Sunday, July 29, 2012

Austin recap. In short, vacations are never long enough.

Some time has passed. Not a significant amount of time, but enough to drive over a thousand miles to find myself back home again.

This trip was such a blur. And I really tried to make it a point to experience every minute.

Minutes went too fast. I think Logan feels the same way.

When last I updated, it was about to be Friday.

Friday was great. Erin and I hit South Congress - this totally cool area in Austin I'd want to inhabit with regularity if I lived in Austin.

Erin and I agreed; Austin is a very cool city. I could totally live in Austin.

Especially SoCo.

Who doesn't like to be welcomed with a big i love you so much tag? Such is SoCo. South Congress is filled to bursting with misty cafes, live music and wonderful diversity. Not unlike Portland, Austin's discovered the food truck, and a block of Austin is dedicated to all things foodie.

We did a before-and-after SoCo thing on our last full day in Austin. In between, we went to Logan's performances at 2:30 and 4:30 pm at Ballet Austin.

Here's just a sample. This is just a taste of the wonderful performance the kids put together in three weeks. This is a segment of Logan's level. It was a great show, and I think I understand, in perhaps a small way, what it must be like to feel a part of something so grand.

After we dropped the kids off for their last night of ballet dancer cameraderie, during which they vowed to us they didn't intend in the least to have an "alcohol party" or smoke any "marijuana cigarettes", Erin and I went back to South Congress.

We hit The Continental. It's the best deal on the block. We heard great blues, we each had a cheap beer, and there's no better atmosphere than what we found. I'd have loved to have stayed later, but we had ground to cover in the morning, so we were gone before it cost us anything. After 9 pm, there's a cover. But there's a lot to hear before 9 pm on a Friday night.

We had the best veggie burgers for dinner at the Snack Bar. Then it was time to head to bed. Because we are old, and we had hundreds of miles to cover in the morning.

We found our way to Logan somewhere around 10 am on Saturday. We did our best to pack the car, which wasn't pretty - and then we hit the road.

Hundreds of miles later, we found ourselves in Amarillo. What a fucking long day. There's no other way to put it.

After a night at the Days Inn in Amarillo (not as nice as the Ramada Inn in Austin, and it was more expensive - make note) this morning, we headed home. There's something about having been somewhere before that makes the journey shorter, and the way home seemed to glide by.

I had a hankering for a donut along the way, and we had what is perhaps the most unintentionally humorous moment of the trip at that particular donut place. I think only Erin, Logan and I would appreciate the retelling, so I'll spare you.

And now we're home. I'm glad beyond measure that Logan had a good time and learned a whole lot of stuff at Ballet Austin. I certainly enjoyed my time while he was gone. We both needed the time away.

And now we both have new realities to face.

Freedom has a very curious cost.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vacations are the perfect time to get lost.

I'm good at getting lost.

I perfected my skill last night after dinner last night. Erin and I picked up Logan and his friend Colton after their day at Ballet Austin. We were going to all go to the Salt Lick for dinner, but a local gal we chatted with at the studio told us it was almost an hour away, and typically there was a long wait. It was already 6:30, and the boys had to be back at the studio early the next morning, so we opted to head to the County Line. It was very tasty, with a beautiful view.

We saw a photo opportunity on the back porch of the place, and asked a woman who was about to order if she'd take a few photos of the four of us. She let us know we'd picked the right person to ask. "I do pictures," she said with a certain smug enthusiasm. We learned swiftly that her name was Teresa.

Teresa took several shots of us. We stood up. We sat down. We looked up. We looked behind us, at the sun, of course indirectly.

Eventually, we wrangled my phone out of Photographer Teresa's hands and headed down the hill to bring the boys back to their dorm.

I put Ballet Austin as our destination on Mapquest, so that was a bit of a setback.

Once we dropped off the kids, I put Ramada Inn into the Mapquest.

About 17 minutes later, we realized that I'd input the wrong Ramada Inn.

Eventually, I'd gotten us so lost that I drove and Erin attempted to navigate our way home. I was never so glad to see a generic Ramada Inn motel room in my life.

But we had a great evening, despite the extra-long tour of Austin.

Everything's a bit more fun when you're out of your element, navigating somewhere new.

As for today, I got up before Erin (this has become typical), and at 8:41 am, while I was getting my coffee, I got a text from Logan. It read: "All the kids have their parents here already!! Why don't you love me?!"

Today was the day we had the chance to watch the kids go through their class day. I thought it was kind of a drop-in thing. Logan was only faux-disappointed, as it turned out, and he was happy to see us when we eventually arrived around 11.

We watched a couple of his classes, went out to lunch and parted ways until tomorrow.

As for the rest of the day, we puttered around Austin, saw a bunch of cool stuff, drove on many highways. We're having a relaxing evening so far, and we may go out later.

It's nice to relax. And tomorrow's our last full day in Austin. We have a lot to do before and after Logan's performances tomorrow at 2:30 and 4:30.

One thing's for sure. There's a whole lot more to do in this city than we'll be able to accomplish on this trip. It's clear that Austin needs to be unpeeled and savored like a big, tasty fried onion, slowly and with intention.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Austin city limits.

Erin likes to sleep, so we got out of our crappity America's Best Value Inn motel room at 11 am, right at check-out time. I got up hours before, got showered and visited the breakfast area of the hotel. People really like waffles here, apparently. An intricate waffle batter dispenser and waffle iron has been a feature at both the HoJo's and the very inappropriately named America's Best. Not a waffle-lover, I opted for coffee in the extra-large mug I brought from the room.

I didn't mind the room. Erin thought it smelled. In my mind, it wasn't bad. But it was HOT. The air conditioning didn't do the trick.

So I'm glad I caved and succumbed to Erin's wishes. She booked a room in the Ramada Inn. An extra $20 per night means so much when it comes to motels.

So enough kvetching about the accommodations.

Maybe our room has become so important because it represents a respite from the merciless heat.

