Tag Archives: life

Bidding Winter goodbye

Tomorrow is the official first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, in the particular part of the Northern Hemisphere where I live, Winter seems not to have gotten that message.

I’ve gone into Boston for meetings the last couple of days, and the snow is all but gone there. Roofs, roads, and ground are free of snow and ice, save for the occasional fist-sized stubborn lump of ice remaining from what once have been a mighty mound.

Not so in my neck of the woods. Here is my front yard:

This is the mound of snow and ice resulting from shoveling out the top of the driveway. This was this morning. It was 20 degrees out.

It’s true that I have really enjoyed looking at and taking pictures of many of the ice and snow formations.

I have many, many photos of ice and snow. Icicles, frost, falling snow. Snow flakes, snow men, snow caves. Sparkling ice in the morning sun. Smooth frozen puddles with embedded bubbles and cracks. Fluffy untrampled snow, and interesting patterns of tracks in the snow. Quite honestly, I am about ready to move on to another subject matter.

Soon, I hope to fill up my phone with images of green shoots and early blooms. Unfortunately , this is where our first crocuses tend to emerge:

There are many things that I like about Winter. One of them is that it eventually ends and gives way to Spring. So, here’s wishing a fond farewell to Winter. (And here’s hoping that Winter gets the message and departs. Before I have to file a restraining order against it.)

I left my scarf in San Francisco

Last week was the kids’ school vacation, and we headed out to California to visit my mother, my sister, and my sister’s family. It was a really great, if exhausting, trip.

We really lucked out with the weather, on both ends of the trip. It’s been a rough winter here in Massachusetts, with many a snow storm interfering with travel plans. We know a family whose Florida vacation fell through due to a blizzard the day of their scheduled departure. Another snowstorm the day before we left caused many cancellations and delays and complications (ask me about John’s car getting stuck in our driveway). Remarkably, however, our own flight was only slightly delayed.

Travelling with 2 young children is never uncomplicated, though, and the airline threw us a bit of an adventure by not giving us seats together. (They actually had Theo, the 5 year-old, sitting off on his own.) But after much runaround and wasted time on the phone and at the airport with airline employees who claimed to be unable to help, the gate agent gave me a free upgrade to a better seat at the front of the plane, in a section with more legroom, thus giving me better leverage to ask to exchange seats with one of the passengers assigned seats next to Theo. (There was that moment when John and I looked at this sweet seat, and thought that Theo might just be fine on his own…) In any case, the man seated next to Theo jumped at the chance to change seats, practically leaping out of his seat before we even had a chance to finish making the offer. (Oddly, he apparently didn’t want to spend the 6-hour flight sitting next to an unattended 5-year-old.)

In all, the trip out went very smoothly. Our luggage all arrived, we rented a car, we drove out to my sister’s house. We were, however, totally exhausted. The flight was scheduled for 8 a.m., and (living an hour from the airport) we had arranged for a car to collect us at 5. John and I were up so late getting things in order for the trip that ultimately, we didn’t end up going to bed. (There comes that moment when you can decide to go bed for a 2-hour rest to get up feeling like death, or just keep barreling through to get more stuff done.) Given the exhaustion, and the complications of getting there, it shouldn’t surprise me too much that I managed to lose something along the way: my favorite scarf.

Before having realized that I lost it, I might not have identified that particular scarf as my favorite. It was a scarf that I bought on my trip to London with John in 2005, our delayed sort-of honeymoon. I found it in a sale bin at Harrod’s while on a quest to find black and charcoal gray striped scarf. This particular scarf was not quite what I was looking for, being plaid with black and varying shades of gray. However, I quite liked it, and over the years, I found that it became my go-to winter scarf. It went with so many of my various black and gray clothing choices. It was also a very soft cashmere. I contacted a range of lost-and-found departments (airline, airport and car rental), but had no luck finding it.

In the end, the loss felt a bit like I had made a sacrifice to the travel gods for an otherwise safe and successful trip.

