what's making me happy this week 02.21.14: angel olsen, floyd legs and swants

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photos:
1) my gym bag, my sanity
2) my aged pug, taken by my daughter, up close and personal
3) noritake mardi gras dinnerware, photo from the fox and th espoon esty store: http://www.etsy.com/shop/thefoxandthespoon
4) making dinner, why yes i do have harvest gold kitchen counter tops…still…they’re starting to grow on me…no, no they’re not
5) love this, ann arbor alley in the snow, photo by courtney sacco: http://photos.mlive.com/8002564/gallery/photo_gallery_ann_arbor_during/index.html#/0

In addition to the tiny patch of blue sky I am craning my head to look at right now, and the bright blurr of a sun trying to burn it’s way through the gloomy gray cloud cover…there is much making me happy this week:

1) Exercise is making me happy…maybe not always while I’m doing it…but always afterward. Honest to god it keeps me sane. Particularly this winter. You know what’s great exercise if you can fit it into your schedule? Studio cycling/spinning. If you have the time, try out a few instructors to see whose music you like best, get there early enough to have the instructor help you adjust your bike. Select a bike in the back row so you can unself-consciously gear down when you need to and/or stand to pedal when your crotch goes numb (it gets better). Don’t worry about cycling shoes, but do bring a water bottle.

2) I heard so many great bands at the Ann Arbor Folk festival last month: Seth Walker, Justin Townes Earle, Pearl and the Beard, Iron and Wine, Neko Case (rocking some skin tight skeleton pants), Willie Nile (a cross between the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen, what?!) and Ann Arbor’s own Appleseed Collective.

But the band that really got under my skin…that I’m trying to decide if I love or just like, is Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Thao Nguyen is an incredibly talented musician, singer and songwriter. She plays all things stringed and more. In addition she is smart and original: I have not heard anything like her before.

Here is one of Thao’s songs I have been listening to this week: We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)

(Extra points for the split second appearance of Judge John Hodgeman and Ira Glass in this video.)

2. Angle Olsen’s warbly, true voice is making me happy this week. And she looks like my little sister Jen.
Listen to her here at her NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

3. Noritake Mardi Gras dinnerware makes me happy.
I am part of a Mid Century Modern facebook page where someone posted this week that she had found some Noritake Mardi Gras dinnerware at an estate sale. I had never heard of it, but the shape and pattern make me happy.

4. Some cool kids (University of Michigan design grads) are making me happy…They had a kickstarter to produce their “minimalist” Floyd Leg—table legs that can be easily attached to and removed from any kind of flat surface, such as repurposed doors. They were hoping for $18,000 to startup, but ended up with $250,000!

Why does this make me happy? Real people seeing their ideas realized…Design that marries form and function…

5. Goofy gals make me happy, particularly Katy and Katie and their Just the Tips youtube channel. Check out their, how to make swants video.

6. This 3 minute history of the bicycle video makes me happy for the visuals…design, color, light…

7. These photos of Ann Arbor in the snow by photographer Coutney Sacco. The photos were taken at night, and are lovely…and remind me that I should stop being such a baby about the dark and cold and should get outside with my good camera sometime…
http://photos.mlive.com/8002564/gallery/photo_gallery_ann_arbor_during/index.html#/0

8. Having time to cook dinner in the evenings makes me happy. This is a weird flip for me, as I used to hate making dinner and could relate, a little, to Marge Piercy’s poem, What’s That Smell in the Kitchen.

Haha. No, it was never that bad, but it was difficult to fit it in with everything else.

Now that I am not spending my weekends and evenings dragging children through science fair projects, or baking class valentine treats or attending school meetings (which, in truth, I miss,..a lot), I have much more time for making dinner. I always plan my week’s meals on Saturday or Sunday and often will prep the night before. The chore, and I do still think of it as a chore, is made tolerable, pleasant even, by a glass of wine and a podcast.

There has been more making me happy this week, like my son’s first official college visit yesterday and another one today. That makes me happy…but also a little sad…more on that another time.

