Tag Archive | personal

Jingling, plotting, wrapping, rushing…

Nearly naked guy in Santa hat holds present. The words Nice and Naughty are written across his chest.

Nice or Naughty?

I’d really wanted to spend more of this month blogging about either fun holiday things or writing. Serious topics keep dominating, and while some of them have at least been holiday-related, it hasn’t exactly been Ho! Ho! Ho! time on this blog. That isn’t because I’m only thinking dark thinky thoughts, or even that I’ve been in a bad mood. Honestly, it’s mostly because I’m trying to get this year’s Christmas Ghost Story finished, as well as get everything else ready for the party, and finish Christmas shopping all while dealing with more than a few long days at work.

Which, admittedly, isn’t very different from any of the last 20-some Decembers.

This year’s Christmas Ghost Story had what I thought was a very straightforward plot. And it hasn’t been the plot that has been giving me trouble. But I keep writing dialog and then futzing with it because it’s wrong…

Why December is always bad in this way is because none of my usual methods of powering through a clogged story work. All of them are based on the philosophy that no matter how bad the first draft is, you can fix it in re-write. The Christmas Ghost Story is something that I will read to the attendees of our annual holiday party this Saturday. So I have to revise and fix as I go. At least, that’s how it feels.

Intellectually, I know that if I had just powered through and forced myself to write to the end two weekends ago, I would have had all this time to go through it and fix things. But that seldom works. I’m going to keep futzing until sometime Friday when the overwhelming knowled that I have to finish this now pushes me through to the end.

One thing that’s different this year than from previous: I didn’t make a new Ghost Story Playlist as the end of November. I know, I know, as if I need another playlist. I have so many (literally thousands).

I also haven’t been listening to as much of my usual Christmas music. Please note that I didn’t say as much Christmas music as usual, but rather as much OF my usual. Among my playlists are a bunch of holiday music lists that are usually my go-tos if I don’t have a craving to listen to a specific album. Playlists with names such as, A Caroling Caroling, A Class-ic Xmas, A Dame & Diva Christmas, Xmas Oddments, A Gay Yuletide, A Jazzy Christmas, A Quirk-y Christmas, A Silly Christmas, Last Bells for the Christmas Parade…

The problem when one has a Christmas collection as big as mine, is that it is easy to just listen to a few hundred favorites each year and ignore the 4500+ (I am not exaggerating) others. So, several years ago I made a Smart Playlist: all the songs tagged either Christmas or Holiday, and they have not been played in at least two years. I would listen to that list on shuffle for a while–usually only three or four days– and then start listening to other lists or specific albums most of the time. I would go back to the Smart List every now and then, usually when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to listen to.

The beauty of this list is that it shrinks as you listen to it. Once a song has played, it drops out of the list, because its Last Played Date is now, right? When I fired up the list a few days before the end of November, I was happy to see that it only had about 1600 songs–about a third of the collection. So I did a better job listening to a wider variety of my library that last couple of season, because usually it’s closer to half the collection. I started listening to the list, as usual, but instead of only listening to it for a few days, it was the primary source of my listening for nearly two weeks. Yeah, from time to time I’ve decided to listen to a specific album, but it wasn’t until this week that I started choosing some of my usual go-to lists. The upshot of all this is that the smart list only has a bit over 600 songs left in it. And that’s kind of amazing.

I’ve also been plugging away at wrapping presents. I got most of the presents for the relatives I was hand-delivering to finished before I drove down to Mom’s last Friday, and now I have about two-thirds of the presents for other people we’re giving stuff to, finished.

Just before Thanksgiving my husband found a 4-roll pack at Costco in which (as he described it when he texted me at the time) “all purple or penguins.” And since on the roll of cartoon penguins, some of the penguins have purple scarves, all of the wrap is purple. And it’s really good paper. Now I understand why I have heard people talk about the Costco paper (we didn’t get any of the reversible rolls). The paper is heavy enough to be sturdy, and it has the grid printed on the back so even I can cut nearly straight lines.

Now this is the first year in a long time that we needed to buy new paper. Not that not needing paper stopped us before! But we both had this bad habit of buying cute wrapping paper when we saw it in stores, and winding up with more gift wrap than we wound up using. So our stash of wrapping paper kept growing and growing. During the move, I looked at the stash (only half of it would fit in the special plastic wrap-storage thingie that my late husband bought 22-23 years ago) and realized that there were still some rolls in my collection that were also 22-23 years old. One of them was a particular design that Ray had gushed about when he bought, and for all the years since he died, I only used any paper off of it a few times–specifically when wrapping a present for his mother. Other years I will pull it out, think about how much Ray liked it and then decide not to use it because then I wouldn’t have it any more.

This is, by the way, extreme packrat pathology. I recognize it.

But it gets worse!

The other roll that had been hung onto that long was a design that I thought was really ugly–but Ray had bought it and thought it was beautiful and therefore while I never wanted to use it, I also wouldn’t get rid of it.

Which is packrat sociopathy or something!

I decided the storage container was aiding and abetting our worst packrat tendencies. It’s also kind of difficult to store, because all of this parts are rounded, and it has handles that stick out awkwardly, and the lid for the section where you’re supposed to store tape would pop open if you sneezed near it. So the storage thing and every roll of wrapping paper (and bags of bows and so forth) were all taken to Value Village.

The hope is that maybe we’ll be less likely to hang onto excess wrapping paper now that we’ve learned our lesson. Wish us luck!

I need to get back to my story…

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Holidays are stressful enough, don’t make it worse than you have to

“Don't get your tinsel in a tangle.”

“Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle.”

