Moving Mental Furniture


I rearranged my living room furniture. Which is to say, I pointed to various locations and said to my husband, “there, no I mean there, six inches that way, wait, no, over there is better.”

We’ve lived in our home for nine years, and we have both complained about the layout of the living room for almost as long. The chairs are too far away from each other, when you sit on the sofa, you look into a dark dining room, and there’s no place to put my tea (or wine, depending on how the day is going). Totally a first-world complaint.

Every time we contemplated moving things around, however,  we always decided that the alternatives, for a myriad of reasons, couldn’t possibly work. Plus, if we moved the sofa, we’d have to move the area rug, which means we’d find out just how dirty the area rug is. On the flip side, we’d find nine years worth of missing cat toys and maybe enough spare change to go out for dinner.

Rearranging the living room was sort of like middle-aged sex. When one of us was in the mood, the other was too tired, nursing a sore back, or in the middle of doing the taxes/laundry/reading a good book. Sunday, we finally decided we had nothing better to do than give the sofa a change of scenery.

Now that the furniture is re-arranged, the room finally feels like home. The traffic flow is more welcoming, the foyer is better defined, and that big picture window finally has a purpose. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? We get so set in our ways, thinking there is only way way things could possibly work, until we try another way and find it works even better.

It made me wonder how other parts of my life are organized. I’ve struggled with redefining who I am with the Dude in college. Even though my time totally my own again, I’m feeling stalled, treading water through time. Maybe my mental furniture could use some rearranging.

If I change my habitual behaviors, my notions of what a “day” looks like, maybe I’d find a new corner with a view of the garden, or rediscover a story that I’d been looking at forever and not really seeing. If I let go of how things “were” or “should be” maybe my thoughts and energy would move in new directions.

If I release myself from expectations and the fear.maybe I’d trying something that doesn’t pan out, instead of living with something I know only works marginally well. After a few misses, I might find a place to put my teacup, or my glass of wine, depending upon how the day is going.

I’m ready to start rearranging the bedroom next. My husband says I can’t until I buy another bottle of Advil and learn the difference between right and left. Until that happens, I’ll have to be content with looking under my own sofa cushions. Heaven knows what I’ll find in there. I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

 

 

Got the pink hair blues


I dyed my hair pink.

This was not the impulsive act of a 16 year-old girl. It was the impulsive act of a 51 year-old woman.

Dyeing my hair is not a new thing. My hair has been brown, blond, red, and as close as I could get to black without looking like Marilyn Manson. It’s been short, long, very short, even shorter, spiky, sleek, and permed a la the 1980’s. My philosophy has always been “it’s only hair,” and my hair grows fast. So when I saw the picture of the messy pink crop in the magazine I thought, “why not?”

I don’t ascribe to the idea that women “of a certain age”  have to conform to some acceptable form of dress. What does that mean, anyway? Aren’t we all a certain age no matter how old we are? I only question when people dress not as themselves, but who they wish they were but fear they are not.

Therein lay my problem. Did I want pink hair or did I want to be the kind of person who would dye her hair pink? While I was in the salon, I felt all badass and cool. Then I left the salon and went into Talbot’s.

I generally don’t shop at Talbot’s, but it was a 70% off sale. 70%–that’s a good deal, but I was not prepared for the looks. It wasn’t so much a look as it was a “I’m looking at your face and not at your hair” look, like when you’re talking to a guy with bad toupee. I left the mall with major wtf was I thinking regret.

My husband  knew I was considering the pink, but didn’t know I was actually doing it. He was complementary and said all of the right things, but he knew that I was a woman on the edge of a breakdown and behaved accordingly. My husband is awesome. He poured me a large glass of wine, gave me a reassuring hug and told me to own it. We decided that I’d imagine I was an Anime character–some sort of pixie librarian with a magical Almanac.

The next morning when I went to the grocery store, the pixie magic had worn off. I wore a hat. I never wear a hat. I just wasn’t ready to be conspicuous. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be ready. I’d have to stay in my house for the next six weeks. Thank god for Amazon prime.

