Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Thought experiments: friends and spouses

I was thinking in the shower the other day. And this is a two-parter, so buckle up.

So, first: if you think about all your friends, your good friends, you know whether or not you would want to (be able to?) live with them long-term. Right? The point isn't really whether you would or wouldn't be willing to be roommates with any particular friend--I think everyone knows people who are great friends that you just couldn't live together. No worries. The point is, you have a definite answer.

Now, here's the thing. You can give that answer because you know a lot about those friends, about how the two of you interact. But. What if we did that same thought experiment with those same friends' spouses? I guess you could think of it as "would you want to be married to that person?" but I'm thinking of it more in equivalent terms, leaving aside sexual compatibility (or interest).

Maybe it says something about my adult social life, but I'm guessing that most people would struggle to even answer that question. Most of my best friends, I don't really know their spouses well enough to really answer that except maybe in a lukewarm way ("yeah, I guess").

And there's something kind of weird about that. You know what I'm saying? Like, here are these people that you care about, people that you know well, but you don't know this other person who is almost certainly the most important person in their life. Interesting, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Making a list...

As a child of the '80s, one of the highlights of autumn every year was when J.C. Penny and Sears & Roebuck's Christmas catalogs arrived. I've spent countless hours poring over the bibles of consumerism, educating me about all the things I absolutely needed (even if I hadn't previously known they existed). I'd guess three-quarters of the pages were dog-eared, with multiple things circled one each so that my parents would know where to spend their hard-earned money on behalf of my happiness.

My kids have basically followed in my footsteps, except that their "catalog" is called "the internet."

As I was, they are--at least in one sense--easy to shop for, if only because they want everything. Of course, there's a sense in which that also means that they--and also previous me--can never be satisfied, because their wants are limitless. But whatever.

Perhaps it's just as well, then, that I don't get that many presents anymore. I get something from my wife (typically the best thing, because it's both a surprise and something I'll really like, I get something from my kids (i.e. something else from my wife), and something from my mom--usually something we've negotiated in advance, usually something very generous and greatly appreciated. And something quirky and fun from my mother-in-law in my stocking.

And then there's my wife's family's gift exchange. And let me be clear: this is great, and I've really liked the things I've gotten over the years. It's also nice that the adults of the family basically just have to shop for one other adult in the family (besides their spouse). Here's the problem: I am absolutely terrible at putting out ideas for my family-secret-santa. I just have no idea what to ask for. The things that I need or want, I typically buy for myself at some point during the year, or else I don't because they're ridiculously expensive... which also makes them things I can't ask for in the gift exchange.

For several years, my go-to was clothes to represent my sports-team allegiances--Ohio State, Cleveland Indians or Cavs, Cincinnati Bengals. But I've reached a point where I've got plenty of those things. Plus, they meant just a little bit more to me when I lived in Indiana, because I liked to wear these things that set me apart from those around me and declared an allegiance to the state of my birth (and they were harder to buy for myself). Now that I live in Cleveland, it just doesn't feel as important, since basically everyone agrees with me (except about the Bengals). And, like I said, I have a fair bit of that gear now, thanks mostly to the family gift exchange.

So: what to ask for?

I love books, but I can't bring myself to ask for them, for the same reason that I've slowed way down in buying books for myself. We live near a great library where I can get any book I want. Besides: what I really need is not more books but more time to read them. I'm pretty sure I already own quite a few books that I'll never make time to read, despite the best of intentions when I bought them. I do like getting them, but what I love about receiving books as gifts is when someone knows me well enough to select a book that I'll love without me knowing that the book even existed.

I just don't know. If you'd like to suggest cool things for $75 or less, I would be happy to hear about them. Cool gadgets? Interesting things to go in my new cubicle? Kitchen things? Fitness gear? I'd also be interested to hear how you ask for presents.

Monday, December 2, 2019

I mean, it's good enough, right?

