Sunday, May 30, 2010

Don't drink the water.

This photo  looks like surrealism meets impressionism, with a trashy twist.

I didn't see the man in the canoe right away, but he's there.

It's not a pretty picture. And imagine how it must smell from where the man in the boat is sitting.

The picture illustrates that we as a culture generate a whole lot of trash. And once the items we buy are consumed, we don't seem to have any problem dissociating from the remains of what once was important enough to actually buy.

Then we end up with the Pacific Trash Vortex.

I hadn't heard about this crazy mess until yesterday, when my lovely friend Cara mentioned it. We were talking about the oil spill, and Cara casually mentioned the Trash Vortex.

Look it up! Google it! There's a crap-ton of information about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which sounds so benign, as if little Garbage Patch dolls float above the mess with endearing, plush, refreshing cartoon smiles.

It's not so bucolic in the Garbage Patch, though.

We knew it was coming, as early as 1988 when NOAA identified it as a threat. This slow, clockwise current in the North Pacific is an oceanic desert, which dissuades big fish from making that area their home. Instead, this North Pacific tropical gyre attracts trash.

The Eastern Garbage Patch is so not patchy. It's a big mass of plastic and gunk and crappy-crap trash between California and Hawaii, and it's reported to be two times bigger than the size of Texas.

And that's only the Eastern Garbage Patch. There are a few other pieces of this trashy trash patchwork that rival the massive width and depth of the Eastern patch.

So when we're getting all "speed it up, BP!" - which is of course a perfectly legitimate sentiment - maybe we should take a peek in the mirror and look at how we each cumulatively affect this big blue ball we inhabit.

It seems that no one wants to take responsibility.

But we're all as guilty as sin.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I want to be Vanna White.

The kids are in Mexico, and I have a few days off. So after watching the news yesterday, before the cool of the evening made it comfortable to work in the yard, it was time to play Jeopardy.

Alex Trebek is such a smarty pants; so cool, so calm, so capable, so willing to solicit interesting and usually embarassingly geeky Important Moments from his brainiac contestants, so chameleon-like in his ability to accurately pronounce obscure words and dialects.

Ironically, right after Jeopardy, it's time for Wheel of Fortune - arguably one of the most insipid shows on tee vee. Usually, I race to turn off the television when Wheel of Fortune comes on.

But yesterday, I wasn't so quick on the draw. Wheel of Fortune had its moment in my house before the show was summarily dismissed with a quick "no freaking way" muttered under my breath. But the show was on long enough for me to get a glimpse of Vanna White flipping over letters. And I had a twinge of jealousy.

Here are the facts, as I see them.

Vanna's job requires virtually no measurable skills, save for dressing up in a series of flowing evening gowns and knowing the difference between a consonant and a vowel. Her job requires no re-training or job description re-tooling, because as I see it, our alphabet isn't going to change much in the foreseeable future.

Vanna doesn't have to worry about anyone snatching her job away from her, because frankly, I think the audience Wheel of Fortune attracts would form some kind of awkward, walker-driven uprising if she were ever to be replaced.

She's the Teller to Pat Sajak's Penn. She can sashay through her job saying nothing, projecting nothing but a glam smile and a rudimentary knowledge of the alphabet, and her job is done.

Vanna gets to play dress-up five times a week, and The Wheel often goes on location. She gets to flip letters all over the world.

Best of all, she gets paid a rumored $5,000 per episode, not counting special appearances, residuals, board game income, et cetera.

In short, she's currently on my Very Short List of women who have The Best Job in the World.

I was just a little bit jealous as I defiantly flipped my television off yesterday at the sound and sight of Wheel of Fortune.

I attempted to assuage my jealousy by comforting myself with the knowledge that I'm attempting to craft ideas by actually stringing words together, as opposed to simply getting all fancy-looking while flipping lit vowels to the freaky glee of excited contestants.

I'm running as fast as I can on my personal wheel that involves over-thinking things, underemployment,  and a complete love of everything casual.

No high heels for me - I have bunions.

But no matter how hard I tried, my heart was a bit tipped in the 'I wish I could do so little and get paid so much' direction yesterday.