So, enough about the scarf, and more about the trip, which was mostly unaffected by my not having a winter scarf with me. Because the weather was perfectly gorgeous¹. It was mostly sunny and clear, with high temps ranging from the low to high 60s. (This after coming out of a New England winter with many days when the high didn’t get up past 20.) We had lots of fun excursions, big and small. We had quality family time, with lots of cousin playing and bonding time. We got to see my aunt and uncle who were passing through town, visiting my mother. We had lots of birthday celebrations (for my sister, my 2 nephews, and for Phoebe). The week rushed by in a blur of kid-wrangling and meal-planning and catching up with my family. I had actually hoped to be able to see some friends who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years, but never managed to make any arrangements. (So I did bring back some guilt for having missed those opportunities. However, it is always a very different thing to be travelling with my family than when I travel alone.)

Now we have been back almost a full week in the land of ice and snow, and our hectic over-scheduled schedule. I miss the relaxed mornings of vacation. I miss my family and the warm sunshine. And I also miss my scarf.

¹ This gorgeous weather, unfortunately, is not what California needs right now, as there is an ongoing record-breaking drought. Happily they did get a bit of rain after we left.

Phoning it in

It’s been a long hectic day, and now we’re on the road. It doesn’t look like I’ll have time to post anything from my laptop before midnight. So, here I am, posting from my phone before it runs out of battery. From a parking lot.

But look! A cute picture!

a matter of perspective

It’s amazing how enormous things can seem tiny, and tiny things can become huge, all depending on your vantage point. Right now, I am marvelling at the enormous amount of inconvenience and discomfort that can be caused by a tiny speck of something that has lodged itself under one’s eyelid. On a related note, one takes for granted the enhanced depth perception that one has from the full use of two eyes, and one realizes that one has taken for granted the ability to pour a beverage into a glass without pouring large amounts of said beverage onto the table.

twists and turns

The last week has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride.

After a week off from commuting, I had an extra day of meetings in Boston. I also was busy getting ready for Phoebe’s birthday party, which was on Saturday. (Yes, Phoebe’s birthday was in February. We’re a little behind.) The party came and went on Saturday, and it all went well, though it was quite a lot of work. (We had it at our local playground, so there was lots of stuff to be transported, especially since (me being me) I had to make things complicated.)

Saturday night came, and I was pretty zonked, but happy with how things turned out with the party. I thought about calling my mother, but decided to wait until Sunday. As it turns out, she wasn’t home Saturday night, anyhow.

My mother went into the hospital on Saturday with acute G.I. distress , which had started on Friday, and was diagnosed with a bowel obstruction. There was talk of surgery, and she wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything until the blockage in her small intestines was cleared. She went through tons of tests and procedures, and there was talk of new diagnoses. The short story is that by Tuesday, it was determined that she didn’t need surgery. X-rays showed that the obstruction had resolved, and further tests confirmed. By Tuesday evening she was allowed to have clear liquids again, and by Tuesday night she could eat (soft) solid food. I was elated!

More good news is that no evidence of cancer was found, and no new disease. The doctors now think that there was an adhesion related to her 2011 surgery. As of yesterday, she is home and recovering.

As you might imagine, the last few days were on the stressful and busy side. There were lots of phone calls and emails with friends and family. There were flashbacks to so many of the previous crises, including my mother’s cancer scare of 2011, and of course my little nephew’s ordeals with cancer and all the surgeries related to that. (Including, you may remember, 2 surgeries for bowel obstructions.) My own insides felt like they were twisted into knots. I checked out flights to California, and started to try to figure out my schedule for a trip out there to help with my mother’s recovery. It looked like things might go on for many days if not weeks, and recovery from surgery is never easy.

Now I’m feeling a bit dizzy from the week’s crazy ride. I’m so relieved that my mother didn’t need surgery, but sorry that I’m not out there. I’m so glad that my sister lives near enough to be there to help, but I wish I could be there, too. I don’t get to see my mother, my sister, or my sister’s family nearly enough. It’s times like this that the country feels entirely too large.

On Monday night, when John and Phoebe were out at their karate classes, Theo asked me to sit and draw with him. I drew the doodle above with colored pencils on a large index card, and found it to be very relaxing. I must have spent over an hour just drawing and coloring it, transferring much of the tension of the day into pressure of the pencils as I lay down the swirls and twists of color. It was only later that night that I realized how very intestine-like my drawing turned out to be! Twisty, turny, tangled and complicated. Much like life.