A recent FB post:

As my wife pointed out, I was manually controlling the wipers when she informed me. The slow setting and whatever speed the intermittent setting was on were both too fast--we were getting this obnoxious scraping sound every time the wipers wiped, because it wasn't wet enough. So I was controlling it manually, every so often, and my wife says "why don't you just..." My first reaction was actually "What? You can't do that!" "Yeah, every car you've ever driven has had one of those." I'm still not convinced that my first car, a 1992 Dodge Shadow, had such controls, but she's actually driven every other car I've owned, so I mean, she probably does know about those.

While a tad embarrassing, it was too funny not to post.

But the very next day, I had a sort of moment of clarity as I reflected on what could be a pattern. It was like this:

We've lived in our house 16 months, and in that time, our dryer has never been very good. First, it was a dryer that came with the house. It was old-ish, and we kind of assumed that it was crap, since they were willing to leave it. When someone (okay, it was me) broke the washing machine by trying to wash a sleeping bag in it and burning out the motor, we figured it was just as well to get a new set. And really, the new ones were both awfully nice.

But. The new dryer, with its wealth of interesting drying features, wasn't actually much better in terms of, well, drying things. Which might be the most important feature of a dryer. Arguably. How "not much better" was it? I'd have to run a cycle probably two or three times. And those cycles sometimes took approximately forever. I resorted to drying half a load of laundry while hanging the other half around the basement to dry under the influence of the dehumidifier, and thus dry faster when their turn finally came.

Side note: it's telling that our basement needs a dehumidifier, and so maybe I shouldn't be going out of my way to introduce more humidity.

But whatever. I mean, that was fine. Other than all the time wasted hanging stuff up, and the time wasted moving it from there to the dryer, and it sometimes still taking two really long cycles to dry half a load of laundry. This has been the state of things for at least several months, maybe in part because I'd gotten used to it with the old dryer, which I assumed to just be crap.

It took all of 10 seconds Googling to realize that the problem might actually be that the dryer vent was clogged. In fact, I'd actually heard about that possibility before we got the new dryer, and assumed (hoped?) that the new dryer vent pipe would have taken care of that possibility.

In the end, it took me maybe five minutes to take off the vent cover outside, clean out the lint that was entirely blocking the flow of air out and put it all back together.

And that got me thinking: what the hell is wrong with me? Seriously. This could have been fixed in five minutes sixteen months ago, if only I hadn't been so accepting of what we might call "the way things are."

That's the theme here. Why did I never discover that the intermittent wipers had an adjustable speed? Because they were fine at whatever speed they happened to be. Not great, not ideal, but you know. I could live with it, so why look for an alternative? Which was more or less how I approached the dryer situation. Really, it was a pain in the ass to hang stuff up every time I did a load of laundry, to have to wait to do another load until I'd ran through two ridiculously long drying cycles. But at the same time it was a royal pain, it was also... fine. Just the way it is. What's the use of complaining?

And then, in the lead-up to The Game (Ohio State and that team up north), I was reading a piece by a guy a few years younger than me about growing up in the 90s in an Ohio town where, nonetheless, the majority of kids seemed to be rooting for that team up north, which at the time was dominating the rivalry. "So why keep doing it [cheering for OSU]?" He offers a couple explanations before saying that it might have been

the almost religious Midwestern belief that if you put up with enough crap, eventually things will turn around in your favor. That last part sounds dumb and insane, but I live in a reality where the Buckeyes started a third string quarterback against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon in successive games and beat them all to win a national championship, so you tell me what's ridiculous and what isn't.
And maybe that's it, too, a Midwestern sense that putting up with sub-par circumstances are just what you're meant to do in this world, a form of karmic dues-paying that will reward us.

But yeah, it's actually dumb and insane, and something I need to work on. Stop "suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" as though it's somehow ennobling, and instead "take up arms... and by opposing end them."