I have to admit it. I wish I had her job.

Okay, I said it. What's a 4-letter word for what I'm feeling? The word has an N and a V.

I'd like to buy a vowel.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Changing my crabby-pants ways.

So I've been kind of crabby lately.

It's not like I haven't recognized it.

And I think I can attribute my recent crabbitude to this time of year, to the end of the school year, to all the directions I'm required to be yanked.

I think the crabby phase is drawing to its conclusion, thank god.

The school year is over. There's no need to ask the 'do you have homework?' question for a few months. I won't be expected to write any checks to anyone's school for any particular reason.

I know it's temporary. I'll have a kid who will be a senior in high school next year.

So the checkbook will gently close until mid-August, and it will abruptly widen once school starts again.

I'm grateful for this respite.

School and its accumulation of needs, in terms of time, money and attention, is over.

And so I'm less crabby because of that closure, in part.

It's like a deflation. Like a balloon is slowly being drained of what makes it float. And I'm grateful for the remnant, left on the sidewalk to be swept away, until it's inflated again a few months from now.

And it's turning into summer. A relaxed time, when I take full advantage of every morning I can sleep in. To capture relaxation like a firefly under a glass.

So temporal.

I'm sure my stress level will increase, but it's ebbed this past week.

I'm grateful. Because I don't like the crabby Mary.

She'll most likely emerge in a few months. Let's hope her invitation to Crabbyland gets lost in the mail.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Good fences

So what's the statute of limitations on a broken sprinkler head?

Apparently, according to my neighbors to the north, it's 24 hours.

Yesterday afternoon, the lady of the house to the north let me know my sprinkler head was leaking, and the water was invading into their property, into their apparently very porous garage area.

I'm only one freaking person. So I thought I'd address their freaky water issues this weekend.

I worked from home today, from 8 am to 5 pm. And right around 4 pm, I heard some rustling in my lawn's northerly regions.

My neighbors were all about getting close to my sprinkler head.

I say, go for it.

I had no freaking time until today to do a diagnostic on my sprinkler head. The sprinkler guy turned on the whole system no more than 72 hours ago, and I let him know I had an errant head. He told me what to do. I just need to get the damnable replacement head and replace the one that has issues.

Give me a freaking minute, I say.

I'm not the best neighbor. I fully admit that.

And I think the Wicked Witch of the North would agree.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Worst Weekend Ever.

I know that choosing that title may not compel people to read this. It's not unlike being asked, "does this scab look infected?" or "wanna hear something gross?"

But I need to pick the scab of this past weekend, which, if you listened very closely, featured a very faint sucking sound as its accompaniment.

The short version:

My boys are going to Mexico with my ex-husband a week from today. Their passports arrived a month or two ago, and they were in my possession.

Last Thursday, I took the passports to the Social Security office to use as ID so I could order new cards for the kids. Connor needs his card for the job he's lined up this summer.

Somewhere between the Social Security office and home, the passports disappeared.

It didn't take me very long to notice they were nowhere.

And that's when the sucking sound started.

I had Friday off, so that's when the searching began. And the cleaning, and throwing, the retracing of steps, the taking a breath, the mild hysteria. My internal dialogue sounded like the patter between the Knights who say Nee.

Oh, and did I mention I haven't been feeling very well lately, waking up with the low energy, the coughing, the draining of fluids, that kind of thing?

I just had to color up the picture.

Friday night was an exacerbation of that pretty picture, and between coughing jags, I called into work.

Saturday, more searching, and finally, resignation that I'd been defeated.

I felt vindicated, to some degree, when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Parent Experiment (you can find a link at while I was searching for passports on Saturday. The hosts of the podcast were discussing a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post Magazine article, entitled Fatal Distraction. Here's the link.

The subject matter of the article and the podcast's discussion were both riveting. Both article and podcast spoke to how it's so easy to have chasms in memory when life gets distractingly busy.