I’m a stereotypical self-torturing artist. I am individualistic and self-expressive (hello, I have a blog) but as an introvert, really don’t want to draw attention to myself. I was afraid of what people assumed about my motives for having pink hair. I questioned my own motives for having pink hair. Was I trying to recapture my youth? Was I making a statement about aging, or fashion, or art? If I went to my stylist the next day and went back to brown hair, what would that say about me? Was I a coward, or just a woman who made a mistake in picking a hair color that clashed with everything but black and gray?

I had a good cry over it. My husband reminded me that I am not my hair, nor does my hair define me. It’s hair. I decided I would keep the pink hair and learn something from the experience. It was at least good for a blog post.

After all of that soul-searching for the reason why I did it?

Because I could. I thought it would be fun. If I was looking for some great revelation about self-perception, I didn’t find it, and If anyone else thinks I have a greater agenda, too bad. As for my judging people because I think they’re trying to be something they aren’t, shame on me. I don’t know you any better than I know myself.

I’m not keeping the pink hair forever, but I’m keeping it for now. For one, I’m afraid that if I bleach the pink my hair will fall out. Two, it fades quickly. My white towels are a sweet blush color at the moment. Three, I’m learning a lot about myself walking the universe with pink hair. I’m learning how to sit with my discomfort. I get a lot of positive reinforcement, which is nice, but the real challenge is owning my uniqueness and not being afraid of it, whether it’s my hair, or my politics, or my writing.

I suspect when my hair is brown again, I’ll miss the pink, but if I embrace this offbeat color while I have it, maybe some part of me will always bear a little streak of highlighter. And that’s nothing to feel blue over.

Snowpocolypse Now

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Barely visible, but still there

The catchphrases have begun. #SnOMG, Snowpocolypse, Snowmaggeddon, Snowzilla. It’s not quite a blizzard yet. I can still see the sheep lawn ornament in the backyard. My husband says he is a lamb. I disagree. He may be small, but he has an old soul. His eyes hold the secrets of the ages.

I call him Shaun (Wallace and Gromit fans, unite). He was a Christmas gift from my father-in-law. He asked us all what we thought was in the enormous box, and my husband and son guessed electronics of some sort, while I yelled “A PONY!” He told me I wasn’t too far off. My father-in-law rocks.

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This is what virtuous cookies look like

Last night, since we still had power, I made oatmeal cookies. I ate them for breakfast, because who knows when I’ll be able to eat again. I momentarily ignored the fact that we have plenty of food and still have power, because, well, cookies. I made them with whole wheat flour and toasted wheat germ, so they are virtuous.

The hubs ventured out early to plow the driveway. I grabbed his hand and said “Don’t go out to the barn Pa! Let me at least tie a rope around your waist.” Apparently boys that grow up in Upper East Side NYC do not read Little House on the Prairie.  I did not get up to help.

I know I should, but my husband can clear the entire drive in the time it takes me to shovel the walkway. I used to, but remembered that I don’t like the cold, and that it as never as fun as I imagine it to be, and when I throw snowballs at John he doesn’t find it charming. He responds in kind and has much better aim than I do.

When I begin to feel guilty I remember the grocery store trips before the storm and the cooking I did in advance to make sure we had food after the power goes out because the power always goes out. During the last big storm John built a predictive data model of outage patterns and restoration times because that’s how we roll around here. It doesn’t change the outcome, but we feel superior when our estimates are correct.

I never sleep well when we lose power. Not because it’s cold, but because the hum of a neighborhood full of generators is surprisingly loud. One neighbor turns on his backyard floodlight to let us all know he’s got it covered. It’s bright enough, however, to let me see how fast Shaun is getting buried with snow.

As much as I hate the cold, I have a soft spot for snowstorms. Growing up, I’d tightrope-walk along the huge piles of snow that ringed the road in front of our house, and build snowmen in the backyard. When I lived in Chicago, John and I used to walk in Lincoln Park while the entire city hushed to listen to the snow fall, and in Evanston we’d chuckle when the police would drive through the streets at 2 a.m. with bullhorns telling people to move their parked cars so the plows could get through. In Boston, the Dude saw snow for the first time, and tunneled through drifts like a commando, and we built forts in the backyard where we drank cocoa at night.

