Spiked Eggnog
Today is B’s birthday, and every time it rolls around I feel like I get off easy. He likes to go out to dinner as a family — which we did Saturday evening — and he’ll dig into a special birthday dessert I make and blow out some candles for the girls’ sake, but that’s about the extent of it. He hates it when I tell the restaurant staff it’s his birthday (and expressly asked me not to this time, because I usually can’t help myself). About the worst thing I could do for this guy would be to throw him a surprise party. My name would be mud.

I, on the other hand, not only like to celebrate my birthday in grand fashion, but the event usually extends itself over the course of days: I’ve got to do something with my family, and then local friends usually plan something, and then — because someone inevitably can’t make it, because its so close to Christmas — there might be a couple of one-on-one get-togethers a few days later. This past birthday, I think I had three separate birthday events spanning an eight-day period; it was essentially a birthday octave. I’ve been known to tell strangers that it’s my birthday — not because I want them to acknowledge it, but because I’m kind of like a kid about it and can’t keep my mouth shut.

B doesn’t get this at all, but at least he finds it funny.

The difference in how we celebrate birthdays definitely speaks to our personality types: I’m extroverted and social and love any excuse for a party. (I’ve also never quite left the stage behind.) B, on the other hand, is an introvert, not at all a social butterfly, and doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. He’s not quite a “bah humbug”-er, but he comes pretty close.

I’ve learned over the years to plan his birthdays the way he wants, and not the way I‘d want. It took me some time to learn that lesson, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now. Like I said, it’s certainly a lot less work, and more importantly, it makes him happy.

Tonight I’m making his favorite pie (he’s not a big cake fan), and we’ll stick a few candles in it and give him some cards and a small gift. (In another post, I’ll have to tell you about a bigger birthday gift he decided on — it’s a fun one!) As of bedtime tonight, B’s 2015 birthday will officially be wrapped up and we’ll get on with our week.

By the way, did I mention that I love the guy? I hope it’s his best year yet!

How do you celebrate birthdays? Is it different than the way your significant other or loved ones like to celebrate?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Friday Inspiration

January 23, 2015

Have you seen this image of the Andromeda galaxy taken with the Hubble telescope?

It’s the largest photo ever taken, actually — 1.5 billion pixels. To understand the size of that a little better, the entire image is comprised of 411 Hubble images and takes us through 100 million stars, traveling more than 40,000 light years. (Well, apparently, that’s just a section of the photo.)

Andromeda is our closest galactic neighbor. NASA released the image earlier this month and the video above was created by someone on You Tube to help put the whole thing in perspective. (When you watch it, be sure to catch the ending for the full effect.)

I get totally blown away by stuff like this. It makes me feel insignificant and fills me with awe. It causes me to think about size and space and time and dimensions. The universe is so vast and beautiful and completely overwhelming — and yet I think about how we tiny humans are put together… our brains, our bodies… and that is equally incredible to me. Everything from the tiniest cell to a giant galaxy seems imprinted with mystery and beauty and love. Life is amazing, friends!

But then there’s dinner burning on the stove and kids acting up and bills that don’t stop coming and sadness and tragedy and it’s easy to forget to be so amazed. I try to remind myself that it’s all still going on around me and inside me even when I’m tuned out. That’s kind of comforting.

Are you equally amazed by such things? Does it freak you out to contemplate an image like this or does it inspire other feelings and thoughts?

I can’t believe it’s Friday again. We’ll be celebrating B’s birthday (which is Monday) over the weekend and catching up on a few projects. Hope your weekend is happy — and warm! I’ll catch you back here early next week.

 

 

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Inspiration for the Aging

January 21, 2015

Seniors

I don’t know if you’ve seen this article from bored panda about 60+ year-old people who are living their dreams and achieving amazing goals, but it’s worth a look. The photos and descriptions are inspiring. I feel like so much of what we hear about being older is negative and one of the reasons we want to prevent and deny it is not just that we don’t want to face death, but also because we assume there’s nothing much to look forward to, at least in terms of what we value right now.

Of course, it makes sense that we care about different things at different stages of our lives, and I certainly hope I’m not the same in my 70s as I am now. But what if some of what we assume about our senior years isn’t necessarily the case? For example, what if you were able to achieve one of your life-long dreams at 65? Or, what if you could be in the best shape of your life at 70? Could you be living your best life at 89? It may sound unlikely, but the people in the article above make it seem quite possible.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not counting on retirement — nor do I expect social security to be around by the time I get there. If I make it into my “senior” years, I expect I’ll still be working, learning new things, and staying as healthy as possible so everything else can happen. I don’t know that I’m ever going to want to jump out of a plane or sail around the world, but I can think of lots of things I’d like to do, first and foremost with my daughters.

