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.

 

Making Life Practice my B****


As a musician, much of my life revolves around the idea of practice. Most kids will tell you that practicing sucks. My friends with kids bitch about practice logs they need to (forge) sign and turn in to music teachers fighting for priority with the other hours of assigned homework each night.

I’ve given lots of advice about practice mindset, practice strategy, and practice goal-setting. Practicing music is a joy for me, not a chore. When it comes to music, practice isn’t a bitch, it’s my bitch.

Most people will say that practicing is repeating something over and over again in order to achieve some goal. I don’t like this definition. It reminds me too much of those days locked in my room playing the same phrase over and over again, often worse off at the end than when I started.

Practice is no more than the real world application of theoretical principles. Simply put, stop thinking about how to do it and do it. Practice is not about getting it right. Practice is about getting it wrong, mindfully.

When it comes down to it, is practicing music is any different than practicing anything, be it yoga, healthful eating, or writing? What about being a better listener, or a more patient parent, or putting down the IPhone and taking in the moment? Why don’t I practice life like I practice music?

My yoga teacher talked about practice yesterday, and how it’s a daily commitment–a choice. To grow, we have to embrace the discomfort,and let go of the ego enough to explore. I am too often focused on accomplishing some end state. Wrong goal.

The goal of practice is integrity. The alignment of idea and action.When one achieves alignment, energy travels without interruption . That’s the goal, right? For the words to flow like water, to run without touching ground, to savor every bite of life until your soul is full?

If you want to align something you don’t jam it into place and bingo, you’re done. You have to fuss with it, explore the boundaries, experiment to see how different actions give a different result. You have to practice.

You also have to get some humility.

Sometimes, I’ve worked a difficult passage until I have it down cold, but then blow it when I have to play it outside of my practice room. Is it that my fingers don’t know the shapes, the placement, the correct bow tension to produce a sound? Not really. It’s that I get close to the passage and that little voice says “Hey Heifitz, here comes that passage. Don’t fuck it up.”

Why don’t we accept that our nature is to err, and embrace it? After all, that’s all practice is. Instead of saying “I effed up” I can say “I’m out of alignment.” Not because I can’t deal with screwing up and need some sort of feel-good double-speak. It’s because mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They are the world. It’s because it’s often my fear of failure, or the fear of feeling like a failure that keeps me from practicing in the first place.

I know it sounds all new-agey of me, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Practice takes time. It takes commitment. It takes patience. It takes a sense of humor and more than a little forgiveness. Practice takes love.

So what is it you want to practice?

Ditching the electronic calendar

1-IMG_1077Sunday morning began in the usual way. Turn off the fan. Turn on the lights. Turn on the lightbox. Move the cat. Check email.

Check email.

Where the f*** were my emails?

I rebooted my phone. My Gmail account was still empty, so I ran to my desk to check the account on my laptop. Nothing.

This was a disaster.

Google wasn’t much help. The best they could do was restore the mail from my promotional tab so I could relive every website deal from Thanksgiving until Christmas. All of my business correspondence? Forget it. The holiday best wishes from friends and family? They would have to live in my memory. Anyone who asked me to do something or be somewhere, good luck with that.

Then again, I had an empty mailbox, which felt pretty cool.

How much of what was lost did I really need, and how much was I hanging on to because I could? I knew who I needed to ping to get critical information back. As disasters went, I’d survive.

I had a similar situation last month when my computer died. My advice for today–do not drink near your computer–especially if you gesture a lot when you’re on the phone. That sizzling noise the laptop makes as water seeps into the motherboard is your files saying goodbye.

Luckily I had a backup of my files on the server. Luckily I have a server, thanks to my husband to whom I apologize for rolling my eyes behind his back when he talks about security and recovery because like most people, I assume these inconveniences won’t happen to me.

I had a shit-ton of stuff in my archives; Multiple versions of the novel-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-day, Four year old orchestra press releases, Every iteration of the Dude’s college essays.When I thought about the files I really needed access to, it was a small fraction of what I had in storage. Did I really want my new laptop to inherit all of the clutter and chaos of the last one?

I decided to manage it like moving boxes. I’ll bring a file over to the new computer when and if I needed to. Otherwise, it could stay where it is.

Having the Dude leave the nest has had a similar effect on my life. For eighteen years, his schedule dictated mine. I loved being an at-home mother, but I was definitely in orbit, held by the gravitational pull of the Dude. Now that he’s on his own, the slate is wiped clean.

I have always kept a detailed electronic calendar, a throwback to my consulting days. It’s color coded by type of activity, participants and purpose. That calendar was the extra set of hands that kept me from dropping the ball, but the Dude took the ball with him when he left for school, and my calendar still looks exactly the same.

My father-in-law gave me an engagement calendar as a Christmas gift. When I opened it, I thought, “how quaint,” but I’m starting to reconsider.

