Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A link everyone needs today

We all voted, and we have the sticker to show for it. If you throw it in the wash, the residue stubbornly remains. Here's the link that will save your shirt:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Konmari & Me: A Book and Life Review

Yesterday I sent my friend a picture of the inside of my bathroom cabinet. Note the items on the second shelf, ascending joyfully from left to right. I’m eagerly awaiting a picture of my friend’s underwear drawer.

Why? A best-selling little pastel green book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It seems like all the ladies (Sorry for the profiling, guys. I’ll edit this once I meet a guy fan.) in my neighborhood/ Facebook feed are tidying.

This book enters a crowded field of tough-love decluttering books (also this parody), devoted to saving pathetic acquisitive pack-ratters like me from the soul-deadening, life-shortening, dagnabbed frustrating heaps of our own stuff. Don’t love it/use it/have a place for it! Toss that ol’ thang! Clutter is the enemy!

KonMari (a Japanesey cutening of the author’s name, Marie Kondo) is kind of the Hello Kitty of decluttering drill sergeants. She encourages a “tidying marathon” leading to respectable Dumpster-loads of discarded stuff.

But instead of reviling clutter, we are to hold each possession in our hands, and to keep only those that “spark joy.” And after determining which things spark joy, we are to lavish them with care and attention.

Konmari comes off as just a little nuts (charming, but nuts). She passionately describes the feelings of inanimate objects, encouraging tidyers to respectfully thank each object before chucking it. And some of her feng-shui-flavored organizing mandates work best if you happen to live in a Japanese home, with its distinctive deep closets designed to hold folding futons during the day.

Unlike other declutterers, Konmari acknowledges that each possession at one time sparked an emotion that caused us to bring it into the house. And that a precious few material objects enhance our lives and bring us joy. That it feels good to live in an orderly place surrounded by our most beloved objects.

I think that focus on gratitude and acknowledgement of the pleasure-bringing qualities of our earthly possessions is what’s rocketed her to 60 some-odd weeks on the bestseller list. Questions? You can find me lavishing appreciation on my great-grandmother’s bread knife (hand-carved handle is wobbly, but the blade still cuts like a boss.) Or polishing my humble but trusty stapler.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Random Research Day: Bummer Etymology

My daughter is one of those crazy-overscheduled teenagers you hear about, and since she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet (too busy), I drive her places a lot. Mostly, we talk about words, or come up with word games, or talk about how we sure spend a lot of time talking about words. It’s pretty metalinguistic—occasionally meta-metalinguistic.

She was entranced one day by the words “imagine” and “magic”—it seemed logical to both of us that those ought to be related. But when we got home and looked it up, we found that:

• “Magic” comes, via French, Latin, and Greek, from magus, an ancient Zoroastrian philosopher (think “three Magi”).

• “Imagine,” on the other hand, comes via Latin from imago, or image.

• While we’re here, “magnificent,” “magnanimous,” “magnate,” etc. all come from Latin magnus, meaning “great.”

• And “maggot” comes from the Old Norse word mathkr, which means maggot.

So, if for some reason you say
“The magician imagined magnificent maggots,”
you have spanned four different source words from French, Latin, Greek, Persian, and Norse.

Impressive, but still disappointing.

They might not be etymologically related, but I still believe that imagination is magic.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How to Resolve

How to Resolve

Yeah, it’s January 6. Most people have broken their New Year’s resolutions by now, and I haven’t made mine yet. You think that’s bad, you should see the bright, shiny Christmas tree in the living room.

One year, we did get ambitious. My husband and I made a firm resolve to get up and go walking every single day at 6 a.m., without fail!

Problem is, New Year’s Day tends to fall on January first. When we popped out of bed that morning, we noticed that it was 2 degrees outside, and thick ice covered every sidewalk. So we went back to bed. And didn’t exercise for the rest of the year.

So, yeah, some years we’re really efficient. But this year, the process has captured my attention. As I was mulling over how to go about resolving, my son walked past, chanting under his breath:
more productive
not drinking too much
regular exercise at the gym (3 days a week)

“Are those your New Year’s resolutions?” I asked, trying not to sound alarmed about the drinking part.

“No,” he said, “it’s a song by Radiohead called ‘Fitter Happier.’ It goes on like that for three minutes, and then it ends, ‘In a cage. On antibiotics.’”

Oh. So there’s an approach to the New Year, refreshingly devoid of idealism.

Here are some others:

“This year, break a bad habit, learn a new skill, do a good deed, visit a new place, read a difficult book, write something important, try a new food, do something good for someone who cannot thank you, take an important risk.” Awesome advice, which I find my brain automatically rejects, because it came from Pinterest. In-a-cage. On-antibiotics. Unless I count this blog post as writing something important and cross that one off…

• At work, my husband and his co-workers first made comprehensive lists of everything they were good at, and everything they needed to work on. They spent half a day narrowing both lists down to five items: things to improve, and things to make even more awesome.