For many years, each holiday season, we would run down to spend time with a bunch of my in-state relatives for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. When my mom was still working, we would pick which one to come down based on when she had to work. Being a lifelong retail employee, she was used to the stores being open on those holidays, and generally if she had to work one, she got the other one off. This followed about seven years of me not visiting at all because most of the family reacted very badly1 when I came out of the closet, leading me inform them that until they accepted my then-husband as my husband, I wouldn’t visit6.

Now while these relatives all seem to genuinely love my husband7, that doesn’t mean that holidays with them are all happy and gay. There’s a pretty big double-standard we have been expected to swallow most years: they can babble about god, evil liberals, et cetera and ad nauseam but if we bring up any counterpoints, we’re the ones who are shoving our politics down their throats. I did manage to get a few to admit this was a double-standard and maybe we should all refrain, but, well, the Bible-thumping will happen, regardless.

Things got worse and worse during the Obama administration. All of them believe that Obama/Hilary are the anti-Christs and only
Trump can save the world for Christians. Or something.

So last year we did Thanksgiving, but we did the minimum: we drove down that day, and left the same day. No staying overnight at the hotel we usually rent a room at8. And then just before Christmas I drove down on one of my days off to drop off presents and quickly visit several of them.

Interestingly enough, when I drive down for the explicit purpose of just visiting and dropping off presents, no one seems to feel compelled to talk about their latest worry about the destruction of the world by those godless liberals. Clearly there’s something about it also being a holiday that fuels some of that.

So, we didn’t go down for Thanksgiving at all this year. And we aren’t going down for Christmas. I dropped presents off on Friday to mom, my sister’s family, my grown niece’s family, and one aunt. I fixed Mom’s computer and helped her with a couple of things one her iPhone. I helped my aunt with some problems on her computer. I took Mom to dinner.

And yes, it was pretty late when I got home, but it was infinitely less stressful than last Thanksgiving had been. Yeah, there was a little random god talk, but nothing like the pro-Trump cheering of last year.

This weekend is real Christmas for us. We’re hosting the holiday party & writers’ night this year. I’ll get to see many friends, share this year’s ghost story, hear the things other folks have brought to read or perform, eat a lot of good food, chat, laugh, and otherwise have a great time. Then on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, we plan to just have a quiet Christmas at home, the two of us.

That will go a long way to getting rid of the stress.

It’s been a few years since I quoted Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, “I don’t need anything from anyone but love and respect. If you can’t give me that, you have no place in my life.”

This year, I’m saying it to myself. Giving myself permission to avoid the people who can’t give both.


Footnotes:

1. One aunt sent me a 28-page handwritten letter listing all of the words and topics that I would not be able to mention in conversation if I visited her house. It also explained that if I brought my friend (the word was underlined every time she used it) we would not me allowed to call each other “honey” or “dear” or any other pet names or display any affection toward each other at all.<sup.2

2. In a follow-up conversation she angrily insisted she just wanted to treat us the same we she did her unmarried children when they brought people over. She didn’t appreciate it when I laughed loudly into the phone and reminded her of the time her middle song brought a young woman with him to Thanksgiving at here house and they kept kissing3 at the table! She asked him to cool it, at that point4, but didn’t say a word about the frequent more restrained kissings on the cheeks and lips and forehead that kept spontaneously happening for the rest of the dinner5.

3. Full tongue and nibbling on ears and such. It was like accidentally stumbling into a porn shoot.

4. I and his older sister were trying to decide if they were high or just drunk.

5. I’m also pretty sure that one of the times they vanished that afternoon that they had sex in the downstairs guest bathroom.

6. Some of the family did come around before Ray died, but barely two months before he did. Fortunately because Ray and I had gotten through that seven year struggle, things have been much better with Michael.

7. I am quite certain that several of them like him more than they like me, but I’m okay with that. It’s a lot better than what we had before.

8. The last few years as the rhetoric in general has heated up, it has been more and more galling on a personal level to pay for the privilege of biting our tongues all day long even during the occasional anti-gay rant of one relative…

My husband, I say, Mah huuuzzzband!

Sealed with a kiss.

Sealed with a kiss.

Merely five years ago today we were legally pronounced husband and husband, and I got to kiss Michael in front of friends and loved ones and all those people got to see me crying my eyes out.

We’d only been together for 14 years and 10 months. We weren’t one of the couples of silver-haired people who finally got to legally tie the knot after 50 or more years together. But it still deserved a non-ironic finally. And even though we had been together those years, and I had never doubted his love for me, and couldn’t fathom my life without him, there was something magical and wonderful and powerful about being able to finally call him husband legally.

I had been introducing him as my husband for years. It was a linguistic and political decision I had made before meeting him. Years before Ray died, we had had a commitment ceremony, signed some legal papers (medical power of attorney, wills, that sort of thing). And after that, I called him “my husband.” And now more than 20 years after his death, I still call him “my late husband.”

He is my knight in shining armor... even when the armor includes a t-shirt that says “Social Justice Fighter.”

He is my knight in shining armor… even when the armor includes a t-shirt that says “Social Justice Fighter.”

I had tried some of the other words, such as boyfriend or partner. But boyfriend sounded far less serious and fleeting than what our relationship had become. And partner—well, let’s just say that one of the times I used it, an acquaintance literally asked about the business that they thought we were joint owners. So, I started saying husband. And while that sometimes evoked nervous stuttering replies, double-takes, and even the occasional angry comment, it was the word that most accurately described our relationship. And, as I had decided a couple years earlier with the word “queer,” there is power it seizing a word and wielding it like a weapon back in the face of both the actively homophobic and the more thoughtless forms of heterosexism.

