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photos:
1) my beamish boy, 8 years ago when we were good friends
2) spot the tattoo
3) no mas!

Last night as I pulled in the driveway I felt a pang in my heart when I noticed the white Christmas lights on in my son’s upstairs bedroom window. I turned the lights on when he went back to school so his room didn’t look so cold and empty. I really miss him. And I don’t. We are both happy, doing good work where we are; me in Ann Arbor and he in Chicago. But still there is a pull on my heart.

My son started his freshman year at DePaul University in Chicago. He lives on the Lincoln Park campus but takes the El to take classes downtown (13 floors above the Barnes and Noble on the Loop) a couple of days per week. On those days he says he eats breakfast overlooking Chicago as the sun rises. It makes him happy.

The summer before he left was neither fun nor pretty for us. So many fights. Go ahead, join the other hundreds of friends who told me not to take it personally, that he’s just separating, that he will come back. I know all of this. But it still hurt. Deeply.

And when he turned 18 at the end of July he announced he was going to get a skull tattooed on his bicep.

I said, not a skull.
I said, not yet.
I said, wait until you’re 26 and your frontal lobe is fully developed.
I said, wait until you’ve made friends at college.
I said, a skull on your bicep says, f-you! I’m a tough guy and I want to fight you!
I said, okay, get a tattoo but not something that is so negative and scary and visible.

He said, yes a skull, yes on my bicep.

I said, NO.

He said, you have no say, I’m eighteen and can do what I want.

I said, I’m paying for you to go to college so I think I do get a say.

My husband said, don’t tell him we’re not going to pay for him to go to college.

I said, that’s not what I said.

My son got his badass tattoo the week before he left for college.

I didn’t speak to him until two days before he left when he came up to me and hugged me and said, I love you mom.

I said, I love you too, dummy.

He said, whose the dummy who wouldn’t talk to her son the week before he leaves for college?

I said, whose the dummy who got a skull tattoo the week before he left for college?

He said, my skull tattoo is amazing.

So he got a tattoo. No one died. But as a friend noted, after having had the same experience with his daughter, something shifted. Something broke.

Looking back, I think it’s okay. I likely did something that broke my childhood relationship with my own mother at some point. Like when I would blare Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” when she intruded on my teenage life. Or any of the millions of other transgressions I made against her.

Now, I have a wonderful adult relationship with my mom. I hope I will be able to have a similar relationship with my son one day. In the meantime, I am getting better at not taking his transgressions so personally.

His first week of college my skull-tattooed son had a Discover Chicago immersion class where they visited different neighborhoods, learned about their histories, ethnicities, etc. He texted me one day and said, three of my four professors have tattoos, I don’t feel so special.

When he was home for break he was talking about getting another tattoo. I said, well I would be okay with that one, pointing to our refrigerator where I had posted a paper heart with a banner baring the word “MOM”. My daughter had made as a label for a gift for me.

He said, that’s actually one I was thinking of getting.

Oh my beamish boy. I hope no more tattoos, but I’m keeping my mouth shut this time.

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photos:
1) loving my chocolate milk
2) surfer, pacific ocean, golden gate park near sutro bathes
3) yellow mushrooms, noe valley farmer’s market
4) gold fish and yellow boots, japanese tea garden in golden gate park
5) my new skirt

We have had some hard weeks this month. We are still missing our puppy. My mother-in-law is in her final days. And we are dealing with some hard, worldly, issues with one of our children. It is a situation that has grown from a place of goodness and caring, but has put our child in a potentially dangerous and situation. It is a situation that makes me long for normal teenage issues like drinking, sex or breaking curfew. We have been up late many nights lately having long and intense family talks. But at least we are talking. (My advice to you as a parent is to not raise caring and sensitive kids who want to save the world.)

When I am tired at the beginning of a swim workout and have a wave of dread wash over me thinking about how many more hundreds of yards I have left to swim, I tell myself to focus on the 50 yards I am currently on: to concentrate on form; to concentrate on the pleasure of moving through the water; and to just take one lap at a time. It always gets me through the workout.

I am trying to apply the same focus to each day of this hard time: focus on what I can do today; try to set a goal and try to break the problem down to get to that goal; focus on efficiency rather than wasting so much energy on anxiety and worry; and make sure I exercise and laugh, because endorphins always help. As I tell my children, we will get through this. All will be well.

I cannot say that I am happy this week, but there have been things that have lifted my spirits. The top three have to do with chocolate…for its medicinal qualities?

1. Almond Joy ice-cream. Coconut ice-cream infused with almonds and big chunks of chocolate, now available and our neighborhood Washtenaw Dairy ice cream store, an all too convenient 10 minute walk from my house. I’m not a huge ice cream fan, but I find myself with a specific craving this ice cream. No, I’m not pregnant.

2. Small, portable cartons of chocolate milk. They don’t require refrigeration, though they are best cold. I love them after exercising…and with my lunch…and as a late night snack and…No, I’m not pregnant.

3. Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds. I have a Ghiradelli bar right next to me as I type. I have never liked dark chocolate, though I know it’s much better for me than milk chocolate. It turns out if you add a heavy does of salt and almonds to dark chocolate, it’s not only palatable, it’s wonderful. (I also like the dark chocolate and sea salt Kind bars.) No, I’m still not pregnant.

4. My kitchen floor is almost done and looking great. My husband has been working his *** off sanding, staining and finishing this ancient pine floor. The project started last November when we bought a new dishwasher that would not fit under the counter, even though it was the same dimensions as the old one. We ended up ripping up the flooring, which needed replacing anyway, and found 3 layers of linoleum on subfloor. Then there was black paper and goo that had to be scraped off of the floor. We discovered not so bad pine flooring that we thought we might paint. Once my husband had it sanded we decided to stain and polyurethane. Now about that harvest gold counter top…

5. Being outside always makes me feel better. My daughter and I took a long bike ride together this week, I swam outdoors at least once, I walked to and from work on some days. This Atlantic article on brain function and exercise, and being outside says being outside and exercising (and the big O for ladies) also increases brain function:
Gym workouts and sunbathing do more for your brain than crosswords and Mozart

6. My first trip ever to San Francisco was great. We packed a lot in in the few days we were there. Including my friend’s participation in the Escape from the Rock duathlon. The food, the shops, the nature, the culture, the easy transportation…I can’t wait to return.

7. The Google Maps App and the Uber Cars App. Both Apps made getting around San Francisco easy and stress free. Uber cars are controversial in some cities because they compete with cab drivers who say Uber drivers are unqualified. Uber drivers have to pass some driving and written tests, so I’m not sure if the cabbies’ claims are founded. I like Uber cars because I don’t feel like I’m getting overcharged because I’m a tourist. You can get a fare quote ahead of time, they let you know ahead of time if it is a high traffic time when fares are sometimes increased, and by how much they are increased. There is no tipping (tip is included), the cars arrive quickly, it is automatically charged to your credit card and they have lots of special offers—first ride was free for us.
Google Maps gives great and specific information for using public transportation and walking.

8. Boden’s printed cotton skirt in Papaya Geo that arrived this week (see above)

9. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
, by Daniel James Brown

I’m almost finished with this book, but don’t want it to end! There is a movie being made of this. It’s being touted as the Chariots of Fire of rowing. Here is a book trailer I found (have never heard of a book trailer before).

10. My husband showed me THIS amazing kickstarter invention. I made a small donation to the campaign so I can receive 100 of these next July. Just in time for my son’s 18th birthday.

Hope you have a good week: 50 yards at a time my friends.

what's making me happy this week 03.23.14: kumail, adam and peter

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photos:
1) i love the glass doorknobs in our house and won't let my husband replace them, even though some work poorly
2) the ceiling of the lobby of the university of michigan's museum of natural history where we had an after hours event
3) a late lunch of jap che and bi him bap with my daughter at bell's diner. you can see us in the mirror and a sign of spring hanging above. i have one just like it at home.
4) i love my pug's shadow. i wish i could get it without the sidewalk cracks so you can really see his curly tail
5) my daughter was in my office and arranged my fruit to let me know how she felt about her organic chemistry exam
6) my daughter came downstairs to excitedly explain an organic chemistry eureka moment to me using her whiteboard, which really just confused me and lulled me to sleep. you can see my pug is alarmed that she is invading our space
7) old iron fence shadows
8) lunch at the lunchroom in kerrytown, loved our bahn mi sandwiches

Walking back from lunch this week I overheard someone say to another person, “We’re lucky it’s so warm out today!” Moments later someone else smiled at me and said, “Nice day!” The same day my outdoor running buddy, whom I have not run with since October, texted me, “Want to run tomorrow morning?”

So by now you have deduced the weather here in Michigan has changed. It’s sunny and…30 degrees outside! No NOT Celsius. That’s good old American 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

You may think we are a sad and uncivilized lot here in the mid western United States. Uncivilized? Yes. Sad? No. We are HAPPY. It’s balmy! The snow is melting! We are on the other side!

Also making me happy this week:
1. The Detroit Tiger’s Baseball home opener is March 31, a week from tomorrow. Ernie Harwell announcing Tiger’s games on WJR radio was the background to my childhood summers. And even though Ernie Harwell is no longer announcing, listening to a Tiger’s game on the radio while making dinner is better than a glass of wine (and even better WITH a glass of wine). Winter is over friends: the boys of summer are back.

2. Kumail Nanjiani. I was thinking of this episode of Portlandia when I was looking into our cell phone plan this week…Anyone who has a cell phone plan will be able to relate, but may not find it funny.

3. I loved, LOVED, Adam Savage’s (of MythBusters fame) story on the Moth podcast about talking to his kids about online pornography. I was a little worried at first…but he nailed it. No pun intended. (Naughty!)

4. What made me happy about these rejection letters to famous people published by Mental Floss (by the way, greatest magazine, a subscription is a great gift for any nerdy person) is that in fact I found most of them to be very kind. May we all be so kind in our rejections.

