Glorious weekend!

Don’t get me wrong. Even though this week was busier than I like–with something to do every evening after work–I had a great week. I had interesting things to do at the office, I learned something new every day, I played a lot of music, I got together with friends, I heard some good stories, I walked in the sunshine. I am just really glad it is Saturday, and I have the whole day ahead of me to catch up some things around the house and garden that I have let go for lack of time. Since the weather is predicted to be warm and sunny today, I need to make sure I spend plenty of time outside before the temperature drops tomorrow, even though the house is a complete wreck.

For weeks it seems, we have been running into the house after work, dropping things on the nearest flat surface, and running back out. It looks like crazy people live here. (I don’t even have children to blame for the mess.) There are two keyboards, two stands, a bench, a banjo, and a large canvas bag of dance cards and dance shoes in the middle of the living room floor. What is that about? We literally have no space on the dining room table to put our plates down when it’s time to eat. And the kitchen counter? Forget about it! It looks like the bottom of a hamster cage. Now that the political ads and the brochures from the cable companies have slowed down, the Christmas catalogs have started to arrive in force.

Jim and I switch off kitchen duties week by week. Lucky for me, last week was Jim’s turn to plan the menus, make the grocery list, cook, and clean up. Starting tomorrow it’s my week. On busy weeks like we’ve had recently, whoever is in the kitchen often ends up cooking one big meal and then reheating leftovers the rest of the week. Last week Jim made a delicious squash casserole and a three-bean casserole (both from Moosewood recipes), which got us through the whole week. The week before I made a roast in the crock pot, and we ate from it all week. Sometimes we try to disguise the leftovers (e.g., shred the beef and add sauteed onions and green peppers and roll it all in a tortilla; add extra carrots and potatoes and turn the roast into a stew). But the last two weeks, we just shamelessly heated the same dishes over and over until we had finished them off.

We are both pretty happy with the way we share kitchen duties and have been doing it this way for several years. It kind of sucks the week you’re doing everything, but then you get a whole week off where you don’t have to think about what to eat or make any motions toward cooking or feel guilty about not cleaning up after a meal. We do usually try to go to the grocery together, but the person who is in charge that week pushes the cart. We also do a good job sharing laundry, although we are not as organized about who does what when. One of us will wash and dry everything, but we each fold our own clothes. But in the fourteen years we have been together we have never worked out a system for taking care of other household chores, which could explain a lot about why the house is in the shape it’s in!

I used to think I had to dust and vacuum and mop and clean the bathrooms every Saturday, but I’ve since learned that is a complete myth. Possibly I was trying to impress my children at the time or trying to live up to some idealized view of how a good wife and mother should act (never mind that I held full-time jobs the whole time I was raising children). But lately I haven’t cared about dust and dirt as much as clutter, so I have started (again) to try to get rid of stuff I don’t need. My goal at some point is to have only things that are both useful and beautiful, but I am a very long way from meeting that goal. Still, one thing I have learned is that as long as I am making steady movement toward a goal, I will eventually get there. Even if I only knit one row a day (or one row a week), that is one row closer to finishing the project. It took me a year to make the last sweater. So far I have been working for two and a half years on an afghan for my son and his wife. But I’m getting there.

So…today. What to do? How to spend my precious allotment of time? Sitting here in my favorite chair, drinking my morning tea, I can already feel myself being torn in many different directions, making mental to-do lists that would be impossible to accomplish in a week (let alone a day). Lately when I feel overwhelmed and indecisive, I set a timer for 25 or 30 minutes and just start doing whatever first catches my attention. When the timer goes off, I am always surprised at how much I can accomplish in such a short time. I am also usually re-energized, ready to set the timer again.

Sometimes I work room by room (25 minutes in the living room, then 25 minutes in the den). Sometimes I work project by project (25 minutes straightening the linen closet or organizing my sewing supplies, followed by 25 minutes of raking leaves). This strategy (based on the Pomodoro system) works well when I have a whole lot of different kinds of things I want to do, but any one of them could take all day. It also works well for reminding me to take regular breaks and to tackle projects in smaller chunks. Rather than jump in and try to declutter the entire house in one weekend (which is impossible; I know because I’ve tried!), I focus on one drawer or one shelf or one task at a time. And then I remind myself that it’s like knitting. I might not have an immaculate, clutter-free, and well-decorated house by the end of the day, but I’ll be that much closer to my goals.

Wish me luck!

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Oh the horror!