I wasn’t surprised that I cried at the wedding (and cried while we were on our way downtown three days earlier, and when strangers handed us rosebuds as we exited the license office, and when a random stranger ran up to us as we were walking away from the courthouse still carrying our roses and gushed “Congratulations!” with tears in her eyes, and when two friends surprised us with a string duet at the ceremony, and… and… and…). There’s an old idiom “he cries at card tricks” to describe those of us who are easily overcome with emotion which most definitely applies to me. But what did surprise me was how, after the ceremony, I would have a little hitch in my voice and feel the surge of my eyes getting watery—not quite tears, but definitely tearing up—whenever I said “husband” for the next several months.

I’d been calling him that (and thinking of him as that) for years, but now it was different. Because for most of my life I had thought I would never be able to legally marry the man I loved. The thought was completely unimaginable! I still have vivid memories of a film they showed us in health class, back in the mid-seventies, during the week we studied “sexual deviancy,” and the film included a scene of two men in pastel tuxedoes walking hand-in-hand down an aisle in what seemed to be a church with the narrator talking about how sexual deviation was so normalized in places like California that people pretended to get married. And it was edited to make it look like they were skipping (you could see the jumps in the flow of the image) with some ridiculous music playing. Meanwhile an entire classroom of my peers were laughing and making gagging sounds all around me.

I had lived through a small number of the most liberal cities in the country setting up domestic partnership registries that carried no actual legal rights, but gave some way to register the relationship so that an employer that decided they wanted to be magnanimous and hand out some benefits to their gay employees, there was a legal-looking paper to point to. And I’d lived through the grudging middle stages, fighting every step as the way, as we got some civil partnership or other half-assed quarter-measure acknowledgement in some states and so forth. I’d watched the bigots spend millions of dollars campaigning against civil unions, angrily insisting that it would destroy the fabric of society and so forth. I had watched, as we slowly won the hearts and minds of a growing percentage of the population, those same bigots suddenly switch to insisted the domestic/civil unions/partnerships were more than adequate and why can’t we live with that so that marriage can be reserved for something special?

One of my husband's current art projects is setting up some of our many hats in displays around the new house. These are the hats we wore the day we were married. And yeah, I get that lump in my throat and tear up every time I look up at them. Tears of joy.

One of my husband’s current art projects is setting up some of our many hats in displays around the new house. These are the hats we wore the day we were married. And yeah, I get that lump in my throat and tear up every time I look up at them. Tears of joy.

So intellectually I understand why those same two syllables felt so very different after marriage equality became the law of our home state. As I said after the election, a solid majority of my fellow citizens — a whole bunch of straight people — voted to include us. They staffed phone lines to urge people to vote in favor of equality. They donated money. They showed up and voted. And then hundreds (or more) of those straight people turned up at the courthouses and county offices and so forth on those first days we could get licenses to cheer for people they didn’t know. On the first day the ceremonies could happen, a huge crowd gathered outside city hall to cheer and clap and being the receiving line for a bunch of queer couples — strangers! — who had just been joined legally in matrimony. Knowing that made me cry then. And it makes me tear up long long after any time I’m reminded of it.

Which happens to be every time I refer to my husband…

So! Today is the five-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.

Happy Anniversary, Michael!

He's the best!

He’s the best!


A note about the title of this post: I’ve been reading the Savage Love advice column for decades, through the years before Dan Savage met his husband, Terry, when they started dating, when they adopting a kid together, when they finally legally married (in Canada), and so forth. After the Canadian wedding, Dan started referring to Terry as his husband in a very exaggerated pronunciation: “mah huzzzzben!” And I always took it as his way of being proud and a bit shocked that marriage equality had arrived in at least some places within his life time. I always thought it was cute. In a recent blog post he answered a question from a reader who felt that the weird pronunciation was an insult to Terry, or something, and Dan explained:

I started calling Terry mah huzzzzben when we got married—more than a dozen years ago—because in all honesty it felt so weird to call him that. To be able to call him that. I never expected that marriage, legal marriage, would happen in our lifetimes. And while I didn’t have a problem calling him my boyfriend, calling him my husband took some getting used to. So I played up my… well, not quite my discomfort with the word. I played up my unfamiliarity with it. It felt strange to say it—the word “husband,” unlike my husband, felt awkward in my mouth—so I said the word in an awkward way. I did what I advise my readers/listeners to do: you gotta embrace awkwardness to get past it. And I am past it now. It no longer feels strange to call Terry my husband, and I’m capable of saying the word these days without hesitation. But you know what? I like calling him mah huzzzzben. It’s less “this is weird and new and feels awkward to say!” and more “this is my own affectionate pet name for him!” And I’m gonna keep saying it.

I still think it’s cute.

Five years ago…

Five years ago today, we went down to city hall to pick up a license. It was the first day that the marriage equality law which had been approved by a comfortable margin by Washington voters was in effect. We were just one of many, many couples who got a marriage license that day, kicking off the mandatory three-day waiting period before we could officially tie the knot.

Managing light

There was a tumblr post going around where someone collected pictures of cats sleeping on Buddhas...

There was a tumblr post going around where someone collected pictures of cats sleeping on Buddhas…

One of the things I’m still getting used to about the new place is how to manage light inside during the daytime. At the old place1 we had one large, unobstructed north-facing window in the living room, while all of the other windows were small and at least partially shaded be either trees, hedges, neighboring buildings, large overhanging eaves, or all of the above. We were also on the first floor. The big bedroom window was in a location where people were walking by inches from the window, so those curtains were always closed just so we wouldn’t flash the neighbors. The new place is a second floor apartment and all of the windows are either east-facing or west-facing. We have a large window and a sliding-glass door in the living room2. Two of the windows are shaded by trees, but all of the rest are unobstructed. And even the ones that are shading get a lot of direct light during the part of the morning when the sun is only a bit above the horizon.

