Archive for Life

Life

New Home

I’m in my new home, surrounded by boxes, but I have furniture and Internet, so I’m more or less back. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. There was the frantic packing, then my furniture was picked up on the 6th. I spent a couple of days clearing out my old house, got to my parents’ house and collapsed for a day, then took off on Friday the 10th and drove two days, arriving here Saturday evening. I had an air mattress and featherbed to sleep on and my patio lounger, camp chair, laptop stand, and a TV tray table for furniture to last me until my stuff arrived on Wednesday. It was supposed to be delivered Wednesday morning, but it didn’t come until almost 5, and it took a long time for the guy to unload it because his local helper never showed up. I got the bed made up and collapsed. I got a lot of unpacking done yesterday but ran out of steam today and have mostly been catching up with online stuff, since the Internet got connected today.

Sunday, I did some grocery shopping to get basics to live on, then spent the rest of the day taking walks around the neighborhood and just relaxing. That evening, the person who used to live in this apartment, with whom I’ve been chatting on Facebook, came by with a plant and some food, and we had a good chat (it turns out we have a ton in common). Monday, I walked downtown (about 20 minutes away) to see about getting my Internet set up, then had a fairly strenuous hike home, since my home is on a big hill. While I was downtown, I stopped by the visitor center to see if there was anything going on in town to do while I waited for my furniture. It turned out that the lady working in the visitor center is a neighbor, and she let me know about my other neighbors. I hit Target in the afternoon to get a bunch of things for setting up my house.

And then I had to wonder what I used to do with my time because the Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul effect kicked in. I didn’t think I watched that much TV, but I guess I was online a lot because suddenly without Internet I felt like I didn’t have a lot to do. Monday evening I got out the laptop and started editing a book. I have a nice little back porch that overlooks a shady lawn that’s surrounded by trees, and it was lovely sitting out there to work until it got dark enough that I had to go inside. Tuesday was likely to be rainy, so I didn’t want to go anywhere. I sat on the porch and worked for a while, then took a walk but had to rush home when it started raining. I had lunch and took a nap and did some more work and reading.

I think part of the reason the time felt a bit empty was the fact that it’s so quiet. I hadn’t realized how noisy my old house was, but it backed up to a six-lane major road that had constant traffic on it, day and night, plus I was near a major airport, with constant airplane noise. My neighborhood now consists mostly of 100+ year-old houses. It’s a narrow street that winds up and over a hill. There’s maybe one car going by every hour or so. I can sit on the back porch and listen to the leaves rustling in the wind, and I can hear bird songs. I love it, but it definitely changes my perception of the passage of time.

I may need to pretend I don’t have Internet to gain a lot more time to write, read, and do other things. There’s a lot I need to Internet to do, but I think it eats a lot of time. I need to find a good balance.

I think I’m going to like it here, but there are some adjustments to make. For one thing, my home is much smaller than my old house. I purged a lot of stuff before I moved, but I’m still having to work to make room for everything. I’m only going to be living here for about a year until I find a house to buy, so I may just have to get used to tighter quarters. There’s also a different sense of scale in the town. I used to live in the suburbs in Texas, where everything was planned around cars and very spread out. My new town was established before the American Revolution and most of the center part of the city, where I live, was built and developed before cars were common. That means everything is a lot more compact, and there’s not a lot of parking. I’m having to re-learn how to parallel park, as there’s not even a parking lot for my apartment building. It’s all street-side parking. Thank goodness for that back-up camera on the new car! The upside is that just about everything is in walking distance. I’m a block from the big city park, a few blocks from the library, 20 minutes from downtown, where there are a lot of shops and restaurants. There’s also a neighborhood pub not too far away. I mostly just need to drive for major grocery shopping, and the nearest Target is in a neighboring town, a pleasant drive toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. I hope I never get totally used to seeing the mountains as I run errands. That’s the sort of thing you should be in awe of.

Then there’s temperature. I just about came down with heat exhaustion while clearing out my old place. When I got here, I had to turn on the heat. It’s a bit warmer now than it was the first few days, and having the furniture helps. This is essentially a “railroad” flat, so it’s all one long room, and then a bedroom, and that big kitchen/dining room/office/living room got pretty cold, with wood floors and bare walls. It seems a lot warmer now that it’s not so empty, but I still need blankets at night, which I love. I sleep better when I’m burrowed under blankets.