Here is Theo’s version of the squiggly doodle.

squeeze

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With the start of summer comes the end of structured school days. While there is lots of fun to be had, I still need to squeeze in time for my work. Picnics and visits with friends and fireworks and trips to the zoo don’t mean any less cooking, or food shopping, or laundry, or cleaning, (and in fact often mean more) and there are days when I find myself feeling squeezed. I optimistically promised my advisor that I’d get him a large chunk of writing done while he was away on vacation, but I foolishly did so without looking at my calendar, and observing the small number of child-free hours on it in those 2 weeks. When I find a 4-hour chunk of time to focus on my research, my thoughts start to get organized, but then comes the next over-full day and my thoughts scatter. Really, I’ve been enjoying the summer fun, and the extra time with the kids, but just now find myself wishing I could just do one thing or the other for a sustained time. Today I have maybe a 6-hour chunk to do squeeze out as much writing as I can while both kids are out of the house. (Just now I am trying to squeeze out this blog post as the kids eat breakfast. I have only been interrupted roughly 14 times.)

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Starting next week, the kids will both be in camps and childcare more-or-less full-time, so hopefully the squeeze will feel less tight. But if I’m actually going to finish this degree, I have to be prepared to keep on the tight squeeze, long-term. (Hold me.)

One year and half a world away

This is where I was, one year ago today:


I took this photo on a walk along the Bund in Shanghai.

I’m finding it hard to believe that another whole year has gone by. I feel like I have very little to show for it. A year ago today, I presented my research at a prestigious international conference. (Here I am, giving my talk. I even won an award.) Two days earlier I had walked along a stretch of the Great Wall near Beijing, one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life.

Two days ago, I barely left my house. The past year has been a blur of holidays and birthdays, laundry and grocery shopping, illness and death, laundry and grocery shopping, celebrations and family visits, and more laundry and grocery shopping. I know that I have been working and busy, but once again I feel like I don’t have enough to show for it. I’m really not even sure what my point was other than…damn. A whole ‘nother year. And I haven’t even posted my trip photos!

Quick Home Organization Projects from American Hovel Magazine (with before and after photos!)

It’s been some time since I’ve posted content from American Hovel Magazine, the magazine dedicated to lowering neatness standards in the American home. The publishers have graciously granted me permission to reproduce one of the features from the upcoming June, 2013 edition.¹

Quick Home Organization Projects
Other popular home magazines are full of helpful hints on getting organized and staying clutter-free. The photos from these beautiful homes suggest lives of calm and beauty in which calm and beautiful people live and exude calm and beauty from their very pores.

People who live with Real Families and Real Clutter™, however, often find those home organization projects to be completely out of reach. After first sighing in envy at the neatly partitioned closets and gleaming clutter-free surfaces, real people will choke back sobs of despair when looking up at the disarray of their own home. They will then tear the pages out of the offending Magazine of Impossible Ideals, stomping them into a crumpled mess on the floor, and then drink vodka and/or eat chocolate until they pass out under their kitchen table.

We here at American Hovel know that feeling well. After recovering from our last magazine-shredding-chocolate-eating-vodka-drinking rampage, we solicited photos from our readers on their own home projects. You will agree that the scope of these projects is far more attainable. Share in the joy of being able to see a project from concept to completion in a matter of minutes, leaving you much more time to enjoy your vodka or chocolate with self-satisfaction instead of self-pity.

Project 1: Kitchen Counter
Competent cooks know the importance of clear work space for creating inspired and wholesome meals. This is why you so often have cereal for dinner.

Before: It’s covered with mismatched containers and lids, tools, toys, swag, and a basket full of lord knows what other crap. Problem: you can barely tell what’s what, let alone find room to make lunch.

After: Putting the dinosaur toy front and center focuses your attention on the dinosaur toy. Look at the dinosaur! Dinosaurs are cool. Raawr!

Project 2: End Table:
End tables can be beautiful accents to a living space, giving room for guests to set a drink. Assuming that you ever have guests, or that they could find room to set a drink.

Before: This end table is an elegant antique piece. The lovely wood surface is visible between sketch books and art supplies, various toys and craft projects (is that a paper Tardis?) and whatever the hell else is all over it. (Is that a jar of foot cream?) Problem: there is no real focal point. All you see is pile.