5. Finally saw the movie, The Desendants. I loved it, despite the fact that I watched it with my mother who made a disapproving noise whenever anyone dropped an f-bomb, and there were about 3,456 f-bombs dropped throughout the film.
I love movies and books that begin with characters you really don’t like at all, and then slowly their humanity and vulnerability are revealed as you watch them evolve into better people.

6. It makes me happy that I finally finished Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch. Emphasis on FINISHED. Powered through nearly 800 pages waiting for someone in this book to redeem him or herself. Waited to care about someone. Still waiting.

Yes, I know. I read Stephen’s King’s review in the New York Times where he states, “The Goldfinch” is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind.”

And yes, I also heard NPR’s Maureen Corrigan’s review. “The Goldfinch far exceeds the expectations of those of us who’ve been waiting on Tartt to do something extraordinary again, ever since her debut novel, The Secret History, came out in 1992. Hell, I feel like I’ve been waiting for a novel like this to appear not only since I read The Secret History, but also since I first read David Copperfield.”

Wish I would have read Brit Peter Kemp’s review in the Sunday Times before being seduced by Corrigan and King. “Outdoing even The Little Friend, famously a decade in the writing, The Goldfinch has taken 11 years to appear. These epic gestations are attributed by awed Tartt admirers and devotees of websites such as Donna Tartt Shrine to uncompromising perfectionism. “It’s because of perfectionism that man walked on the moon and painted the Sistine Chapel, OK? Perfectionism is good,” she has stressed. But it’s hard to spot much of it in this ineptly put-together book….Melodrama and sentimentality abound (Pippa, “like a fairy” in a gauzy green dress, is a particularly fey fabrication). Similar-seeming formulations recur. One character is “like an elegant weasel”, another like “an elegant…polar bear”, a third has an “elegant black-clad body like a python”.

For me, alarms went off early on when Tartt uses the phrase, “tugged on his sleeve”. Any respectable high school English teacher would justifiably CHOKE a student who used that cliché in her writing.

7. Feeling happy that I got my irritation with The Goldfinch off my chest. Thank you. And consider yourself warned.

Happy, happy week to you!

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!

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.

what's making me happy this week 10.20.13: the vince guaraldi trio, the house dog's grave, and a dance off
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photos:
1) my daughter’s studies
2) an accusatory look from my dog
3) a thank you that warmed my heart

September through mid-December I have a program that runs on Sundays, so I work six days a week. I leave work at 2:30pm several days throughout the week, but that doesn’t seem to make up for my missed weekend day. I developed this Sunday program eight years ago and it is near and dear to my heart. Still, by mid October, this one day weekend begins to get old.

I miss being home. I miss getting things organized for the week, accomplishing home projects and being around my family. I try not to think about it too much.

Luckily there is much in the world to keep me distracted and smiling…

1. A heartfelt thank-you and note and brownies from an amazing young woman.

2. Walking home from work on sunny fall days, kicking up dry leaves as I go.

3. My daughter is on FIRE about her classes this term.

4. The whacking sound the walnuts make when they fall 30 feet from their mother tree and hit the sidewalk. Strangely satisfying. (downside: one hit my little Finny on the back last week and he spun around and looked at me with an accusatory look on his face.)

5. Jesse Thorn’s interview with Nicole Holofcener on his Bullseye podcast. Holofcener is the writer and director of the movie Enough Said, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and James Galdofini (love all, particularly the women). I loved several things about this interview 1) I love that when Holfcener and Louis-Dreyfus met, they talked about how much they love their children and the heartbreak of their kids going off to college …I get these women 2) the interview was NOT about the death of James Gadofini, thank you for that choice Jesse Thorn 3) Thorn focused on the female writer/director and the lead female character and on women and comedy, again thank you Jesse Thorn. Can’t wait to see the film.

(p.s. did you know that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s name is pronounced “Lewy” Drefus? Yes, you did? And so did everyone else?)

6. Jesse Thorn’s Bullseye podcast.
I have only previously known Thorn as Bailiff Jesse on the Judge John Hodgeman podcast and was happy to finally listen to his Bullseye podcast. Thorne has a sensitivity that is almost as startling as his outbursts of laughter (at times, seriously startling…and endearing…evidenced at 12:48 in the clip linked above). Looking forward to listening to more.

7. Cast your Fate to the Wind, The Vince Guaraldi Trio:

8. Just so you won’t mistake me for someone with excellent taste in music, this song is also making me happy:
Wake Me Up When Its All Over
It gives me that same temporary jolt of energy that I get when I eat pure sugar candy like Smarties and Nerds because it is the musical equivalent.
I will hate it a month from now.

9. This poem posted on a friend’s FB wall. It made me tear up, which is why I love poetry. So few words to access so much emotion.
The House Dog’s Grave
by Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

10. Jimmy Fallon’s improv dance off with the actor Sam Rockwell—sweet moves.
(I saw Rockewell’s summer film, The Way, Way Back. It was okay. I loved him in Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, who is the son of??? Correct! Davie Bowie!)

A good week to you!