The neighbors are really nice, and I think I’m going to fit in well. Apparently, the lady at the visitor center told the other neighbors about me because they’ve stopped by. One brought over a plant and a pretty notebook. Another brought me the info on the recycling center so I could deal with all the boxes. I knew I’d probably landed in the right place when she said if I needed anything during the unloading of my furniture, she was across the street at the other neighbors’ house, where they were all watching Lord of the Rings.

It may take me a week or so to get totally unpacked. The plan is to spend the mornings working, then doing the unpacking in the afternoons and evenings. I’m going to have to unpack and organize in phases because I need to empty and clear out boxes in order to have room to set up the shelves and other stuff I need to be able to put things away, so first I’m just sticking things on shelves or in closets, and then I’ll have to organize the shelves and closets. I re-read Rydding Village book 2 while I was waiting for my furniture to arrive, during that time without TV or Internet, and now I just have some minor revising to do. I’m trying to get back into the swing of a regular writing habit after all the disruption.

Life

Old Clothes

I’ve been doing a big closet purge over the past couple of weeks. I haven’t drastically changed size over the past few decades, so most of my old clothes still fit (though some fit better than others or fit differently). That makes it a little harder to know what to get rid of. I’ve been forcing myself to put on clothes and be honest with myself about whether I would wear these things again. It’s like playing the home version of that What Not to Wear show, in which they’d ambush a fashion victim, haul her entire wardrobe to their studio, make her show off her favorite outfits, then tell her what was wrong with what she was wearing and what she should wear instead before going through her existing wardrobe and tossing all the things that didn’t work. Alas, I’m skipping the shopping spree and makeover that came after that step.

I think the bulk of what I’m getting rid of will end up being my old suits. In my first job out of college, I was working in the public information office at a medical school. We dealt with the school administration, major donors (basically the city’s social elite), and the media. On a given day, we might end up sitting in a meeting with a dean or vice president, escorting a news crew to an interview, or interviewing a civic leader about their latest donation. That meant this was not a casual office environment. The policy was that we had to dress every day as though we might have to meet with the university president. Unfortunately, my salary didn’t really support the kind of wardrobe the job required, so I had a pretty big wardrobe of relatively cheap suits, things I bought on sale at Casual Corner or The Limited, with the occasional bargain clearance item from a department store.

Most of the time, this wasn’t too obvious, since doctors, scientists, and reporters aren’t necessarily known for their style. My suits looked pretty sharp, even if they didn’t come with a designer label. There was the occasional awkward moment. For instance, there was the day the president’s assistant called over to our office to see if any women in the office were available to go to a luncheon. It was one of those society “ladies who lunch” events as a fundraiser for one of the departments (there was a “friends of” organization) and they had some last-minute cancellations, so they were trying to fill the empty seats. It happened to be a day when I’d worn my favorite suit, a Chanel-style black-and-white houndstooth number, so I was feeling pretty confident.

Until I got to the event and found that the “entertainment” during the luncheon, before the speaker, was going to be a Chanel fashion show. There I was in a suit that was obviously meant to look like the Chanel style, but very obviously didn’t have the logo on the buttons.

And then I realized that the woman I’d been seated with was Margot Perot (wife of H. Ross). I was a little intimidated at first, but she turned out to be very nice and actually kind of funny. The fashion show was the sort of thing in which the models walked around the room during lunch and stopped at each table to explain their outfits. Fortunately, it was the resort collection, so there were no suits to stand in sharp contrast to my fake Chanel suit. Mrs. Perot and I ended up snarking about some of the crazier outfits together. Even better, the swag bag left at each place contained a full-size bottle of Chanel No. 5 cologne. That more than doubled my pay for the day.

But when I put on that suit now, I feel like I should be on the field playing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. All my suits from that time have giant shoulder pads. I have great memories of wearing those suits and how grown-up they made me feel, but I can admit to myself that I will never wear them again. Even if I have an occasion to wear a suit, I wouldn’t wear one of these.