So it's been established. It's hot in Austin - a different, encompassing kind of hot. I'm sure if I lived here, I'd get used to the heat. Logan mentioned yesterday that he doesn't even notice it now, after almost six weeks of being here. Adaptation is a beautiful thing.

San Francisco has its earthquakes. Portland has its rain. Austin has the heat. Otherwise, these are all among the most beautiful cities in the country. In other words, every city, like anything beautiful, has its down-sides.

At any rate....

Once we left our room spot on at 11 am today, Erin and I headed to Kerbey Lane for breakfast/lunch. My lovely friend Shawn, who used to live in Austin, suggested the place. It was fabulous, eclectic and totally tasty. Erin had a pancake, I had a fried green tomatoes BLT and sweet potato fries. Yumlicious, I say. There are a few Kerbey Lane locations, but I picked the original, aptly located on Kerbey Lane.

After acquainting ourselves with the city a bit, we found our way to the hiking trail along the river that divides one part of Austin from the other. It remains to be established if this body of water is a river or a lake, as Austin refers to this tributary as Lake Austin, but it sure looks like a river to me.

The path at the base of the river/lake is perfect, not only because of its fabulous views of the city, but because it's nicely maintained, fairly flat, and leads to several areas at which one can walk across a bridge, across the water. And dogs can go off the leash. Undoubtedly the best dog park ever.

The melange of mutts that were eagerly splashing about in the water and sniffing one another seemed like a canine version of what happens at any playground in any city anywhere. We met Olin, a darling pup I'd have happily and later regrettably taken home with me.

Olin was sadly more attached to his owner than us, so we continued for a couple of miles down the path, across the river on the footbridge. The views were striking.

I can completely understand why this path is so popular on a Wednesday afternoon. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours, and we got a glimpse of Austin that was spot-on gorgeous.

Here's the view from the bridge over the water. It's difficult to discern, but some folks had gone to great lengths to tag the next bridge with intricate messages and artwork. Lives were potentially lost. But the incongruity of the LET'S PRETEND WE ARE ROBOTS message and artwork was an interesting contrast against the downtown Austin skyline.

Erin and I were drenched with Austin sweat by the time we got back to the car. We went to our new hotel after a tour through the city, and decided to relax for just a bit before we met up with Logan and his friend Colton. Again on Shawn's suggestion, we're going to the Salt Lick for dinner tonight. We'll pick the boys up at 6:15 pm at Ballet Austin.

From now until then, it's time to relax. Siestas are fundamentally a good thing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Deep in the heart of Texas.

We got the show on the road at 11 am, and found our way to Austin seven hours later. The topography gradually changed as we drove, becoming less stark and more lush; although the Recession Tour continued until we got to Austin.

The worst was Sweetwater, Texas. Boarded up buildings seemed to outnumber populated structures. Everything seemed hot, dry and beige.

There was a sweet spot in Sweetwater. We had lunch at the Amole Restaurant, and it was fabulous. The people were nice, the food was great. So obviously Sweetwater has its share of good people. Maybe we missed the hot spots that would have made the Sweetwater stop on the Recession Tour a bit less sour.

We finally made it to Austin, finally found our hotel that we'd booked on Expedia while lunching in Sweetwater.

Austin is cool. And Austin is hot. Wiltingly hot.

Once we were settled, I texted Logan. Initially, we decided to get together tomorrow night. But we headed downtown and figured we'd see where he was staying, we realized he was very close to where we were, and we gave him a call.

Long and short, we met a bunch of Logan's new ballet friends, got a gyro for dinner and went to the turtle pond at the University of Texas. Very cool. And he's very happy.

It's time to relax now. Tomorrow, we'll be looking for a different spot to land for the duration of our stay. I really don't care about where we're staying; I've been doing my share of camping this summer, so virtually any hotel visit is a lovely luxury. But Erin's not too fond of where we're staying, and we're here until Saturday. So it's fine with me if we find a new spot.

We've also decided that Logan, his Colorado ballet friend Colton, Erin and I will go to the Salt Lick for dinner tomorrow.

Other than deciding that, tomorrow's a no-agenda day. I think that going downtown is definitely on the docket. It's so cool downtown.

And so hot.

**I've tried to upload some photos from the day, but our crappy wi-fi has rendered that capacity useless. Another good reason to find a new hotel tomorrow....

Monday, July 23, 2012

Here we are in Lubbock.

Finally, we saw some Texas sky.

Which, after 10 hours, began to look a lot like New Mexico sky. Big and blue and white punctuated with lots and lots of nothing. Which turned out to be very, very good.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We left Denver at 9 am. By the time we got to Pueblo, it was time to find a bathroom.

In an attempt to stick with the thrifting plan, we tried to find an ARC in Pueblo. After some searching, all we found was a donation station. I happened to trip across a Sara Lee Bakery Thrift Store that I thought might have a bathroom, so we stopped in and used the bathroom, bought a baked good and chatted with Lydia about how to get back to the highway.

I have yet to consume the cherry pie I bought in Pueblo. I bought it more for the box than for its interior; an undoubtedly tasty cherry pie. I just think it's wildly intriguing when a box advertises that the contents contain what one would expect, as if it's some crazy bonus. In the cherry pie's case, apparently it's some sort of boxed pie marvel that its contents contain Real Fruit Filling!

After a harrowing re-entry onto the highway and a lovely drive, we stepped out of our modern-day world and had lunch at a mom-and-pop cafe in Raton. Yes, we were in New Mexico.

Erin slept while I drove to Logan.

Not Logan Makis.

Logan, New Mexico.

It was 107 degrees when we slid into town, and I think the folks at the truck stop were kind of pissed that I didn't do more than just that at their establishment. Not much to see in Logan, New Mexico, aside from this completely intriguing sign for a store that no longer exists. I have no idea why not.

Kind of ambiguous, the Just Stuff. Just saying.

Now that Erin was fully awake, we had a compelling conversation, much of which I taped without her knowing. I'd provide a link to what I recorded, but frankly I'm tired, and this freaking slow "High-Speed" HoJo internet is bringing me down. So I might try tomorrow.

