Archive for Life


Barbie Mania

I haven’t yet seen the Barbie movie — I’ll wait until theaters are a lot less crowded — but all the talk about it has brought up a lot of nostalgia for me and what Barbie meant to me when I was growing up.

I get irked by the people who talk about Barbie dolls as being bad for girls because it falls into some of the same traps of faux feminism as those who complain about romance novels. There’s the “not like other girls” thing in which anything considered traditionally feminine is “bad.” If other girls like it, it’s frowned upon. And there’s the “unrealistic expectations” thing that infantilizes women and girls, treating us like we’re too dumb to know that romance novels or a doll with a ridiculous figure might be pure fantasy.

I don’t remember ever wanting or expecting to have Barbie’s figure. I wanted her wardrobe and her life — the life I gave her when I was using her to explore possible ways of having an adult life.

I got my first Barbie for either my 5th or 6th birthday. That must have been before they started branding heavily in pink because there was no pink in my first Barbie and her accessories. That first doll was a Malibu Barbie who came wearing a blue one-piece swimsuit. At the same time, I also got her car, which was a yellow Corvette, and a pop-up camper (a trailer that unfolded to be a tent), which was also mostly yellow. Later, I got a horse. Somewhere along the way, I got a Malibu Ken. My Barbie spent a lot of time camping and horseback riding. Sometimes, she acted out musicals while I played the cast album or my Disney story and songs albums.

Barbie’s wardrobe grew so that she had more options than that swimsuit. My mom made some clothes for her, including a wedding dress made from scraps from her wedding dress. Barbie clothes also made for an easy gift. A Barbie outfit was the go-to birthday party gift at that time. As I got older, I made a lot of Barbie clothes, myself. I had fun designing things based on some simple patterns I had.

My Barbie collection grew when I was 7. I got the Dream House, and I got a “Francie” doll. I think she was a friend or cousin of Barbie’s, but she quickly became my favorite. The one I got was “quick curl” so she had hair that could be curled, which meant it was kind of stiff and wiry, a lot like my hair, and she was a brunette. She also had slightly flatter feet and wasn’t quite as boobalicious as Barbie. She quickly became my favorite and my “avatar,” while the actual Barbie tended to be the villain. Francie later had a “spa day” and returned as a Fashion Photo PJ after she started falling apart and got increasingly gross and I got a new doll to replace her. She was still brunette, but had some work done. Alas, the original Francie didn’t make it back from Germany when we moved.

Two Barbie dolls, a brunette in a very late-70s floral dress and a blonde in a strapless blue jumpsuit.
The brunette PJ who replaced the Francie who represented me and the original Malibu Barbie. You can tell by their clothes that I last played with them in 1980.

The fun thing about Barbies was that this was something you could play by yourself or you could play with others. You could do parallel play, where you were both playing out your own thing near each other, or you could come up with a group story. Barbies were essentially a vehicle for roleplaying games and collaborative storytelling. Some of it was reality-based, with Barbie having whatever job I thought I wanted to have when I grew up, going on dates with Ken, and hanging out in her townhouse. Some of it was pure fantasy, with Barbie being a princess or witch. After Star Wars, the simple, high-necked wedding dress I had became Princess Leia’s white dress.

I did a lot of what they’re now calling jukebox musicals with my dolls. I’d make up stories around the songs on a record album and assign them to different dolls, then act out the story with the dolls (and many costume changes). I did a lot of remodeling on the Dream House. I didn’t like the printed backdrop that showed the rooms, which made no sense to me. Why would you essentially have a mural of your living room on your living room wall? So I got rid of the backdrop and put up something different. I made a fireplace and a balcony out of cardboard.

It struck me a few years ago that I’m essentially living the kind of life I often gave my Barbie dolls. I don’t have a Corvette, but I do have a car and I live in a townhouse (though with stairs instead of an elevator). I have a pretty big wardrobe, thanks to not really changing sizes in the past 30 years and being bad about not getting rid of things.