Next, I need to cull dresses and skirts. I have a lot of dresses and skirts I love that still fit and that look good on me, but I need to be honest with myself about how many I need. When I go to church, I’m usually in the choir and wearing a robe, so I don’t dress up too much. I like to wear skirts and dresses for conventions, but I haven’t been to one since the pandemic, and I don’t wear the more structured dresses for that sort of thing. I usually bring something knit that I can throw in a suitcase. I may force myself to pare the collection down to a dressy little black dress, a dress suitable for funerals, and a few dresses suitable for weddings/concerts/the theater.

I also have a good-sized collection of formal or cocktail dresses, thanks to years of writing conferences that included formal banquets. Some of them are clearly out of style, but a few still look good. I might as well keep a couple because I’d rather not have to buy another formal if an occasion arose. I still have my senior prom dress, but it doesn’t look very “80s prom,” so I’ve actually worn it a few times (admittedly, at least one of those times was a “flashback prom” costume party).

One thing that’s helping with this process is keeping in mind the life I want to have. Late last year, as part of a class on goal setting and scheduling, I did an exercise in which I imagined what my ideal life and an ideal day in that ideal life would look like. The idea was to help set goals that will lead to that life and focus on projects and tasks that lead to that life, but it also helps here. Does it fit? Does it look good? Do I feel good in it? And would I wear this in my ideal life?

Forcing myself to put on these old clothes has really brought back memories. I have to admit that I kind of liked dressing up for work, though I also like that I get to wear sweatpants or shorts and t-shirts now. Speaking of t-shirts, that’s another collection I need to purge. I could probably wear a different shirt every day for a month, but I got so many of these through special events, so they’re souvenirs in addition to being clothing. I’ve heard the suggestion to make a quilt out of them, but I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t use such a quilt (my grandmother made quilts, so I already have a quilt collection). I may take pictures, then donate them.

Life

Eclipsed

I was lucky enough to be in the path of totality for the eclipse, but I was worried because the forecast was for clouds. Fortunately, the clouds mostly dissipated right before the eclipse began. There were wisps drifting in and out, but the clouds parted for totality.

And I have to say, that was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever experienced. It was early afternoon, but it was like night. The street lights came on. I could see what I later learned were Venus and Jupiter. It got a lot colder all of a sudden. I went to the neighborhood park across the street, and a number of other people from the neighborhood were also there. A cheer went up when totality occurred. I had my Walkman radio on, since the classical radio station had a special playlist. As the eclipse was starting, they played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, music from Close Encounters and ET, and stuff like that (watching the sun go dark during the Close Encounters music was eerie). As totality approached, they played a lovely version of Clair de Lune. Then as totality happened, they played the “Sunrise” fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra, aka the 2001 theme. That was absolutely perfect.

I didn’t take any pictures of the eclipse itself because I don’t have the equipment for that and I wanted to focus on the moment, but this was what the world looked like during totality. It’s hard to believe this was about 1:43 in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day.

This looks like a nighttime photo of a pond and a bridge. The streetlights are on, casting an eerie light. But it's about 1:42 in the afternoon, during totality of the solar eclipse.
This isn’t a nighttime view. It’s 1:42 in the afternoon, during totality of the eclipse.

One thing that struck me was how light it got the moment a sliver of sun reappeared. It was still sort of dim and twilight-looking, but it was still noticeably daytime, not the night of totality.

Now, of course, I find myself wanting to work an eclipse into a fantasy novel. It was a magical moment, so it seems like a time when magic can happen. I know it’s kind of a cliche, especially the whole loophole in a “night and day at the same time” sort of curse (like in the movie Ladyhawke) but sometimes the cliches happen because something is true.

Life

Memory Lane

This week I’ve been distracted by a jaunt down memory lane. One of my good friends from my college days died recently, and on the Facebook group for my college friends we’ve been sharing memories and photos of him, and that set off a big sharing of memories and photos, in general, as all of us have been digging out and scanning pictures from that time.