Or, you know, just clean out the damned lint. Or look into your car's features.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Holidailies Intro

I've been doing Holidailies long enough, and the community of participating bloggers seems small enough, that I almost feel like an introduction at this point is superfluous.

Then again, I'm not the same person this year that I was last year. Are we ever?

This time last year, I was on hiatus from a career in education, staying at home with our 2-going-on-3-year-old and job hunting. This time this year, that hiatus was extended indefinitely and I've started a new career. After 17 years in education, teaching English and music and working most recently as a student life administrator, I suddenly find myself as a software developer working for a corporation that's large enough to make even the largest school I worked at look like a tiny mom-and-pop.

It's a whole new world, in more ways than one.

Other things, however, have not changed. I'm still an occasional--at best--writer and blogger. Still a father to three girls and a husband to one woman. Still singing in a couple choirs, still reading a lot of books, still cultivating a large range of diverse interests.

Still excited to be back at Holidailies and committing to blogging for one month out of the year, getting back to writing, getting back to reading others' writing, being in community with all you fine people.

Happy Holidailies!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Winter Wonderland

It snowed last night: a wet, heavy snow. Not so much as to be a nuisance, just a picturesque coating of the world. I took Beaker out for a walk around the block so she could sniff everything and then go home and poop on the floor. It's our thing.

But anyway, it was a nice walk. Up ahead, across the street, a man and his little boy were making snow men. I was listening to a book about cancer in the comfort of my own hoodie, when a young woman came up behind us, brandishing a phone. Caught up on my own world, I couldn't quite make out what she was asking. A picture of my dog? Me and my dog?

No no, of course not. Obviously no one wants a picture of us. What was I thinking? This young woman from India wanted me to take a picture of her in this winter wonderland, framed by the snow-covered tree behind her. Her first ever snow, to show her family back home. She seemed absolutely thrilled

A little reminder that there's magic everywhere, for someone. And if it's there for them, it could be there for us, too.

* * *

"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or carve a statue, and so make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, this is the highest of arts."

--Henry David Thoreau

* * *

And since this post just seems like it needs a visual representation, I give you my little snow angels:

How is this not already a thing?

Between toast and PBJs, my kids go through their fair share of jelly. Plus my share, since I don't tend to eat much of those things. In the past few weeks, they've adopted a new favorite flavor, and it's probably not one that most of my readers have ever eaten.

We made this discovery rather by accident. First, we bought strawberry preserves at Aldi, and they weren't berry good. Way way way too thick. Like, unspreadably thick. So we bought preserves elsewhere, and the Aldi stuff languished in the fridge, back behind the tupperware full of pickles, beside the leftover pizza sauce.

Meanwhile, our 4th grader went to a birthday party where the big activity was picking fruit. Primarily grapes, the kind with the seeds in. So she comes home with this big box of grapes, which are a complete pain in the butt to eat, of course, or do anything else with. I decide to make jelly out of this, because waste not, want not. Only in the midst of this project did I realize that we never got a new candy thermometer when our last one broke, so I kind of eyeballed it. Yeah, sure, that looks like 232 degrees or whatever. I assume that's why it never really solidified. 

I got the girls to tolerate it, even though it was functionally like pouring a liquid on their toast or whatever. And then, one day, inspiration struck: combine the too-thick preserves with the too-thin jelly in the food processor. Not only did this result in a better consistency than either on its own, the girls absolutely adored the flavor. 

Unfortunately, my supply is dwindling, and my supplies of thickened grape juice are exhausted. I may try regular old grape jelly--I may have to, or face a revolt from my kids--but the real question for me is why the two most popular fruit spreads the are didn't join forces before now? Why can't I just buy this somewhere?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Hot Takes

Alexa needs "toddler mode," where when you tell her to play a song, she knows to just keep playing it over and over, ad nauseum.

Say what you will about stinky cheeses, the worst cheese in the history of dairy is, undeniably, ricotta. So useless.