The beginning of a new year serves as a reboot for me, a time to consider what to take from one year into the next. if how I live my day is how I live my life, how does my electronic calendar measure up? Like my email account and my computer files, maybe my schedule could do with a little electronic obliteration.

The booklet that my father-in-law gave me is beautiful, but not complex. It shows a week at a time, without demarcations for hours and minutes. It doesn’t call itself a calendar, or a planner, but an engagement book. Perhaps the term isn’t one of pretentiousness, but one of intention. An engagement can be a commitment, but engagement is also a state of being. This calendar requires a pen, and writing, and some consideration. I have these 24 hours. What will they mean?

Of course, I have appointments to keep, for which I’ll maintain my Gmail calendar, but focusing on life at the granular level is like bad musical theater, where time becomes no more than filler between songs.  Instead of focusing on what I need to do each day, I can decide what I want each day to be.

So I’ll add my engagement book to my morning routine, right after moving the cat. My email can wait, assuming there’s anything there.

 

 

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.

TBT – Vintage Momaiku

“I love you,” he said

You need a ride somewhere, right?

Yeah.  That’s what  I thought.
____________________________

“I do work, you know.”

“When? You mean the writing thing?”

“You are so grounded.”

_____________________________

So I changed my mind

I am not inconsistent

It’s called “flexible”

_______________________________

Rules of Possession

Mothers have no property

Your stuff is their stuff

______________________________

I’ll be out tonight

Don’t leave without a ride home

“Like, other than you?”

_____________________________

“He tells me you nag”

He says you micromanage

Divide and conquer

___________________________

In Homecoming clothes

He thinks he’s the next James Bond

Pie in the Skyfall

___________________________

Othello sucks, man

Everyone dies–what’s the point?

I’m playing Black Ops

___________________________

Parental requests

instantly cure teen boredom.

You’re busy? Since when?

___________________________

“I’ll do it later.”

Really? “Okay, I won’t, but

At least I’m honest.”

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.

No Dude, there is no dream college


It’s the fairy tale we tell our children from the time they are very young.

…and one day, you’ll meet the college you’ve always dreamed of, with small class sizes, abundant clubs and opportunities to study abroad. You’ll lock eyes across a grassy field crowded with wandering peasants after a brief meeting in a ballroom where, despite knowing very little about you, they will tell you that they are the only one for you and you will believe every word. Choose them and you’ll live happily ever four years with challenging but not too hard classes and weekends full of awesome yet responsible parties.

It seems like a benign fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to meet their perfect match, the one that will lead to their ultimate destiny–a well-paying job and the opportunity to move out of their parents’ scrutiny?

School counselors talk about it, so does the media. How to find your dream school. Break the mold to get into your dream school. Behold the Name-your-source “Review Top 10 Dream Schools until we need to sell another edition”, edition.  The Dude and his classmates swam in the collegiate primordial soup of hyperbole. No wonder he’s flailing.

Not that he’s at college, the Dude is miserable. The work is hard. The food is awful, and if someone is throwing those parties, he hasn’t been invited. Somehow, he managed to choose the only university that has outlawed fun. As much as I explained that this was perfectly normal in the first term of freshman year, he feels he’s been lied to. He questions his decision-making ability, and blames his father and me for unduly influencing his choices. There is a dream college out there where his life would be perfect, and it’s not where he is.

He’s not the only one questioning his decision-making. I’m revisiting every step of the process, wondering where we went wrong. I struggled my freshman year too, but I thought it was just me. I wanted it to be better for him. Maybe he wasn’t the only one viewing the situation through the rosy glass of hope.

College isn’t a fairy tale. Prince Charming didn’t charge Cinderella $40K a year for the privilege of his company, and oh by the way, he’s dating another 10,000 fair damsels and maybe, if she proves herself worthy through a series of increasingly complex challenges, he’ll put a ring on it. It’s an important four years, and charging into it with dewy eyed fantasies of the best years of one’s life is bound to create some post purchase dissonance.

The Dude has a decent head on his shoulders, and even he admits perhaps he romanticized it all too much. He just feels that he had help.  The avalanche of propaganda began the second he signed up for the SAT. “Why don’t they just tell us the truth?”

Good question.

It feels better to say it will be the best time ever, but college is an investment not an all-inclusive resort, and maybe if we talked about it that way with our kids, they’d be happier in the end. I certainly have friends whose kids were happy from the moment they stepped foot on campus. I know more, however, whose kids are wrestling with homesickness and the difficult adjustment from high school to college.

Sorry Dude, but it’s time to wake up. College is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. Companies don’t choose to hire from universities because the students have a great time making friends and joining clubs, but for the skills they possess. A college can’t make you happy. You have to do that for yourself.

And it’s time for me to wake up, too. There may not be some magical moment where my son becomes happy with where he is, and I cannot make him happy with it either, through eloquence or persistence.

The best we can do is deal with reality, one step at a time. And if had it to over again, that’s probably what I’d say There is no dream college. Choose a real one instead.