It’s funny, I thought I had really vivid memories of my college days, but some of these pictures are bringing up things I’d totally forgotten about. There are people I don’t recognize until someone mentions their names, and then memories flood back, or there are names that don’t ring a bell at all until I see them connected to a photo and then suddenly remember the people well. That’s meant I’ve been having a constant flood of nostalgia, and I’ve spent way too much time checking to see if anything new has been posted or digging through boxes of my own photos.

This friend was pretty much responsible for me having the college experience I had. I lived in a high-rise dorm on the honors floor, so basically it was geek central. It was a co-ed floor, with the girls on one wing and the boys on another. I moved in early because I had to do orientation, and I met someone else who’d also arrived early, and we hit it off, so I’d been hanging out with her and with some other people we’d met. I’d met some of the people on the floor when we had meetings, but I wasn’t really part of that group.

Then on Halloween, a Friday, I rushed home from class because I had to deliver something for my Pumpkin Pal (like a Secret Santa, but for Halloween), and in my rush I just threw my backpack on my bed and didn’t lock my door when I ran to deliver my gift. I got back to my room to find that my wallet was missing from my backpack. I went down to the dorm office to find the police there because there had already been multiple theft reports. This guy had apparently been working his way through the dorm. My friends came by while I was waiting to talk to the police, heading out to go do something, and instead of waiting with me until I made my report, they left. I was pretty devastated. I hadn’t lost much, since it was just the wallet I carried to class, so it only contained a few dollars, my student ID, and my driver’s license, but it still felt like a violation, and then to have my friends ditch me when I really needed support was even worse.

But a guy named Eric who lived on my floor saw me talking to the police and stopped to make sure I was okay. He then invited me to join the group that met in his room every afternoon to watch Star Trek before heading down to the cafeteria for dinner. That may have been the most comforting thing possible, since that had been my family’s routine when I was in high school. My parents worked at the school, so we got home together in the afternoon, and then we’d watch the Star Trek rerun before dinner.

That day, I got a whole new group of friends that I stuck with the rest of my time through school, and I’m still in touch with a lot of them now online. And it all happened because someone I barely knew reached out to me when I needed a friend. It turned out that most of the people in the group had been brought into it by Eric. He was essentially the one who made the group what it was.

One thing I find interesting about seeing those old photos is that the boys I thought were cute actually were. When I look at my crushes in my yearbooks from junior high and high school, I wonder what I was thinking, but most of the guys I had crushes on from college are still cute to me (their past selves are cute to current me. I don’t know what most of them look like now). There’s one that I didn’t remember at all until people started posting pictures, and now I think he was cute, but I don’t remember if I crushed on him then. There were a couple of pictures of him in my collection, but I don’t know if I was taking pictures of him because I liked him or because he was doing interesting things. Nothing happened with any of these guys because I was very much not cute then, and I was pretty awkward, even for the nerd floor.

A group of somewhat nerdy freshmen in a dorm study lounge in the mid-80s. Of note is a girl with frizzy hair wearing a green sweater and a red skirt with a young Black man in front of her, attempting to strike a suave pose.
Some of my friends during my freshman year in college. I’m the one on the left wearing a green sweater and red skirt (it was around Christmas). My friend Eric, who recently passed away, is the one directly in front of me.

Actually, looking at those pictures makes me want to go back in time and stage an intervention with my past self. For one thing, I’d tell myself to grow my hair out. I didn’t learn until later that my hair shouldn’t be worn short because it won’t have room to curl, so it just makes a frizzy cloud. Some of my fashion choices were questionable. Yes, it was the 80s, but the things I thought were great were weird even for the 80s. And I’d tell myself to be more open to possibilities. I was very set on a plan and didn’t want to deviate from it, even when other opportunities came up. I chose a major and stuck with it, but it turned out to be a bad fit for my personality, and I didn’t actually enjoy it. Meanwhile, other things had come up, but I didn’t take advantage of those opportunities because they didn’t fit with my major. I don’t know what other direction I should have gone, but I should have let myself be more open to exploring. There was no guidance counseling at my high school, so I didn’t know what was out there, and going to a large university, I should have let myself explore enough to find a better fit. I’d probably have ended up doing the same thing I’m doing now, since that was the real plan all along, but I might have been happier along the way.