Hope you are spotting patches of blue sky among the grey clouds where you live! Both literally and metaphorically! xoxo

winter survival

February 17, 2014

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photos:
1) grapefruit cookies i made for valentine’s day
2) a bag of grapefruit cookies and chocolate for a friend
3) the sun! reflected in a puddle at gallop park
4) shopping for my niece’s baby shower, so many adorable baby clothes
5) love these baking cups, they also make little colorful, cardboard loaf pans that you can bake in
6) my sister made this…i have incredibly talented sisters
7) the huron river from a bridge at gallop park…see? winter really can be beautiful

Ann Arbor consistently makes it into top ten city lists: best places to live in the US, best drinking water, best college town, best cities for aging, best city for singles, best place to raise a family, happiest cities in the country (we’re fifth!). (If you want to learn more about Ann Arbor rankings, check out this 2012 article from annarbor.com: http://www.annarbor.com/news/ann-arbor-often-placed-on-top-ten-lists/)

This past week we made it onto another top ten list, Ann Arbor was ranked the sixth snowiest city in the U.S. Gah! I like snow, I do. I love the change of seasons. I love the first flakes. I love the beauty of a snow covered landscape. When I can finally talk myself into running outside during the winter, I do love being out in it.

But we have had more than what we’re used to this winter. We are exhausted from cleaning the sidewalks and driveways. We have ice dams on our roofs that threaten to leak into our houses when they thaw. Our city streets are getting narrower and narrower as snow accumulates along the sides, and I am starting to get annoyed with my neighbor who parks at the end of my driveway, making it difficult to get out due to the snow build up in the street.

I don’t want to be irritated with my neighbors and I’m tired of the cold and the gloom. I’m tired of having cold feet and shoulders hunched against the cold. I’m tired of layers. I’m tired of the dry heat from the space heater in my office. I miss the sun.

Surving this winter without being an obnoxious whiner baby, or continuously grumpy, has been a challenge. I have fb friend who is ceaselessly gleeful about the snow. I thought maybe trying to change my attitude about the snow to be more like Julie’s may help. I tried, for about a week. “Oh the lovely snow!”, “Oh good, more snow!”, and then no. I couldn’t keep it up.

I’m really very tired of the snow.

So now I’m working on the distraction survival technique– keeping as busy as possible so I don’t have time to fret about the snow. So far, it has been mostly working, except that since it is winter break for the public schools this week, my fb newsfeed is full of sunny photos from Florida and Hawaii and today’s forecast? 4-6 more inches (10-15 cm).

Gah!

the voices in my head

January 24, 2014

the voices in my head

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photos:
1) ladies’ room in the rackham building, i love that there are still fainting couches in this old ladies’ room
2) my daughter’s new product proposal: wigs for dogs
3) lynda barry’s “picture this”

I listened to an old Vancouver Writer’s Fest podcast this week titled, Comic Book Confidential: Lynda Barry and Sarah Leavitt.

I fell in love with Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek when I was in college and discover it in the back of the Metro Times (alongside Matt Groening’s pre-Simpsons cartoon, Life in Hell). My flame for Lynda Barry continues to burn bright.

While listening to the podcast I felt like Lynda was speaking directly to me when she spoke of the negative voices that sound in her head when she sits down to write and draw.

I hear the exact same voices whenever I am writing this blog:

“‘Where’s that gonna get you? That’s stupid. You could be cleaning.’”

Lynda says, “Okay, If I was in a bar and some dude came up to me and went, ‘That’s stupid. Where’s that gonna get you? You could be cleaning,’ I’d know he was an ass, right? But when he’s in my head, it’s the voice of reason. When did that happen?!”

She says that this is a product of our looking at our creative endeavors as a product that is either good or bad. She advises instead to look at your creative endeavors as a process, as the expression of experience, as something that helps us “grow more neurons” and cultivates the feeling that “live is worth living.”

I’m not sure how easy that will be to do in practice, particularly when we post our work publically, via performances, art shows or blogs. But picturing the negative voice in my head as a drunken barfly, who provides unsolicited, negative comments, may make it easier to dismiss it.

what's making me happy this week 11.18.14: what we have in our pockets, a new spell and quiet time

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photos:
1) a gift of daffodils in january
2) my new sweater
3) writer etgar keret, illusration by erhan cihangiroğlu from the etgar keret facebook page
(can you tell i’m lacking photos this week?)

Two cold nights ago I was leaving the grocery store, after a frenetic day of work. I saw a man sitting alone in his car, talking on his phone, in a vacant part of the shopping center parking lot. I instantly thought, “I wish that was me.”