I think that playing with Barbies had a lot to do with me becoming a writer because it was a way I played with storytelling and being creative. That’s really what Barbies were all about: creativity. It was a way to make things up and explore, and if you think it was all about shopping, dating, and getting married, you’ve never watched girls play with Barbies.

I still have a couple of my dolls and the more sentimental pieces of clothing in my Barbie case that’s in my closet. Maybe I should use that for story brainstorming.


Snow Day!

We’re getting our annual dose of winter weather this week. We had a severe cold snap just before Christmas, but it was mostly dry. There were just a few minutes of light snow flurries that didn’t stick, which is the best kind of snow. You can watch it fall and feel like you’re in a snow globe, but it doesn’t affect the roads.

This week, we have ice and sleet. The world looks white and pretty, but it’s solid ice, not fluffy snow. There’s sleet that rattles on the roof mixed with freezing rain. The white on the ground is from the sleet, and then the freezing rain coats it. We did have some snow “needles.” That’s apparently what happens when the snow forms at a different temperature in a different layer of the atmosphere, so instead of getting the six-sided crystals in a snowflake shape, you get these weird needle formations.

At any rate, there’s not really any going out and going anywhere because the roads are a mess. You can drive on snow, but there’s not much you can do on ice, in spite of what the Texans with four-wheel-drive trucks seem to think. Schools and a lot of businesses are closed. This shouldn’t affect me, since I work at home, but there’s definitely a snow day mentality. I find myself watching the list of school closings that runs across the bottom of the screen during the news, and I get excited when the district I live in is closed, even though I don’t go to school, don’t teach, and don’t have kids. It’s like getting some kind of cosmic permission to not go anywhere. I get a double hit of that thrill, since my house is the border between two school districts, so I also look at the adjacent one that’s across the streets next to me and behind me (I live on a corner, but on an inward-facing cul-de-sac).

I’ve been trying to write (well, revise, since I’m fixing the beginning before I can write the end), but it’s so easy to get distracted by checking the weather status, looking out the window, or giving in to the baking urges. So far, I haven’t lost power, but that’s a constant worry after what happened a couple of years ago. I’ve been waking up a lot during the night because every time my heater cuts on and then cuts off, I don’t know if it’s cutting off because it’s cycling off or because the power has failed. I then have to look at my alarm clock to see if the numbers are still showing (when it’s on battery backup, the numbers don’t light up).

But there’s a strong temptation to declare it a snow day and just curl up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and a book. Maybe if I finish my work early I’ll give myself a little break.


Fall (Sort of)

Now that it’s October, it really is fall, or it should be. We are getting cooler mornings. I have to put on a sweater to have breakfast on the patio, and it’s cool enough at night that I can sleep under a comforter (so I’m sleeping a lot better, but it’s still not cool enough for the weighted blanket). But the afternoons are still what would be considered “summer” in more civilized parts of the world, and that makes it hard to get into the fall vibe. I haven’t really done any baking yet, for instance. It’s been too warm to make a loaf of the harvest bread I live on during cooler weather because it would heat up the house too much to have the oven on at 450 degrees for an hour. There’s no hint of fall color in the leaves, unless you count the leaves that dried up and died because of the drought.

Around this time of year, I usually try to get into the season and watch some spooky stuff, though I have to confess that I’m not a huge fan of Halloween. I like fall, and I like some of the inherent eeriness that comes with it, like the rustle of dry leaves, mists rising in the morning, the plaintive sound of geese flying overhead. I just don’t care all that much about Halloween itself. I love the day-after candy sale, but I can take or leave the rest, especially adult Halloween parties. I’d rather be at home, curled up with a good book and a warm beverage, maybe a candle or two.

Though it’s still too warm for candles here, since I need the ceiling fan and ceiling fans and candles don’t play well together.

It’s supposed to be a bit cooler starting next week, so I’ve been making a list of fall foods I want to make. I need to make soup, some harvest bread, pumpkin muffins, a big batch of spaghetti sauce (and then I freeze it for quick meals later), cinnamon scones, snickerdoodles, and apple butter, to start with.