But I digress.

We passed a large, sprawling wind farm that was very randomly placed in large swatches of land outside of Logan, New Mexico. We postulated many hypotheses as to why these farms were just where they were. I think, at the end of the day, it may be because it's very windy. At least that was our experience.

Such was the case all day. The car was rocked by waves of wind and heat. And we successfully found our way to Lubbock, somewhere around 7 pm.

The woman who checked us into the Howard Johnson's (chosen simply for the kitsch-factor) was super-pokey, but we finally got access to our room, which upon entry was super-hot. So we went to dinner while the room cooled off.

Where does one go for dinner in Tey-Has?

A steak house, of course.

Google steak house and google restaurant in Lubbock, and you'll get more hits for the former.

Unfortunately, we lost an hour moving from New Mexico to Texas, so it was 9:30 pm by the time we were ready for dinner.

After a series of unfortunate missteps, for many of which I'm responsible due to my aging eyes and general spacial difficulty, we finally arrived at the Texas Land & Cattle Steak House, somewhere around 9:45 pm.

Erin had a wedge salad and a baked yam.

I had a dinner salad, a baked yam and steamed asparagus.

Not a steak in sight.

Welcome to Texas.

So far, it's been established that it has a big blue and white sky, dotted with a whole lot of what one might assume is not much.

But things aren't always what they seem.

It was a great day.

I drove the whole time, and while Erin was asleep, I had a very pleasant time in my head, all by myself.

When we were both awake, we talked about stuff.

We talked about how we seemed to be on the Recession Tour. Every town we visited had a number of boarded up buildings, vacant spaces. Maybe that's the case in a normal economy, but towns seemed somewhat desolate and sad, all along the way.

Including Lubbock. Lubbock on a Monday night seemed completely shut down. Like a Twilight Zone episode. One of those where everyone falls into some alternate universe but you, and you're the only one who doesn't know.

But again, I digress.

We had a lovely dinner. And now we're back at the hotel, ready to span the space between here and Austin tomorrow.

Today was a beautiful day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation.

Obviously, I'm not spending my summer vacation blogging.

It's been a quiet and fast summer so far. Quiet because both kids have been conspicuously absent. Connor's working and living with his dad, and I see him in brief blurs when he rises or descends here at home, on his way to or on his way from spending time with his girlfriend. It's as it should be, and he's happy.

Logan's been in Texas for the past month, dancing at Ballet Austin. He very occasionally checks in, I'm sure more for my sake than his. He'll be fine navigating this crazy world. 

I'm reminded of when the kids were in grade school, and I'd join them for lunch. Connor would see me wander in the lunch room and his face would light up. He'd make room for me among his friends, and they'd greet me just as warmly. 

When I visited Logan, he'd have a "what the hell are you doing here?" look on his face, and he'd tolerate my presence as long as it took to consume our lunch.

Both responses are just fine. And nothing's really changed that much.

Logan's approach to my presence in his life has been tempered by good manners and time, so I assume he'll be a bit more excited than he used to be when he saw me in the lunch room in elementary school. I'll be wandering into his current lunch room when I find my way to Austin a week from today. I'm leaving next week to pick him up from his 6-week ballet intensive.

And, like most of life, I'd like to think it's about the journey; not the destination. I'll be traveling in my crappity POS car down to Austin in the midst of a hot summer with my friend Erin, and I'm determined to have a great time along the way.

Erin, like most of the people with whom I surround myself, is fascinating. She's simple, and she's complicated. And I can't quite figure her out. That seems to be the common denominator that weaves through the pattern of people I tend to retain. I just don't get them entirely. 

I've known Erin for a dozen or so years. If I ask Erin what she did today, her answer would be banal and rote; the kinds of answer most of us would give. 

So I've learned to not ask that question. 

I ask Erin about concepts. About ideas. About ways people are. And then I listen, and we chat, and it's usually completely compelling to hear what she has to say, to hear our conversation evolve.

She's hard to pin down. And I was completely shocked when I mentioned I needed a traveling companion to go to Austin to pick up Logan. And Erin said she'd go with me. Oddly, her answer came as easily as if I were asking her if she wanted to go to the grocery store with me. 

Game on, I say. It doesn't hurt that Erin thinks the world of Logan. And the feeling is mutual. Logan loves Erin. He's said more than once that she's his favorite among my friends.

So that means our trip back might be fun. It might be more of a party and less of an "oh. My mom's here to have lunch with me (eyeroll)" experience.

I've determined that I'm going to blog about our trip to Texas. 

Maybe the trip and the blogging about the trip will reinvigorate my desire to blog. I've kept my interior on the inside over the summer, and it's been nice. But I've missed this format of personal expression. 

I've lost sleep, actually, wondering if my relevance is gradually deteriorating by keeping my tender thoughts on the downlow.

The world continues to spin without my supply of observations. But that's going to change next week.

I'm back, baby.

And I'm headed to Texas with Erin, with the intention of picking up Logan, and having some fun.

Watch out.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The dysmorphia of happiness.

I've been on both blunt ends of my own game of happiness tug-of-war lately, and the whole swirling idea of happiness compelled me to attempt a bit of deconstruction.

Why does my happiness tend to shift, despite the fact that very few actual differences have occurred from Happy Day to Less-Happy Day? Situations and conditions are the same. But one day I'm happy, the next I'm kind of blue. I prefer happy. So how can I stay there? Why does happiness seem so dysmorphic?

Seems like a fairly simple question.

I started at the most obvious place. It's a subject that can cause certain levels of stress in almost everyone. Money. How we see it, value it, are controlled by it, how money plays into the happiness game. Specifically, I referenced an article I'd heard about that attempted to shed light on the perennial dark question that lurks in the murky minds of most folks who struggle every month attempting to balance income with outgo. Does money really buy happiness?