Are you inspired by these photos and do you have any dreams for your 65 and over years?

Image from freeimages

 

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Walk Sign
I was at a gathering recently where the conversation turned to the pedestrians in downtown Baltimore, who are notoriously bad: They walk on the “do not walk” signs; they saunter across the street slowly in front of traffic; they dart out at the exactly wrong moment — all. the. time. It’s very annoying, not to mention super dangerous.

As our hostess was relating a story about a male pedestrian who cursed at her when he was completely in the wrong, a senior member of our group remarked, “Was he black?” The statement was meant to be rhetorical.

Now, while tourists are every bit as bad about jaywalking in Baltimore, it’s the locals who are more likely to have a bad attitude or yell at drivers — and, in a city that is 65% African American, that means they’re often black. But while statistically there’s a greater chance that the local pedestrian cursing you out as you drive downtown is black, the comment above assumes that the color of a person’s skin is somehow directly related to his or her behavior. It associates “blackness” with bad manners and breaking the law.

Skin color doesn’t cause bad behavior; poor choices do. Being raised in a drug-ridden, violent neighborhood can. Having a chip on your shoulder for any number of reasons also can. Cultural and moral factors affect behavior; skin color does not. It’s like my telling you about a child who threw a temper tantrum, and your saying, “Was she red-headed and freckled?”

These little everyday comments that reference skin color or race when it’s irrelevant to a story are what I call “micro-racist.” They’re not meant to demean every person with brown skin, but they do. They reveal a deeper prejudice.

My daughters were at this gathering with me — though, thankfully, not sitting nearby at that moment. They know now that some people refer to brown-skinned people like them as “black.” (They also happen to think this is ridiculous: “Mum, that’s really weird; no one has skin that is black!”) When they begin to register comments like these, how will it affect them?

It makes me sad to realize there were probably times in the past when I made some of these micro-racist comments myself — when I probably started a story about someone by saying, “The black/Asian/(non-white) woman at the store said to me…” when race was absolutely irrelevant to the story. Truthfully, unless our inner circles are racially and culturally diverse, or some particular event has made us aware of it, few of us are immune.

Micro-racist comments are now little daggers to my heart. I try to brush them off, knowing most people are unaware of what they’re saying. I don’t want to be the one who rains on the parade or creates awkwardness, drawing attention to what probably seems like no big deal to everyone else.

But it is a big deal — and I realize I’m going to have to be that person sometimes. I’m going to have to say, “What does race or skin color have to do with the story you’re telling?” It seems to me that challenging these micro-racist comments from acquaintances, friends, family — and correcting ourselves — helps us get a little closer to a world where people are truly judged by their character and not the color of their skin.

Image:

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Friday Inspiration

January 16, 2015

Weirdo Quote
I spotted this quote and had to share it with my husband, just to remind him what a lucky guy he is. He laughed and said that it applies to pretty much everyone in our little family. He’s right: We laugh at the wonderfully weird kids we ended up with. There’s bad weird and there’s good weird, and I consider ourselves the best kind!

Any other weirdos out there? Do you wear the badge with pride?

Hope you’ve got a lovely weekend planned. We’ll be heading to a birthday party for a little 3-year-old we love and seeing some good friends from out of town on Sunday. I’ll see you back here next week!

Image spotted at a beautiful mind on tumblr

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by Margaret Cabaniss

clutter_christopher_baker
Got any tips? Because I’d really love to know.

Sorry for the bait and switch, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately — and judging by the posts in my feed reader and the pins popping up on Pinterest right now, same goes for everyone else in Blog Land. Blame it on the calendar: After the clutter and excess of the holidays, the allure of the whole “new year, new you” thing seems to make everyone want to start a juice cleanse and empty every closet in the house.

I got on the “organization now!” train myself over the holidays, when I spent a little time helping my parents sort through some things in their own home — boxes of odds and ends that belonged to them, their parents, and their children (my sisters and me) — and the process was pretty eye-opening.

First of all, I learned that it really is easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff. I had no problem telling my parents to junk that old sleeping bag we found tucked away in the attic, of which I have no memory and to which I have no special attachment — though it seemed slightly more difficult for my dad, who probably instantly recalled all the family camping trips it must have gone on when I was too small to remember them. The tables were turned on me later, though, when I went through a box of my old college t-shirts — faded rags that I’ll never wear again, but which hold so many memories that simply throwing them away (the only reasonable thing to do with them, since I will never make nor, frankly, use one of those t-shirt quilts) just felt sad and wrong.

