Monday, February 19, 2018

Silly little valentines

So, some of you may have noticed that you got a goofy grade-school valentine from me in the mail this year -- probably in a repurposed or handmade envelope. Feel free to wonder why this happened, wonder why you got one, wonder about my sanity, etc. And, of course...

< Tevye >You may ask, "How did this tradition get started?" I'll tell you.< /Tevye >

Actually, she may not realize this, but it all started with Miss V. After one particular Valentine's Day, she left a nearly-full box of LEGO Star Wars valentines in the pantry. (Our pantry, for those who have not seen it, is half full of shelf-stable food, a quarter full of china and holiday plates, and a quarter full of craft supplies, 'cause that's how we roll.) I was doing one of my periodic pantry clean-outs (it's past time I did another one, btw) and I came across this little box of grade-school valentines. My first thought, since I was purging the pantry at the time, was to toss it. But the whimsical part of my brain took over, as is its wont, and I thought, "Well, Sooz, Valentine's Day is coming up. You could send these cards out to your family, just for kicks."

Now, I get a lot of these kinds of ideas and then promptly forget all about them. (F'rinstance, I always tell myself I'm going to get out the origami papers and make handmade origami valentines, but it never happens.) This time, however, I got smart and put a reminder on my calendar to look in the pantry around February 1, so my cunning plan actually came to fruition. Since grade-school valentines don't come with their own envelopes any more, I then went through the house looking for singleton envelopes. Between random envelopes I picked up while thrifting, handmade envelopes I folded from old magazine pages, and envelopes I cut out of scrapbook paper, we had a surprising number of these. And so all the LEGO Star Wars valentines (packaged in a whole lot of random envelopes) went out the door.

My family is used to my periodic shenanigans, so they took this project in stride. I'm sure a few of my friends thought I was loony (or at least the more upscale phrase, "eccentric") for doing this. But the way I see it, you're never too old to appreciate a grade-school valentine. Sure it's cheesy, but the cheesier the better, as far as I'm concerned. Besides, it's fun!

And since the rule is "if you repeat it more than twice, it becomes a tradition," I guess sending out cheesy grade-school valentines now counts as a household tradition. At least I'm treating it as such, because a few days after Valentine's Day I went out and bought a couple of boxes of grade-school valentines at a post-holiday deep discount, setting it all up for next year.

Looks like I'll have to make a few more envelopes, though. I'm nearly out.

Oh yeah, and if you think this brand of silliness is right up your alley and you want to be on the mailing list for next Valentine's Day, pop me an email with your mailing address. (My email address can be found here.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Creating a frugal minimal-ish lagom life

S I've mentioned occasionally, my siblings and I grew up in a household that, due to our specific circumstances (two adults and six kids living in the East Bay Area of California in the late '70s, primary breadwinner was a freelance graphic designer who sometimes went a long time between paying gigs, galloping stagflation, etc.), functioned well below the poverty line. Until Dad passed away, though, our family accepted very little welfare (I was set to say "no welfare" until I remembered receiving reduced-price lunches in middle school. How could I forget those half-pints of "chunky" school district milk, three weeks past their expiration date?). My mother was particularly talented at home economics and personal finance, so she managed to keep everyone fed, clothed, shod, bathed and (mostly) out of trouble. We learned to make the best of available resources (Mom home-canned and dried a lot of fruit from our yard and encouraged us to forage for wild blackberries, chard and other freebie foods) and we learned how to handle being different from our peers (my brothers still wore Toughskins when everyone else was into designer jeans, and my sisters and I wore dresses and other clothes made by my talented auntie well into the mid-'80s).

We didn't always enjoy being frugal, but that was just how things had to be, especially after Dad died. Sometimes I was painfully conscious of being the only girl in a handmade dress, swimming through a hostile sea of sixth-grade girls in ringer T-shirts and Jordache jeans. But Mom's ingenuity and my personality type combined to create a mental state where, though I clearly didn't fit in at school, I rarely felt truly deprived at home. Consequently, my sense of home is a place that feels like a shelter from the sometimes unfair judgments of the world, comfortable, cozy and safe.

My adult life has been a see-saw between frugality (usually to get us out of debt) and profligacy (usually after some kind of windfall), but I've found that neither extreme brings me long-term happiness. Frugal living comes fairly naturally to me due to the way I was raised, but the option of being able to splurge on certain well-defined, well-loved items has also pushed me in the direction of minimalism. But neither extreme frugality nor minimal-ish living seems to fit me quite right. I've struggled to define the kind of life that hits the sweet spot, the middle ground of thriving, where one has neither an overgrowth of stuff nor is pruned back too much.

And even if I haven't achieved it yet, I think I've defined it. It's "lagom," a Swedish word that doesn't have a precise cognate in English, but which freely translates to "enough, just right, balanced, sufficient," etc. It doesn't mean "perfectionistic," that exhaustive effort to make everything just so; "lagom" means that things have come together really well without anyone going full-on Martha Stewart. It's like the Goldilocks Zone of home life.

