Archive for May, 2010

I am home from my mini-vacation.  I didn’t think it was possible, but I now understand how some of these “Reality TV” shows do what they do.  I am talking about the ones where the celebrity/host shows up at the target’s home and gives them a week to change their life.  Whether it is how much stuff they have, their diet and exercise program, the spending/hoarding issues, or the horrible decorating, these professionals can create change in one week.  In my naiveté, I assumed that the unseen production crew and army of assistants did most of the heavy lifting in these situations, and the hapless family just stood by and watched their lives being completely rearranged to the extent that, when they are finally returned to their homes, they have no option but to accept the changes that have been wrought on their behalf.  I know now that the changes are not that drastic – it just takes the proper approach and presentation.

Specifically, I am talking about my own personal diet, and the eating habits of my family.  For too long, we have been in a rut of greasy burgers and fries and pizza and fat and calories.  While I know I may not be able to change my family overnight, or even in a week, I am slowly going to shift their consciousness toward eating a healthier diet.  I came to this place after spending only a few days away from home, but the important part was where I spent it.  I was in  a place where no less that three organic grocery stores were competing with no less than three traditional grocery stores for the healthy food dollar of the local consumer.  And all of this was in a town of only 55,000 people.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were literally one block apart, and yet both stores were doing brisk business while I was there.  Fruits and vegetables were plentiful and tasty.  My diet for the weekend included almost no beef or pork, just a little chicken, and the rest was a composite of grains and produce, with some pasta for variety.  Lots of water (love the water!) and juice and tea.  When I had dessert, it seemed almost too much, rather than the satisfaction of the chocolate cravings I have been so familiar with in the past.  In short, spending just a few days in a “healthy-eating” environment changed how I think about my own eating habits.
Now that I am home, I am determined to keep up with these changes.  I have been paying more attention to what I am putting into my mouth and what I am serving my family.  The boys were resistant, but my husband willingly tried the rice-quinoa pilaf I served with dinner the other night.  Big salads are becoming common, whether they are fruit or vegetable.  Yogurt is a must.  And I am finding that the better I am eating, the less I am craving those desserts.  The other night, I had a slice of triple chocolate cheesecake after dinner, and just felt terrible afterward.  Talk about a sign of the times!  One co-worker told me she was giving me a week before I revert to my old habits.  My husband said two.  But I am going to prove them wrong.  And if I happen to loose a few pounds along the way, I will accept that as one of those happy fringe benefits.  Look out summer, here I come!

Find a place that makes you happy and go there.

Years ago, I bought a poster with this quote on it and hung it in my bedroom.  I thought the quote was pithy.  It had a picture of a quiet lane in a forest heading toward nowhere in particular.  As I got a little older, I began to feel that the quote was trite, overrated and cliché. I left the poster up because I liked the picture, but the quote no longer had any meaning for me.  I would look at it and think, “Yeah, whatever.”  I wasn’t old enough to appreciate what real happiness was or what it meant when you found it.  I certainly had never had the experience of “finding” a happy place, either within or without.  I was a stupid teenager and didn’t think about much other than the fun I would be having in the coming weekend.  When I left for college, I packed up my room.  I took the poster down, probably intending to hang it in my dorm room, but somewhere along the line, the poster disappeared.  I have looked for that poster since, and have found a few that have the same quote, but not THE poster.  But I also discovered I didn’t need to have the poster hanging on my wall to be happy.

This quote came to mind last night as I was driving home.  Not my house where I live with my family, but my “home”.  I am “on vacation” in North Carolina and I could feel it as I crossed the state line.  The tension began to drain from my body as came down through the mountains onto the piedmont.  My senses came alive as I drove through Winston-Salem and drank in the sweet, sticky aroma of the cut tobacco.  I was cruising along at 70 mph, crooning to Trace Adkins and felt that wave of joy wash over me.  I thought about the quote, and actually had tears come to my eyes.  Apparently, as I get older, I am becoming a sentimental old fool, but so be it.  Seeing the Carolina pines swaying in the morning breeze cements it.  I am here.

As I write this, I am sitting in my friend’s guest house, watching a deer graze outside the living room window.  He bends down, nibbles at the grass, looks up and sees me watching him.  I reach for my camera, and he freezes.  Our eyes lock, and I focus.  He stares straight at me, daring me to take his picture, and I do.  I get ready to take another and he breaks our gaze, looks around, looks back at me as if to say, “I don’t think so, you’ve had your chance for today,” and gracefully turns and lopes back into the wood.  In a little while, the rest of the world will be waking up and my activities for the day will begin, but for the next two minute and fifteen seconds, I am going to sit and listen to Dean Martin singing “Carolina In The Morning”.  Welcome Home.

This whole change of seasons thing is really screwing me up.  I keep forgetting that, the closer we get to the end of June, the longer the days are getting, and as a result, I keep thinking it is earlier in the day than it really is.  Case in point, I did not even begin to think about fixing dinner last night until it started getting dark outside.  6:30, right?  Yeah, maybe four months ago . . .