Also, we have blinds, which even when closed allow more light than the thick, insulated curtains at the old place.

I’m not a morning person, and when I first wake up I like it dim. I’m just not ready to deal with harsh light for a bit. For as long as I can remember, I prefer even when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to run to the bathroom to leave the lights off.

During the summer, I didn’t have much control over how bright the living room/kitchen area was during the time I’d be getting ready for work. The blinds would have patches of very bright light with the shadows of the tree branches painted dramatically. It was still a mostly diffuse light, but it wasn’t very dim.

As the fall arrived, the intensity of that morning light lessened a bit. Also, it would arrive a little later each morning.

Work from home days were difficult. Once I was awake enough that I’d logged into work, I wanted at least a little more light in the room, but turning on any of the lamps in the room was more3 than I’d wanted. For a while I got part of the effect I wanted by draping a translucent scarf4 over one lamp that wasn’t too close to where I set up my computer. But it wasn’t quite right.

As the morning got darker, I finally gave in…

Back when we first moved to the new place and were setting up the furniture, Michael had suggested that I get a small clamp-on light for the little table that sits beside my end of the dual recliner. It thought that the lamps on the bookcases behind this area gave adequate light and had decided against it. But not before browsing some on-line sites until I found one small, purple goose-neck lamp that would fit on the table.

So when I realized that I wasn’t getting the light I wanted to work by on work-from-home mornings, I ordered the light.

And of course, now that it’s there, I find myself in many other situations where that is the only artificial light I have on in the living room. It makes the area right around where I’m usually sitting nicely illuminated, without being super bright, and without lighting up the rest of the room.

I’m not sure why at some times for some activities I want the entire room lit up with everything clearly visible, and other times I want most of the room to be a bit obscure and shadowed and out of mind.

But it did occur to me one night last week while I was sitting in the mostly dark room, typing furiously away on a story, with the little lamp illuminating my coffee mug, that I was almost like a cat that had found the perfect patch of sunlight to curl up in…


Footnotes:

1. Where I lived for over 21 years.

2. And because of the big open floor plan of this place, light from the dining room window and even a bit from the kitchen window make it into the living room.

3. Or maybe just harsher, since a lot of the lamps and the overhead fixtures all have LED lights that tend toward the blue end of the spectrum.

4. A really cool, very long purple scarf that was my main winter scarf for several years, though it was beginning to wear thin, and I’d almost tossed it out since I was tended to wear some newer scarves friends gifted me more recently.

Some people are difficult to shop for, then there’s my mom

“Mom, Thanks for putting up with a spoiled, ungrateful, messy, bratty child like my sibling. Love, your favorite.”

“Mom, Thanks for putting up with a spoiled, ungrateful, messy, bratty child like my sibling. Love, your favorite.” https://shirtoopia.com/products/dear-mom-thanks-for-putting-up-with-a-spoiled-ungrateful-messy-bratty-child-like-my-sibling-love-your-favorite

The is a story in several parts.

First, twenty-two years ago at a holiday potluck at work, the subject had somehow turned to shopping for parents, and I mentioned that I didn’t always know what big present to get my Mom, but there was a particular kind of candy that she loved and I had been buying her a box of it every year since I was a teen-ager, so there was always a point during the opening of the presents when my Mom would pick up the box and realize what it was and grin. A new co-worker expressed shock and disbelief, insisting that any mother she knew would be irritated to get the same thing every year. She further insisted that my Mom must be faking the enthusiasm for the candy.

Second, twenty years ago, I visited Mom for Christmas and drove her to Grandma’s for the big Christmas Eve shindig Grandma used to throw. At said shindig, Mom received a present from one of the other relatives that was an enormous (and ugly) knick-knack. It was taller than any table lamp that Mom owned. And Mom had just recently moved into a smaller place specifically because she was trying to get rid of stuff. Mom had said thank-you to the present, but the look in her eyes had clearly communicated to me, “What am I going to do with this?”

During the almost hour long drive back to her house, there was a point when Mom went really quiet for a moment, then asked, “Where am I going to put that thing? I mean, it’s so big!”

I made sympathetic noises, but otherwise didn’t have an answer.

She suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “Promise me you won’t get me things like that! Give me candy, or cookies, or candles—things I will use up! If you don’t know I need it or will use it, please don’t spend the money!”

Third, seventeen or eighteen years ago, Mom had mentioned needing a specific thing for the kitchen, and I had found it, but it was in a weird, truncated pyramid-ish shaped box. And while I was trying to decide how to wrap it, I noticed that the broad base of the box was almost exactly the size of the box of those candies I have been buying her for Christmas since I was a kid. So with some wadded up newspaper and a lot of tape, I turned the two things into a large, retangular package, then wrapped them together.

Christmas Eve was at my Aunt’s that year, and Michael and I drove Mom to it. During the gift opening, one of the kids of one of my cousins had distributed everyone’s presents as piles beside each of us, and it had turned into a bit of a torn paper frenzy. I had watched Mom getting quieter and more sad looking as the evening progressed. She hadn’t been feeling well that morning and had almost decided to stay home for Christmas Eve, so I thought that she was feeling worse. I quietly asked a few times if she needed something.

There was only one present left beside her chair—my two-in-one box. Everyone else was finished, and one of the kids asked Mom if she was going to open her last one. She sighed and said something that sounded quite a bit less than enthusiastic. She picked it up into her lap. She turned it around looking for an edge to the wrapping. And when she did, the candy jiggled inside its box—making a distinctive sound she recognized.