The thought seemed at once weird and kind of startling to me, especially since the man did not look particularly comfortable. He seemed too large for his overcoat, and for his car. But his car looked warm and he wasn’t rushing around in the dark. He was just sitting, doing one thing. Talking on the phone.

I’m in a bit of a funk. I can’t get on top of life. I’m usually pretty good at shaking off such a mood, but not so much the past couple of weeks. Maybe reviewing the bright spots in the week will help.

So here’s what made me happy this week.

1. The short story, “What Do We Have in our Pockets?” by Etgar Keret
This is a quick read, and even quicker listen (less than 7 minutes).
I heard it on the Selected Shorts podcast read, perfectly, by the late David Rakoff. You can listen here. It starts at the very end of the podcast, around -06:43
You can also read it here or see a short film based on this story and entered into 2013 Sundance film festival here.

But please listen to David Rakoff first. He’s better. The best.

2. Music from the film Walking and Talking. (I liked, but did not love this Nicole Holofcener film, maybe because I had just watched Frances Ha the day before. Basically the same film. Also liked, but did not love Frances Ha.)

Anyway, the music made me happy particularly the opening song, Billy Bragg’s She’s Got a New Spell.

3. Meloncholy music…it makes me happy to have such unhappy music when I need it. Two songs I heard for the first time this week, and really like, are Låpsley’s, “Station”, btw she is both the high and low voices and Iron & Wine‬‪ – The Trapeze Swinger‬. (NPR’s music editor Stephen Thompson has mentioned this song over and over on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He weeps every time he hears it. So finally I looked it up. No weeping for me, but I do love it.)

4. My new Air-o-Swiss humidifier. (I’m not getting compensated to advertise for this or any product). I love it for it’s clean lines and functional design and because, now that I have it running in my office, I no longer feel like I’m turing to dust.

5. A pot of daffodils I received on a gloomy day. Sitting in my office window, still in bloom. If you are living in a cold grey climate, please go get yourself or someone else a pot of daffodils. They make me hopeful, and happy, every time I see them.

6. My daughter was giddy on her first day of her cadaver dissection class this week. I talked to her after class and asked her how it went. She gushed, “It was amazing! I was up to my elbow in leg!” Yesterday I picked her up on campus after a study session for another class. She sat down in the car with a blissfull look on her face, leaned her head against the window and sighed, “I’m in love.” I said, “With?” She sighed again, “Organic chemistry.” It’s a pretty amazing to see your kid find a passion. I don’t think it happens to everyone. I’m still working out mine…

7. This sweater, in emerald green, I bought on sale from Boden. (Though it is already pilling which makes me unhappy.)

8. Getting up on this Saturday morning before everyone else. I suspect it is better than sitting in a car, in the dark, by myself in a grocery store parking lot. A cup of coffee, melancholy music and a quiet house all to myself to plan out my busy day: it may be all I need to hit the reset button on this mood.

Hoping you have found some happiness and a quiet place to think this week.

resolutions

January 15, 2014

resolutions

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photos:
1) back hallway to the nat sci (natural sciences building) auditorium. i was showing my daughter around campus to her classes and had to take her down this ancient and somewhat creepy hallway, because i love it.
2) one snowy day, cold day my husband made blueberry buckle for the neighbors
3) the wonderful organ and organist at the beautiful and historic michigan theater, my favorite place to see films. art films, no commercials and an amazing pre-film organ concert
4) there was a fire down the street from us on main street, the photo is so ugly but i found the remains of this concrete and cinderblock building shocking. it used to be a pizza place that i disliked, beer coolers were the main feature of the place and it had a very macho vibe to it. i don’t think it did much business
5) my sassy sister (not a great photo of her). she may or may not be making a snarky face about a her mug christmas gift. this is the photo that shows up on my phone when she calls me. makes me laugh every time.
6) my dog on my daughter’s leg (she took the photo!)

It is mid January and I am still thinking about new year’s resolutions…which is about right for me. I have a hard time keeping up.

I have never made new year’s resolutions before, but this year, I wanted to give it a try. I have been looking for a thoughtful, comprehensive way to think about goals for 2014. But as I skim article after article on this topic, maybe thoughtful is not what I want after all.

Some articles on new year’s resolutions include 20 question inventories about the past year: “What surprised me this past year? What disappointed me this past year?” My house was generally a mess, which was disappointing, but no surprise. I don’t have the time, memory or attention span for such an inventory.

