Cracking the sleeping code

2020 was a rough year, and like many people, I’ve had trouble sleeping. Unlike my husband, I’m usually a world class sleeper. I even slept well as a baby. It’s in my DNA. Until recently.

I’d get up at 3 a.m. and stare at the ceiling for several nights in a row. Check my mail. Scroll through Twitter. Warning: do not do this. Nothing worked.

However, recently, I think I cracked the code. You ready? It isn’t that fun or that complicated.

First off – exercise. Every damn day if possible. I like to work out, so this isn’t a problem. You don’t have to do hours of exercise. A half hour should work. Work up a sweat or get in a nice yoga session. Do what you like. The point is that your body should feel spent especially if you do not have a physically demanding job. I really like a good 30 minutes on my elliptical. I watch an action movie and spin for 30 minutes. My legs feel like noodles. It’s perfect and easy.

Just water or tea before bed – no alcohol. It’s tempting to break out the Russian Imperial Stout especially in the winter when it’s dark by 5. A good 9.0 ABV brew will knock you out in a hurry, but you’ll be back up when the alcohol wears off. Resist the temptation.

No screens – just a paper book. If you must do screens – watch a show until you pass out. Avoid anything you have to read or concentrate on.

Melatonin. The bottle says take 1 – that’s for wimps. Take 3 or 4. They won’t kill you.

Sleep when you’re tired. If I go past my desired bedtime, so be it. However, the melatonin helps. I take it about 15-30 minutes before bedtime. I’ve been sleeping well for about a month with this routine.

Melatonin from CVS
Melatonin from CVS. Easy and cheep. Get yourself some.

Prime marks vs quotes

This is an error I see a lot. Quotation marks are rounded. Prime marks are not. Here the designer used double prime marks to set off The Freshest Guy in Town!

Design and Election Season

I live in Pennsylvania, which means that this year I got to see what it was like to live in Iowa during primary season. Highways were backed up as the candidates visited, and I got mail. Tons of it.

There were some inspiring pieces, and I ended up using one as a template for a direct mail job that I designed. Incidentally, the campaign was very successful, so maybe those 8.5 by 11 in mailers work after all.

This piece in particular moved me. Inspiring subject and deft typography. Game recognize game.

Pets are Family

Back in the day, I was a subscriber to Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish. One summer he mentioned that he was being forced to contemplate euthanizing one of his beloved beagles, and this promoted an outpouring of reader submissions on the passing of their own pets. It’s one of the best threads I’ve read. I’d read it daily and cry every time.

The Most Boise Thing

When I lived in Idaho, people were really chatty at odd times. Odd times for someone like me who largely grew up in the Northeast and who identifies strongly with the cultural norms of the place. I’d be pumping gas in Boise when someone would start a conversation with me. Huh? I’m pumping gas here? This is no place for talking.

Weirdo.

Today, a most Boise thing happened to me while I was navigating the drive up ATM at my new bank. (I just switched. That’s another story.) A guy in the lane next to me started up a conversation about cars. “You know how a Volvo owner knows they’ve been in a serious accident?” he shouted.

I rolled down my window and played along. I drive a Volvo. “No.”

“They’ve been cut out of the car. Those things can take a direct hit. They’re awesome. If you want a car that can handle snow though, you need a Subaru. You remember that 21 inches we had in 2017? I tried to get stuck and couldn’t.”

I laughed at this and then noticed he was driving said Subaru, and it was covered with advertisements for CBD oil, which appeared to be his personal business. Well, these are my people, I thought.

“Nice chatting with you.”

I meant it this time.

#WCEU 2020

This strange and winding period of time does have a few upsides including the chance to attend events, classes, conferences, and discussions I’d never be able to afford before. I jumped at the chance to attend WordCamp Europe #WCEU during the first week of June.

WordPress sponsors three main events – WordCamp Asia, which was canceled this year, WordCamp Europe, and WordCamp US, which also moved online and will be held in late October.

I attended WordCamp US in 2019 after attending some fabulous local WordCamps including WC Lancaster, WC Leigh Valley, and WC PHL.

T-Shirt Swag from WordCamp US 2019. Dog hair courtesy of Baby Cow.

You might think an online event would have few sponsor interactions and no swag, but you’d be wrong. You could download the logos and make your own t-shirt. Sponsors were available in meeting rooms and gave away free cool swag like pdf books!

They had a time converter so you could easily tell what time it started and ended in your time zone. In the end, they had attendees from 120 countries.

Make your own swag for #WCEU 2020. I made this at uberprints.com.

I love a good back logo. It was a nice touch by the graphics team.

My favorite speaker was Ahmed Khalifa, a SEO consultant who have a lovely and information packed talk about captions in videos. Ahmed spoke as a hearing impaired person but really brought home the importance of good captions, not craptions!, for all users.

I evaluated the big three platforms when I chose WordPress, and the community was made it the choice for me. I feel so blessed to have met the people in my local meetup and to be part of this big, wonderful, and accepting family.

Attendees were invited to upload a photo to Twitter with the #WCEUFamilyPhoto hash tag. I’m on the bottom row at the far right. #blessed

Book Review: I Don’t Want to Die Poor

I bought this book after watching Michael Arceneaux speak at an online event hosted by Midtown Scholar Bookstore. The event link is below.

https://www.crowdcast.io/e/i-dont-want-to-die-poor

This is Houston native Arceneaux’s second book. His first, I Can’t Date Jesus, explored growing up gay in the south among other topics.

This book deals a great deal with student debt. While the exact number is never mentioned, the author hints that it includes six digits and describes in great detail the never ending grind of the payments ($800-1000 a month) and the phone calls from debt collectors at all hours of the day.