Mom’s eyes lit up like search lights. She turned the box again and looked at the tag to see it was from me. She grinned at me. “I know what this is! I know what this is!” And then she tore the paper off like a tornado of ninjas attacking a castle. She liberated the box of candy from the rest of the present and exclaimed, “You didn’t forget my candy! My son didn’t forget my candy!”

Michael had to point out that there was another part of the gift she might want to look at. She was glad that I’d gotten her the kitchen thing, but she was clearly more happy about the candy. And she was enthusiastic the rest of the night.

So, my Mom really does like it when I give her that candy every year1.

Fourth, as long as I can remember, Mom has loved hot tea. She loves nothing more than to curl up with a new book and a cup of hot tea and spend the day reading. For various health reasons, she can’t do caffeine any more. So the tea needs to be herbal. Unfortunately, when most of the rest of the people in Mom’s life think “herbal tea” the go for camomile3. Mom doesn’t dislike camomile, but she gets tired of it after awhile.

So every years I look for interesting herbal teas for Mom other than camomile. Last week I found two boxes that looked interesting while I was out shopping. I went to a rather large number of stores that day. When I got home, there was a lot of stuff to put away. And when I was finished, I couldn’t find the two boxes of tea.

I searched all the shopping bags. I looked around the house. I looked in the pantry with my teas. I looked everywhere. I confirmed on the printed receipt that I had paid for the tea. I decided that when I and the person at the store were bagging my groceries, one of us had accidentally pushed the boxes aside.

The next day I headed out shopping again with a list of people I needed to get gifts for. At the first store I went to the back of the car to get a shopping bag. And there was a shopping bag from the day before with four things in it. Two of which were Mom’s tea. Fortunately, nothing in the bag was perishable, so I didn’t waste anything by forgetting some groceries in the car overnight.

So there will be several presents under Mom’s tree from me this year. And now you know what three of them are. And I’m pretty sure as soon as Mom picks them up, she’ll know what they are, two. Ever since that one Christmas, I have made sure that the box of candy was wrapped by itself, so it would be no surprise to Mom what was inside.

But that isn’t the point of this particular present.


Footnotes:

1. One time when I told this story, a friend who is also a mother and grandmother told me that there was a type of salt-water taffy she liked, and anyone who bought her some of that for Christmas was a winner in her book.2

2. Another person (who also happens to be a mom and grandmother) pointed out that while it is undoubtedly true that Mom likes this favorite candy of hers, by the time I was an adult and I still gave her a box of the candy every Christmas, the candy had become a symbol. “I have absolutely no doubt that every Christmas when she opens that box, she looks up at you and she doesn’t see you as the grown man you are. She sees her little boy—how you looked as a small child. That isn’t a box of candy, to her, it’s a box of memories of her baby.” I suspect she’s right.

3. One time my Aunt found a big boxed set of “herbal teas” in the gift box aisle at Walmart. Except they weren’t herbal. When you read the small print on the box, the teas were all regular black tea2 with artificial flavoring. So the “camomile” was regular black tea with some kind of camomile flavoring. And the “hibiscus” was black tea with hibiscus flavoring. And the “elderberry” was black tea with flavoring and so on.3

4. Loaded with caffeine.

5. The set included I think it was 8 little tins, each of which had the name of the herb in question, and then behind each tin in the box was a little foil packet with three of the skankiest looking oily tea bags. And they all smelled absolutely awful.4

6. Mom begged me to take it home. Michael and I had a lot of fun throwing it away.

Managing our personal technology, time, and attention

Photo of commuters on a train in the 1960s, everyone reading a newspaper with the caption: “All this technology is making us anti-social.”

“All this technology is making us anti-social.” (click to embiggen)

When I first started reading this article: A Phone Setup That Will Make You More Mindful I thought it was heading toward being a rant about how horrible technology is, making us ignore people around us and such1. I almost stopped reading it, in fact. But the screenshot early on of the home screen showing a simple landscape with a single question intrigued me. As I continued to read it, it became clear the author wasn’t anti-technology, he’s just a strong advocate for you controlling the technology, and not the other way around.

Now, before I get into my own comments on this topic, a disclaimer: my use case probably doesn’t match your use case2. I’m not suggesting that anyone use their tools the way I use mine. My talking about the tools I use and how I use them is in no way meant as an indictment of anyone who uses different tools (or none at all) or uses them differently.

I’m not rearranging my whole phone according to his recommendations after reading it4, but the article did make me think about how I let things on my phone distract me from other things I want to do—often things I meant to do on the phone itself. What I have done is cleaned up my notification settings. There were a number of apps I didn’t really want to see alerts from cluttering up my Notification Center and the Earlier Today list. It’s funny how every time I noticed those unwanted alerts before I would think, “I need to remember to go turn those off.” To be fair, the reason is usually that I would tap another alert that I did want and go read an urgent email or message. By the time I’d handled that, I would have forgotten about the annoying alerts.

Rinse and repeat.

This article has made me consider rearranging my homescreen. There are a few apps that I use many times a day that aren’t on the first screen. The app where I record and track my blood sugar readings, meals & snacks, and insulin doses, for instance. I put in on the second page because it’s color is the same another app I use multiple times, and I kept clicking on the wrong one. The article’s suggestion of having a first screen with no more than six apps that you use frequently got me thinking: is the reason that these two are confused because they are surrounded both buried among 22 other icons, many of which are only tapped a few times a week?