Trickiest of all was going through my grandfather’s things: He passed away last year, and suddenly every knickknack that ever sat on his desk became precious — regardless of whether it was meaningful to him or we had ever noticed it before — simply because it was his. How do you let go of those things without feeling like you’re also letting go of the person behind them?

It became clear pretty quickly that it’s not just the accumulation of stuff, but our relationship to that stuff, that makes decluttering so difficult. How do you sort through the mountains of Memories and Feelings attached to every item and disassociate them from the objects taking up room on your counter? That’s the bit that has me stumped.

It’s also what made me interested in checking out Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I can’t check Feedly or Instagram these days without someone else singing the praises of Kondo’s method with true apostolic fervor. The number of times the words “life-changing” have been thrown around in conjunction with the book have made me (a) suspicious, because that’s my natural M.O., and (b) slightly afraid that the book’s method will actually work, and I’ll end up with a living space reminiscent of a monk’s cell.

A review in the Guardian describes her approach:

Her “KonMarie method”, as she calls it in the diminutive and illustration-free volume, encourages a rapid, dramatic and transformative one-time organising event completed methodically and lovingly in no more than six months. It is not an ongoing battle against clutter.

Kondo sees tidying as a cheerful conversation in which anything that doesn’t “spark joy” is to be touched, thanked and ceremonially sent on its way towards a better life elsewhere, where it can discover a more appreciative owner.

That all makes sense to me — it sounds a bit like William Morris’s dictum to “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” — though the reality can be a bit more complicated: figuring out where family treasures fit on that useful/beautiful/joy-sparking continuum, for one. What’s more, having made a few trips to the donation center and dump recently, I can say that our optimism about our cast-offs moving on to a “better life” is a bit…inflated. If we don’t want our junk, why should we assume anyone else does? At the very least, long-term decluttering requires just as rigorous an examination of the things we bring into our homes as the things we take out of it.

But I can’t critique a method I haven’t tried yet, so I’ll have to check it out and get back to you. Anyone else read Kondo’s book, or have other methods that helped you pare down and get organized? Do you make special exceptions for family mementos? I would love to hear!

Image: Christopher Baker for Real Simple, in a handy piece on how to deal with “sentimental clutter”

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The True Size of Africa

January 14, 2015

The True Size of Africa
This graphic is a powerful reminder of just how big the African continent really is. It was created by German graphics designer Kai Krause to “shake people’s perceptions a little.”

One thing I’ve noticed — because I’m more sensitive to it now, no doubt — is that people rarely refer to specific African countries when talking about something in that part of the world. Instead, everything gets grouped together as “Africa” or “African.” But the continent is enormous and hugely diverse, in terms of geography and peoples.

Perhaps one of the reasons people don’t speak of Africa more accurately is due to the inaccuracies in the maps we have. According to this piece in iflscience, many of our world maps exaggerate the size of countries at high latitudes and shrink places near the equator (due to the challenges of getting a spherical planet onto a flat plane). This leads to a perception that Europe is larger than South America, for example. Africa is another case in point:

Africa, which spans the equator, fares particularly badly on these sorts of projections: Krause says, “Africa is so mind-numbingly immense, that it exceeds the common assumptions by just about anyone I ever met: it contains the entirety of the USA, all of China, India, as well as Japan and pretty much all of Europe as well–all combined!”

Some have argued that since people associate size with importance this encourages the already strong tendency of the world’s wealthiest nations to disregard those who live in the tropics.

Krause’s image gained some notoriety a few years ago, but it’s become even more relevant recently. As he points out, the Ebola crisis has led people to avoid visiting Africa altogether, yet France is actually closer to the countries affected by Ebola than South Africa or Tanzania. It doesn’t feel that way for most people, however, and I myself would probably feel more nervous flying to Cape Town than to Paris.

I love maps and have been wanting to get a large world map for S and H’s room. Although I’ve always known the continent of Africa is huge, I didn’t actually realize it was this huge. Did you?

Image: iflscience

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Are You a Hipster?

January 12, 2015

Hipster Sign
While reading an article last week in the Huffington Post called “The 22 Most Hipster Foods On the Planet,” I found myself kind of annoyed — and then a little confused. On the list is stuff like kombucha, healthy vegetables, fermented and artisanal food products, using mason jars, and more.

I’ve been drinking kombucha before it ever hit grocery store shelves, because my Dad used to brew it years ago. I’ve used mason jars, like, forever, for a whole bunch of things. And kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts? Everyone’s supposed to be eating those! And while I don’t like beer and tend to stay away from donuts, what’s wrong with pickles, food trucks, and kimchi?

Pretty much everything on that list screamed my name, yet I’ve never even remotely considered myself a hipster. (Besides, I’m too old to be a hipster, aren’t I?)