So here's a slightly frivolous example of lagom living: I needed some Gruyère to make tonight's dinner, and I didn't have any. Minimalists would encourage me to get only a needful amount of the best Gruyère I could afford. Frugalists would tell me to avoid spending money; I should use whatever cheese I had available, or pick another recipe that doesn't use cheese. But I really wanted to make that recipe, and I could tell it wouldn't taste right if I used the Cheddar I had on hand. It would, though, be lagom to pick up some domestic Swiss cheese with a similar flavor profile to Gruyère, so that's what I did. And Captain Midnight, who ate the resulting meal, pronounced it groovy. (The lagom choice, btw, turned out to be way more frugal than the minimalistic one. Domestic Swiss in my area, not on sale, costs $4.50/lb., while domestic Gruyère starts at $18.90/lb. and goes up from there. Yikes. And the nature of the recipe is such that the Gruyère isn't going to taste four times as good as the Swiss, though it costs about four times as much. Life lesson: from now on I'm buying my cooking cheeses from the dairy, not the deli.)

Lagom living is also tailored to one's personal experience of just-rightness. If you know who you are as a person, what you really need and what you value, finding that sustainable sweet spot becomes an intuitive process. It's largely a matter of paring down the things you no longer want or need in your life to make room for what brings you delight. You are the expert at deciding what's lagom for you.

To that end, I've been going through the house trying to get rid of stuff I don't want, need or use. I've put a cardboard box next to the front door, and I keep dropping in items to be sold or donated. When it's full, it goes away. More space, more serenity. Lagom. See?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dirty Klondry and other topics

APTAIN Midnight has returned from his overnight Klondike camping trip with the Boy Sprouts. Since this particular event is all about winter camping, he spent a lot of time next to the fire, trying to stay warm. As a result, pretty much everything that came home with him -- clothes, shoes, sleeping bag, tent, even the car -- smells strongly of campfire smoke. So it's Laundry Faerie time! I kept the washer open for the funky Klondike laundry (Klondry?) that I knew was coming, and have run a couple of batches already, using some brand-new (to me) laundry detergent that smells heavenly (especially when compared to the vaguely finnan-haddie scent the clothes had going in).

New detergent is a very small way of changing things up a bit. It's very easy to fall into a well-worn rut of doing the same things in the same way every day -- say, parking in the same stall in the lot at work, or taking a shower with the same brand of soap, or doing the household chores the same way. When I was a teenager I used to fear the banality of adult life would overwhelm me and swallow me whole, which it has not done for the most part because I have made the occasional effort to change things up -- parking a significant distance away and walking in, drawing a hot bath and sprinkling rose-scented powder into it, Benny-and-Jooning my chores so they're a little more fun to accomplish. These are small things, but they make surprisingly significant differences in the quality of one's day.

I've been thinking about a number of topics recently, including rejection. People handle being rejected in very different ways. My mother, for instance, doesn't usually take rejection sitting down. Her mother-in-law did not like her at first, and made no bones about expressing her feelings on the subject in a number of mean ways. So Mom worked for some 44 years to try to win her over. My grandma was a stubborn woman, but she eventually capitulated to Mom's campaign of love and patience. The way Mom figured, she was joining her mother-in-law's family, and family is forever, so she didn't just get to write off her in-laws as hopeless.

Me, I'm different from my mom, not anywhere near as tenacious. I've been rejected, often and sometimes in vigorously personal ways, over the course of my life -- everything from "I just don't think I like you" to "look, it's not your fault we have to dance together, but don't touch me" (a painful comment by my fifth-grade crush) to a number of people who have categorically rejected me over my weight. And I've come to the conclusion that it's not worth my time and effort to try to convince people to like me. If you make it clear that you enjoy spending time with me, I will deeply appreciate and happily reciprocate the attention. But if you show me by words and actions that you're not interested in being my friend, I will vanish completely from your life. (Hey, it's one of those things laundry faeries do.)

How do you handle rejection, especially if it feels personal?

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

New Blessing Journal entry

Something new went into the Blessing Journal a few days ago. Here's what I wrote:
You have a home.

It isn't something you think about often. You tend to take it for granted. But serving dinner at the emergency women's shelter was a wake-up call to remind you of what a blessing it is to have a permanent home. Your things are secure, not subject to the elements, highly unlikely to be lost or stolen. You can depend on getting a hot shower, three good meals and a warm bed every day. You can sleep and wake on your own timetable. You can wash your clothing whenever you need to do so. You have private transportation you can take nearly anywhere. Your money is safe. You have privacy. You are protected and cherished, not yelled at and beaten, by your wonderful husband. And the spirit of God can reside in your home, improving every aspect of your life, helping you with spiritual and mental stability and growth. Having a home to come back to has also blessed Miss V, Captain Midnight, even Roxy. It's a calm, comfortable, warm and lagom sort of place where love is expressed often and in many forms. What a blessing it is to have a home!