Right now all of the apps I have on the phone fit into only two screens. I pull that off by having a lot of apps in folders. My reason for doing this is that back when I had three to five screens worth of icons I would spend a lot of time swiping back and forth trying to find things. I figured just have two screens would cut down on that. Except I swipe back and forth between them a few times sometimes when trying to find an app.

So, I am thinking of rearranging my screen.

I’ve always had a problem with rabbit-holing. I’ll be getting ready for work, for instance, and notice that the empty tube from the middle of a used toilet paper roll is sitting on the counter. I’ll grab it and carry it out to the kitchen to drop in the recycle bin, where I might decide to grab a sip of coffee or water. I’ll pour some coffee into my much from the coffee maker and spill a little coffee on the counter, which prompts me to grab a rag, and the next thing I know I’ve wiping down the whole counter, and noticing that the stove could use a quick wipe, and say, there’s a couple of dishes in the sink that should go in the dishwasher, but…

And then ten or fifteen minutes later I’m finally heading out of the kitchen, but I forget that I was going to the bathroom and head into the bedroom to pick out clothes to wear, at which point I realize I haven’t actually showered yet. So I head toward the bathroom again.

Which eventually leads to a moment when I glance at a clock or my watch and freak out because it’s a lot later than I thought it was.

This tendency to be easily distracted did cause me to be sent for evaluation for hyperkinetic impulse disorder5 in school more than once. But each time they decided I didn’t have it6.

For now, I’ve turned off the badges on things like the Mail app that I check regularly, anyway. And greatly reduced the number of apps that show notifications.

I already have a lot of apps in folders, and for anything that I don’t check real frequently I use search to find them. I’m not quite ready to go as far as this guy: Beautility, My Ultimate iPhone Setup, but I certainly understand his reasoning!

I’m thinking of this as an extension of the project we started last year when we learned our old building was going on the market and knew moving was likely. We’ve been reducing and de-cluttering and taking long hard looks at all the stuff we have. A lot of things were gotten rid of because we seldom (if ever) use them7. So thinking about how I have my phone (and other devices) set up is probably a good next logical step.

Let’s see how this works!


Footnotes:

1. The modern equivalent of the infamous “milkman’s cheery whistle” style essay: where a pundit laments modern society in general by waxing nostalgic about one particular thing the author thought was wonderful.

2. This is a great phrase my friend Duncan introduced me to. People have different workflows, opinions, and uses for the tools they use. We can legitimately like something without being a mindless fanboy or apologist. We can just as legitimately dislike something without being a hater3. I think it’s a much better approach to think of things this way than to angrily ask, “Why would anyone use X?” And so forth.

3. However, if you only comment on someone else’s blog post to call them a fanboy, sheep, or some other disparaging term because they like a product you don’t, particularly if you include a blanket statement such as, “I don’t use products by so-and-so and never will,” you are acting in a way 100% indistinguishable from a hater.

4. Yet!

5. This was the name given to what is now commonly called ADD/ADHD back in the day. The modern name (and definition) wasn’t adopted until I was in my twenties.

6. I could get into a long and very boring discussion of standard deviations and what constitutes a symptom as opposed to a quirk in different people’s perspectives. But maybe some other day.

7. And I’m not just talking about the embarrassingly large amounts of things we found boxed up in the back of closets that had been there so long, we literally had forgotten the closet was that deep8. An example: about a year or so before Ray died, he found a silk jacket during one of his thriftstore runs with his mom. It was a beautiful dark purple and dark teal (a color combo I was really into), it was in very good shape, silk lining as well as a silk outer shell, it was a nice, light weight that would be perfect for the mildly chilly parts of our falls and springs, and it appeared to be my size. It fit me well across the shoulders and was more than roomy enough for my belly. But the sleeves were about four inches short. But it was gorgeous! And it had clearly been expensive. The label wasn’t in English, and the size was odd enough that we strongly suspected it might have been custom made made for another short, round guy, right? Anyway, other than the sleeves, it was perfect. But because of the sleeves, I almost never wore it. I wore it when a few times we went out back when Ray was alive, because it made him happy to see me in it, and I just never talked about the sleeves. Then for about 19 years after his death, the jacket lived in among our coats and jackets in the closet. Every now and then, when the weather was chilly but not actually cold, I would pull it out and put it on—and then remember the sleeves as soon as I lifted an arm. So I would take it back off and hang it up. Because Ray had bought it for me. And it was gorgeous and still in great shape and so on. During the unpacking, it (with a lot of other old jackets and coats) were hauled off to Value Village. I hope that someone who it actually fits found it and wears it and keeps warm while looking great.9

8. Though that was a thing!

9. Then there’s a complete different phenomenon: after we did the purge of the coats, one of the coats I kept was a long cloth raincoat10 that I had bought many years ago at a fancy men’s store. We had several formal functions we were going to that year, and a coat that I could wear over my suit seemed like a good idea. And it worked great and I looked good, and it was awesome. And then it spend most of the next 14-15 years hanging in that same closet. I wore it more often than the silk jacket, but I kept thinking that I should save it for appropriate occasions11. I didn’t get rid of it in the purge, I kept it. Then when the weather started turning cold and wet, I started to pull it out, but immediately had the thought, “But shouldn’t I save this for—?” Fortunately, I also immediately remembered that the whole point was that we decided only to keep coats/jackets that we actually wear. So during this, the wettest time of the year, it has worked well to keep me warm and dry. And what’s the point of owning such a coat if you don’t wear it, right?

10. It’s a microfibre cloth, and water beads on it rather than soaks in. So it really does keep you dry, but with out the crinkling and squeaking and other odd noises you get with plasticized and rubberized fabrics.