Snickerdoodles became an October tradition for me when I was a kid and checked a book out of the library that was a cookbook for kids, with a cookie recipe for each month. October was snickerdoodles, and the illustration was a Halloweeny scene with a witch on her broom, silhouetted against a full moon, but the moon was a snickerdoodle. I remember being a bit disappointed that the snickerdoodles I baked didn’t quite look like the moon in the picture, but I still think about those cookies when I think of fall, and they’re the perfect thing to have with a cup of tea when I come inside after a long walk in the crisp fall air, or to bring with me as a snack when I’m taking a walk. We aren’t yet to the crisp fall air yet, though. That may be a November thing around here.

This is also the time of year when I tend to start new projects. It was at about this time when I started writing the first Enchanted, Inc. book and the first Rebels book. And now I’m developing a new project, so it’s happening again. I seem to focus on creating new things at the time of year when nature is fading and dying.


The Case of the Mysterious Beep

I had a lot of stuff I needed to do to get ready to release a new book this week, but last week I got sidetracked by a mystery I had to solve. Let’s call it The Case of the Mysterious Beep. If you follow me on Twitter you may have been able to follow the case in real time, and I’ve also mentioned it on Facebook, but here’s the full story.

Sometime last week, I heard an electronic beep in my office. My first thought was that a smoke detector was telling me its battery was running low, but it didn’t sound like it was coming from the smoke detector, which is closer to the foot of the stairs. Plus, it’s the kind with a built-in ten-year battery and is less than a year old, so unless something had gone wrong, it shouldn’t be beeping at me. The next time I heard the beep, I thought it sounded like it was coming from my Internet router. I looked it up online, and there was a mention that it might beep if the backup battery was running low, but then I looked up the manual for this router, and it gives you the info about a low battery in a different way. The battery indicator on the router should have been red, and there was no light at all. I got into the control panel for the router, and it said there was no battery installed and the audio alerts were disabled. One possibility was that there was an intermittent power issue, and it was beeping when coming back online. The surge protector it was plugged into was pretty old, so I figured I’d get a new one. I shut the office door when I went downstairs at the end of the workday so the sound wouldn’t bother me.

But then I still heard the beep downstairs that evening. It sounded like it might be coming from the thermostat, which has a battery backup to hold the programming in case of power outage. I found the manual, and it said there’s a low battery indicator on the screen, not a beep.

I heard the beep in the office again the next day, and it seemed to be coming from a different direction. I changed the battery in the little clock on my desk. Still, there was another beep about an hour later. I wondered if maybe there was something in the box with my old desk toys/trade show swag. I remembered that when I worked at the advertising/PR firm, we cleaned out a supply closet and found some cards the firm had done for a former client that had a sound chip that played the sound of a ringing phone when you opened them. Instead of throwing those out, we saved some and used them for office pranks — wait until someone leaves the office for a meeting, then open a card and slide it into a folder in the filing cabinet so they had a ringing phone sound until they found it or the card died (it only lasted a few hours of constant play). I did a lot of work for telecom companies, so I have all kinds of little gadgets relating to phones, and maybe one of them was giving out dying wails. But I heard the beep while going through that stuff and it came from a different place.

It was weird how it sometimes sounded like it was coming from the office, and sometimes I didn’t hear it downstairs, but sometimes it seemed to be coming from downstairs. Friday evening, I remembered that there’s another smoke detector, one I’d bought but not installed (I realized I wouldn’t be able to easily reach the detector to change batteries, since it was over the stairs, so I got the ten-year kind). I hadn’t thought it came with a battery, but I decided to check, and it did come with a battery installed. It was on the loft outside the office, so that explained why I heard it in the office and downstairs. I ripped the battery out, and problem solved.