When the power fails, I snuggle up to my man, pull up another comforter, and conjure these memories to stay warm.

And read by the light of my neighbor’s floodlight.

Stay warm, people.

Snowstorm Survival Tips From a Northern Girl


D.C. is facing the end of the world as we know it, and I’m not talking about the possible presidency of Donald Trump. I’m talking about the really scary stuff. I’m talking about snow.

Last night we got less than an inch and the city went into a panic before the panic. You think gridlock in Washington is bad? Visit D.C. during winter. My husband cleared the driveway with a broom. School was canceled.

Starting tomorrow, we’re supposed to get amounts that measure in feet rather than inches. I grew up in Michigan, and as the old joke goes, we call that Tuesday, but folks around here are talking locusts and plagues. I’ve given up shaking my head over the capitol’s inability to deal with snow.  The amount of chaos caused by winter weather is inversely proportional to the population’s experience with it, so basically, I’m staying home until it melts.

As a public service, however, I will share my wealth of experience and give you some hints for getting through snowmaggedon.

Buy toilet paper. Today, the grocery store checkout had the feel of a cold-war era Russian food line, only the bread was gluten free and the milk was from organic grass-fed cows.  The bottled water section was stripped clean, save for one case of Poland Spring, which two women fought over like a Dooney & Bourke handbag at  a Macy’s one star sale.

What puzzled me however, was the lack of activity in the paper aisle. While carts were filled to the brim with smoked salmon and brie (bless the whole-house generator), not a single person was buying toilet paper.

Paper goods, people. Don’t be a newb.

Buy Wine. I know they say wine induces hypothermia, but huddling under a comforter with a box of Cheerios is much better with a bold Pinot Noir.

If it’s rechargeable, charge it now, and use charged items wisely. My son used his phone as a flashlight the last time we lost power, despite having a battery operated one at his feet. I reminded him that if he ran down his phone, he wouldn’t be able to text “Do you have power yet?” to his friends every five minutes. I could hear his eyes roll in the dark.

Have the power company number on your cellphone. When the power goes out, your landline will no longer work. It will also be dark (because the power always goes out when it’s dark) and the account number on your bill is barely readable in daylight. I know that you’re supposed to be able to call in with your phone number, but when was the last time that worked for you?

Find your candles and flashlights now.  If you can’t remember where they are, think about the least convenient place you can think of, since that’s probably where you put them thinking “I’ll never forget that I put them here.”

While you still have power make the kids shower. This is not the time to humor one’s hygienically challenged teen. They can do it while the water is warm, or take their chances later. Even without power I have my limits. I don’t care if the kid barely brushes his teeth most days, after two days of peanut butter and tuna, these niceties are no longer optional. Even the women of Lost managed to shave their armpits.

 

Use the generator wisely. Who knows how long you have to make the fuel last. First priority? The septic and sump pumps. Number two? The refrigerator.  Next? Lights? Heat? Nope. The internet.

Alleviate some of that pre-storm anxiety by making catching up binge watching musts. My recommendation? Mozart in the Jungle. Two seasons worth of episodes will burn quite a few hours, and Gael Garcia Bernal makes me feel very, very warm.

Unless your family is full of good sports, hide the board games. You’re stuck together in the dark and cold for god knows how long.  Especially if the bad sport in your family is the one who controls the food and knows where the toilet paper is. Don’t test me–I hold grudges. Pass the Pinot.

Most important, remember this isn’t that bad. If you’re reading this, you have a home, with a computer and a heater and probably a full refrigerator, even if you might be low on toilet paper. A snowstorm can actually be kind of fun, and snuggling up is the best way to stay warm. If your fireplace is like mine, and is more ornamental than functional, stream the Darth Vader Yule Log on your IPad, pour another glass of Pinot, and make peace with the weather. It’s a great excuse not to do laundry.

These things are never as bad as the media says they’ll be, except for when they’re worse. In either case, be safe, be wise, and if you’re bored, you can binge-read back essays on my blog.