According to a recent TIME magazine article,9171,2019628,00.html, happiness may come at a price. It's an interesting study, this link between income and happiness. Although there are many components to happiness, this research has found that "every 10% rise in annual income moves people up the satisfaction ladder the same amount, whether they're making $25,000 or $100,000."

Another TIME piece from a few years back goes into a bit more detail about the specifics when it comes to happiness,9171,1015902-1,00.html. Apparently our education, age, religion, marital status and so many more elements are woven into the fabric of our cozy statistical happiness blanket. It seems that happiness itself has been nicely quantified, studied, tucked in and put to bed.

But is it really that easy? By understanding and implementing all of these very cogent bits of data about happiness, would my disposition become inherently, fundamentally and consistently sunny?

Happiness may be a bit less easy to quantify, actually. Like an anorexic who looks in a mirror and sees a fat person, the layers of happiness look a bit dysmorphic.

Take, for instance, the TED talk on the paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz It's his contention that people are generally less satisfied - less happy - when they have more choices. According to Schwartz, "The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose."

To sum his talk up in a teeny nutshell, the secret to happiness is low expectations, according to Schwartz.

This theory adds a delicious, fatty layer to the concept of happiness dysmorphia. The element of perception.

How we see things - how we value money, act our age, perceive our station in the world, how we treat people - can be just as important to the process of perceiving happiness as all the data that suggests happiness is an outside job.

Consider this list of "15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy"  Of all the information I've referenced, all the data I've considered, this particular list is the most compelling.

Give up the need to always to be right. Give up complaining. Give up your limiting beliefs. There are a dozen more items that add yet another comfortable layer to the idea that the dysmorphia of happiness is perception. How we see what we have, how we treat who we love, how we see what we do, what comes out of our mouths, how we navigate the world, directly correlates to happiness.

And those delicious elements have nothing to do with wealth, status, age or religion, blah, blah, blah. It's most likely much more simple.

I've asked several people how they perceive happiness, and those conversations were compelling. Themes emerged. And almost every theme ultimately led back to perception - how we see ourselves, our circumstances and the world - as the source of happiness.

It seems to be as simple as that.

So, like my recent tug-of-war happiness battle, the Quest for Happiness seems to be an ongoing game that requires my participation. It seems to hinge on how I see it in the mirror that's my life. Like that very thin person who finally sees their quest for perfection will never be attained and a sandwich sounds like a good idea, the dysmorphia of happiness is a choice. A perception.

That idea makes me happy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Identical cousins, a chair update.

When my kids were young, I would walk them to elementary school. I walked with them to junior high, too. And as is my thing, I sang songs as we'd walk. One favorite number was the theme song to the Patty Duke Show. It goes something like this, but of course it sounds better while walking with children:

But they're cousins,
Identical cousins all the way!
They look alike, they talk alike, at times they even walk alike - you could lose your mind!
When cousins
Are two of a kind!

It came as a sad reminder by one of my way-too-smart kids that there's no such thing as identical cousins. Apparently, as I was reminded by my kid several years ago, that's just not possible.

And I was reminded of that song again the other day when I visited the chair I found at a thrift store in Greeley that's currently being recovered. After doing some research, I found that my chair was the spitting image of The Chair by Hans Wegner. This chair is credited as an iconic example of Danish design history. 

It's such a long story, kind of like how Patty and her cousin got to looking so very identical. I've written a few times about this chair, and I'll leave it up to whoever feels so prone to find the entries about The Chair.

After a few crossed wires which were sparked by a friend who called Ackerman's to contribute to my chair's restoration as a gift for my 50th birthday, I learned that not only had Mike and his team not started caning the chair I thought might be done a few weeks ago, but another identical chair had come into the shop for a bit of a joint repair.

Mike A. (Ackerman) wanted me to come in and take a look at my chair's identical cousin.

The woman who owned this chair had a crap-ton of chairs just like this one at home, and they're all as identical as it gets. Mike wanted me to come in to see how this original caning had been crafted, in order for them to get the go-ahead to replicate the design on the seat of my chair.

But like Patty and her precocious twin cousin, there were differences between my chair and this very obvious original.

At first glance, my chair looks just like this chair, without the caned seat, which is fairly typical. Retaining caning after 50 years is kind of like keeping one's face completely line- and fault-free after a half a century. It's very rare, and if it looks original, there's a high probability that it's not.

Let me briefly remind you that this is my chair.

It's strikingly similar. 

Mike and I have looked at these two chairs, side by side, like a forensics expert would look at a dead body.

My chair has been refinished, and we chose a lighter grain. The other chair may have started its life a bit lighter, like just about anything that was created 50 years ago. The other chair, which is what I'm apparently calling it, has had 50 years of use without being refinished.

I have no idea if anyone thinks this is as fascinating as I do, but it's fun for me, so I'll continue.

I compared a few things while I had a moment with both chairs. Like the joints of the arms. They're very similar. I didn't have a way to measure the width of the arms at the time, but in hindsight, I wish I'd have done that.

It was kind of like missing a blood spatter, if you were Dexter.

The height, width and joinery looked identical in person.

But there was a very obvious difference.

It was all about the zig-zag joint. No, let's not go there.

I'm talking about the chair.

This was called the jigsaw joint, and it was defined by Mr. Wegner as The Way to connect the back to the arm of The Chair. This defines the real deal.

This is the Patty Duke. The original. 

But what of my chair? 

Did you take photos of the joinery of your chair, you ask?

Yes, I did. And I did a bit of research.

Because this is the joinery of my chair.

Notice the straight line. No jigsaw puzzle. 

Therein lies the conundrum.

I know this chair was made in the 1960s, based on information I found on the chair (Compelling, I know. Kind of makes you want to find those earlier entries, but I'm too lazy to add a link, so you'll have to find it for yourself.).

I did a lot of research to try to find prototype design ideas by Mr. Wegner. I looked for age-appropriate reproduction resources. I've found a few leads that I'll pursue, but at this point, I have to assume my chair might be a very early knock-off.