• A neighbor told me that her elderly relations’ notable characteristics, positive and negative, are growing more pronounced with age. An alarming thought. I like my alone time—LOTS of alone time, and I like it a LOT. I can see myself curling into a tight little ball, then fossilizing like that until someone digs me up 200 years later and puts me in a museum. Which I’d hate. Museums are full of people.

• A couple of different friends choose a word to live by for the year: Ignite! Love! Heart! Focus! Etc.! I kind of like etc., myself.

• My friend Luisa pointed out that, in baseball, a .3 average is awesome, and a .4 is legendary. But when most of us make goals, we beat ourselves up for anything short of 100%. Not beating oneself up is a good goal, but it also got me thinking that I could probably bat .95 in a T-ball league (Well, maybe .75). But what if I signed up for the majors, and rejoiced in batting .3?

• Which brings us to a quote from the newspaper: “My fears will eat me alive, not if I act on them, but if I don’t.” Really gotta start those banjo lessons. Can’t spend my life fearing the banjo.

So, yeah, New Year’s resolutions. So far I’ve made a list of things I’d actually like to accomplish in a bunch of different areas, and things (in a different color of ink) that I probably ought to want to accomplish. Then went back and wrote in long-term wishes/visions for those areas. 

Further bulletins if I ever finish. Maybe after the ice on the sidewalk melts...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Amish Friendship Math

Ever gotten a start for Amish friendship bread? It’s kind of like sourdough: you have a container of fermented “starter,” you use it to make the bread, then you replenish it so it keeps growing. After you’ve nursed the starter along for ten days, you make yourself a batch of yummy bread using part of the starter, then you divide up the starter into 4 bags, keep one for yourself, and give three away. That’s presumably why they call it “friendship bread.”

(Disclaimer: Wikipedia says "There is no reason to think that the bread has any connection to the Amish people." The Amish are much wiser than this. And I can’t imagine them using Jell-O pudding mix as an ingredient in anything.)

It sounds so innocent and…friendly. But friendship bread is really a terrifying exercise in exponential growth.

If I have a cup of starter, that’s
40=1 (Don’t ask me why. Anything to the zero power is one). So far so good. The original starter yields 4 new bags, including the one I keep, for
If each neighbor takes good care of the starter and gives three neighbors a bag, we have
A bag takes 10 days to mature, so another 10 days later we have
43=128 bags of starter after about a month. In another month or so, we’re up to
46=8,192 If you estimate that every home in my town has about 4 people in it, that’s one bag per house. In another month, we’re up to
49=524,200, or enough bags to cover about 2 million households of 4 people. Another month later, we have
412=33,544, 432 bags.
Only two more rounds after that, we’ve got a bag of starter for every household in the U.S.:
After sixteen rounds, we don’t have quite enough Amish friendship bread starters for everyone in the world:
416=4,295,000,000, but everyone in the world can have about three bags after the next round (if we haven’t run out of Zip-loc bags by then):
417=17,180,000,000 after a little less than 6 months since my original bag of starter.

But wait! There’s more! These numbers are vastly underestimated, since the bag I kept goes on to spawn four more bags, as does each one of the other bags, leading much more quickly to the downfall of humankind as we know it. If everyone obeyed the instructions on the bag, we’d already have international ordinances and relief agencies dedicated to eradicating the friendship bread menace.

Fortunately, my neighbors are deeply aware of the Amish friendship bread threat, and they declined my Zip-loc bags. Friendship bread went no farther than my house, where I made 5 batches and threw away the instructions.

Oh, and if you didn’t read past “yummy bread,” here are some instructions for starting your own Amish friendship bread (this recipe yields only three starts). Just don’t give me a bag.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Just for Fun

Becky, my best friend of 20 years, loves long-term, visionary goals. She’s got hers all worked out: multiple advanced degrees, world travel, and ballroom dance championships. I love hearing about her goal-setting and -achieving prowess.

Thing is, she wants me to be happy too, so she keeps asking what my goals are. I have a couple of writing goals, well-defined and underway, which are way too boring to talk about in polite (non-writer) society. My husband and I will go back to Japan someday. And Becky and I have a major bit of world travel planned for the (non-specified) year we both turn 50.

But, she asks, what else? I draw a blank. I have an advanced degree, and absolutely no desire to get another (Fiction rejection letters are no fun, but they don’t hold a candle to academic rejection letters: ten pages long, with no breath of hope at the end for publication. People get tenure for writing these monsters, and they take them seriously.)

OK, there is something. Actually, two somethings.

     • Learn to ice-skate.

     • Learn to play the banjo.

Along with the aforementioned writing goals, that is seriously the sum-total of my bucket list. We’re not talking “compete in some hifalutin adult figure skating division” or “start a bluegrass band and open for Rascal Flatts.”  Just ice skating and banjo-playing.