11. Whatever that means.

Decorating season is in full swing!

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process... © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process… (click to embiggen)

I have a tradition of putting up the tree on Thanksgiving weekend. For some people that’s very early. But then, I know (and am related in some cases) to people who never take their trees down. Anyway, the tradition started when I was in the third grade in grammar school. Before that Dad would drag us out into the woods somewhere to pick a tree and cut down. As far as I know he never had a permit or got permission from anyone. The one or two times Mom or Grandpa or someone would ask, he would insist we’d gone out on Bureau of Land Management property, therefore it all belongs to the public1.

Anyway, third grade and fourth grade were the years we moved several times during the same school year. Of the ten elementary schools I attended, five of them where those two grades alone2. Because of the packing, unpacking, moving, and so forth—and while Dad’s job often indicated within a certain window how long we would be in one place, the exact date we’d need to move wasn’t always certain—Dad agreed to let Mom buy an artificial tree in November because we might have to move in the middle of the holiday season. That year was also the first year that we didn’t drive back to my paternal grandparents’ place for Thanksgiving.

I think that at least half the reason Mom decided to set up the tree the day after Thanksgiving was because with deep snow and temps well below zero Farenheit, being trapped in our small house with my sister and I for three days was going to be a nightmare if she didn’t come up with something to keep us occupied for a decent amount of time.

The tree was only four feet tall—short enough that Mom could set it up on top of the console stereo. It still loomed over the room, but there wasn’t enough tree to hold all of the ornaments we owned. This made deciding what to put on where a major undertaking, with more than a little bit of arguing3 between my sister and I. If I’m right about why Mom decided to set up the tree that day, I think her plan backfired.

Twice.

Because here’s the really funny thing: Both that year and the next, about three weeks before Christmas, we had to pack up everything—including undecorating the tree and boxing it back up—and move. In third grade, we moved from Kimball, Nebraska to Opal, Wyoming. In fourth grade the move was from Ft. Morgan, Colorado to Roosevelt, Utah.4

Anyway, the upshot is that for the rest of my childhood, Christmases were celebrated with that same artificial tree. The tree didn’t get retired until I was in my early twenties, after Mom remarried and moved to Arizona with her new husband, while I, still trying to save up money to transfer from community college to university, moved in with my paternal grandparents. As an adult, I’ve bought cut trees for Christmas twice, but otherwise have always had an artificial tree6. Back in 2000 or 2001 Michael and I bought a new 7-foot tall “pencil pine” tree. Unlike other trees we’d had, the body of the tree is very narrow, so it’s easy to fit into a small room, but still tall enough to create the big tree effect, and it holds a lot of ornaments. A couple years ago while we were setting it up, Michael pointed out how some of the branches had lost enough plastic needles to looks scraggly, and some branches were awfully loose. So we used it one more year, and then in an after Christmas sale we bought another, similar tree.

I hung up Christmas lights out on the veranda in the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving. And then I unboxed our Christmas tree and hauled out the boxes of ornaments. Which is a much smaller collection than we used to own7. The first discovery was that while the tree doesn’t quite touch the ceiling, the two glass spire-style toppers we kept won’t fit atop the tree because of the slightly lower ceiling at this apartment than the old. However, the third topper we kept8, which is a teddy bear dressed as Santa, just barely fit. He is literally touching the ceiling, but he fits!

I got the lights on, which always takes a while, because I’ll string them on, decide they are uneven, unwind them, try again, et cetera. I’ll get myself very dizzy at least once along the way. Then I put a few ornaments on. But I was also doing laundry, and Michael talked me into going on a walk with him at one point, so by bedtime I had started on the tree, but hadn’t finished.

Saturday morning I resumed. This is the first year since 1997 that I didn’t have some kind of theme for the tree. Doing a different color scheme and theme every year is only part of the reason we owned more christmas decorations than any eight normal households could possibly use. And because I got rid of so many, I was feeling an urge to fit as much as possible of what remained on the tree. But I still wanted it to look non-random? Which wasn’t really working.

So… I was having a panic as I hung ornaments because I couldn’t find my Great-grandma’s ornaments. Great-grandma bought a box of mixed-color ornaments on sale in 19579. Great-grandma used them on a little artificial tree at her house until Great-grandpa died in 1974, at which point she moved to the coast to live with Grandma. Great-grandma died about six months after Great-grandpa. The ornaments then spent 30-ish years sitting in the storage shed at Grandma’s house. Apparently Grandma used them only once after Great-grandma died, then boxed them up. So after Grandma died, Mom found them in the shed. When she sent me a picture, I gasped, because even though I hadn’t seen them since I was 13 years old, I immediately recognized them.

Mom split them up. She kept three, then my sister, one cousin who expressed interest, and I got three each. I have put them on my own tree every year, regardless of the theme of the year. So when I couldn’t find them, I was freaking out.

I was afraid I had accidentally mixed them up with others and taken them to Value Village.

I was getting more and more frantic while going through the boxes. By the time my husband woke up I must have been really bad, because moments after coming into the room, he asked, “Do you need to sit down for a minute?”

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

As I told him what was wrong, I pointed at the open boxes lined up that I had been taking ornaments from. I paused.

I counted.

There were only seven file-box sized boxes. “Wait! I distinctly remember figuring out that I could fit eight boxes in the closet before I started purging,” I said. I grabbed a flashlight and went back to the walk-in closet. Yes, hiding under the coats was an eighth box. Which of course had Great-grandma’s ornaments. It also contained a few other special ornaments that I had thought we kept, but that I hadn’t been able to find.

