal growth tip #1 - learn how to say "Get the fuck out" and mean it.
5. Who gets up late for a journey, hurriedly dresses and packs, and chooses a three-piece suit as the perfect questing gear? With an ascot?
6. Oh, look. They're stuck on a ledge in the mountains getting rained or snowed on. What, does Peter Jackson have some sort of Questing Checklist? Stuck in dire situation in miserable weather? Check. Walking across a ridge silhouetted against the sky? Check. Running across a plain while filmed from a helicopter? Check. (sigh)
7. "Hi, my name is Radegast the Brown. I'm mentioned in one sentence in the book, but Peter Jackson needed extra stuff to pad out the movie, so I get to be in The Hobbit for 10 minutes with a not-terribly-realistic CGI hedgehog. I allow birds to poop down my face, and think my rickety wooden sled pulled by fucking rabbits will outrun a bunch of bloodlust-crazed giant wolf things on uneven ground. I am batshit insane. Or maybe that should be birdshit insane."
8. Oh, look. They popped out of a crack in the rock into a ... really obviously fake backdrop of Rivendell. I mean, I've seen canvas stage sets that looked more realistic than this.
9. Someone explain to me why the only women in the movie are either standing around in the Shire, or playing the harp or pouring wine in Rivendell. Oh, or you can stand around being all ethereally beautiful and obscure and not terribly useful, if that's your thing (ahem, Galadriel).
10. Rivendell does have that nice little rotunda/gazebo thing with the stream flowing around it, though. I'll take one of those for my backyard.
11. Is it just me, or did all these ancient Middle Earth people find the most obscure, difficult to reach locations to put their major cities? Has no one ever heard of putting a city somewhere convenient, like, I don't know, on a harbor, or at the confluence of navigable rivers? No, let's put the city on the side of a mountain that goes straight up a million miles into the air. Drop a coin from the top of the towers and you could kill someone lower down. And everyone there must have Buns of Steel ... and Calves of Copper, and Lungs of Mithril. Sure, put a nice fortress up in the mountains, but geez, EVERYONE appears to live in these inaccessible mountain strongholds, and then the fertile plains all around are completely empty.
12. I love the Goblin King. He's all wobbledy-dobbledy and funny and has actual expressions (unlike some orcs I could name). The Goblins crack me up in general. And that's a problem, because I'm supposed to be all terrified of them rending me into pieces and cracking my bones for their bread and stuff. Instead I keep thinking, "Oh, look, they're like slimy orangutans! Awwwww!"
13. There's a 20-minute chase through Goblinville (or at least it felt like that long - I actually started twiddling my thumbs by the end, and you know how long it takes for that to happen), and they don't accidentally lose even ONE dwarf or wizard? What are the odds of that happening? If Joss Whedon was directing, you'd have lost at least one or two of the funny ones in some sort of poignant and/or self-sacrificing way. Of course, the dwarves are so interchangeable that you couldn't tell if any were missing without pulling a rollcall, anyway, could you, Gandalf?
14. Speaking of dwarves, way to not link up names with faces, Peter. I spent the whole movie mentally referring to them as "wacky hat guy," "bald dude," "the hot one with the arrows," and "all those other ones." Oh, and there was also That Ungrateful Asshole Thorin.
15. Okay, time to talk about the fight scenes. The never-ending fight scenes, with obligatory unnecessary close-up gore and logical inconsistencies galore. Geez, I need to go into subheadings for this one ....
A) Was it really necessary for every fight scene to be 15 minutes long?
B) I really had the feeling they were so long because Peter Jackson had a punch list of fight scene tropes he needed to hit to match what he had done in the previous trilogy ... and he decided he had to hit each item in each fight. Come on, how many times do we need to see multiple people speared through with the same lance/sword/arrow? Or a closeup of a head shot? Body parts falling off after a suspenseful pause? All good in moderation, but laughable when used multiple times in the same movie.
C) "I'm Radegast the Brown! I will distract the evil mounted orcs by drawing them off in the opposite direction ... and then leading them back around to cut you guys off from your goal multiple times. That's okay, right? You don't mind turning a simple chase scene into 10 minutes of run-run-run-hide-turn-around-and-run-back-the-other-way, right? Guys? Guys?"
D) You know what I find funny? The fact that Thorin makes a point at the beginning of the movie of how the company doesn't include that many warriors, just tinkers and cobblers and stuff. And then they get to Goblinville, and suddenly every dwarf is all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Smaug all over the place. I'm sorry, but you put a tinker or a cobbler in that situation, and there will be a lot less "wielding of long poles to sweep large numbers of enemies off the catwalks" and a lot more "bonking people on the head with small weapons, and possibly dwarves wetting themselves."
E) Please tell me that the orcs were smart enough to know that the lovely little inferno Gandalf started on the edge of the cliff was going to burn itself out as soon as they ran out of pine cones. Dude, sit down, have a smoke, cuff a few minions upside the head, and wait them out.
F) Once again, Gandalf calls on the Giant Eagle Taxi Service to get him out of a jam ... and then completely fails to realize that he could just have the eagles drop them all off AT THE FUCKING MOUNTAIN THEY'RE GOING TO SPEND THE NEXT TWO MOVIES TRUDGING TOWARD. You're two for two, dimwit.
16. The CGI on the giant eagles was nicely done, especially the overhead shots when they were flying the dwarves away from the battle. I'm pretty sure that real bird feathers don't ruffle that much when soaring, though - flight feathers are stiff for a reason, and downy feathers aren't up on the flight areas of the bird.
17. Nice of the eagles to put the mortally-wounded dwarf down someplace with ready access to medical attention ... or water ... or anything other than a dangerous hundred-foot drop on all sides. Oh, wait.
18. Someone explain to me how every single man has long, flowing hair that pushes back from his hairline and never falls down into his face (except the two strands that artfully slide into Thorin's face so you can tell he's REALLY emoting). These are guys that have never seen shampoo, who think baths are a once-a-year trial to be endured, and who are fighting major bloody battles over and over again. And their bangs never fall in their face. Yeah, right.
19. "Hi, I'm the wizard who's going to go all evil and shit in the next movie. In the meantime, I'm going to deny that anything is wrong at all, while rocking my improbably flat-ironed hairdo. I find it super-convenient to have the hair hanging down and falling in my way all the time, because ponytails are for pussies. Nothing to see here. Nope, I'm not plotting with an evil dude - promise!"
20. I'm not sure how I feel about Smaug. I kind of liked that we didn't really get to see him yet, just a tail here or a wall of flame there. The eye opening was expertly animated. I do have to wonder where all the light was coming from to make his pupil shrink, since he'd been holed up in that cavern asleep for the last - what was it? - sixty years, and it's not like he had a retinue of servants going around lighting lanterns all that time just in case he woke up and wanted to blink at someone. And it's not like he would have hauled all of the treasure out of the storehouse and up into the throne room with all of the windows, because what dragon is that motivated (or stupid enough to put all the treasure in the hardest room to guard)? So he's down in the bowels of the mountain, sleeping all cozy in his pile of treasure, and somehow there's still enough light. Unless you get some glow-worms into the story STAT, I call foul.