Except not. I heard the beep again the next morning. Now I was getting frantic. It was one beep every hour or so, so it wasn’t that annoying, but I was concerned about what might be going wrong with the thing that was beeping. Usually that kind of intermittent beep is a sign that there’s a problem. I started noticing that the beep happened exactly every hour, and just a couple of minutes after the top of the hour, like it was chiming the hour on a clock that was a minute off. I started checking everything that had a clock in it. I changed or removed batteries in clocks, the digital camera, the weather radio. I unplugged just about everything that made a sound. As I neared the top of each hour, I’d go stand next to a suspect to see if I heard the beep coming from it. I’d bought a new surge protector and I put the router on it, then waited for the beep and not only didn’t hear anything coming from it, I didn’t hear the beep at all.

And then I was downstairs for the next hour and heard the beep. I was starting to contemplate moving and leaving everything behind to escape it. It was like that Edgar Allan Poe poem about The Bells, only it was The Beep. I’d ruled out two smoke detectors, the thermostat, the router, everything in the kitchen, and the phone.

The answer came to me at about five the next morning when I was lying awake, fretting about this. It really did seem like a digital watch that chimed the hour, but I don’t have a digital watch. And then I remembered that I do — the stopwatch I use to time writing sessions. It has a clock mode. That would explain everything. It’s on my desk on work days, but it gets moved around and is sometimes under notebooks or papers, so the sound would move around my office. I generally bring it downstairs with me in the evenings if I’m doing research or brainstorming. That was why the sound followed me around the house. I was literally carrying it with me, but since it was just one beep per hour, I was never next to or holding the watch when it went off. When I was checking the router and didn’t hear the beep, the watch was downstairs and had fallen between sofa cushions.

As it approached the next hour, I got the watch and held it — and it beeped at the top of the hour! I must have hit the wrong button while carrying it and activated the hourly chime. I pushed buttons until I figured out how to turn it off, and I was free of the beep. And greatly relieved that I didn’t have to move to escape it.

I don’t want to think about the number of hours I spent tracking that down. I got almost nothing accomplished on Saturday from tinkering with things and then running to stand next to something every hour. I still get a bit twitchy when I hear a beeping sound. The sound my electronic toaster oven makes when food is done is similar to The Beep (for a while, I thought it might have been the culprit), and I flinch when it tells me my toast is ready. Squeaking truck brakes on the road outside sometimes make me think The Beep is back.

At least now all my devices have new batteries and have been reset.


Hot and Miserable

My writing has slowed down a lot this month, and I think it may be because it’s summer and I’m reacting like a troll.

I mean troll as in the Terry Pratchett Discworld books, where trolls are rock-based life forms who are known for being incredibly stupid, but it turns out that when they get out of their mountain habitat and face warmer weather, they slow down, which means they appear stupid. If they’re in the right place, where it’s cold enough, they can be quite intelligent. Some of the trolls who leave the mountains wear cooling helmets with fans so they can function with higher intelligence.

That’s how I feel in hot weather. We had a terrible heat wave for the past few weeks, and I’ve been barely functional. I was stuck on the same scene for a week and just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I don’t sleep well in hot weather. I don’t think well. I have no energy. I practically collapse midway through a gentle yoga routine.

A front came through on Sunday, so for the past couple of days it was about 10 degrees cooler, and I feel like a different person. I finally got a good night’s sleep. I got that scene written. I have energy. It’s going to go back above 100 after this weekend, so I guess I’ll slow down again.

I don’t want to go through last year’s experience of a deep freeze cold snap and power outage again, but while I was worried about pipes freezing and not being able to cook warm food, I was never really physically uncomfortable. I had warm clothes and blankets and was able to stay pretty cozy. If I lost power in the summer, there would be no way to be comfortable. It would be just about impossible to cool my house with air conditioning to the level where I’m comfortable in the winter, and I wouldn’t be able to afford the power bills if I did. Plus, air conditioning is different from cool weather, just as I would suffocate if I heated my house in winter to the level that’s semi-comfortable for me in the summer.

It seems that either I need to find one of those cooling helmets or I need to get to the mountains to cool off. Alas, it’s at least a two-day drive to get to anywhere that might be cooler, and with current gas prices and airline meltdowns, I’m not likely to be going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll just be sitting surrounded by fans, with a damp towel around my neck, hoping that cools me off enough so I can think.

