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.

Home Office

Like many office workers, I’m working from home these days.

It’s a great space. See?

The windows face west and south, so it gets light for a nice portion of the day. All the original wooden windows have now been replaced, but the south facing one to the left in this photo was originally broken when we purchased this house 15 years go. It had a small crack in the right corner of the bottom sash.

At some point, I got a bee in my bonnet and took the sashes out. I stripped both of 80 years of paint, had the glass fixed, and then reglazed and painted the entire thing. I bought new rope, fished the window weights out of the frame, and re-weighted them. They never moved as effortlessly as I would have liked, but it was a good first effort.

My dad is a contractor and can fix virtually anything. He’s an artist. When he was staying at my house a few years ago, he re-weighted all the living room windows while my mom and I went grocery shopping.

He got bored and needed to do, do do.

I share this trait.

I make lists every weekend, and the lines gnaw at me until I finish every last one.

Busy. Busy. Busy.

Why I don’t decorate

This is a shot of my neighbor’s porch pumpkin in early March. As one might expect, it’s been there since before Halloween. I find it amusing as this is entirely something I would do. I’d put it out there and totally forget about it.

WordCamp US 2019

I’ve been digging deep into WordPress this year– attending my local MeetUps monthly and attending three WordCamps – Lancaster, Leigh Valley, and PHL. I’m into it, but even more than that, I love this community.

Given the time I’ve put in and the interest I’ve developed, I was overjoyed to get the opportunity to attend WordCamp US this past weekend.

The event had about 6 tracks instead of 2 or 3 and child care. Much of the other community standards were in place – close captioning, support for people with disabilities, a code of conduct, and plenty of diversity.

Besides the classes, which were amazing, I really enjoyed just talking to the attendees and vendors. I met people from all over the country and many from Canada. Morten Rand-Hendrickson of Lynda.com was there, and I got to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his classes. He literally taught me how to build in WP.

Pam Aungst, who spoke at WordPress Leigh Valley, was there, and I saw Beth Soderberg, who I saw at all three WordCamps I attended earlier. She wasn’t presenting this time, but it would be hard to beat the talk she did on building her starter theme at WordCamp PHL.

I also met up with three of my colleagues from the Lancaster MeetUp. One of them invited me to work with him at one of the Gutenberg Block Workshops. I have only known him for about a month and was so pleased he asked me to join him. I hope I can pay it forward like that some day.

The weekend ended with Matt Mullenweg’s keynote. I noticed a few things about it. First off, he’s an inspirational speaker. He ended his main address by requesting the audience give back by donating 5% of their time to WordPress Core development. I’m going to take this challenge to heart.

He also took about an hour of questions and answered them with a calm professionalism that I admired deeply. I found myself wanting to work for someone like that – be their friend – learn from them. It was deeply moving just to see him navigate the questions so respectfully.

As Scott Galloway says, Life is So Rich.

I have so much to learn.

All of this doesn’t matter that much

I’m a huge fan of Million Dollar Listing New York. I barely watch tv outside of sports, but I’ve seen all 8 seasons of this one and all 17 of Project Runway. What those shows have in common is the importance of problem solving and working within a limited window of opportunity. There is only so much you can say to make that construction next door a positive when selling an apartment. Have to make a dress with what you find in a floral store? No sweat.

However, this season of MDLNY is full of sturm und drang because the market for million dollar listings is in the toilet. The brokers the season follows, Fredrick, Ryan, Steve, and Luis, now have to really struggle for every sale. For a group of Type A high achievers, this is a daily struggle against the expectations they set for themselves.

I like them all personally, which is probably why I enjoy the show so much. I read Fredrick’s book, I downloaded Ryan’s, and I have a strong fondness for the searching that Luis allows himself. They feel real to me.

In this season, it’s Ryan who has a really tough go of it, and his wife, Emilia, has to calm him down.

Emilia: All of this doesn’t matter that much. You have to calm down.

Ryan: Every day. Every day. On the fifteen minute mark, I get yelled at because the market is crashing. It’s my fault. I can’t control the market. I can’t control what things are selling for. The things that people say to me are so fscked up. All I want to do is do good work. Do good work.

Emilia: You just said you can’t change the market. You can’t freak out about something you can’t change.

Ryan: It’s just tough right now.