The Ragtag CinemaCafe has started another series of films from the Pre-Code era–The Creature from Forbidden Hollywood. For the next four Wednesdays, they will be showing a short series of horror films from the late 1920s and early 1930s, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Island of Lost Souls, The Unknown starring Lon Chaney, and King Kong. Many of the people attending this series are film buffs who have already seen these and more films of the era, but not perhaps on the big screen as they were intended to be seen. But for people like me, who are seeing some of these classics for the first time, we are very fortunate to have Lokke Heiss to set the context and guide us through discussions after the viewing.

The Hays Code technically went into effect in 1930, but it was not strictly enforced until 1934. The films that were banned or censored under the Hays code were not necessarily banned for their explicit sexual content, although there was plenty of that back in the day. Many of the films included sexual innuendo, promiscuity, prostitution, abortion, infidelity, but they also portrayed illegal drug use, organized crime, gangsters, violence, homosexuality, domestic violence, and other social and psychological issues. Films showed people breaking common standards of morality and getting away with it. Women were often powerful. The bad guys and the wanton women did not necessarily get punished. Sometimes crime did pay. Sometimes the gangsters were more heroic than villainous. Communities feared that such films would send the wrong message and encourage bad behavior.

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Even by today’s standards, some of these films are shocking. But I find them especially shocking when I think about how my grandparents would have viewed them, if given the opportunity. No wonder the Baptists were opposed to movies! All four of my grandparents were young adults during the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, living in small towns in Kentucky. I have no idea if any of them ever watched movies, but I am fairly certain that their parents would have disapproved if they had.

My maternal grandparents graduated from college in 1920. For several years they taught in rural high schools and private academies. Later, they taught college: Grandmother taught sociology, marriage and the family, and her favorite, courtship and marriage. Grandaddy taught business and economics. My paternal grandmother was a teenager in the nineteen-twenties, growing up in the mountains, and heavily involved in local and state politics. Pappaw, a merchant, was a few years older than Mammaw and ran grocery stores throughout his life. I suspect all of them would have been horrified at the content of the films of the day.

The first film of the Forbidden Hollywood series was Dr. Jekyll (pronounced Jee-kil) and Mr. Hyde (1931) starring Fredrik March, which raises all kinds of disturbing questions about the dual nature of humans, about evil, about man’s relationship to God, about domestic violence, and more.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the basic plot, here is Bugs Bunny’s interpretation in Hyde and Hare.

Last Night’s Fun

Some days I surprise myself at how old-fashioned I can be and how much fun I can have doing things that people have done for hundreds of years. Last night was a good example. Usually on Tuesday nights a smallish group of us get together for an old-time music jam. When the weather is nice, we play outside on the patio at Ragtag CinemaCafe; when it’s cold or wet, we play at someone’s house. Although most of us can read music, we generally play old-time fiddle tunes by ear, and we’re always excited when a new fiddler shows up in town and can teach us some new tunes. All of us dance as well as make music, and two of the musicians also call dances, so we have in the last few months talked about starting a “callers jam,” as well. Why waste all that good toe-tapping music, when people could be dancing while we’re playing?

Finally, last night various forces converged, and we were able to hold our first callers jam. Even on short notice, we were able to gather about a dozen friends to make music, call, and dance together on a dreary November evening. It was way better than getting all worked up watching the Election 2012 returns come in. We had already voted, and there was nothing more could be done about that. Might as well dance!

Lucky for us, Krishna and her husband own a house that is for sale and is currently vacant, so no one even had to clean house to host our dance party, and there was no furniture and no rugs to move out of the way. In addition, we had a beautiful hardwood floor to dance on, and miracle of miracles, the people who had recently moved out of the house had left an upright piano that was in decent condition and mostly in tune. There were a few notes that wouldn’t play, but it was great fun pounding on that old honky tonk piano, while Pippa and Will played fiddle, and the dancers kept rhythm with their feet.

I really should get a hobby

My mother and I have lately taken to texting or emailing each other to set up an appointment to talk, because we are both so busy we can no longer just pick up the phone and expect the other one to be available. But this week was particularly nutsy. For someone who enjoys spending evenings at home reading or knitting or puttering around the house, I have managed to fill up every night with at least one activity. Part of the busyness is because I am playing in a band for the English Country Dance on Friday, so we scheduled extra rehearsals this week. But that was no reason to fill up the rest of the evenings, sometimes with more than one activity. Here’s how my week looks (so far):

Monday–Band rehearsal
Tuesday–Book club to discuss the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, followed by a callers’ party (where dance callers try out new dances on willing volunteers)
Wednesday–Meet with the interior designers about turning our den into a space for dance and music; and then go watch a silent movie of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Ragtag CinemaCafe
Thursday–Band rehearsal
Friday–English Country Dance
Saturday–Square Dance
Sunday–Family Dance at Lee Elementary School

Mom’s schedule was just about as full, with lunches and birthday parties for her best friend and a trip to the car dealer to see about that “check engine” light, on top of all her regular activities. She and two of her friends have written a novel together and have been doing book signings and readings, as well as working on their next book. We’ve decided that instead of one long phone call like we prefer, we will try to catch up through a series of shorter calls during my breaks at work.