Other articles provide lists of possible areas/resolutions to consider when making resolutions. I like the lists in this article on personal goal setting because, in addition to considering the normal fodder for resolutions such as finances and weight loss, it includes areas that to me are equally as important such as artistic, education, and public service. (I found this article about lifetime, LIFETIME!, goal setting to be very intimidating, so I’m just using her list, not her process.)

Going through these list I realize I have many, many things I want to work on this year, including finances, competing in a triathlon, reading more, thinking about a product or products for an etsy shop, learning how to make videos, being a better parent, my professional life and what I should be doing to prepare for a job change, socializing with friends more, helping my mom more, keeping up on my blog and keeping my house cleaner…GAhhhh! This resolution business just sets people up for failure!

So I’m going to follow the advice of Natalie Houston in her article, Pick One Thing (published in the Chronicle for Higher Ed, but really applicable to all.)

Houston keeps it simple: pick one goal, define a small action toward the goal, keep track of your success, get support. For myself, if I make steady progress on that goal, I will start on another goal, but not until progress has been made on the first goal.

My first goal is preparing for an outdoor triathlon. I picked that as my first since I have already started making progress on this. I am saving money for a bike. I am in my second triathlon training class at the Y and am signed up to do the indoor Y-tri in March (15 minutes swim, 15 minutes indoor cycling, 15 minutes on the treadmill). And I’m pretty good about keeping up with my exercise plan. So I think I can add another goal.

My next goal is to work on keeping my house cleaner. I believe that housekeeping is overrated for sure, and our house is never (never, ever) going to be featured on Design*Sponge. We all work too much to make this a big focus of our lives, even our big kids work very hard at their academics and are busy outside of school. But somewhere in the past few, mad, years we have crossed the line from messy to gross. Embarrassingly gross. Something has to be done.

My sister in law recently posted on Facebook this 45-minute daily (DAILY?!) speed housecleaning routine. For my first step toward my goal of having a cleaner house, I thought I would give it a try…with modifications. (Daily…haha.) First modification: I will not be making my own housecleaning cleansers/products.

The author’s ability to do all on her list in the 45 minute time is likely because she has 45 minutes of uninterrupted time in her home, which I never do. Last night I made the mistake of leaving the bathroom door open 4 inches while I brushed my teeth before going to bed. First it was my dog crying outside the door for me. His eyesight is so bad he can’t see that the door was open.

Then it was my son coming to comfort my dog, “Mom, look how cute Finny is! Mom, no LOOK! You have to look! Oh look again! He is resting his chin on my leg. He is so cute. Mom, mom, look, LOOK!”

I love my son, and my dog and I am glad that my 16 year old still wants me to look…I’m just saying, I can’t get 5 uninterrupted minutes on my own, not even to brush my teeth. Still, I have to start somewhere…

I WILL be posting on my housekeeping progress. So you have that to look forward to…haha.

Do you have new goals for the new year? Or good ways to approach a new year? I’m listening!

New Year BWA bwa

January 5, 2014

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photos:
1) a tray of santa cookies, a tradition in my husband’s family
2) driving by the university of michigan stadium (the big house) on a wet winter night. they were getting it ready for the holiday classic hockey game. 100,000 people came into to town on new year’s day to watch the detroit red wings play the toronto maple leafs.
3) spingerle cookies setting overnight before they are baked, my husband made these and they are my favorite holiday cookie
4) the women’s locker room at the ymca in rochester where my mother lives. i know it is creepy to take a photo in a locker room, but i liked the color and the repetition of the mirrors and i was discreet…which probably makes it creepier
5) downtown ann arbor on new year’s eve, the night before the big hockey game. we walked downtown because we were curious about this pre-hockey game new year’s eve party, and we were up for a nighttime walk. smelled like cigarettes, cigars with a twinge of pot. it was like being in a college bar, but outside, in 16 degree weather (-8 canadian) …and college bars no longer smell like this since smoking is illegal in public places
so many leafs fans!
6) we did enjoy our nerdy new year’s eve of a board game, pandemic, along with chocolate fondu….
7) my daughter, ridiculous new slippers and mindy kaling…a well suited trio. i loved mindy kaling’s book by the way. she is a smart, funny and powerful woman in a field dominated by males. and its a very fast read.
8) shadows from our night time walk on new year’s eve. the white streaks are snow flakes falling in front of my lens.