After: The robot Matrushka doll has been turned around and given a prominent place, using the lantern as a pedestal. The owl craft is now on top of the paper box. What once just said “pile” now says “pile with Matrushka robot doll and cheery owl.”

Project 3: Kids’ Toy Corner
You live in a reasonable sized house, without a dedicated play room for the kids. What you have is a living room which has a lot of toys in it. Often all over the entire floor. Sometimes the toys get “put away” into a corner like this one.

Before: The toys are vaguely sorted into bins and stacks. Some might find this level of chaos distracting,though, with all the clashing colors. Problem: There is no unifying theme.

After: Covering the pile with a throw quilt from a nearby couch turns the chaotic pile into a lump of pleasing simplicity. Further, it adds a feeling of warmth and comfort to the room. (Quilts are warm and comfortable, you know.)

Bonus idea: Put a stylish pony on top and it’s now Imperial Fantasy Mountain, a home suitable for the Princess of all the Ponies.

Project 4: Kids’ Craft Corner
Your kids love to do art, and you have amassed an enormous collection of craft supplies, not to mention a never-ending flood of projects and papers coming from their schools. You’ve started tackling this roughly 27 times over the past 3 months, using boxes to sort artwork, schoolwork, and other miscellany, but have been interrupted each time. The pile has seemed to explode and expand daily whenever you look away. (You look away as often as possible).

Before: A massive, heaving, seething pile of headache. Problem: the throw quilt from the couch is already in use in the living room, plus it’s not nearly big enough for this pile. Your king-sized comforter would do, but you’d have to go upstairs to get it, plus you’d be cold tonight.

After: Move a couple of things around and call it a day. Then stop looking at it. You have more important things to do. Go have some good quality chocolate or a strong drink.

Can you spot the difference?

We hope you have enjoyed this American Hovel Magazine feature. Please feel free to contribute your own organizing project ideas and tips.

¹Note: American Hovel Magazine is a completely fictitious magazine that exists only in my head on and on the pages of this blog. I was flattered to hear that a friend of a friend actually once hunted for the magazine at news stands a few years ago, after seeing my cover. Perhaps the magazine will come to life one of these days, but for now I will just have to live the dream of living in that dream world of clutter. For back issues of American Hovel Magazine, please visit the archives:

bracing for the flood

Once, when I was 16, I broke a nail in gym class. The class was divided into small groups of 3 or 4, and we were doing basketball drills. The ball had made contact with one of my long, carefully painted nails and snapped the tip right off. (It seems so alien to me now, that I had invested time into the appearance of my hands, but what can I say? I was 16.) I shrugged off the broken nail and kept going. Another girl in my group of 3 had noticed me dealing with the broken nail and said, “I’d cry if I had nails like that and one broke.” I laughed. Then, before I even realized it, the tears started flowing. To all appearances, I was crying because I’d broken a nail.

The girl who’d made the comment looked embarrassed for me. I was glad that third person in my group was my closest friend, but she too looked baffled and embarrassed for me. I couldn’t explain why I was crying. I know I was lovesick for a boy who had no interest in me, and that was the explanation I gave. But really, my life had just gone through some major upheaval. It was nothing too dire. My mother had recently remarried, and had moved to France to live with her new husband. I had opted to stay in California, and finish my junior year, before joining her in France. I moved into my best friend’s house to stay with her and her family for 2 months. My sister, who was 19, moved into an apartment of her own. While much that was going on was happy, it was a stressful time full of transitions. I hadn’t even realized that I’d had tension building up until I broke a nail.

The trouble with being strong through a stressful time is that my emotions don’t actually go away. I bottle them up until I have time to deal with them. That broken nail in high school was just one such instance. I have had other equally messy and embarrassing episodes, always a few weeks after some major stress.

The past month has been a trying one. I have dealt with one crisis or ordeal after the other and kept going, because there was still more that needed to be done. I have packed my grief away and have carried around crankiness instead. Now, though, the crises are letting up. The pressure from outside is easing, and I sense that my internal pressure is still high. I can’t help feeling that the flood is coming, just waiting for the right catalyst.

I just hope I won’t make too much of a spectacle of myself.