He is also forced to constantly justify his career choices. While a talented writer, many, perhaps well-meaning, friends ask him to consider a more lucrative career as a means out of the situation.

Arceneaux stresses in the book and again in the discussion at Midtown that this is a larger issue than one person. Minority and working class students increasingly turn to college as a means of climbing the social ladder only to see themselves saddled with debt that may never cease. The author’s mother also cosigned some of his loans, so the phone calls she receives from debt collectors weigh especially heavy on him. “I worry that ultimately, this experience has been just another way of me disappointing you,” he notes in what I think was the most moving chapter, Mama’s Boy.

This is actually the lightest of the three books I’m reading now in this heavy time. It was interesting to walk in entirely different set of shoes for a weekend.

COVID “Going Out” Planning

NYU Sweatshirt

Do you remember when smoking was allowed in bars, and you didn’t smoke? You’d start your “going out” planning by deciding what jeans were about ready to wash. What sweater you could part with for a week at the cleaners, and perhaps, what jacket you might be able to tumble in the dryer with a handful of dryer sheets at the end of the night. You knew everything would smell like an ash tray, so you planned accordingly. I feel like that’s what it’s like going out now. You feel when you come back that things might be dirty somehow. I can’t wipe my clothes with Clorox wipes, but I can plan accordingly. I wore this sweatshirt all week and slept in it last night. I wore it to the doctor’s office today. I can now wash it and cleanse any “dirt” real or imagined. At least it doesn’t stink. No harm. No foul.

My last experience with leaches

Last night was the first night I slept straight through without waking at 3 a.m. to stare at the ceiling and then flip through Twitter. (This activity is called “Doomsurfing” if you’re interested.) The last thing I remember before I woke up was washing baby leaches off my ankles with a power washer and telling someone about the last time I had a leach on my skin. This was in the ’80s when my brother and I spent the summer at my grandmother’s resort in Sioux Narrows, Ontario, Canada. The town has 720 permanent residents now. “Resort” is a fancy word for the work-a-day cabins spread around the lake and a now-closed restaurant and bar. The latter closed when my grandmother’s second husband, Frank, succumbed to lung cancer. They ran it as a team, and she could only keep up the hotel portion on her own. A friend of hers gave my brother and I a canoe, and, both being athletic, we quickly figured out how to use it to explore the inlet. There were slider turtles and leaches as I found out when I tried to test the brackish water near the shore. When I hopped up on the dock, an adult-sized one had already attached itself to me. My brother picked it off while I screamed in agony when in truth it didn’t hurt a bit. Picture is me on the dock with a slider turtle. The “A’s” were the t-ball team my brother and I played on, but that’s a story for another day.

Me with a slider turtle in Sioux Narrows, Ontario Canada. Mid 1980s.

Lizzie

Vintage ash tray from Singen, Germany

My great grandmother, Elizabeth, lived above Lengacher’s Cheese House in Kinzers when I was a kid. It’s a vet’s office now, but the steep gable front roof is still a tell as to its origins.

She had no washer and dryer, and the hot water service in the two bedroom apartment was blazing hot owing to the cheese making going on below. My mom and I would travel there weekly to pick up her laundry and chat.

Everything smelled like swiss.

She grew up in Singen, in Southern Germany near the border with Switzerland and France. Her father owned an inn. Her mother died when she was a child, and an uneasy relationship with his wife number two led her to France and eventually to Chicago with her sister, Julie.

Several of her siblings would emigrate in all.

In Chicago, she met my great grandfather Paul “Pup Pup”. He was an engineer and frugal woodworker. They moved with his job and eventually settled in Gap.

Pup Pup died when I was two, so I don’t remember him. My parents lived in Gap when I was first born, and my mom said he would wash the diapers and then deliver them. I guess laundry service was something we shared.

He always wanted to see me, and I was always sleeping.

I still love to sleep.

When my mom was growing up, Pup Pup would talk her into going to a scrap yard near Trojan Boat, where he’d dump salvaged pieces of wood in the back of her MG. He didn’t want to pay for lumber. He made grandfather clocks and roll top desks, all of which are still in my family.

My grandfather always called his mom, Lizzie, and she had a lovely laid back demeanor. Nothing ruffled her feathers. She was even and calm, smart, and funny. She’d burn cookies and still offer them to you without thinking there was anything wrong with them.

Growing up, her middle son complained that the parents of a friend bought him a car. “What did you give me?,” he wanted to know. She replied, “I gave you a big mouth. Now go out and use it.”

Like all her sons, he became a successful business owner and sales person.

Lizzie outlived her husband by another 16 years. She lived alone for that entire time but always attended our gatherings, made trips to Idaho to see her three sons, and entertained German-speaking friends – the conversation altering between English and the language of her Heimat.

She had a stroke in late October 1992. When my mom took her to the hospital, she talked about all the people she would see in heaven – Paul, Julias, and Billy, the son she lost as a toddler. We’d find a locket of his hair when we cleaned out her house.

She lived for about two weeks and died on election day. I only saw her alive once in that time. She wiped tears off my cheek with her good arm as I looked at her limp wrist with the hospital band and the last two digits of her birthdate, ‘99, 1899.

She was the one person I lost outside my dogs that really left a hole. Cleaning out her belongings was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in life to date, but I suspect more hard times ahead. You have to decide what to do with every piece of furniture, every trinket, and you riffle through drawers of scarves and underclothes. Everything you touch feels like a loss.

It took days, and I only kept a few things – a rosary, a red area rug, an ashtray and a calendar from her hometown, and a scarf dotted with coffee stains. The latter probably still smells like swiss.