That sounds like the plot of a paranormal women’s fiction book — the middle-aged woman having a mid-life crisis getting the chance to either relive her college days or travel in time and visit her college-age self. Most of the things like that, like Peggy Sue Got Married, seem to involve parents who choose not to change their lives because they still want to have the kids they had, but what if you haven’t had kids and wouldn’t miss the kids that would have been if you change your life? There’s the TV series Being Erica, in which the heroine goes back in time and relives certain key times in her life. She doesn’t actually change the past, but the changed perspective on the past changes the way she faces the present. But she’s in her early 30s, so it’s more chick lit than women’s fiction.

I may have to add this to my idea file. Like I need more things to write. In the meantime, I have a funeral to go to this weekend, and the bright side of that is that I’ll be seeing some old friends there.

Life

Homebody Woes

I learned this week that today’s cars with their fancy touchscreens and electronic everything aren’t compatible with the homebody lifestyle. I didn’t go anywhere last week because I was focused on writing and didn’t need anything from the grocery store, so it had been nearly two weeks since I’d last driven when I went to head to the grocery store on Wednesday. And that meant my battery was dead.

After roadside assistance jumped it, I drove around for a while to recharge. It’s bluebonnet season, so I looked at flowers, then went out to the lake and drove around it, then followed the advice of the roadside assistance guy and when a wrong turn took me right to an auto parts store, I stopped and asked them to check the battery. The battery registered as good, as did the other electrical system stuff, but the guy at the store was a Subaru fanatic/expert, and he noticed that the battery was the factory original. Batteries have a short life span around here because of the summer heat, and with the mileage on the car when I bought it, the former owner probably had driving habits about like mine. For peace of mind, I just bought a new battery. I figured it was good to have someone who was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about my kind of car while I was there.

But now I know that I need to get out more. I’ll confess to being a bit of (a lot of, to be honest) a homebody. It’s a major effort for me to leave the house, and the longer it’s been since I went out, the harder it is for me to force myself. If I don’t have a reason to go somewhere, I don’t go, especially if I have to drive.

I live in a pretty walkable neighborhood, so I like to walk for as many errands as I can. I would be happy living without a car, though that would be pretty inconvenient around here. Another reason I like my neighborhood is that everything I need is right nearby. I don’t have to get on freeways. Most of my driving is the two miles to the grocery store and back.

I don’t know if I’ve got full-blown agoraphobia, but I did have a great aunt who apparently got weird and never left the house at all, so I guess it runs in the family. Pre-pandemic, I made sure I had several activities to force me out of the house a couple of times a week so that it got easier to go out. Most of those activities ended with the pandemic.

I guess this is kind of like how having a dog forces you to go out on a walk every day. My car is going to force me to leave the house at least once a week and drive for more than five minutes at a stretch, and I probably will need to get on a freeway a couple of times a month. I’ll have to come up with a list of driving outings I can do. There are parks where I can go walking, and I can make more of an effort to meet up with friends. The afternoon spent driving this week was probably good for me, though it would have been more fun without the stress of worrying about the battery.

Oh, and with the unexpected bill, this would be a good time to tell someone about my books!

Life

Tea-Powered

It’s possible that I might be a tea-powered life form. I’ve seen a meme about coffee saying something to the effect of turning magic beans into stories, but with me it’s magic leaves.

This realization came courtesy of a book I read recently, The Busy Brain Cure. A neurologist found that there seems to be a link between lack of focus, anxiety, and insomnia, and she calls this “busy brain.” It’s the result of chronic or recurring stress. Since lack of focus, anxiety, and insomnia are pretty much my life, I found it interesting. The book offers an eight-week protocol for addressing it, and since there wasn’t anything in it that looked potentially harmful, I thought it might be worth giving it a shot.

The first couple of things were common insomnia recommendations. There was setting a consistent bedtime and wake time. I generally do this anyway, other than weekends, when I let myself sleep a little later (and then I usually wake at the same time, but then let myself go back to sleep). It’s not a major lifestyle change to set an alarm on weekends, especially since I use a light-up alarm, so I don’t have sound that startles me awake, just a light that comes on gradually so I feel like I’m waking up naturally.

