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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Best of October

I love roundup blog posts.  This post revisits some of my favorites that may have been buried on my social media feeds and mentions a few new finds.  Here are some of the highlights of what I've been watching, reading, eating, and enjoying this month:

Links I've pondered:

Recipes we've devoured:

Books I've loved (or tolerated):

Stay tuned for reviews on the 15th of each month and follow me on Goodreads to see my ratings

Shows we're inhaling:

  • Like the rest of the country, we have Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Parenthood, and The Good Wife on our DVR.
  • We want to see Dear White People but have not made it to the theater yet.  Has anyone seen it? 

Products I'm enjoying:

  • Lulu's Chocolate
    • This stuff is so expensive but so good.  It's probably my favorite chocolate of all time, and that is saying something, considering how much of a chocolate snob I am (drug store chocolate never cuts it).  Every so often, the brand will put its sampler boxes on sale, and I will treat myself.  The chocolate is fair trade, the ingredients are organic, and workers are paid a living wage, which explains the high price tag--and calls me to think about the real (hidden) cost of more affordable chocolates on the market.  Try it: it's worth the splurge.
  • Skineeez dog toys
    • My friend Julia turned me on to these stuffing-less dog toys.  We rarely give Gigi stuffed toys any more because we hate trailing her around the house to pick up little bits of cotton.  With this toy, she can manage to bite off bites of fur, but she makes no where near the mess she does with regular stuffed toys.  I'm also torn between deeming the toy's shape hilarious or disturbing.  The animal is long and skinny--imagine that--and it really does look like she is carrying a dead animal around in her mouth.
  • Jillian Michaels Hard Body
    • My workout routine is probably not too interesting, but I will mention this video because I find it to be exceptional.  I don't use many workout videos because I find them much too easy (I hardly break a sweat), too lengthy (I don't want to spend 90 minutes watching someone exercise on TV), or too high impact (which makes me too prone to injury).  Jillian's videos are challenging but doable.  My heart rate stays up, I get in cardio and strength, and she incorporates enough variety so that I do not get bored.  You need minimal equipment and space and get a decent workout, all in a reasonable time frame (I think this video is about 45 minutes or so). 

And, the best of the blog this month:

What did you enjoy this month?  Any favorites to share?

I'm linking up to Leigh Kramer's "What I'm Into" series.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Forever 21: On refusing to embrace the age that we are

Renee Zellweger's appearance last week prompted a slew of feedback, most of which was snarky or downright cruel.  But beyond the superficial reactions to the celebrity's different facial features--Which plastic surgeries had she had performed?  How much Botox did she receive?--there circulated commentaries about the type of beauty for which Zellweger stood, how she sold out--or American women thought she sold out--to mainstream beauty standards.

We can talk about the unrealistic ideals to which female bodies are held.  Female bodies are to look like pre-adolescent figures--small and lithe and fragile and straight--and yet still to have huge breasts and curvaceous hips.  They are not to wrinkle or jiggle or sag or pucker but to be smooth and taught, as perfectly smooth and tight as a plastic figurine.  They are to be mysterious and sexy, yet ageless.  They are not supposed to get older but neither are they to be too young.  They are forever to be that seemingly perfect age of 21: sexually ready, adult, yet still fun, still a touch naive.

Every time a neighbor down the street smiles at us and we notice that her eyes don't move, we hear that nagging voice at the back of our heads, questioning what (or who) motivated her to so alter her face.  When the eight-year-old we teach in Sunday school makes a comment about being on a diet, we choke down our worried remarks.  At the doctor's office, as we flip through pages of trashy magazines that speculate about which actor had what work done, we force our minds to think about something else.  Our mothers or our friends or someone we know have been to a Botox party, and we wonder if next time, we'll be invited--and if we'll attend.

We don't want to think about the messed up images of beauty in our culture.  We would rather not think too hard about why we rub our faces with creams and potions and color our gray hairs and smooth our curves with Spanx because then the illusion all falls down.  We all get old.  We mature.  We cannot remain forever 21, no matter how hard we fight it.  Our medicines and magic formula moisturizers and advanced beauty technologies cannot stop the clock from ticking.