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Falcon Heavy launch

I need some time to process this. BUT. THAT WAS AMAZING. I had delighted chills all over.

Also: putting a red Roadster into space is a feat of showmanship that would make P.T. Barnum proud.

Monday, February 05, 2018

The little old lady from Pasadena

I've been running errands hither and yon today. (Stuff to do, places to go, about 30 people to feed tonight... yeah, anyway) As I was leaving the Safeway parking lot, I watched in speechless astonishment as a retiree with a dowager empress vibe and a big flowered hat that would give Queen Elizabeth a run for her money parked her huge boat of a vehicle -- not in a regular parking space, nor even in a handicapped parking space, but right smack in the entranceway to the store. Yes, blocking pedestrians, cars and access to the handicapped maneuvering space alike. She slowly and deliberately locked her car and shuffled magisterially into the Safeway. I realized that either her eyesight was so poor that she didn't realize she had just parked illegally, or she'd reached a point in her life where she had no craps to give any more about where she parked.

So, this brings a question to mind: when should people stop driving?

Hint: if this was your first car, IT'S TIME TO STOP DRIVING.
This may sound a little mean or ageist, but it's a serious concern in an era where much of the American population is at or past retirement age, and self-driving cars are not yet a thing. Because one's health usually worsens by small degrees, it's not always easy to perceive that one is no longer a safe driver. Nor is it fun to break the news to an older relative that it's time to hang up the car keys for good. My maternal grandfather had always been a leadfoot, but near the end of his life his eyes got so bad and his reaction times so slow that he became a menace on the road. He hit several parked cars, nearly ran over a pedestrian and should have had his license taken away. But even so, he fought hard to keep his right to drive. I think at some point he knew he was dangerous, but he'd always been bullheaded -- and as a disabled veteran, he desperately wanted to keep the autonomy that came with driving his own car.

I can see why. In the western United States, driving is considered more a right than a privilege. The West is spread out; there's a lot of space between towns, and it's not at all unusual for people to drive 50 or 60 miles one way to work every day. Outside the big metropolitan areas, public transportation can be sparse or nonexistent. (Amtrak is more of a joke than a viable transportation option through most of the West.) And not everyone can (or wants to) have a job that allows her to cocoon up and telecommute. Plus, in an era where local banks are closing branches and local supermarkets are calling it quits, there are many small towns where it's no longer possible to walk to the store or the bank. Western transportation infrastructure -- specifically, the lack thereof -- means Westerners will likely cling to their cars for a long time to come. And aging Westerners need transportation just as much as their younger counterparts do, even if they shouldn't drive any more.

We're very fortunate to live in an area with half-decent public transit. King County Metro is reliable enough that Captain Midnight can take the bus to work every day. There are continuing efforts to make the bus and ferry system more accessible to people with limited mobility. Even the much-maligned, insanely expensive Link light rail system should help people along its corridor get places when it's finally completed (which should be some time shortly before the Last Trump). But not everyone is so fortunately situated. People who know they should no longer drive, but who have no alternate way to get around, are really behind the 8-ball. They usually rely on the kindness of family members or friends to get them to their appointments, to the store, to work, to church -- or they simply become homebound.

That lady I saw at Safeway today shouldn't have been driving herself anywhere. She's become a danger to herself and others, probably by degrees. As mentioned, self-driving cars will eventually improve this situation for those who can afford them -- but in the meantime, what kinds of things could we do to help people keep their mobility, no matter where they live or how much they make?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The stuff you find on the floor at your local mall

I'm not too sure about this. My best guess is that it's a fragment of some sorta spec script.


A young JJ ABRAMS is gazing upon a viewscreen. J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI stands beside him. He is also looking out.

JMS: One day, lad, all this will be yours ...

ABRAMS: What - the viewscreen?

JMS: No! Not the viewscreen, lad ... All this ...

(indicates the slightly pixelated visual of the space station on the viewscreen)

JMS: ... all that you can see, stretched out over the sectors and regions ... as far as the eye can see and beyond ... that'll be your franchise, lad.

ABRAMS: But, George ...

JMS: Michael, lad.

ABRAMS: But, Michael, I don't really want any of that.

JMS: Listen, lad, I built this franchise up from nothing. When I first came here, this was all empty space. Everyone said I was daft to build a space station all alone in the night, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It was destroyed by sabotage. So I built a second one. That was destroyed by sabotage. So I built a third. That one also got destroyed by sabotage. The fourth one disappeared in 24 hours and the idea for it got nicked by Paramount. But the fifth one stayed up! And that's what you're going to get, lad, the strongest station in the known universe.

ABRAMS: But I don't want any of that, I'd rather ...

JMS: Rather what?

ABRAMS: I'd rather ... make ... Star Wars ...


JMS: Stop that, stop it! You're not going to play John Williams while I'm here!