The next thing was a digital detox, with no screens or devices thirty minutes to an hour before bedtime. Again, that’s something I usually do anyway, unless the book I’m currently reading is an e-book (she includes e-readers and tablets as screen and devices). I seldom watch TV that late, and while I’m tempted by e-mail and social media while I’m at my computer, once I leave my office I don’t think about checking it, and I ignore my phone most of the time. So, no major lifestyle change other than trying to start my weekend movies early enough for them to be over an hour before bedtime.

Then we got to the diet week. It’s not a huge shift, since the focus is mostly on adding healthy fats and low-glycemic index foods rather than on cutting anything out, and that’s mostly the way I eat, anyway.

But the real issue there was with caffeine. She recommends not having caffeine first thing in the morning because that’s when cortisol levels are naturally higher. You get more benefit from the caffeine by waiting to have caffeine a few hours after you wake up. The best time to have caffeine is between about 9:30 and 11 a.m., and none after 1 p.m. Also, no caffeine within an hour of having sugar or things made with white flour. There was something sciencey that I didn’t take notes on about the interaction of sugar and caffeine that does something about inflammation.

This is a major lifestyle change, as I drink tea with breakfast, which is a double whammy, as it’s first thing in the morning and usually involves sugar and flour (I usually eat whole wheat toast, but with cinnamon sugar or some kind of jam or fruit butter). Then there’s some kind of baked good with tea in the afternoon. But I thought I’d give it a shot. I know that a lot of what I like about tea is the warm liquid, so I made herbal tea with breakfast. I did find that it didn’t make a huge difference in alertness, but the taste of herbal tea (I tried a couple of different kinds) didn’t go well with my breakfast food. It was later in the day when I had a hard time focusing, and I found that my sleep was actually worse when I was limiting tea to late morning.

I am not addicted to tea. We are just in a very committed relationship.

By the third day, I dug some decaf teabags out of the cabinet because I just couldn’t seem to write without actual tea. I got a lot more focused after drinking it, and I slept better that night. I made decaf tea for breakfast yesterday and I was doing much better. Then I pretty much gave up on trying to limit tea in any way and went back to my usual routine, having tea in the afternoon with some bread I’d baked. Last night, I had the best sleep I’ve had all week and I topped my word count goal in writing yesterday.

I don’t think I’m the kind of person the doctor was targeting with this. I make a whole pot (about 4 cups) using two teaspoons of tea leaves, which is supposed to make two cups, and brewed only a short time, so my tea isn’t very strong. I don’t think two cups of tea make all that much difference, caffeine-wise. The people she was talking about in the book were the sort who have multiple cups of coffee, energy drinks, or colas throughout the day, the kind of people who use caffeine to get going during the day but then are so wired that they need alcohol to unwind at night.

It didn’t even seem to be the caffeine. It was the tea, which had the same effect on me even when it was decaf (though the decaf doesn’t taste as good). Food definitely tastes better with tea — especially baked goods. I figure the author of the book isn’t going to reach through the Internet to scold me for breaking the rules, and I already returned the book to the library, so she can’t reach through the book to get me. If something that’s supposed to make you focus and sleep better makes you focus and sleep worse, then it’s not a good idea. Maybe I should have given it more than a few days, but tea is one of my few indulgences and seems to be essential to my work, so I’m keeping it.

Life

Breaking Habits

I will confess to being a bit of a creature of habit. I don’t know how much of that is stubbornness and liking routine and how much is because once I find something that works I don’t see a reason to change it. That can sometimes mean I get stuck in a rut or don’t realize when things have changed so that this isn’t the best thing for me now. I’ve found a good example of that in the past couple of weeks.

When I first started working from home for my public relations job more than 20 years ago, I got in the habit of watching the local midday news on TV while I ate lunch. That kept me on a good schedule, since the news was on at noon, and they did the health news usually starting around 12:25 (I was still doing some medical writing then). That meant if I turned on the TV at 12:25, I could catch the health news, then the bottom-of-the-hour repeat of the top stories at 12:30 and get the weather forecast, along with any entertainment news that they put at the end, and I’d be back to work at 1.