I keep going back to Ironman.  It is times like these that I really do believe that life would be so much easier if I had a Jarvis.  I would have “someone” who could look things up on the internet for me while I am driving down the road and then report back.  I would never have to worry about texing while driving or any of that because I could do it all through voice commands.  Jarvis could read my texts to me and I could dictate to him.  He could also make my calls for me and remind me of appointments – like the haircut I missed this afternoon.

My point is, while I am expected to keep everyone else on track, I need an assistant to keep me on track.  A housekeeper to do the laundry and a cook would be nice, as well, but I don’t want to push it.  And if I am going to round out my list of household dream staff, it would have to include a gardener, a chauffeur, and a personal trainer and fitness coach to get me working out on a regular basis.  If I just didn’t have to worry about going to work, I would have loads more free time to get everything done.  I would finally get all the stuff that needs to go to charity out of the house.  Of course, my house would be empty then, and I would need to go shopping to get more stuff to fill it back up, but the point is I WOULD HAVE THE TIME.

At some point, my husband will be reading this, and I will know from the thunderous, echoing laughter coming from the vicinity of his workstation.  He looks at me, when I make these complaints in person, and just rolls his eyes and shakes his head.  The idea of me having an assistant (let alone a sentient computer designed to be able to anticipate all my needs and fulfill them) will be enough to make him fall off his chair laughing.  Of course, then I will be blamed for his sore ribs (from laughing) and his sore bottom (from falling).

But back to me and my (non-existent) free time.  It seems like there are more and more things in the world creating distractions for me.  And unfortunately, when it comes to distractions, I am weak.  I have no spine.  After all, it is way more fun to sit and watch TV or play a video game than it is to do housework, like the aforementioned laundry.  I am getting ready for a trip next week, and I am still trying to get all the laundry done and put away so that I can pack.  I also know that, no matter how much laundry I get done, someone is going to want something out of the one load I didn’t get done.  It just sort of works that way around here!

Someday, I know I will get caught up.  The laundry will all be done.  The dishes will all be washed and put away.  The living room will be dusted and vacuumed.  There will not be toys strewn all over the floor.  The boxes in the garage that haven’t been unpacked since our last move will be emptied and gone.  And all of these things will happen after the last child leaves home, and I have nothing else to do.  And that will be a sad day, indeed.  And it is coming way too soon.

A while back, my husband decided it was worth $10 a month for us to have Netflix.  Not because we could have DVDs sent to us in the mail, but because we could watch streaming video through our XBox.  Once we got up and running, my husband took to spending hours at a time (usually after everyone else had gone to sleep) combing through the online catalog of titles available to stream instantly.  Quite soon we had an instant queue with over 200 titles.  That didn’t include the “Suggested Titles” in the various genre categories that we could also choose from.

In looking at the various titles my husband had chosen to add to our queue, I began to notice a penchant for documentaries.  And not just your run of the mill documentaries.  Weird documentaries.  He had one all about how people surgically alter their bodies to extreme extents.  The plot to assassinate Hitler.  The history of stupidity.  The development and use of the Helvetica typeface.  The tiny division of hip-hop known as “nerdcore”.  (For the record, I am NOT making any of these up.  As of this writing, all of these – with the exception of the body mod one – are still currently on our list.)  Anyway, in and amongst these odd documentaries was something called “The Future We Will Create: Inside the world of TED”.  You may be thinking, Who is TED?  TED is not a who, but a what.  It stands for Technology Entertainment Design, and it is an annual invitation-only conference held in California.  Over the course of four days, guest speakers get 18 minutes to present what they are doing or what they would like to do, and why it should interest us.  Speakers include leading scientists, philosophers, entertainment industry leaders, and performers.  At the end of the conference, the TED Prizes are announced.  Each prize winner is allowed to present to the the assembly a wish – what they would like to see happen that will make the world a better place.

On the surface, it all sounds very high-brow, until you take a closer look.  These people are very serious about what they are doing and are presenting simple ideas in a user-friendly format that can make life better for us all.  When the prize winners announce their wishes, the entire group of attendees leave TED with only one goal in mind – make it happen.  Entrepreneurs, scientists, entertainers, designers, with all their contacts and all their venture capital, spend the next year doing what they can to help make the prizewinner’s wish a reality.  Past winners include Bono, Bill Clinton, and Jamie Oliver, among others.  And ideas and innovations presented at TED have changed the world.  In the documentary, you can see the design originator presenting what has since become the CNN Magic Board – the giant touch-screen interactive computer interface that they used quite effectively during our last presidential election.

TED is not only about learning and expanding a person’s mind to be able to “think outside the box.”  TED is a lot of fun, as well.  The further I got into the documentary, the more I found myself thinking, “It would be SO COOL to be able to attend one of these conferences.”  Luckily for all of us, TED thinks the same thing, and they have created a website that you could spend all day in, searching for different talks on any one of a thousand topics.  TED has also expanded since its inception as a small gathering in 1984 to an international organization, hosting conferences here and abroad, and simulcasting conferences to “satellite” conference locations and online.

If you would like to be inspired, educated, amazed, informed, entertained, empowered, or otherwise enlightened, drop by

P.S. Vilayanur Ramachandran is a genius.  Look him up.