Carpe Diem Nix. Seize the Snow Day.

 

Turn Down For What


When the Dude was a baby, he refused to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. He’d fall asleep in my arms, looking all angelic and harmless, and I’d set him in his crib and shuffle back to bed. As soon as I was about to drift off, however, I’d hear his whimpers through the monitor and trudge back in to pick him up.

For six weeks, my husband and I traded shifts. One of us would sleep and the other would hold the child.

I mentioned our problem to the pediatrician, and she asked how I knew I had to go pick up the Dude.

“He cries.” Duh. What kind of pediatrician was she?

“Does he cry?” she asked. “Or does he ooch.”  My blank stare was a mix of confusion and exhaustion, so she continued to explain.

“An ooch isn’t a real cry, it’s sort of a whimper of discomfort, like when you complain about dinner taking too long to arrive after you order, or your husband leaving his dirty socks on the floor.”

When I thought about it, I picked the Dude up the minute I heard any sound at all. It was ooching, not crying, but when my husband can’t sleep, his stare is enough to keep me awake, let alone an ooching baby.

That’s when the pediatrician gave me the greatest advice of all time. “Turn the monitor down. Better yet, turn it off. if your baby needs you, he’ll let you know.”

Funny, once we turned the monitor off, the child slept through the night. Now he can sleep through just about anything, including his econ class.

When I was working as a consultant, I’d get calls at all hours of the day and night. Once, I even got a call at 3 a.m. from a manager who was looking not for me, but for a woman who worked for me. In Canada. I said, “I looked around my bedroom and she’s not here.”

When I asked him why the hell he was calling me to find a woman in a completely different country, he answered, “Because she doesn’t answer her phone, but you do.”

Most of the work calls I received after reasonable business hours weren’t urgent. In fact, most of them were complaints about events I couldn’t alter or correct because they were already over. Some were only half-thought out–a knee-jerk response to an event without any real call to action.  I’d trained my coworkers, however, to expect that I would answer any call that came in, no matter how trivial. It was ooching. I needed to turn off the monitor.

From that point on, when I left my office, I left my office. No phone. No checking email. If something urgent needed my attention, folks could find me. They were creative that way. Funny, once I stopped responding immediately to every call and email, the ones I did receive were less reactive and more thoughtful.

The Dude is grown and I’ve left consulting, but I still find quietude in rare supply.

Sometimes I feel like the world is screaming at me. So much media, so much noise, so much anger. Devices ping and ring and play snippets of music to let me know they’re tired of being ignored. I get email notifications from blogs that I follow, websites that purchase from and groups I belong to. My landline rings with surveys and sweepstakes and political robocalls.

Even now, the Dude ooches, only now he does it via text. I used to respond right away, glad to provide assistance, even for problems he could have solved himself with nothing more than a google search. I spent an entire afternoon at a museum listening to him complain about how much his life sucked at college–a problem I couldn’t solve, at a time when I should have been enjoying where I was and the people I was with. When I realized I was hurting him more than I was helping him, I stopped answering his texts right away. It’s only fair. He takes his own sweet time in answering mine.

This constant connection to the ooching universe leaves me with little time and space to think. So much crowds my brain, the words and stories get all tangled up with the competition.

So every day, I turn off the proverbial monitors once a day. No email, no phone, no Facebook, no texts. I allow the house to be totally silent. It’s sort of creepy at first. We aren’t good at being still, or being around stillness. Most of what tugs at our skirts all day, however, isn’t urgent. It’s just stuff.

And you know what? While I’m enjoying silence, the world spins along all the same. Just because the universe runs on the idea of “I ooch therefore I am”, I am not required to listen, and sometimes the universe is better off for not having been heard.

I suggest this to others, and I get a lot of pushback. We all want to feel important, and turning off the monitor requires us to accept that maybe we aren’t as invaluable as we think we are. It also requires us to deal with the unhappy people we’ve trained to expect our ubiquitous availability.

What makes it all worth it? When I’ve had enough of the silence, I’m ready to really listen.