Then about four years ago they moved the midday news to 11, which didn’t fit my lunch schedule. I got the bright idea to set a season recording on my DVR, and then I could start lunch whenever I wanted and forward past commercials or any stories or segments I didn’t care about. This meant I ended up spending more time, since I was often watching the whole newscast instead of half of it, and I wasn’t keeping to a steady schedule anymore. But I never questioned whether I needed to make any changes.

Until a couple of weeks ago. My DVR runs on Android TV, and Google did its usual thing of discontinuing an application, rendering the device that runs on it useless. The application that gives the program information is no longer updated, so the DVR season recordings don’t work. It can get the program info for the channel it’s set on, so a couple of hours before something comes on you can manually set a recording. It finally occurred to me to wonder why I should bother. I read the newspaper and then I watch the national and local news in the evening. I don’t need to repeat the same news throughout the day. I’ve started watching videos on writing, history, and other things that are moderately educational while I eat lunch, and after two weeks I already don’t miss the news at all. I’m learning something, am less stressed (without all the doom and gloom from the news), and I’m spending less time on my lunch break. The TV station has most of the individual segments on their app and YouTube channel, so I can get the weather report or anything else I want to see without watching the whole newscast.

So far, I’ve already gone through a series of writing workshops and a few history documentaries. Or, if it’s a nice day, I take my lunch outside and just read. I guess I could bring out my tablet and watch videos outside while I eat lunch. I feel rather liberated by removing this bit of routine. I suppose this means I should look at other things I could change, but I don’t want to shock my system too much.

Life

Holiday Resistance

It’s the time of year when I usually gripe about not being ready for the holidays. I may be better about that this year since I got to experience actual autumn in October this fall by going to Virginia (and driving through the mountains of Tennessee on the way). I think a lot of my holiday resistance usually has to do with it finally feeling like fall here around Thanksgiving, so I don’t get to experience the autumn vibes before the holiday stuff hits.

But I’m still not ready for all holidays, all the time. The trees just started turning fall colors, which makes it hard to make the mental switch. The classical radio station I usually keep on in my office switched to all holiday music the day after Thanksgiving, and I’m not up for that. I’d have preferred a more gradual transition, like start with most of their usual programming and then add in some holiday pieces, increasing the proportion of holiday content as the season progresses. As it is, I’m already sick of some of the holiday pieces not quite a week in, with me just listening while I eat breakfast, read in bed at night, and drive. I can’t listen to Christmas music while I work. Most of that music has words that I know, so even if it’s instrumental my brain tries to sing along, which distracts me from work. Even worse, I’ve performed a lot of the music, so it catches my attention even more.

On the other hand, I rack up the score on the little “six degrees of classical music” game I play when listening to the radio. I get points for a piece I’ve performed, a piece I’ve seen live in concert, a recording I own, or a performer (individual artist, conductor, or group) I’ve seen in person. As a veteran choir member, I’ve performed a ton of Christmas music. I get a lot of points from John Rutter. I’ve sung most of his Christmas music and have seen him conduct in person, and I have his Christmas album, so I own most of the recordings they use on the radio, which gives me triple points. I’ve sung Messiah. They play a lot of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas stuff, and I’ve been at a choir workshop with the former director who’s the conductor for most of their recordings and have been conducted by him, so I get points there. They play a lot of things by ensembles I’ve seen in person, like the Dallas Symphony, Boston Pops, Turtle Creek Chorale, and Baltimore Consort (and I have their Christmas album, so double points). But all that means I can’t listen while I work. My brain zooms in on the music and puts words to it, which clashes with the words I’m trying to create in my head.

Our neighborhood tree lighting is this weekend, and I may go to that, which could help me kick off the season, and then I may get around to putting up my own decorations. I’ve told myself I’m taking a staycation when I finish the book I’m working on, and then I’ll really indulge in the holiday vibe. I’m putting together a “bucket list” of local holiday things I want to do in what may be my last holiday season in this area. Next year, I may be in an entirely different place. The seasons seem to line up better there, so maybe I’ll be more ready for the holidays next year.