I decided last week I was going to take the weekend off for Mother’s Day.  I was not going to worry about writing, just going to enjoy the weekend.  That was all well and good until Friday morning.  I was in the shower, getting ready for work, and I started thinking (always a dangerous prospect with me) and I began composing in my head.  And I remember thinking it was a really good idea for a writing topic.  It then segued into two topics that were somewhat related, with the closing of the first to be sort of an introduction for the second.  So, I decided, right there in the shower, that instead of taking the weekend off, as I had planned, I would write both topics after I got home from work.

So far, so good, except that on Saturday afternoon, we were hosting a family party for Mother’s Day.  Both sides of the family were coming to our house.  By the time I got home from work, the remainder of Friday afternoon went to straightening up the house and doing what I could to get ready for Saturday.  Still OK.  Put the toddler down for a nap, and I was ready to write.  I came in to my desk, sat down, and fired up my browser.  My home page links to my Gmail, and I saw that I had several new messages.  I went to Gmail, and found a couple of other online things I needed to take care of before I could write.  Still OK.  Should only take a few minutes.  Half-way through my short list of tasks, I started having trouble.  I called to my husband (who was at his own workstation, doing HIS thing) and asked him if he had done something to our WiFi that would interfere with my ability to access the internet.  It was about then that we realized that we had no outside phone, either (no internet, no internet phone).  Grabbed my cell phone and called our ISP.  We were part of a “known outage” that should be resolved in an hour or two.  Still OK.  I started going through my coupons, making my shopping list for the store.  By the time I got done food shopping, everything would be resolved and I could sit down and write.

The toddler woke from his nap and we headed out to the store.  When we finished our shopping, I called my husband to have the older boys ready to come out and unload the car.  He answered our house phone.  Great!  The outage had been resolved and I would hop on the web and write to my heart’s content as soon as the groceries were put away.  Still OK.  My topics were still floating around in my brain.  Maybe not as fully formed as they were in the shower that morning, but enough that I was going to have no trouble reconstructing them.  By the time I got home (five minutes later), our internet was out again.  I put the groceries away, fixed dinner, and fed the heathens.  Finished up the last of the dishes, got everything squared away for Saturday.  Still no internet.  On the phone again with the ISP.

This time I was not as nice as I had been.  I told “Cedric” (like that’s his real name) that we had been told six hours prior that we were part of a “known outage” and that the problem was supposed to be resolved five hours ago, but we still didn’t have internet.  “Cedric” said that the outage was resolved and we needed to reset our modem.  Done, but still no internet.  “Cedric” offered to have someone come out on Saturday.  I told him that was fine, as long as they could come and go before noon, as we were having our party at 1:00.  “Cedric” told me he could do this, but he had to have a phone number for the tech to call before his arrival.  I assured him someone would be home, although I would be at work.  I told “Cedric” the only phone number for the people who would be home on Saturday is our home phone, which wasn’t working BECAUSE WE HAD NO INTERNET.  The service tech could call my cell phone, but I would not answer because I would be at work.  “Cedric” said if the tech called and didn’t  get an answer, he would assume that no one is home and would cancel the service call.  Clearly, we were not getting anywhere.  My husband told me to hang up, and I told “Cedric” I would have to call him back.  The toddler and I went in and started getting ready for bed.  Still OK.  I had been reminding myself of my wonderful topics and I would be fully ready to get up in the morning and, at the very least, jot down some notes before I go to work.  I set my alarm for extra early, so that I had time to write.

Saturday morning and my alarm clock is going crazy.  I hit the snooze and went back to sleep.  Crazy buzzing again.  Time to haul my butt out of bed.  Jumped in the shower, reviewed what I was going to write about.  Got all ready for work, and, surprise, surprise, NO INTERNET.  Sigh.  Still OK.  I made a couple of notes on some scratch paper in the kitchen, and headed to work.  Once there, my boss and I had a short conversation about me leaving early to go home and get ready for the party.  That should be fine, she said, and that was the plan right up until the part where we did 1/3 of our expected business for a “normal” Saturday in an hour.  So much for leaving early.  I finally got home and set to the food preparations for lunch.  Everyone came, we ate too much, and then sat around and visited.  Still OK.  I figured I could write once everyone left.

The party was over, everything was cleaned up and I was too tired to think.  I sat down and watched some TV and veg for bit.  When I finally was ready to sit down to write, I began looking for the paper with my notes on it.  Still OK.  As long as I could find the paper, I would be able to write about whatever it was I had been thinking about in the shower on Friday morning . . . . except that I couldn’t find the paper.  I searched through all the piles on my desk.  No notes.  I kept looking, all the while racking my brains trying to figure out what it was that I had thought of in the shower.  I finally concluded that the scratch paper must have found its way into the garbage in the last-minute clean up for the party.  The most I was able to resurrect was the closing line of the first topic – the one that is the introduction to the second topic.  At this point, I will still be able to write the second one, but somehow, I feel that it will be diminished because of the missing lead in.  I had it at one point, but now it’s gone.  I am losing it.  Check that.  I have lost it.  And I will probably never get it back.