I know that the obvious solution, longer-term, would be to move to a place that suits me better instead of being miserable for half the year, but that’s easier said than done. If I can’t even travel for a vacation right now, travel to scope out a new place and find housing is also out of the question, and then there’s the cost of housing and moving, which is way out of my budget. I bought my current house long ago and wouldn’t be able to afford to buy it now, but even if I sold it I couldn’t afford much of anything at today’s prices. I am doing some preliminary research, though, and am looking at possibilities, even if it means having to get a real job.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to take advantage of the relative cool while we have it and get as much work done as possible while I have any brainpower. And then this weekend it gets miserably hot again.


Life Hack

I’m not crazy about the term “life hacks,” but I’ve found something that’s really been working for me that I want to share. I love productivity tips and finding ways to optimize my life, so I’m always trying things and experimenting, reading how-to books, etc., but this one didn’t come from a book or advice column. I just sort of figured it out by applying something that worked in one area to another area. I call it “staging,” though it could also just be called “preparation.”

I’ve always tried to get things together the day before if I have to leave early in the morning on a trip. I have the suitcase packed except for things I need while getting ready, which I have set up on the bathroom counter. I lay out my clothes, shoes, and anything else I’ll need. That way, all I have to do in the morning is get out of bed, get dressed, pack those things I use while getting ready, and get out the door. It drastically lowers stress because I don’t have to make decisions or find things. Then it occurred to me to do that sort of thing whenever I have to go anywhere in the morning. Even just for something like going to church, I’ll plan my clothes, lay everything out, and make sure I’ve got all the things I’ll need. I’ll hang up things that have been folded so the wrinkles can fall out and know that everything I’m planning to wear is clean. That means a much easier morning.

Then there was breakfast. I would often plan to have something like muffins or waffles for breakfast, but in the morning that would seem like too much to deal with, all that measuring and mixing. One night after I mixed up a bread dough that has to rise overnight, I got the bright idea to measure the dry ingredients for the muffins I planned to make the next morning while I had the flour and measuring cups out. It was so easy the next morning to add the wet ingredients, so now I do this all the time. I measure the dry ingredients the night before and cover the bowl so I have a head start on breakfast. For biscuits, I’ll mix up the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening and put it in the fridge overnight. I don’t know if this has been such a good thing because it means I make muffins and waffles all the time now.

Recently, I made something in the slow cooker and thought about how much I liked doing the cooking early in the day so that all I had to do at dinner time was dish it out. I often get to dinner time and can’t decide what to make and can’t bear the thought of having to do any of the work to make dinner. There are way too many nights when I resort to mac and cheese from a box because doing stuff like chopping and measuring is too daunting at the end of the day. It finally occurred to me that I don’t have to do all the cooking work at dinner time. There’s a lot I can set up earlier in the day. If I’m cooking something that involves measuring a lot of spices, I’ll measure those out earlier in the day (often while I’m doing something like making tea). I’ll chop veggies, cut up and marinate chicken, or do whatever else I can do early in the day, so at dinner time I don’t have to decide what to make and can just throw stuff in a pan. I’ve seen articles online about doing all this prep work for many meals at once and freezing all the sauce, veggies, and chicken in a bag, but while it is good to season and marinate chicken ahead of time to absorb flavor, too long in a marinade affects the texture, so I’m not sure about the freezer thing. Plus, I don’t have a big freezer. Just chopping onions early in the day helps me a great deal.

I’ve managed to apply this to my work, as well. I’ve started drafting my blog posts the day before I’ll post them (or sometimes earlier) so I don’t have to think of what to say in the morning when it’s time to post. I plan the next scene I’m going to write either the night before or in the morning before I sit down at the computer. When I stop work at the end of the day, I close out my browser and pull up Scrivener on the screen before I put my laptop to sleep so that when I open the computer in the morning, the book is right there, the first thing I see. It makes it a lot easier to get to work. I’m trying to get better about scheduling Twitter posts ahead of time so that I occasionally manage to do book promotion and have an online presence even during times I’m not online.