Although the specific subject matter was heartbreaking, it made me feel just a bit less alone in my whirling, chaotic attempt to flail through life as a single mom with two teenagers, one on the cusp of driving, the other going to a camp over the summer that requires a mountain of money and paperwork. And it's the end of the school year. Everything spins faster the last few weeks of school.

Then there's a house and a monster lawn to maintain. There's a job to attend, writing to do. There's my cottage industry that requires thrifting, listing, selling, packing.

Little crispy bits of each obligation occupy a section of my brain. And in the midst of making almost perpetual mental lists to determine which responsibility takes the most pressing priority, I try to nurture, listen, react, attend to the people I love.

Some people do these things so elegantly.

The passport debacle proves I don't.

But on Sunday, I kicked into Solution Gear.

And there was a solution, to the tune of $305. The new passports will be ready in two days. I envision elves akin to little cobblers who make those shoes in fables currently busy fashioning my kids' new passports.

But now I'll be forever known as the one who lost the passports. The forgetful one. The one who, if you give her something to keep fast in her possession, is unpredictable. You may see your valuable thing again, maybe you won't.

I don't care.

I'm just glad it's over. I'm hoping that, a week from now, my kids will be working on their tans and not being sold into Mexican slavery - or worse.

I'm a mom. I worry.

So we put this whole passport crapfest behind us.

Thank god no one died.

The only casualty was my sense of security about my ability to keep some things safe.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Big Bang. For your buck.

Economies crumble. Mortgages default. Prices rise. Incomes stagnate. Jobs disappear. Inflation... inflates.

But there are a few items in this crazy world that seem to have remained untouched by the maelstrom of uncertainty that's rife in these turbulent times.

It's time to give these functional, economical and highly underrated items a round of applause. Inflation? Ha! Scarcity? No freaking way! These little pieces of affordable heaven can be purchased in abundance for almost nothing, and most people find occasion to use at least one of these treasures every single day.

Let's start with paper clips. I'd venture to guess that one box of paper clips could sustain a normal person's paper clipping needs for years, if not decades. And the cool part about paper clips is that they can be used over and over again. I can't remember ever hearing anyone saying, "My lord. Look at the obviously used condition of this paper clip."

And let's not forget staples; another stalwart, unsung desk necessity that does so much and expects so little in return. Expects nothing, actually, because it's a staple.

One of these little boxes of metal bits contains, oh, I don't know, a bajillion staples. Enough to have a party with four to seven people, during which everyone does nothing but staple things to other things, and still there would most likely be staples to spare.

And they're so cheap. Every staple probably costs a fraction of a fraction of a cent. Most notable in their absence, forget a staple and someone's bound to say, "Who in the heck forgot to staple these important papers together? Heads will roll!!"

And don't even get me started about the wonders of rubber bands. The rubbery nature, the benign function coupled with the potential to thwap unsuspecting victims in a game of childish horseplay.
Oh, but the function's not completely benign. Need a bunch of something wrapped together? Want to keep pesky whisps of hair out of your eyes? Compelled to remind yourself to not swear, smoke or be negative? One simple rubber band around the wrist snapped at a moment of craving may be just what the doctor ordered. Best of all, a crap-ton of rubber bands costs almost nothing.

Let's stray away from office briefly and head into the kitchen, shall we?
Let's make a pot of coffee. What? We need a bit of paper so that our grounds stay where they should? In our world of abundant economy, the coffee filter ranks right near the top.

For just a couple bucks, you can buy enough coffee filters to keep you in the brew for months and months. And even if these bits of filtering wonder experienced a price increase of 20 percent, no one would really notice.

Coffee filters are a great deal, and truth be told, we'd be fools to not pony up the extra ching in order to guarantee the quality of our morning beverage. So convenient, so affordable, so necessary.

There are many other cheap items we take for granted. Toothpicks spring to mind. As does Scotch tape, to say nothing of masking and duct.

Unlike global warming, economic distress, job instability and all the other anxiety-producing down-sides that define our madcap world, there are many cheap, simple, stable things that provide an oddly palliative comfort.

Like a staple or a paper clip or a rubber band or a coffee filter. Or a toothpick. Or tape. Or a q-tip. Or shoe laces. Or a pack of zucchini seeds...