So I thank you for taking a moment to read this blog. Now turn off your computer and take in some quiet. I’ll all be here when you get back.

Go Out And Vote Dammit, The Local Edition

voteTomorrow is election day and I am ignoring my phone. I don’t know why politicians think robocalls are effective. Robocalls make me want to relocate to Canada. I know their elections are over.  And that Justin Trudeau is hot. That much has made the national news. If you want more info, listen to the BBC.

Last week at dinner, my husband repeated the old adage; “all politics are local.” I asked him since his local politicians were so important to him, perhaps he could name a few of them. This was not conducive to marital harmony. I state for the record that my husband is a brilliant man. He was having an off day.

There are a lot of local issues to care about in Northern Virginia, and I suspect it’s no different where you are. I haven’t heard about many school budget surpluses out there. Yes, what happens in D.C. is important, but I would guess what happens in your local government effects you more personally. It’s not as entertaining as the Donald Trump show, but what else is?

Yes, you have to find time away from work, but it’s totally worth it.

Last year the both parties gave out donuts. Since I’m technically an independent, it was a total breakfast win.

You don’t have to stand in front of a tank, run a military gauntlet, or choke on tear gas to cast your vote. All you have is fill out a few circles or tap a few buttons. Navigating my doctor’s call center menu is more complicated than that.

When you’re done, you’ll get a nifty I Voted sticker. It creates halo of self-righteousness for the rest of the day. Do remember to take it off. If it goes through the washer and dryer, you end up with a sticky white oval on your favorite sweater that even Tide won’t budge.

If you want to turf the asshats that are running the joint, vote.

If you’re even more afraid of who is looking to replace the asshats that are running the joint, vote.

If your polling place has donuts, let me know. When it comes to baked goods, I have no pride.

And if you’re trying to reach me, try email. So far, that’s a safe haven.

The Democratic Debate in Haiku

Anderson Cooper

Is in a serious mood

His glasses say so

_______________________

The jumbotron set

Makes it look like a game show

Miss the big ass plane

________________________

Does CNN see

Their facebook logo placement?

Someone ****ed it up

_______________________

Cheryl Crow can sing

She even hit the high notes

(The tight pants might help)

________________________

I know it’s sexist

But I wore Hillary’s suit

When I was pregnant

______________________

I love you Bernie

But who pees in your cornflakes

Every damn morning?

______________________

Who is this Jim Webb

He was once my senator?

Uhm. Yes. I knew that.

_______________________

Martin O’Malley

Says that he fixed Baltimore

What about those O’s?

_______________________

Hey Lincoln Chafee

Nineteen seventy nine called

Want their yardsticks back

_____________________

Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

Blah Blah Blah Working people

Democrat Intro

___________________

Bernie Sanders says

Congress speaks like Eskimos

Thousand words for “no”

____________________

Wedded to the polls?

Hillary asks for numbers

“I’ll get back to you”

______________________

Martin endorsed Hill

‘I’m allowed to change my mind

Just like you change yours’

______________________

Our first Trump mention

“I may be a barker but

I own the circus”

_______________________

Chafee asks for slack

We don’t care that your Dad died

If it was your dog…..

___________________

I don’t care about

Hillary’s emails either

Let’s all unsubscribe

___________________

And I still don’t know

Anything about Jim Web

But he can tell time

__________________

Hillary is asked

How she’ll differ from Barack

“Pee breaks take more time.”

____________________

This is so civil

There’s nothing to make fun of

I need more cowbell

_____________________

If O’Malley wins

I really hope he invades

New York’s Trump Tower

_______________________

What is Communist

Versus Social Democrat?

Putin bores Bernie

______________________

Jim Webb gets to speak

And what does he choose to say?

Yup. I killed a dude.

_______________________

Damn, I’ll never know

Which chick they’d put on the ten

Who will I vote for?

______________________

And Twitter weighs in

Martin won’t be president

But the man’s a DILF

______________________

Huckabee live tweets

And I trust him like I trust

His foot near his mouth

_______________________

That’s all I got folks

Until we get the next round

On the 28th