A lot of this involves figuring out the times of day that are your “I can’t deal with this” times and when you have the time and energy to do tedious things. I find that first thing in the morning is bad for me — any time before breakfast — as well as late afternoon, after 4 or so. After breakfast I can get some things done, and right after lunch is also a good time. I do a lot of my dinner prep when I’m cleaning up from lunch. Then mid-evening is good for preparing for morning—not late at night right before bedtime, but before I start getting ready for bed. I generally avoid having to make decisions before breakfast, in the late afternoon, and at bedtime.


Frustrated Gardener

Over the past five or six years, I’ve realized that I’m a frustrated gardener. Gardens are my happy place. I like to be around flowers and plants. I read gardening magazines and watch garden tour travel documentaries.

Alas, I don’t have a garden or even a yard. I have a very small patio that only gets a few hours of sunlight a day. I can maybe get a bit more by moving the plants around the patio to follow the sun. I have about a foot of dirt between the concrete and the fence, but that gets even less sun, so there’s not much that will grow there. There’s some jasmine planted there that seems impossible to kill (it even came back after last year’s deep freeze), and I planted some mint last year in one of the bare spots left after the deep freeze, and it’s coming back this spring. Nothing else I’ve tried in that spot has done well. So, potted plants, it is.

I usually plant a few morning glory seeds because those bring me so much joy. I have a big pot with a trellis in it, and it’s on a wheeled dolly so I can move the pot around the patio to get enough sun. The last few years, I’ve had celosias, thanks to a “cutting mix” packet of seeds and then the plants re-seeding themselves. I guess I’m a lazy gardener because I don’t plant much. I just let whatever grows on its own grow. I might start some celosia seeds I’ve saved and then put the seedlings in pots.

But aside from herbs (the mint, basil, parsley), I haven’t been able to grow vegetables. I tried lettuce a couple of years ago, but between rabbits (there’s one that sneaks under the fence) and just general life, it didn’t do well. I got maybe one salad, and that required mixing in some store-bought lettuce.

But a couple of weeks ago, I read an article online about vegetables from the grocery store you could regrow. They said you could put the core from a head of lettuce in a dish of water, put it in the sun, and it would re-grow leaves. I was near the end of a head of green leaf lettuce, so I gave it a shot.

A week later, I had actual leaves growing. It works!

Small lettuce leaves sprout from a lettuce core in a dish of water

So, on the next head of lettuce, I left the smaller inner leaves on to see if they would keep growing, and that seems to be working. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop buying lettuce at the store, but I’m curious to see how far it will go. I may be able to fill in gaps between grocery trips.

I may see if I can sprout some garlic, and I’ve heard you can get green onions to sprout again. That would be handy because I often have recipes that require just a little bit, and it would be nice to snip some off instead of having to buy a whole bunch.

I still would love to live in a place where I can have a real garden, a full vegetable garden and a real flower garden, but given the way real estate has been going, that’s not going to happen unless my career makes a drastic change. I’ll make do with my kitchen table lettuce garden and a few plants on my patio.



It’s amazing how a little thing can end up making a big difference. A couple of weeks ago, I splurged and bought myself a “zero-g” lounger. This is a lawn/patio chair that creates the position your body naturally falls into in a zero-gravity environment, with your upper body and your knees elevated. Supposedly, this position is particularly good for your back. My patio is small, and I hadn’t bought any kind of lounge chair because I didn’t have room for it, but this one folds up so I can get it out of the way when I’m not using it, and since it doesn’t lie flat, it doesn’t take up as much space as a regular lounge chair.

And I must say, it’s been an excellent purchase so far. It has multiple positions, so you can sit almost upright, lean back slightly, or go full zero-g. I’ve learned that you need to sit at least partially upright if you’re eating or drinking, but even that position is very relaxing. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading on the patio in this chair. Yesterday, I was doing brainstorming, so I sat out there with a pen and paper, figuring out the next scenes in my book. I haven’t yet tried actually writing in it, using the laptop and a lap desk, but I should see if that works.