What breaks my heart about a new year is the very clear demarcation of the passing of a significant amount of time. A whole year. We all have a finite time on this earth: a finite amount of time to learn, to love, to laugh, to become better people, to make the world a better place, to find peace, to show gratitude for all that we have…Did I spend my year wisely?

I don’t want to even think about the time I wasted on Netflix, Buzzfeed, Youtube and the raunchy entertainment section of Huffington Post.

(Do you see why my daughter often teases me by calling me Debbie Downer, and sings this song from Rachel Dratsh’s Debbie Downer skit from Saturday Night Live? Or she sometimes does the shorthand two-toned, horn sound, BWA bwa, just to let me know I’m being a downer.)

So I’m trying focus on this shiny, new year. A new year provides an opportunity to be reflective, to bring into focus what is really important or what most needs attention in our lives. A new year provides an opportunity to hit the reset button and to tweak our course in life.

I haven’t quite pulled my priorities together for 2014, as I have been too busy panicking about 2013 being over. Forever. Never to return again. (BWA bwa)

I have some ideas; I’d like to participate in a triathalon, and/or a long distance cycling trip. I also want to get on top of our personal finances. My husband has always taken care of this and I’ve had so many other things to do, that that was fine with me. Now that I have a little more time, I’d like to be more on top of things.

Instead of making a list of things that are rattling around in my brain at the moment, I would like to find a more comprehensive way to think about how to plan a year’s goals so that when it ends, I feel satisfied and at peace.

That may require a personality transplant, or me quitting my job, which is to say, it may be impossible. (BWA bwa)

I will let you know if I find a good framework for this planning process—let me know if you find one first.

I wish you a peaceful, satisfying, love-filled, sometimes raucous, sometimes surprising, sometimes challenging, new year.

back to blogging…

December 27, 2013

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snowback to blogging...

photos:
1) this is a vintage advent calendar from my husband’s youth. i am often alarmed at how much his family saves, think the show “hoarders”, but then they unearth gems like this…
2) …the windows of the advent calendar revealed pieces of the scene that was built day-by-day
3) a view from my office window just before heading home, so dark at 5pm now
4) i brought my geraniums indoors and love that I get blooms in the winter
5) a shadow of lace curtains above my mother-in-laws hospital bed, which is in their living room
6) walking in to work, our first real snow
7) the now empty advent calendar for my kids, they still love this.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter said, “Not to be critical mom, but it’s been a long time since you have blogged.”

In fact it’s been about two intense months. It did make me feel good that someone noticed.

So here I am, back. I hope.

What kept me from blogging?:

• Work has been intense with many weeknight and weekend activities, including one all day Saturday December 21 because I wanted to get it in before the term ended.

• I increased my time at the gym when I signed up for a seven-week, indoor, mini-triathalon class, just to have something to kick my arse. And it worked. I started swimming again. Which I love/hate…but mostly hate.

• I spent many hours sitting on our kitchen floor with a scraping tool trying to get all of the flooring glue and ancient vinyl flooring backing off of wooden flooring that was revealed when my husband ripped out several layers of vinyl flooring.

This project started in October when we ordered a new dishwasher that had the same measurements, on paper, as the old one, but in actuality was too tall for the space. So we were forced to start a long overdue flooring project to create space for the dishwasher. We thought we could gain the .25 inches we needed. We had no idea we would gain nearly an inch. No idea there were so many layers below the first one.

We also had to stop at one point and get it tested for asbestos. Which, thank goodness, it did not contain.

The scraping is now complete. Next is the sanding. Sigh. SOMEONE, hacked great gouges into the wood in several places when HE tried to use brawn to get the glue off. The floor will likely be so beat up that we will need to cover it with vinyl again.

This might not be all bad if we can find something like these Rose Des Vents vinyl flooring from the UK (manufactured in France). Doubtful I will be able to find anything so nice in the US.

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There were also holiday preparations, and teenage kids to feed and occasionally transport, but here I am with a (relatively) clean house, laundry folded and put away, and good food prepared. My husband is out at a basketball buddy reunion, my children are somewhere in the house being happy and I am here at the dining room table with a glass of red wine blogging again.