Why I won’t be moving anytime soon

Before we bought the house I am now in, I had moved twenty-five times in about as many years. For the first eight years of my life, my dad was in the Navy, so of course we moved every time he was transferred to a new duty station: to Nova Scotia, then Florida, then California, then Tennessee, criss-crossing the country. When he had shore duty, my mother and brother and I moved with him; when he was at sea, we returned to my grandparents’ house in Kentucky while we waited for his ship to return. At the early age of two, I learned to hold tight to my favorite doll on moving day and not lay her down even for a moment, lest she get packed into a box and disappear for a year or more.

Even after dad got out of the Navy, we continued to move every eighteen months, as though he were still receiving orders to ship out. Those were unhappy years for my parents, but I didn’t know that at the time. Usually we just moved from one rental house to another, so I didn’t have to change schools that often. But I must surely hold some kind of record for having lived in the most houses that have since been torn down and turned into parking lots. (When we used to go back to my hometown and I would point out the places where I used to live, my children thought I had actually lived in the parking lots.) There was the two-story house my grandparents owned on Jackson Street, the three-story mansion on Hamilton Street, the small frame house on Clayton Avenue that we rented from the college, the large farmhouse across the tracks, the two-story bungalow on Willis Avenue, and the one-story bungalow on Walnut Street. Possibly there were others that I am not aware of.

Now I find it almost impossible to believe that I have been in the same house since 1989. And it’s not because it was my dream house or anything. There are plenty of things not to like about this house. In fact, if I had known I would end up staying here so long, I would have bought a different house, one with more character, more yard, less suburbia. One with an actual garage that was attached to the driveway and not bizarrely located down the steps. I do like the wooded back lot, however. You’d think, though, that having moved so often in the past, I would have plunked my furniture down here and refused to move another thing. But instead, over the years I have completely rearranged the house numerous times. I’m not talking about moving the couch from one wall to the other. I’m talking about completely repurposing rooms over and over again. Maybe, like my dad, I’m still searching for something I can’t find, only within a smaller frame of reference.

Now that the children have grown, and it’s just the two of us most of the time, our latest plan is to turn the downstairs den into a space where we can hold old-time music jams and square-dance parties. But obviously, we won’t be dancing and playing music all the time, so I’d also like it to be a multi-purpose room, where we can sit by the wood stove and read or knit or work on projects. We need an open space for dancing, but we also need decent storage and work space for our projects. We need plenty of straight-backed chairs for musicians, but we also need comfy chairs for reading. We need a smooth surface for dancing, but we also need rugs for the coziness factor.

Last spring we hired a contractor to take out a wall (one we had actually put in ourselves years ago to make a bedroom for my older son when he was a teenager and needed to get away from his little brother). Before the contractor came, we had to move everything out of what had been a fairly traditional bedroom and a den (in the bedroom a queen-size bed, a dresser, a wardrobe, and large shelves full of boxes of things left behind by the boys when they moved out; in the living room a love seat, a rocking chair, a coffee table, a television and stand, shelves and shelves of books, a NordicTrack; and in the “hall” between the two a chest freezer and a four-drawer file cabinet). Now that the space has been cleared out, we are trying to be very thoughtful about what we move back in.

I have decided this challenge definitely requires a professional, so I have made an appointment with a designer this week. I have great hopes that he will be able to come up with an awesome plan. The same designer picked out a fabric for a wing chair I had reupholstered last summer, and I am loving it. It was exactly the right fabric, but I didn’t know it until I saw the chair next to my stone fireplace.

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iPads! Huh! What are they good for?

I admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with technology. At my day job as an instructional designer, of course technology is essential and ever present. We all have dual monitors for our desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, high-speed internet, fancy projectors, smart boards, clickers, lots of server space, an office full of enthusiastic early adopters, and plenty of people who will happily answer technical questions and give advice about cool new tools. I won’t lie. I was as excited as anyone to get my first iPad and start figuring out what it can do for me.

But in my other, perhaps more “real” life, I enjoy many more low-tech activities, and at our weekly lunch with the curmudgeons I often join in their conversations about the evils of being always connected, the intrusion of all the beeps and clicks in our lives, the irritation of dinner-table guests who keep glancing at their phones for updates, the absurdity of television screens installed at self-pump gas stations. Among the people I count as friends, you will find numerous artisans and craftspeople–the original DIYers–gardeners and people who are good with their hands, people who raise their own chickens for eggs or meat, bee keepers, farmers, healers and massage therapists, musicians and guitar makers, a luthier, woodworkers, weavers and spinners–but also web designers and bloggers and sound technicians and music producers. We also believe in repurposing: like the time we made a spindle for spinning wool out of a CD that arrived in the mail from AOL.