But I haven't lost hope.

There's that lead I'm following. A missing drop of blood.

Until then, in my mind, these chairs are beautiful, illogical, identical cousins. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Revisiting the vortex.

It's time to dig through the garbage.

I'm working on a few different writing projects at present, so I thought in the meantime I'd post a blog version of a summer television rerun, with a bit of an update.

I wrote about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex), two years ago. This vortex is essentially a huge trash dump floating around in the Pacific Ocean. 

Start with a filthy base of degrading plastics and other man-made trash, add a dash of cruise ship debris (each luxury liner generates over eight tons of solid waste every week), mix in a bit of oil we keep spilling here and there, stir it up with a compliant ocean current, and voila. Like attracts like. 

I was hoping to provide an encouraging update, but I read this morning that the vortex is still estimated to have created a mass twice the size of the continental United States.

So taking it from macro to micro, it may be a good time to think about what you throw away. 

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.

Before I learned about this from Cara, I didn't even know this watery mass existed. 

I had no clue that my trash might be getting sucked into the vortex.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Happy birthday to me. 50 things I've learned so far.

Today I'm 50.

I thought long and hard about some project I could do today, out in the world - 50 kind things, giving/receiving 50 hugs, 50 moments - 50 of something to commemorate being around this long. But everything I thought of sounded kind of derivative. And, not to put myself on a big Aren't I Wonderful pedestal, but I get a total kick out of giving things away. I like to hug people. I like to talk with strangers. So the stuff I'd do 50 times in one day all turned out to be things I seem to just do as a matter of course. I have a very thin filter when it comes to opening up to certain potential experiences.

When I nixed the Doing Something 50 Times On My Birthday idea, I thought about what I love. What I feel I do best. And honestly, I love to write. I think I'm a good writer.

So I thought I'd write down 50 things I've learned so far. One thing for each year.

So here goes. Happy birthday to me. I'm so glad I'm 50 today.

50 things I've learned so far

1. I can't freaking believe I'm 50.

2. You can have more than one soulmate in a lifetime.

3. I had no idea before I had kids how much I'd love them.

4. People rarely change.

5. There are always new things to learn.

6. Work is highly overrated.

7. I miss my mom.

8. I know more than I think I do.

9. Every season is the best season, unless you're waiting for the next one.

10. I dislike the idea of going to certain places (i.e., the hardware store, the post office, the dentist, the bank), but once I get there it's never as bad as I thought it would be.

11. Trust is earned.

12. Almost anything is more fun when everybody just lightens up.

13. I've made some bad choices, but I have no regrets.

14. Difficult people rarely know they're being difficult.

15. I wish my marriage would have worked. This seems counterintuitive to #13, with a caveat. Great choice at the time, no regrets. Refer to #3. We're partners when it comes to those beautiful people.

16. I resent that I rarely sleep eight hours in a row.

17. Where I am is exactly where I need to be.

18. Once you get one tattoo, you want another one.

19. Trying new things is great. Unless what you try sucks.

20. There's nothing better than being with people who really know you.

21. I'm completely comfortable with what I've defined as my spirituality, which has very little to do with how I was raised.

22. My parents were fallible, imperfect, flawed people. And so am I.

23. I can learn from opinions with which I don't necessarily agree.

24. I appreciate left- and right-brained thinking.

25. On that note, I've learned to appreciate the art of ballet. And I've learned to understand the left-brained world of science. I have my kids to thank.

26. Some of my most interesting memories come from what I probably shouldn't have been doing.

27. It's really hard to let go. Even if you know you need to.

28. Worry is a waste of time.

29. Laughter isn't always the best medicine. Sometimes medicine is the best medicine.

30. Being alone takes adjustment, but it can be very nice.

31. Sometimes the best way to communicate is to stop talking.

32. It's true that youth is wasted on the young, but people my age still act like kids, and that's completely okay.

33. Being cold is being better than being hot, at least when it comes to temperature.

34. It's a good thing to live somewhere that's within walking distance to a Seven-11.

35. Superlatives always suck.

36. It's been curious to me when I've been told I've been someone else's bad influence. (Is this something I've learned, or just an observation? I'm not sure. I think it says a bit about me, a bit about them.)

37. There are very few things that a good evening alone can't be made even better with a few lit candles, good music, a bath and a good book.

39. I feel lost when things break.

39. There are very few places that are better to live than in this moment.

40. I enjoy having more interests than time to pursue them.

41. Giving feels better than taking.

42. Coffee in the morning - good coffee - is a need. Not a want.

43. My kids are the best, most fulfilling, most sustaining, most remarkable pains in the ass I'll ever experience. And I mean that in a good way.

44. I wish I were fluent in another language.

45. Some things seem like a whole lot of effort (refer to #44).

46. It's good to acknowledge how fortunate I am.

47. I sometimes wonder how my life would have gone had I more fervently pursued the path on which I started. Honestly, I like this one. Roads diverge. I happened to travel the one less travelled by. Sometimes it's full of potholes, but that just must mean I live in Denver.

48. It's almost impossible for me to buy anything that's brand-new, with a few exceptions. There's something about value, there's something about history.

49. There's a difference between driving aggressively and driving assertively.

50. I embrace 50. Today is my launching pad. Everything's already good, and it all gets better from here, based on what I've seen in my rear-view mirror.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't throw that away! The logic of functional retention.

I have a number of towels hanging on hooks in my bathroom that are older than my boys, and they're 16 and 19.

Not unlike my mood sometimes, these towels are frayed and tired, so thin and unabsorbent that I'm sure I can see through them in just the right light. But something has kept me hanging on, as if by throwing them out I'd be tossing away something that actually retains a utility, a function.

My attitude changed this weekend.

I got four new thick, fluffy towels, and made it a point to throw four lifeless, wilted flowers that were masquerading as towels straight in the trash. Some folks repurpose these rags in wildly creative ways, by perhaps fashioning purses or aprons or dolls, but I simply don't have the time, space or guilt that would have been required to have saved them.