Maybe we can accept this.  It's nature's way.  But then we embrace it, while no one else does.  We get older--we look 25 when we're 25, and 35 when we're 35, and 60 when we're 60.  But our friends and colleagues look 40 when they're 60--or maybe not 40 exactly, but not 60.  They look some kind of unrecognizable age.  They are ageless.

Perhaps that's Renee's story.  Perhaps she just got older without the assistance of plastics and poisons.  Or perhaps she got older with their help.  She looks different.  Not better, not worse, in my opinion...just different.  I hope that she did not feel compelled (whether consciously or subconsciously) by our societal standards to make herself look less like Renee and more like the airbrushed American woman we find on fitness magazine covers and in fashion spreads, but I have no way of knowing.  Nor is it my business or my point.

I want to live in a world where it is okay to look different as the years pass--a different that is marked by eye creases reminiscent of wisdom gained and smiles had, jiggles indicative of babies carried and chocolate pies savored, and freckles born by evenings spent dancing in the sunlight with loved ones.  That's the kind of different I seek.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Tech-ratary: Using technology to track and tackle chores

The tech-ratary.  Too much?  I cringe even writing it.  But you know I have an embarrassing/borderline obsessive fondness for word play.

First, my necessary preamble: On this blog, I talk a lot about the seeming contradictions in my experience as a twenty-first century "liberated" woman. I identify with many feminist principles--I want equal pay and not to be held to an unrealistic standard for beauty that demands a certain kind of perfection--but I also want a clean house and cute dresses.  Many in my generation, I believe, are trying to hold the two impulses together, and I want to share both: the progressive and nostalgic leanings, the serious and the superficial.

Today, the topic falls somewhere in between.  I do think it's important to keep a clean home--it is inviting to guests and keeps us healthier--but, as we've established, I don't much enjoy it.  And I have the hardest time tracking when to do what chores.  Dishes?  Easy.  Do them after you use them?  Making the bed?  Every day.  Done.  But what about dusting?  Wiping down baseboards?  Mopping?  These not-everyday chores tend to build up, and I put them off and forget to do them.

Enter Wunderlist.

Now, I know many people are not as app-happy as I am, and a pen and paper could work just as well for tracking many of the things apps do.  But I hate keeping up with paper and managing its associated clutter, and, whereas I can lose scraps of paper or leave them in the wrong places, I always have my phone on me, which makes electronic lists a winner in my book.

There are many to-do lists apps out there, and I have tried several, but I prefer Wunderlist for several reasons:
  • sleek, easy to read interface (for both phone and desktop, which I find often is not the case for apps)
  • ability to share a list
  • ability to assign others tasks
  • ability to establish recurring tasks
  • automatic saving of completed tasks, making it easy to re-add those tasks to a list in the future

What chore charts and paper lists can't do is easily set strange recurring timetables (I wipe baseboards every other week, and I wash our door mats once a month) and reproduce a different combination of a completed list.  For grocery shopping, we scan our completed items and re-add ingredients and staples when we need them again.  

Dan and I split up our chores and assign certain tasks to each other.  An email can be sent whenever a chore is assigned as a friendly reminder.  And the overdue and current to-do items always show up in the apps inbox.  Until you check the box to complete the task, angry red numbers with an expired date will mock you until you do the chore.

You can add as many lists as your heart desires, and I have other lists always running (e.g., blog post ideas, work items, movies to watch). 

Deadlines hold me accountable, and breaking my lofty aspirations into small, frequent projects make me far more likely to stick to them.  An app like Wunderlist won't do the work for me, but it will prompt me, and external nudges are never a bad thing.

Any other great system (tech or non-tech) for tracking and tackling chores that I should know about?  Or  is it easier just to be resigned to dirty floors?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Silent driving

morning drive
No, it's not a great picture, but that's how my morning drive really looks.

I almost always listen to podcasts when I am driving in the car by myself.  Not music playlists or the radio, which never keep me fully engaged, but podcasts.  Except on Sunday mornings, that is, when I seem to have fallen into a different routine.  On these early mornings on my way to work, I listen to nothing.