The list goes on and on.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Do you know the garbage man?

So as you may have read in a previous blog, I recently signed up for the Full Monte of recycling with my trash collecting peeps.

And I can hardly wait to hear the dulcet tones of the garbage truck tomorrow morning. I'm drowning, and he has the life preserver that rolls by in the shape of a clunky big truck with the convenient slow-crush feature.

We've been almost unthinkingly tossing the stuff that can be recycled into a separate bin these past two weeks. Just to clarify, here's the list of the recyclables my trash company collects.

Corrugated cardboard

Any colored paper

File folders


Brochures and pamphlets

Computer printouts


Manuals with glue bindings

Cereal boxes and all things paperboard


Junk mail

Coated paper

Phone books

Plastics, numbers 1 through 7

Glass bottles and jars of any shape or color

Steel and aluminum cans - and the labels don't need to be removed!

And of course the garden variety soda cans and newspaper.

It's been so easy. And combined with the composter, what's left to throw in the trash, really?

So like I mentioned, we started with a bin on the back porch. It didn't take long to fill it up.

So I went in search of Bin Number Two.

Then that filled up, fast.

So we started another collection.

To refresh your memory, this collection was accumulated over a 2-week period.

Thank god tomorrow's trash day.

I did mention the composter, didn't I?

So we just put fresh bits, rinds, coffee grounds, egg shells, that kind of thing in a bowl in the sink.

It kind of looks like this.

Okay - it looks exactly like this:
When the bowl gets full, someone takes it out to the composter.

I know, I know. I get this whole hippie label slapped on my back with frequency to my face, and probably a whole lot more often when I'm not around.

Because people who recycle like we're doing get that derisive punch line-ish reaction. I don't really care, though.

Doing this level of recycling is just so freaking easy, and once I got started full-tilt, I started seeing my trash in a different way.

Tossing crap in a separate container takes just a little bit of 'oh, yeah; this goes in there.' For about a day. Then it comes naturally.

The most obvious revelation of these past two weeks is that I need a bigger bin. Or two.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hoarding the intangible.

My friend Debbie is a personal organizer and interior designer. Check out her website!

Debbie asked me to come by the other day, because she'd acquired some of the backdraft that her hoarder clients had been busily procuring, and she wanted to know if any of the items had actual worth.

In the process of going through the boxes of what was essentially crap, Debbie talked about the hoarders she works with. Debbie puts measurable effort into understanding the psychology behind what keeps people attached to things.

And Debbie's loving acceptance, her eagerness to learn about why people surround themselves with copious mounds of merchandise they'll never use, makes her such an amazing treasure.

It's a psychology class, spending time with Debbie, listening to what she does. Debbie takes rooms that are filled with mountains of filth and mess and turns them into organized, calming spaces. She does it by learning about her clients' comfort zones, discovering what makes them tick, and then gently, respectfully cleaning house.

When I was listening to Debbie, as we were slogging through what she'd convinced her clients they no longer needed, I couldn't help but personalize.

It's a thin line, that line between collecting and hoarding, between just enough and too much.

And I took a different look at what I've been accumulating after my Debbie time.

I realized not only that I need to thin my herd a bit. I do need to take the clutter down a notch.

And then I took the physical concept of hoarding a bit further, into the realm of time, of obligation.

Sometimes I feel like I'm pulled in so many directions that I don't steer straight toward any of them. I feel like I very ungracefully lurch to the nearest deadline, the most pressing need, the loudest voice.

Eventually I find myself trapped in this odd stasis, where I'm overwhelmed by all the things I need to do. And I wind up doing nothing.

It's overwhelming sometimes, this crazy game. Just like hoarders who navigate a crap-strewn path to bed each night, I feel I'm caught in the maze of obligation, task, directive, necessity. And when I see so many things I should be doing, like a hoarder who sees so many items that need to be thrown away, I just kick it into Avoidance mode and figure it will all get done eventually.


Debbie provides it for people who have accumulated more things than they can handle.

I'd love an organizational Debbie to sashay into my world and gently separate my wheat from my chaff.