On the first day I had it, I didn’t want to come inside, even when it got dark, and then I got the bright idea to bring it inside. I don’t have room for a recliner in my living room, but since this chair can be put away when I’m not using it, it works brilliantly for movie watching. I just swing the coffee table out of the way and set up this chair in front of the sofa, facing the TV. To make it more like an indoor chair, I put a down-filled throw over it for some cushioning and have pillows for my head and back. The only problem is that it’s so comfortable that I have to fight not to fall asleep during the movie.

I’m finding that sitting like this for my leisure time is good for my back and shoulders. I have good posture when I’m standing, but I have terrible posture when I’m sitting. I have a bad habit of folding myself up in chairs, sitting half sideways so I’m twisted around. This chair forces me to sit in a proper alignment, but it’s so comfortable that it doesn’t feel like I’m being forced into a position. I may sit badly the rest of the day, but if I sit on the patio for a little while in the evening or watch a movie, it’s like it resets my back.

I found this one just by doing a Google search on zero-g patio lounger. I have a fairly small one. I’m not sure how well it would work for someone who’s taller and heavier than I am, but there are bigger, more sturdy ones. The one issue I have is that it can be difficult to get in and out of it. Even when I bring it fully upright, it’s not exactly graceful to get up from it. Once I have it set exactly the way I want it, I hate to bring it upright, so then it’s really awkward to get up and down. I’m glad there’s no one else around to see me!

This is also helping me cope emotionally with the coming of summer. I decided to “celebrate” the coming of warm weather by buying this. It feels a little silly to be this excited about a new patio chair, but it’s 2022, and you have to take your joy where you can find it.


Spring Fever

I seem to have developed a bad case of spring fever, but in me it works the opposite of the way it does most people. For a lot of people, spring gives them energy. They get happy about the end of winter and are excited about getting outdoors. They enjoy the time change that gives them extra daylight at the end of the day. I’m the weirdo who starts getting kind of glum. Spring seems to make me anxious and depressed, and the spring time change really messes with me.

I realized this was a pattern the other day when I was getting weirdly emotional about the Duolingo lesson. It was about employment, stuff like job applications, interviews, references, etc. That got me started wondering if I should look for a regular job while there’s apparently a lot of hiring going on and while costs are soaring. I could use a little more income, but I don’t know what kind of job I’d get. I haven’t had a regular job for twenty years, and my skills in my field are way out of date. Social media came along after I left the public relations world, and that’s the focus now, with traditional media dwindling. I have some valuable skills, but it would be hard to find a job using my skills that wouldn’t also require skills I don’t have. I was getting very glum about this while translating sentences about letters of recommendation into and out of Norwegian.

And then it struck me that it was around this time of year a few years ago that I had a total meltdown and decided I was going to quit writing entirely. It’s also been around this time of year that I’ve found myself researching things like travel industry jobs in Alaska and jobs at national parks. At this time of year, I seem to fall into gloom and despair about my life. It’s not a restlessness that makes me want to change. It’s more about feeling like I’m going to have to change because things can’t go on the way they are. I’m actually doing okay financially so far this year (though with the way real estate is going, I’ll never be able to buy another house and get out of this place), and I’m in the middle of the part of a project I like. I think it’s just this time of year.

It may have something to do with dreading the coming of hot weather. I don’t deal well with heat. I think the time change messes with me because there’s less darkness before bedtime and that makes it harder to wind down, and yet I’m waking up earlier, so I’m getting less sleep. The warmer weather means I have to take the weighted blanket off the bed, which means my sleep is less restful. And there are allergies that come with spring. Yesterday was particularly bad because we not only had pollen, but we were getting smoke from wildfires, and my eyes were burning so badly I could barely keep them open. It’s also tax season, when I have to really face my financial situation, and I always seem to be right on the line where if I make a bit more money, I have to pay enough more in taxes that I end up worse off than if I’d made a bit less money, so even the good news of having made more money turns into bad news. Plus there’s all the stress of dealing with it. That may be why I find myself pondering looking for jobs around this time of year.