Life

A Week of Adventures

I’m more or less back to work after a big Thanksgiving adventure, but then there was a follow-up adventure that threw this week out of whack.

Thanksgiving week, I drove to my parents’ house in East Texas (about a 2-hour drive from where I live). Then on Tuesday, I drove my parents in their car (bigger, nicer, and more comfortable than mine) to Houston to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Then Friday morning, I drove us back to my parents’ house, and then I drove home on Saturday. I got to hang out with my brother and his dog, see his house, and spoil his dog. I got lots of good puppy cuddles and ate a lot of good food. The good/bad was that I didn’t get any Thanksgiving leftovers since it wouldn’t have been a great idea to transport them for that long a trip. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of turkey, but it was nice not to have to worry about getting sick of it. I certainly ate enough on the day itself.

Driving my parents’ car gave me a sharp contrast to my car, which is nearly 16 years old, the bare basic model, and with a stick shift. My parents were getting concerned about me driving such an old car, even though it didn’t have too many miles on it. I know if I go through with moving to the mountains, I’ll need a new car. I doubt mine would survive the trip or manage all the hills in Staunton. I’d been researching cars ever since that trip. It looked like about half the cars in the town were Subaru Foresters, so I figured that was a good place to start. I’d read all the reviews and had started doing some online shopping, but the only cars in my budget were used and had more miles on them than my car had.

Until I was scrolling through the dealer sites over the weekend and saw exactly the car I wanted, low mileage, and at a good price. It was even the color I wanted. It felt like it was meant to be. I checked with the dealer Monday morning, went in for a test drive that afternoon, and decided to go for it. I picked it up this morning. It’s a lease return, which explains the relatively low mileage, and it’s one of the fancier trims, so it has all the fancy bells and whistles. For life in the mountains, it’ll be especially handy to have all-wheel drive, a special mode for driving on ice/snow/mud, and heated seats. I’ll have to get used to rolling a window down with the touch of a button instead of cranking, and it will be an adjustment to drive an automatic transmission after driving a stick shift ever since I was 18, though I did get some practice on my trip to Virginia and on the trip to Houston, so I’m not quite as rusty.

Now that I have all that excitement out of the way, I’m hoping I can settle down and concentrate more on work.

Oh, and I even got one of those cheesy big, red bows like they have in all the car commercials.

A blue Subaru Forester with one of those big, cheesy red bows on the hood and a smiling woman who just bought a car.
It’s not a brand-new car, but it’s new to me, and I even got one of those big, red bows.
Life

Scattered

I’ve been really distracted this week, doing the thing where I stare at the screen and am a million miles away even though I know what I want to write next. Random things pop into my head, and I find myself following mental rabbit trails. I know part of it is because I have a lot of stuff to think about right now, like getting ready for a big Thanksgiving trip and making decisions about where I may spend the rest of my life and whether to move halfway across the country. But mostly, this sort of thing happens when my brain knows that the thing I’m planning to write is all wrong and I need to figure out the right thing.

And that turned out to be the case. I was stuck on a scene I had planned. I had it all outlined, had seen the “movie” in my head, and yet I couldn’t seem to make myself write it. Every time I sat down to try to write it, my brain would get distracted by random things and I couldn’t focus. Last night, I gave up and sat down with a pen and paper to see if I could outline the rest of the book and add more detail to that scene so it would be easy to write. That was when I realized that the scene doesn’t belong in the book at all. Not only does it not really add anything to the story, but it would change things for the next part I had planned, and that was why I was having trouble outlining that part.

The writing went a lot easier this morning when my brain agreed with me that I was on the right track. I should make a note of that. If I can’t seem to focus, if my brain wants to do absolutely anything but write, I need to look at what I’m planning to write and see if it really belongs in the book. Sometimes, I feel like my brain tries to get me out of the way so it can work things out without my conscious interference. It’ll send me searching for recipes for some dish I had once and have a sudden craving for or looking up books in the library’s collection or other kinds of busy work that suddenly seems urgent, and when that’s done and I get back to writing, I suddenly know exactly what I need to do.

So, next time I’m feeling scattered, I can tell myself that maybe this is part of the process. Though sometimes I do suspect that I’m just being scattered.