Then we could bundle up all of those frustrating tasks, requirements and obligations and send them off to Goodwill to be purchased by someone else who would see their value.

How big of a box do you think we'd need?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?

Coffee is my morning ritual. Its necessity is wrapped up in so much more than its tasty taste, embellished with one Splenda and a splash of 1/2 and 1/2. It's in the grinding of the beans before bed, the setting of the timer so brewing starts 15 minutes before my alarm goes off, it's the smell that hits my nose before my feet hit the floor in the morning.

It starts with the beans that, ideally, are oily and dark. No pre-ground coffee in a can for me.

I like my coffee strong. Conversely, my mom used to make coffee so light that its color was just a touch deeper than taupe.

As for me, I guess it's safe to say that the best part of waking up is full-bodied, piping hot French roast in my cup.

So imagine my frustration when my coffee pot crapped out this morning.

I tried everything. And nothing worked, until I boiled some water on the stove, and manipulated the basket of crushed beans without any help from Mr. Coffee. Not unlike Gilligan and his castaways fashioning functional mugs out of coconuts, I did the best I could to make a decent cup of coffee this morning. Here's how it looked:

I didn't have the patience to wait for a decent yield, but I did manage to eek out a cup of tasty Joe.

And speaking of Joe, Mr. Dimaggio once was the spokesperson for Mr. Coffee. I was cursing both Joe and Mr. Coffee this morning while I was crafting my home brew.

My Mr. Coffee pot wasn't new when I bought it, of course, but it worked great for a few years. But like an aging dog that's increasingly reluctant to take a walk, there were signs Mr. Coffee was preparing to leave me.

So instead of trying to repair our relationship, which most likely would have ended in ennui and frustration, I gave Mr. Coffee the boot. Or more specifically, I trashed him.
My dog looks like he's doing a bit of judging. But sometimes you have to know when to say goodbye.

My expectations weren't unreasonable, but Mr. Coffee refused to comply.

And now I have to start all over. I'll have to go shopping, most likely this afternoon, for a new morning friend who can facilitate my coffee jones.

I'm not bitter. Just needy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Stop that laughing and get back to work.

That's probably what some of my co-workers were thinking today, because Angel came up with a few more questions that broke the wall of tedium and repetition.

It started with the way she prefaced her questions.

She said that she'd woken up about 3.30 am, and one of the following questions was the first thing she thought of upon waking.

If you had to choose between a constantly dripping nose or uncontrollable gas, which would you choose?

Here's another one.

If you had to choose between having a constantly exposed butt crack or chronic halitosis, which would you pick?

And the last one. If you had to have one leg shorter than the other or a unibrow you could never wax or pluck, which would you endure?

Stray away briefly from the freakishly large and ever-expanding oil spill and how it will affect your All You Can Eat Shrimp consumption at Red Lobster. Stop signing up for the many petitions against what's going on in Arizona.

I'd love to know what folks think about these three riveting questions.

As for me, here's how I roll.

Question 1: I'd prefer the constantly dripping nose. Nothing says 'no, thanks' on so many levels than uncontrollable gas.

Question 2: That would be the butt, Bob. Chronic halitosis implies so many limits, both socially and professionally.

Question 3 is interesting. I'd opt for the shorter leg. There are clunky and questionably fashionable shoes that would accommodate for the shortcomings of one's limbs. The unibrow may have worked for Frida Kahlo, but I don't think it's a refreshing look for me.

I asked Mr. Fabulous this series of questions today, and he answered questions one and two just like I did. But he'd prefer the unibrow to the shorter leg.

And he asked so many questions in the process of making these decisions, as if the questions were real and possible. He especially had issues with question 3.

'How much shorter is one leg than the other?' he queried.

I offered up an arbitrary four inches. And still he opted for the unibrow.

Go figure.

These questions are completely improbable, and so interesting. Not only because of what you realize you'd do, but because of the logic other people use in the process of choosing completely illogical outcomes.

It's good to get away sometimes vis a vis silly questions asked and answered.

Getting away from the tedium of work or the crazy craziness of reality is sometimes just a question away.