I may make a note to myself in my calendar app for this time next year to remind myself that I get weird in late March and I should make no major plans or decisions at this time of year. It will pass, and I just need to be gentle with myself for a few weeks.


Digital Minimalism

The Internet has been a real mixed blessing for me. It opened up the possibility for access to so much information and connection. I first started really using it to connect with other people who were interested in the same things I was, and that was life-changing. I’d always felt like such an outsider, and finding other people who were into the same things I liked was exciting. I’ve made so many good friends online, and I’ve been able to find and get back in touch with old friends. The access to information has also been wonderful, being able to look things up right away instead of having to go to the library. I can’t imagine writing the kinds of books I write now without being able to look things up without leaving my desk. I’ve promoted books in the days before the Internet was widely used, and it’s so much easier now (not that I do a lot of it or do it at all well, but there was almost nothing you could do in the old days).

On the other hand, it’s a huge time sink and attention hog. It’s so easy to fall down the research rabbit hole and find that the one quick fact you looked up has turned into an hours-long research project. It’s even easier to get sucked into social media. But I can’t step away entirely, since I do use the Internet for work, and for the past couple of years, most of my social life has taken place online.

I recently read an interesting book on how to find some kind of balance, Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I’d previously read his Deep Work, about how multitasking doesn’t really work and how you need time and focus to do your best work. This book gets into how a lot of social media works on your brain and what you can do about it. It’s addictive (and designed to be that way) because it works on the same principle as a slot machine, with inconsistent and unpredictable rewards so you keep coming back.

I thought I was pretty bad, but after reading this, I think I may have it under better control than I thought. I don’t use any social media on my phone unless I’m traveling (or need to post a photo). I don’t have any notifications turned on, and my phone usually lives in my purse. I can go days before I notice a text. I may get sucked in while I’m at my desk, but you won’t find me sitting at a restaurant with other people, checking my Twitter notifications. I’ve been trying to take steps to minimize my online time, so I’m already somewhat on track with the recommendations in the book. I started working upstairs in my office and keeping my computer in my office instead of on the laptop desk I kept by my sofa. I’d fallen into the bad habit of checking online while I watched TV or movies, and it was killing my attention span. I’d get curious about who that actor was, look it up on IMDB, then end up reading about the rest of the cast, reading the trivia connected to the movie, etc., then while I’m there, might as well check e-mail, Twitter, etc., and next thing I knew, I’d missed half the movie. Having the computer upstairs has made a huge difference.

I’m also trying to break the “better check Twitter” reflex and stop using it as procrastination. I have a list of other things I can do if I don’t want to work, like my Norwegian lessons. I’m also trying to limit my social media time to a couple of times a day in designated slots, though I do sometimes slip, like yesterday when there was an incident on the street outside my house and I kept checking Twitter to see if the police department was saying anything about what was going on.

The thing suggested in the book that I haven’t been doing but that I want to implement is coming up with more active leisure pursuits. This came up last year when I was feeling a bit burned out and realized that my brain never got a break from story. My work is writing stories, and my leisure is either reading or watching stories. Newport suggests actually making things. Go online to learn how to do something, and then do it. This includes stuff like repairs, woodworking, art, cooking, music, etc. I think that’s a good idea, and I’ve been trying to have mostly offline weekends, in which I take care of the things I need to do online, then shut the computer off and do something else. To start with, I’ve been making a point of cooking on weekends, the kind of dishes I can’t really do on a busy weeknight, with chopping, measuring, stirring, and long cooking times. I need to get back into playing music. I’ve got an embroidery project I want to do (and I picked up a book on embroidery at the library today).

I need to get back to something he suggests that I used to do, which is scheduling and planning my leisure time. It sounds boring and lacking in spontaneity, but I’ve found that if I don’t have a plan, I tend to just sit and surf the net, but if I have a plan and a schedule, I’m more likely to do actual fun things.

If you feel the need to get your online life under control and rediscover your offline life, I recommend this book. It’s a quick read and quite thought-provoking.