Eventually on Saturday evening we declared the tree finished and I put the boxes of unused ornaments back in the closet.

That wasn’t all of the decorating. Partway through Saturday I was feeling a bit of cabin fever. I had unpacked some non-tree decorations and decided we needed a table runner to go with the dark red table cloth. Especially if I was going to put another of Great-grandma’s old decorations (her plastic Santa, sleigh, and reindeer centerpiece) out. And that led to the acquisition of an outdoor decoration that is another story all its own. But I should save that for later, as this post is incredibly long, already.

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! (click to embiggen)

We have the tree up now. It doesn’t have an official theme, but as I was picking ornaments out, I realized I was picking mostly red, green, gold, and white ornaments. Michael noted that there was something of an arctic theme, since I started by putting all the C. Alan Johnson ornaments on first (we hadn’t used any of those since the Pole-to-Pole tree a few years ago), along with polar bears, seals, and white owls. Of course, there are also three penguins, so we could think of this as a sequel to Pole-to-Pole. I don’t think I will. I’m perfectly okay with it just being the ornaments I decided to use this year, no theme. It’s just our tree—our Christmas/Solstice tree.


Footnotes:

1. Which prompted Grandpa to say, “Which is why you’re supposed to get a permit.”

2. Also five different states.

3. And there was some crying at at least one point.

4. And if you’re curious: we lived in Opal5 for only about two months, then had to pack up and follow Dad’s oil rig out to Cheyenne Well, Colorado, very close to the Kansas border. In June we moved Healy, Kansas, and we literally were still unpacking when the job shifted to Fort Morgan, and we had to move back to Colorado.

5. Which is pronounced by the residents as “oh, PAL” rather than the way most folks pronounce the gemstone it is named after.

6. Among other advantages of artificial trees are they don’t set off horrible hay fever attacks for me during the one time of the year that it is usually cold enough in the northwest that I’m not dealing with pollen or spores from outside.

7. Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?), where among other things I hauled three big Subaru loads of Christmas decorations to Value Village.

8. A subset of our old decorations was a collection that was started by my late husband, Ray, which we called The Tacky Tree Topper collection: five or six different kinds of vary garish stars and two different illuminated plastic wreaths. Plus we had those glass spire toppers in just about every color scheme we’ve ever done (purple, red, green, blue, three different pinks, gold, silver…). Then there were the not-tacky stars (one of was bronze, one was silver and white), a thing that looked like a spray of gold glitter… four or five Sants (one with a purple robe, one with a red, one with a green, one with an ice blue… oh, and a burgundy robed one!)… and so on.

9. We know because she kept the box and it had the receipt inside it, I kid you not.

Trying to remember to be thankful

“This is Chef. Chef's been cooking since four this morning. You better be hungry. Happy Thanksgiving.” © Don Chooi  http://dchooidoodles.tumblr.com

“This is Chef. Chef’s been cooking since four this morning. You better be hungry. Happy Thanksgiving.”
© Don Chooi
http://dchooidoodles.tumblr.com

The point of the holiday is supposed to be to remember the things in our lives we have to be thankful for. And normally I’m all over that. But I would be lying if I said that everything is wonderful and I have great hopes for the future. And I know that I am hardly the only person struggling to remember that the world is full of good things as well as all the crazy, awful, and so forth that we’re all enduring right now.

So, here are things I’m thankful for:

  • my smart, sweet, sexy, super capable, long-suffering husband
  • coffee
  • the many cute birds that visit my bird feeder every day
  • purple
  • sci fi books that tell of wonderful futures
  • people who help other people
  • flowers
  • people who make art
  • science
  • my crazy, sometimes infuriating relatives who probably find me even more bewildering than I ever do them
  • not having to spend the holiday with (especially) the most infuriating relatives this year
  • cocktails
  • people who love
  • radio and wireless technologies
  • kittens and puppies and tigers and otters
  • books
  • stuffing
  • music
  • the many almost magical computing devices that I can now wear on my wrist, carry in my pocket, and otherwise bring a wealth of information and possibilities that was only barely imaginable when I was a kid
  • all my wonderful friends—who are talented, kind, giving, and clearly the most patient people in the world, because they put up with me

Thank you, each and every one. And whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or not, I hope you have a wonderful day full of blessings, because you deserve it

It’s been twenty years, but it still hurts

This was taken at our final combined birthday party, just before the last round of chemo.

Twenty years ago today I had to sign some papers.

Then a couple of nurses turned off the monitors, removed the respirator tubes, and turned off the rest of the machines.

I held Ray’s hand. I said, “Good-bye.”

I’d been crying off and on for hours—days, technically (though I’d only slept a couple hours out of the previous 59-ish, so it seemed like one really long, horrible day).

My last chronologically-in-order memory is taking hold of his hand that one last time. My memories for the next few months are like the shards of a thoroughly shattered stained glass window.

When we had our commitment ceremony several years earlier, he promised me he would stay with me for the rest of his life.

He did.

I consider myself indescribably lucky to have had that kind of love in my life. The fact that after Ray’s death I later met and fell in love with another man does nothing to reduce the sense of loss I feel when I think about Ray.

Ray unpacking after we moved into our second apartment.

My friend Kristin recently sent me this picture saying, “How I like to remember Ray.” This was a trip we all took to the beach. He's prepping his kite for launch.

My friend Kristin sent me this picture saying, “How I like to remember Ray.” This was a trip we all took to the beach. He’s prepping his kite for launch.

Signing papers after our commitment ceremony.

Signing papers after our commitment ceremony.

Ray and I at the Pride Parade sometime in the early 90s.

Ray and I at the Pride Parade sometime in the early 90s.

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