Because my daughter wanted to take skating lessons, and because Becky kept bugging me, I signed up for grown-up skating lessons six weeks ago.

I am amazed at how much I love it.

I probably do not look like I’m having fun. I look like I’m terrified of falling down, mostly because I’m terrified of falling down. I haven’t achieved any noticeable level of proficiency. And it kind of hurts.

So why is it fun? No idea.

But I spend all week with a background tickly feeling of excitement because I’m learning to ice skate!

Next, we should go on to the paragraph about how my muscles are getting toned, and my grace and confidence have increased, and I’m making better food choices by thinking What Would Michelle Kwan Eat?

We will cover all that if any of it ever happens.

For now, it’s simply and only fun.  And the fun, all by itself, feels like a health benefit.

Anyone know where I can pick up a used banjo?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

103 Years Cool

I called my grandma on her birthday. “A lot of people have been coming to see me today,” she said. “I guess they all want to look at someone who’s 103.”

Grandma’s partly right—making it to 103 is an accomplishment, no matter what shape you’re in when you get there. But my grandma got there with class and style. My kids regularly exclaim, “Great-grandma is cool!” I’ve even caught myself thinking, “Wow, I hope I live to be 103, so I can be as cool as Grandma.”

But Grandma’s cool did not begin at 103, or even at 95. In hopes of someday achieving a cool like Grandma’s, I shall attempt to unpack this compact expression.

In Grandma’s case, cool means having lived history:

Women weren’t allowed to vote in national elections until Grandma was nine. Prohibition started when she was ten, and ended when she was 23.

Her father bought their first car—a red Maxwell-Chalmers—when she was twelve. Her mom would get out and walk if he went “fast” (over 30). “I rode, but I was scared,” Grandma says.

The first time she voted was for FDR in 1932.

Her husband was a pediatrician, and he was sent to Europe as a doctor in WWII, leaving her home with three young children.

Grandma’s marriage was an early casualty of the sexual revolution. When her kids were teenagers, her husband decided he wanted one of the first no-fault divorces—and Grandma was the one who got to establish residency in Nevada by living there alone for six weeks.

She doesn’t have much use for our new-fangled computer gizmos. “Intel Celeron D processor,” she read at random from an ad in the paper. “Windows Vista. So what?”

Cool also means having the constitution and will to live independently:

Grandma lives in a retirement community in her own apartment. Someone comes in a couple of times a week to clean for her…but she cleans up before the cleaning lady gets there.

She cooks for herself.

She holds strong political opinions, completely opposite of the rest of her family’s, and firmly states them at every opportunity. Her family state theirs back, just as firmly. To visitors from out West, watching this process at family gatherings is hugely entertaining.

Noting the crossword puzzle book in the bathroom, I asked her if she’d like a new one for Christmas. “Oh, yes,” she said. “But it would have to be hard ones—only.”

But cool, I think, mostly means reveling in life, and in people:

Grandma doesn’t spend a lot of energy on what she doesn’t have, or can’t do anymore. We took the whole family back East to visit Grandma when she was 99 (after all, when someone is 99, you don’t know how much longer they have left…) “Let me show you my pride and joy,” Grandma said. She went into the next room, then emerged, smiling, with a shiny, candy-apple red walker. On the same trip, she and my daughter were tickled to discover that they were both halfway to their next birthday: my daughter was 12½. Grandma was 99½.

That six-week stay in Nevada? Grandma kept a journal. It wasn’t a joyful or fun time, but she made friends with the people who ran the boarding house, and she learned to love the West. “It’s a nice day again today,” she noted daily in surprise. Grandma’s from Western New York. I grew up in the Mojave Desert. “Grandma!” I exclaimed when I first read that journal. “It’s the desert! It’s never going to rain!”

“I used to have people I didn’t like,” Grandma says, “but I don’t anymore. Don’t have time for that, I guess. Now I just like everybody.”

Grandma remembers and maintains contact with people she knew eight or more decades ago: a kid my mom used to play with, presumably in his 70s now, sent Grandma flowers for her birthday. The lady who did my mom’s hair on her wedding day also sent birthday greetings.

The caregivers assigned to come in and help her out invariably become her good friends. The Mormon missionaries, who’ve long since accepted that Grandma’s not converting, drop by just to say hi and see how she’s doing.

She maintains extensive, handwritten correspondence. My kids have learned to read cursive and learned to enjoy hand-writing letters largely because their great-grandma writes to them.

Grandma fell and had to live in a care center for a few weeks. When she went home, patients and employees lined up to say goodbye. It seems like everyone wants a piece of Grandma’s cool.

Interested. Independent. Involved. Inquisitive. Inspiring.

Maybe if I live to be 103, I’ll have time to achieve that level of cool…

Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.