Actually, that is not quite right.  I do listen to something: to the sounds of birds signaling for food, the faint stirrings of wildlife in the wooded areas flanking the back streets into Washington, the rumblings of the few cars that are on the road at such an ungodly (no pun intended) weekend hour.  Instead of the typical maddening weekday commuting chaos, with bumper-to-bumper traffic, stressed and angry drivers, and absurd amounts of noise pollution, there is calm.  I know that I am not alone, but it practically feels that way.  It is like I have a special secret all my own.  I am awake and aware of what most of the world is not yet.

I receive these mornings as small gifts, moments of respite, that remind me how small I really am.  Sometimes these humbling moments come to us in nature--on the mountain top, in the vast waters of the ocean--but sometimes they interrupt our daily rhythms.  I know enough by now to recognize that if I opt not to play the music on my way to work on Sunday, I am inviting disruption, a call to recenter myself.  These silent drives have the added benefit of convincing me that I can endure another week in the crowded disaster that is the greater Washington DC area, but mostly they re-awaken me to God.  

God is in flowers and church liturgies and poetry and doctors, in that which is profound and beautiful, but God also is in the ugly and mundane.  It is in my tired seven-year-old Honda Civic amid garish neon traffic cones that I confess my moments of shame from the week before.  I recall the unkind things I said to my husband Dan, the jealous feelings that bubbled forth when I learned of a colleague's recent professional achievement, the dismissive glance I gave to the man on the street asking for food, my desire to remain forever oblivious to the sin and evil present within the world and instead focus on the really important stuff like pumpkin-spiced baked goods.  I give these shortcomings over to God.

And I remember too the blessings showered upon me: the delicious writing of a new-found author, the support of my seminary, an unexpected dinner with a friend, and the times our legislative bodies get it right.

And I pray.  At times I pray for specific people or events or concerns but more often than not, my prayers end with my pleading that when I look at the traffic cones or hear the sounds of the world coming to on lazy (and not-so-lazy) mornings, I remember that I am not alone, that there is much, much more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Planes and the peanut problem: On pleasing everyone and pleasing no one

southwest peanuts packaged

I flew Southwest last week, which meant that I received peanuts for an in-flight snack.  Each time I fly this airline now, I wonder if it will be the last time they hand out the tasty legume.  In this age of prolific allergies--peanuts particularly--why do they insist on keeping the popular snack dating back to the early days of flying?

It cannot be for the sake of tradition.  Plenty of things airlines do now were not done fifty--even ten--years ago.  We pay to check bags and to secure "premium" seats, we touch our seatmates if we so much as move our pinky finger, and we don't light up cigarettes to celebrate our takeoff.  Change is inevitable, and the airlines don't seem to have a problem with it.

It cannot be because of money.  Peanuts are a relatively cheap snack choice, but so are pretzels and cookies, the preferred treats of other airlines.  Flour, water, sugar, and oil are inexpensive to process into small nibbles.

It cannot be in order to please everyone.  Parents of peanut-intolerant children worry about the seatmate who gobbles down peanuts next to their child on the plane and wonder whether flying Southwest and saving a few dollars is worth the risk of peanut exposure, subsequent epi-pen objections, in-flight emergencies, and hospital visits (I would be remiss, however, if I did not point out the recent science on allergic reaction triggers, which, in the case of peanuts, questions whether airborne particles alone can evoke a reaction).  On the other hand, those fed up with our allergy-obsessed society celebrate Southwest's cavalier rebuke of our (over)reactive society. (If you call ahead to report a severe allergy, Southwest will make accommodations, but the airline's default is to serve peanuts).

But no matter what Southwest does, Southwest will never win.  I admit that I am always annoyed when I fly other airlines and receive only a paltry bag of pretzels.  I am not a pretzel fan, and I would prefer something more substantive and nutritious than simple carbohydrates to hold me over to landing.  Then again, I don't have allergies.  I imagine many would make the argument that, given the danger involved, the crowd should act in the interest of those with the most to lose, and the airlines should not carry peanuts on board.

The peanut problem of course cuts deeper than airlines--it surfaces everywhere from school lunchrooms to friends' houses and restaurant kitchens.  But what interests me here is not peanuts per se but the inevitability of angering or upsetting or alienating at least someone.  No amount of nuance or accommodation ever seems to work for everyone.

So maybe that has been Southwest's logic from the get-go.  If we can't win them all, why go through the pretense of trying?  

Do you think that it is impossible to find a solution to please everyone?  Should we bother trying?


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