It felt good, and the process of towel-tossing got me thinking.

What other almost-useless stuff do we retain, and why?

The What is fairly easy to identify. I did a bit of an unscientific poll, and asked a few folks what they keep that's obviously outlived its usefulness.

So far the list includes, but I'm sure is not limited to:

  • mascara (the most popular genus in the makeup family that's saved, so it seems)
  • every cord to every electrical device that's ever been purchased, whether that device still works or not
  • ChapStick
  • dried up markers
  • non-working pens
  • condiments in the fridge 
  • lighters that no longer light
  • old toothbrushes
  • pillows*
  • keys to unknown doors

Why we tend to keep these and many other items is as curious as what we choose to save. I'm just guessing, but I think we sometimes feel obliged to keep stuff because we see a potential future use, even if the logic behind that optimism is most likely unrealistic. That pen's ink might be dormant, or might shift into a full-use position if given a bit of time. We might be able to get one more teeny application from that thin film of ChapStick stuck at the bottom of the tube. The pillow's still comfortable. Just because a towel has seen its glory days doesn't mean it doesn't absorb something.

We all seem to have been touched by the gentle hand of innocuous hoarding. Generally not the Big Scale Intervention variety, but the intention seems strikingly similar. Whatever we choose to keep, it's probably because we think we might need it some day.

And then there are other days, like the one this weekend, when it felt so good to throw those ratty old towels away.  Next stop: junk drawer. Or maybe my purse. I've been looking for some ChapStick.

*According to, pillows are a soft, comfy warehouse for bugs, fungi and dried, ishy, scalp stuff. So it's suggested that pillows should be replaced every year or so, whether you want to or not.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Space. The final frontier.

Not unlike the last entry, I took way way more time researching this topic than it did to write about it. And the information I found was compelling. I found diagrams and psychology and data and history about office space that was completely fascinating. There was much more information than I could possibly use in one tidy blog entry. And I had dinner with friends last night that was very literally thought-provoking. One of the many topics we covered was exactly the type of spacial curiosity I'll be explaining in a very tertiary way with what's to follow below. So please expect this topic to be revisited at some point. Like my desk I'll be discussing in a moment, I consider tripping across this topic a complete score. 

It didn't take long after Connor's departure to college for me to infiltrate my world into what was, and still occasionally is, his room.

I've been working from home at my regular job for years. I'd worked in a space that was too confining, too cramped, in an area of my bedroom that was just too small.

So, like a looter who eyes the opportunity to get that big screen tv during a blackout, I leapt on the chance to expand my work space once Connor had essentially vacated his bedroom across the hall.

Let it be clear: I love my kid, and I treasure every moment he graces me with his physical presence. So his bed, his odd personal memorabilia, his bookshelf filled with Star Wars novels and other items he can't relinquish, has stayed put.

But a few months ago, I mommed up (I think I just made up a new word) and created my own Occupy Bedroom movement.

It's started slowly. First, I dragged this cool 1960s desk into his room. I found it at Goodwill for $35, which was a complete steal. I'm sure the folks at Goodwill were asking so little for this desk because it's freakishly heavy, and so so not what most people are looking for in these modern times.

So much surface area. So many drawers. Each side, as you can see, has an area that pulls out to create even more flat spaces.

Like moving from a cramped studio apartment to a luxury penthouse, it seemed my telecommuting life was complete.

But nothing, it sadly seems, is perfect.

We've established that I've found and am currently using the perfect desk.

Now, I have an issue with space.

This is the exact distance between Connor's bed and the back of my work chair.

Like I mentioned - it's a big desk. And it's the perfect chair.

Therein lies the conundrum. The Sophie's Choice of spacial dilemmas.

Interestingly, Connor may have provided the perfect solution when he paid a very welcomed visit this weekend.

He asked if he could take his bed to college next year. I couldn't say yes fast enough. In fact, I'll most likely move the bed before he needs it again.

He'll always have a place to spend the night. I'm happy that he's happy.

And I'm happy that, like him, I'll have a little space.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stress management. A bloody mess, a calm conclusion.

I had a bit of an issue the other day when a convergence of shit hit my figurative fan, all at the same time.

I won't go into detail, but too many obstacles slid next to too many roadblocks I'd created that day; too much distraction led to too much vacancy with the present moment, and in the blink of an eye, in my self-absorbed distraction, I cut my finger.

I'll do almost anything to get out of actually looking at an unintended self-injury. But when I have to based on circumstance, an odd, dissociative, take-charge gene kicks in.

It didn't look like much of a cut at first glance. As far as I could tell without looking too long, it was relatively small, but very deep, and extremely painful. And it wouldn't stop bleeding.

I wrapped up my finger in a clean dish towel, kept working on my spinning tasks, and occasionally blurted out a nasty invective that punctuated just how much my finger continued to hurt like fire. I was worried that I actually might need a stitch or two. I was worried about infection. The thing I cut it on was kind of an unknown when it came to its origin.

When my finger was still bleeding an hour later, I was getting stressed.

I used the only weapon left in my arsenal.

I relaxed.

I sat in my favorite chair, closed my eyes, stopped thinking about my damned finger, and essentially slowed down.

My finger stopped bleeding, stopped hurting, in about five minutes.

The entire day, the moments that led up to that gushing hour, that calming conclusion, got me thinking.

How much time do I spend, how much effort do I put into spinning my wheels when that action doesn't take me anywhere? How much value is there in worry, stress, fear, anxiety, colorful epithets - all the things that eventually led me to my favorite chair?

I did more reading, more research on the worry/stress/fear connection for this entry than I've done for a long time. There's so much information, so many resources, it boggles the noggin. The connections are so clear, the information so profuse, that I couldn't narrow down data to encapsulate it in one tidy message. Not to do it justice in this one small bloggy space.