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It’s not that we are anti-technology, but we tend to be the kinds of people who, once we have found the tool that works for us, see little reason to buy each latest model as it comes out. Rather than ask, “What new tools might I get?” we try to think about, “What do I need or want to do, and what tool will help me accomplish that best?”

My husband and I got a kick out of the sales reps from Century Tel who stopped by our house recently to congratulate us on our years of being “such good customers” and to offer us this really awesome deal where we could bump our internet speed up astronomically at no charge. All we would have to do is add a cable TV package. They were all smiling and nodding until we told them that we don’t have a television. The two young men stopped cold. Then one of them said, “My mom tried to get us to watch less television. I guess that would be one way.” Then the other one said, in apparent disbelief, “You don’t have a television at all?” We smiled and said no, and they thanked us for our time and headed on down the street to knock on the doors of other good customers.

Like I said, I was thrilled to get an iPad recently and am enjoying learning what I can do with it. However, I’m trying not to get caught up completely in the “cool factor” and start downloading apps willy nilly before I even figure out what I might need them for. Rather, I am trying to take a more thoughtful approach and think about the things I already do and then find out whether there is an app that would help me do those things more easily. But I can already sense what a time bandit this device could turn out to be.

This morning I decided to get out the list of books I want to read (which I have been writing down in a little moleskin notebook that I carry with me everywhere) and enter them into a virtual bookshelf using Goodreads. Oh my! That could turn out to be very addictive. So far, I have resisted the impulse to click “buy immediately” or “download this eBook now,” but I spent way more time than I expected entering book titles (already read and to-read), remembering other books I have already ready, checking out what my virtual “friends” have read, browsing the new releases, reading reviews, looking at photos of authors. It was just as fun as browsing in a library or bookstore, but I could do it in my pajamas, Before I knew it I had added 141 books to my “to-read” list. The trick will be to actually read some of these books and not just keep playing around with this really cool app and building more and more virtual bookshelves.

November is National Writing Month

For the second day in a row I find myself wide awake at 5:00 a.m. Must be feeling the energy of all those writers who have pledged to write 50,000 words during the month of November–whether as part of National Novel Writing Month or National Blog Posting Month or Academic Writing Month or Digital Writing Month or some other challenge they have set for themselves.

I personally thought this would be a great time to get back into my blog. I can’t believe I have not posted to my blog since July. As so often happens in my life, the years when lots of stuff is happening are the years when I tend to abandon my journals and blogs. I guess that makes some kind of sense, because when I’m not doing much of anything I have plenty of time to sit in my chair and write about not doing anything or imagine things I might do some day, whereas when life is more demanding, I don’t have the time or energy to write about what’s happening. By anyone’s standards, though, this has been one heck of a year, both at work and at home.

But trying to summarize where I’ve been sometimes has the unintended consequence of causing me to miss what’s going on in the present, as though I’m trying to drive down the highway while keeping my attention on the rearview mirror. I used to find it strange that my dad, upon returning from a year or 18 months at sea, would greet people as though he just saw them that morning. He seemed to make no attempt to catch up on news, and he didn’t offer any hints at what he himself had done during all that time. He’d say, “How about them Wildcats?” or “Nice dress” or “Think it’ll rain?” or “I’ll have the usual.” Strange, perhaps, but I’m beginning to realize that dad makes more sense than most people think. How could we really ever hope to make up for lost time? We might as well jump into the present with both feet and create some new memories.

On that note, I’ll let you know that my attention is on playing at the contra dance tonight for Mid-Missouri Traditional Dancers. I will be playing keyboard with a band called The 32 Bartenders. (No, we won’t be serving up alcoholic beverages. We chose the name because all contra dances and tunes have 32 bars.) The other members of the band are Tom Verdot on fiddle and banjo, Thom Howard on guitar and mandolin, and Rebecca Logan on flute. This is the first time all four of us have played together for a dance. I am the newest member, so I’m a bit nervous, but I am having so much fun playing with these fine musicians. We will be playing mostly New England style contra dance tunes, which is somewhat new for this area. Many of the bands around here play oldtime stringband music and fiddle tunes. It’s been fun breaking out of the standard oom-pah, boom-chuck, I-V style of backup, but I have a long way to go before I am able to play the tunes the way I hear them in my head. For now, I need to focus on keeping a steady rhythm for the dancers.