But what is a hipster, anyway? Maybe I’m woefully ignorant on the matter. I’ve always associated the term with people under 35 who live in Brooklyn, wear beards and skinny jeans, and listen to the latest undiscovered indie band. Maybe they drink coffee or brew their own beer, a process they document with their vintage camera. That was about it. So I decided to do a little sleuthing…

Wikipedia says that the word hipster is “often used as a pejorative to describe someone who is pretentious, overly trendy or effete.” The Urban Dictionary would seem to agree: “someone who is smart enough to talk about philosophy, music, politics, art, etc. with you all day long, but not smart enough to see how big of a tool s/he is.”

Wikihow is more polite: “Hipsters are people who enjoy clothing, music, food and activities outside of the social mainstream.”

Seems like there’s a little wiggle room when it comes to the definition of a hipster — but I’m still not going to call myself one. I’m curious what you think of the label: When you hear “hipster,” what do you think?

Image via Pinterest from Buzzfeed

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Friday Inspiration

January 9, 2015

So, I’m thinking of changing up my Friday Inspiration posts a bit and alternating quotes with videos some weeks. I can’t promise every video will be inspiring per se, as sometimes I see videos I’d like to share with you that are more informative or practical or just plain fun — but all that can still be inspiring, too, in my book.

The video above (produced by Fisher-Price) looked at what parents around the world wished for their newborn babies. I found it so interesting how parental love is universal, but different cultures often wish different things for their children based on cultural and family values.

In many developing countries, the greatest wish parents have for their kids is to be educated and successful in a profession. (I encounter this among Ethiopians a lot.) It makes sense: In poor countries, education makes the difference between dire poverty and having basic needs met (and then some). And certain professions — doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, etc. — are associated with respect, prestige, and financial success; therefore, they are very desirable.

In developed nations, however, the wish for children is often for things like “happiness” and “following your dreams,” since education is a given, and having their basic needs met is taken for granted.

It can all vary from family to family and parent to parent, of course, but I found it fascinating to reflect on what we prize most as parents. If you had a brand-new baby right now, what would you wish him or her?

Have a lovely weekend, and see you back here next week!

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Near Death Experiences

January 8, 2015

Tunnel at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Center / Llanelli, Wales I’ll never forget the story a 40-something widower told me 20 years ago. I had flown to the midwest for a job interview, and he was my host for the three days I was there, so I spent a lot of time in his car. We hit it off and talked about all kinds of things; I don’t remember what triggered it, but he ended up telling me about something that had completely changed his life: a near-death experience.

He had been married less than a year when he and his new bride were in a terrible car accident. He described how they were suddenly outside of their bodies and outside of the car looking back at it all. Everything around them was the same, but different. They could communicate but weren’t using their voices. He then saw some of his wife’s deceased loved ones, and a figure who was mostly disguised in a large amount of light, though he couldn’t see the face. He identified the figure as Jesus. His wife walked ahead of him; she was being escorted towards the light; but he was told he had to go back. He was disappointed and didn’t want to return. His wife looked radiant as she moved further and further away from him. She said something like, “It’s not your time yet. You have to go back.” He protested. She looked back and repeated it. And the next thing he knew, he was waking up in a hospital bed. He recalled that, when he came to, no one would say anything about his wife, so he finally blurted out: “Don’t worry, I already know my wife is dead! I saw her. She’s happy. She’s with Jesus and her loved ones. I wanted to go, too!” They probably thought he was crazy.

He said the experience totally changed his life and the way he grieved his wife. He told me he was no longer afraid of death, and that any doubts related to his faith were eradicated. He said he greatly missed his wife, but his sadness was trumped by the happiness he felt for her because he had seen her joy and had experienced it himself. He believed there were still things he had to do here.

From everything I could tell, this guy was level-headed, no-nonsense, and smart — not the type you’d expect to make up stories. Whatever it was that happened to him, he was completely convinced it was real, and at least up to that point — almost three years later — he was still a changed man. Needless to say, his story and the sincerity with which he told it really affected me.

This recent Salon article about near death experiences (NDEs) brought this memory back. (The part in the article about the woman who was essentially “made dead” on the operating table, and then bought back to life? Holy standstill, Batman!)

While so many people seem to describe similar things — being outside their bodies, tunnels, light, encountering loved ones, an overwhelming sense of love and peace — I’ve also heard stories of people who had very frightening near-death experiences and were glad to wake up.

What to make of it all? I suppose it depends on your beliefs about the meaning of life and what comes afterwards, but at the very least it appears that more and more neuroscientists agree that NDEs are more than simply a matter of neurons firing in the dying brain.

Have you ever had, or know anyone who’s had, a near-death experience? Is this topic as fascinating to you as it is to me?

Image via Pinterest

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