Long and short, we Americans worry too much, usually about stuff that is probably never going to happen. We get stressed about things so vast that we can't do anything about it but worry and get angry (the ugly triad of worry, fear and stress has a favorite cousin: anger). It manifests in personal, social and physical forms. And usually the objects of our worry and fear, which causes stress, might never happen, or hasn't happened yet.

This was not the case with my bleeding finger. That was real. That happened.

Then I got to thinking about the really terrible stuff that's actually happened in my life that was highly stressful, and even though I didn't think I could, I lived through it. In fact, even though in those cases my biggest fears were realized, I came out of the messy melange of terrible just that much stronger.

And I thought about all the things I've spent so much time worrying about that turned out really great in the end.

So there's an upside.

And it seems that the most valuable lesson that could be learned from those very real, awful experiences might be what I learned the other day.

I just stopped.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Seating arrangements. An update.

As you may have read in a previous entry, I stumbled across a very cool mid-century chair at a thrift store in Greeley ( I reluctantly purchased the chair for 8.99, thinking at the time that the last thing I needed was another piece of furniture.

And like the folks on that Jersey Shore show, it's obvious that the chair had a few issues.

I found a chair rehab place close to home, Ackerman Brothers, and they got moving on turning back the clock on this cool chair.

They let me know the other day that the chair was ready. So like a new pet owner who goes to the pound to pick up their dog who had recently been "fixed", I went on Thursday to pick up my new old chair.

While I was waiting, I took a peek at my original receipt, and noticed I'd been dealing with Mike A. I have a friend whose name is Mike whose last name starts with an A, so I made a little small talk and asked a guy who worked there what Mike A.'s last name was, thinking maybe he and my friend share their last name, which is also my last name, which would just be a weird and cool coincidence. He told me Mike A.'s last name was Ackerman.

So all along this very complicit chair restoration process, I'd been dealing with one of the founding fathers. Or most likely brothers.

That's pretty cool.

Mike has been as invested in my chair, its origins and its story, just as much as I have.

He came out with the chair, and I was somewhat disappointed that it hadn't been woven with the black seat belt material I'd chosen.

But he had some of the material, and showed me how they intended to attach the weave. Their idea covered up the cool center openings on all four sides, which didn't seem like what the original designers of this chair had in mind. And frankly, once I saw the seat belt material on the newly refinished chair, it just looked wrong.

So Mike and I both decided to do a little research before going any further with the project. Once I got home, I found a chair online that mirrored my chair's design. I got an email from Mike just as I was sending an email to him with what I'd found, and we both had located fairly quickly what the chair originally looked like. And it's supposed to look like the chair on the right.

The chair was the brainchild of Danish designer Hans Wegner, and although it's considered the most famous piece of Danish furniture ever, signified to be the beginning of Denmark's international design breakthrough, Wegner prosaically called it "the round one."

In design circles, this has come to be known as The Chair.

So our conundrum about what those openings on all four sides were intended for was figured out. As we both suspected, they were there for a reason. I'm so glad we kept digging for information, because the folks at Ackerman Bros. were going to weave the seat belt material over those strips. It would have looked terrible.

But now a new dilemma had surfaced. Hand-weaving the "radio weave" design would cost a bit more money than the chunk I'd already set aside for the chair.

I thought about it for a while, and figured I'd be doing Mr. Wegner a disservice by messing around with the integrity of his original design.

So I'll have to make a few seating arrangements. But this whole experience speaks to why I enjoy thrifting as a verb.

The tripping across something tossed away that has so much history, the research, the discovery, the process, is worth every penny.

I had no idea that what I'd labored over justifying buying for 8.99 would turn out to be quite this interesting.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Here's to good friends. Celebrating the value of time, loss and gain

Here's the short version of my friendship with and recent milestone update from Miriam. The long version, filled with colorful stories and decades of detail, will be retained in my noggin to tell to anyone who will listen when I'm a whole lot older and have more time. It's no easy feat to give appropriate backstory to a 30-year friendship over the course of one blog entry, but here goes:

My friend Miriam and I met in college, when we both worked for the student newspaper. We stayed connected after she decided to hit the road well before she graduated to opt for life in New York City. I lived Big City life vicariously on several visits to New York, and Miriam and I ceremoniously talked every Sunday.

Back in the late '80s, I decided to move from Denver to San Francisco. After hearing about my plan, she decided to switch coasts. So we moved there together.

Armed only with a car filled with stuff and my dog in the back seat, we moved to San Francisco without jobs or a place to live. After a rocky month or so, we'd found a house in the Sunset; I got a job as a copywriter, Miriam found work as a bartender. We settled in. 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

We each handled the earthquake of '89 in different ways when it came to fight or flight. She stayed in San Francisco - I left.

She met a man shortly after I left, and they had a lovely daughter. They eventually moved to Portland. They bought a house. They started a life together, in a new town. 

He strayed. She got mad. They parted. 

Some folks would have hit bottom. The bottle. The rebound. Miriam hit the gym. After seeing some results and finding her feet after the dust settled, she went back to college. 

Her previous size 14/16 body became a 10, then an 8, then a 6. It didn't just happen with exercise. She became fervent about healthy eating. She started a blog about finding fitness after 40.

And last year, at the age of 48, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in health studies with an emphasis in physical activity from Portland State University.

That's not where the story ends.

Last year, on her birthday, she marked her 48 years by walking 48,000 steps through Portland, meeting friends at bakeries along the way, celebrating every step.

Her birthday is today. This year, she ran 49,000 steps - 22 miles - as her birthday gift to herself. It took her eight hours. Five hours were actually spent running. Three hours were spent with friends, ironically eating pound cake at bakeries along a course she'd charted with careful attention to tasty detail.

When I talked with her today, she gave me the lowdown of her journey in a typical Miriam way. Not self-agrandizing, very matter-of-fact, with relevant, insightful detail. We talked in between her time at work and a birthday evening spent with her daughter. 

Where we used to have long chunks of Sundays to talk 30 years ago, now we both have shorter, more scheduled times to catch up on life without wondering what curious ears might be listening. During our chat today, she subtly suggested that I find some way to commemorate my 50th birthday next month. I know I won't be running 22 miles in five hours, but I'm still looking for some achievable marker to celebrate the beauty that is Time.

But today, I celebrate Miriam. I toast her quiet, determined, well-paced inspiration. And I gratefully acknowledge our colorful past, our rich present, our limitless futures.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring cleaning and Mad Men.

Spring cleaning brings together two very discordant elements for me. I love spring. I hate cleaning.

But for some reason, spring brings out the clean gene, and it's not just me.

I did a bit of research on the history of why we tend to eagerly shake away the cobwebs of winter with the advent of warmer weather and longer spates of daytime. The centuries-old Iranian cleaning custom falls on the Persian new year, and is aptly called "shaking the house", and the same tradition, known as Clean Week, is shared in Greece. In anticipation of Passover, Jewish tradition shares the same housecleaning ritual.

Here in America, spring cleaning is less codified by a religious or hand-me-down culture. Long and short, it feels good to usher in a new season with a freshly scrubbed house. But dusting off, throwing away, reorganizing, can also bring a few ghosts to the surface.

Because you can't get rid of old stuff without waking the gentle tug of memory.

I've been cleaning out an area of my back yard, which we all still call the "play area". The large wooden structure the kids used to play on, complete with slide and swings, was dismantled years ago. Connor used to spend hours in the play area with his Army guys, setting up intricate battalions and making dramatic, spit-producing sounds of battle. 

Connor's in college now, but I still find an occasional deserter who didn't make his way back to his troop. 

I've found Pokemon figurines deeply embedded in the grass, and the occasional Lego emerges from the garden area every year during planting season. 

Pellets from spirited airsoft gun melees are tiny reminders that the past, despite the passage of time, doesn't seem to be very far away.

Remnants of the past have been uncovered inside the house, too. 

The carpet in my basement was there before we moved in, 20 years ago. And I got to the point that I figured anything I'd find underneath would be better than what we'd lazily become accustomed to.

So the boys and I removed the carpet while Connor was home for spring break. And what we found underneath was a complete retro prize.

There's some work involved to get this floor back to its original 1960s coolness, but the sweat equity will be worth it.

Spring cleaning can mean so much more than throwing out old crap that's become a literal and emotional stumbling block. It's about honoring what you find before letting it go, about finding new appreciation for elements of the past that deserve a bit of attention.

In my idle moments, as a diversion to the rites of spring, I serendipitously tripped across Mad Men. I've been voraciously absorbing each episode, eager to watch the dysfunctional function of Don Draper just as much as his 1960s surroundings. Betty's Franciscan Desert Rose dishes; the confetti Melmac bowl used for distributing Halloween candy, the smoking on planes, the copious drinking that often began before lunch. 

It all seems so authentic, and so far away from where we are now.

Not unlike memories that are stirred up like a thick coat of displaced dust, spring cleaning has its place, its necessity, its tradition, even in America.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Repurposing with good will, Goodwill, and Mondo.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the second annual Goodwill Good Exchange for Change Fashion Show and Clothing Swap. I went to last year's event as well, which was a complete blast.

And this year's night of repurposed glitz and glamour didn't disappoint.

Here's how the Good Exchange works. Buy a ticket, bring 10 items you no longer want, enjoy food, beverages, music and swag during the cocktail hour, watch a fabulous fashion show featuring creations by up-and-comers who design new looks from Goodwill finds, then go shopping in the boutique that's been created with everybody's stuff. Bring 10 items, take 10 items. Everybody wins.

As for the particulars of last night, my experience was a series of lovely, providential moments.

Because of this crazy-fabulous thrifty-bloggy world I've created, as well as the good will from Goodwill's media relations manager Vanessa, I got a press pass for last night's event.

Serendipitously, I found a spot next to lovely Renee, who was there to cover the event for her magazine.

She knew that there was some Mondo Guerra face time planned, so when the time was right, I tagged along.

I had a few minutes with Mondo, during which I snapped this picture. I asked him about the future of thrifting, based on the overwhelming interest in the evening's event. He mentioned that "repurposing is the future. Taking something and making something new, giving it new life, seeing things creatively, is what going green is all about."

Bravo, Mondo.

I got caught up on Project Runway All Stars today, and I thought it was fitting that Mondo won last week's challenge. The designers had to find a fashion muse in Union Square Park in New York and convince them to give them the clothes off their back. Then the designers used those garments to create new fashion.

During that episode, Mondo explained that thrifting is "how I started designing and learning how to make patterns. I would go to thrift stores and buy a bunch of crap and take it home and rip it apart and see how it was constructed, and I'd turn it into something new for myself."

That is, at its essence, what repurposing (aka thrifting) is all about.

If you widen the net, it's what life is all about. Seeing the possibility in the ordinary.

But I digress.

Long and short, in addition to Mondo, I met a whole bunch of other people last night, all of whom were just as jazzed about the lovely, creative, generous, repurposeful world that thrifting creates.

Everyone has a story.

Camille is a business person, and seemed somewhat offput at first when I asked her what brought her to last night's event. Then her thrifting stories started flowing. She explained how she'd found a Chanel bag at a thrift store for a few bucks. She shared why she'd shed her emotional baggage last night by donating 10 items that were steeped in bad mojo.

There was Sarah, the personal organizer. She helps people get rid of their stuff, and Goodwill is her drop-off destination.

There were men and women, young and old, fashionistas and folks like me in attendance last night.

And I think everyone had a wonderful time.

So much good, so much good will, so much repurposing on so many levels.

According to Vanessa, 700 people attended last year's event, and it was sold out. This year, 900 people were in attendance, and last night's event was also sold out.

I was chatting with some folks who mentioned they thought the event could sell out the Convention Center.

That's how much people love to repurpose.

I completely concur about the Convention Center idea. And it makes my heart happy to know that so many people are repurposeful.

Being thrifty, being repurposeful, is a singular focus until that focus is broadened. And last night definitely broadened the focus.