Emilia: It’s always going to be tough. You put so much pressure on yourself. You’re going to have a heart attack. You’re so young. Is this how your dad was? (Ryan nods) Children learn from their parents. This is your safe zone. You should be laughing. Otherwise, when does this end?

She’s right. There is only so much you can do, and it’s not worth destroying the peace of home to make right what is essentially out of your control.

In the end, all of this doesn’t matter all that much.

It will probably just be fine, perfect in fact

This Wednesday, I got a flat tire that required an entirely new tire. I have 18 in rims and low profile tires that are probably fine in any other state but a nightmare on the horrendous roads of the Commonwealth.

This Saturday, I had tickets to WordCamp Leigh Valley, and I had to drive. I had a moment of panic thinking, “what if this happened on the road on Saturday? “

Then I took a deep breathe and said, “It didn’t happen on Saturday. It happened now when you can deal with it.” 

I took off Friday, and when I got up, I had what felt like a grain of sand in my left eye. I rinsed it with water, stood under the shower, used eye drops, nothing worked. I had sand in my eye all day.

When I got up on Saturday, my eye was really swollen from all the rinsing and rubbing. I bought my WordCamp tickets in May. I bought a special iPad keyboard to take notes for the event. I had been looking forward to it for months. I also happen to get up later than I expected and couldn’t have breakfast. I was driving to an area I’ve never been to for an event I knew I would love – and my eye was a mess. “What if there is another nail in one of my tires?” I was kind of stressed out. 

Then I took a few deep breaths and said – let’s just go and assume it’s going to be fine. I can see. It doesn’t hurt outside obviously being sore and gross to look at. The sand is gone. Once I get some water in my system, the swelling will subside. I have a pile of bananas I can eat on the road. Let’s grab a Gatorade and go. I’ll wear glasses anyway. The place is full of nerds that will hardly notice my angry eye… and so what if they did. 

The moral of the story is : it was fine. I got a protein bar at a WaWa after my bananas were gone. I made two wrong turns that were easily corrected. I had no trouble finding the place. I got my preferred parking space right next to the venue. The car held up fine. Everything was fine. Everything was perfect. I made some new friends. Learned so much. Brought home two nerd t-shirts. Mixed up my life in the best way possible. 

My mind often turns to the worse possible explanation, and I know many experience this from time to time.

Just remember – it could just be fine. In fact, it will probably just be perfect.



Alabama Nationals

A tale to tell in which I finally set foot in the state of Alabama for a tennis tournament.

I had the good fortune to be asked in late December 2017 to join a newly formed 18+ 6.0 mixed team whose season began in January. Captain Laurie quickly organized a practice every Saturday at 10:30 am, and low and behold, most of the team came out. Every week. On a Saturday morning. 

The season started off a little slow. I had my husband come out and watch a match to give me some advice.

“Bend your knees. Be ready. Just bend your knees and you’ll be better than anyone on that court.” 

Noted.

Practice continued and the wins started stacking up. We ended in first place and a spot in the regional championship in Hershey. 

A regional competition works like this. #1 plays #4. Win that, and you’ll play the winner of #2 & #3.  Three courts play, but this time all courts yield the same points. 

I played the first round. We went to a third set tiebreak. The opposing man served to me on the ad court at our first match point opportunity. He served to my backhand, and I nailed the cross court winner. Game over.

Turns out we won all six courts and advanced to Regionals, which would be held nearby but on an unfamiliar surface, Har-Tru. Our coach joined a club so we could practice on it. 

We’d play the winners of New Jersey, Delaware, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. We won. Again. Nationals here we come.

Nationals were months away, and in the time, I continued to take lessons, play matches, and work out with weights and yoga. I showed up ready to play. 

The Mobile Tennis Center has 70 courts. I’ve never seen a club this big, but it’s all outdoors. Due to threats of rain, the Friday matches would be a compressed format  – play to four with no ad scoring. Gender to gender service at deuce. Ugh. We started off slow. 

Saturday came with wind and cold weather, but the games would be to 6 with ad scoring. We hit our stride. We ended the tournament 2-2 – in 9th place out of 16…in the country.

It was a long trip there, and my flights sucked. I’m definitely glad I made it though. It was fun to learn more about my team mates as people, see a state I’ll probably never return to, and play well. 

To suppress anger

Brad Warner’s Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye is the 18th book I read in 2018, and the fifth whose subject was Buddhism.

It’s been a tough year on a few fronts, but reading and internalizing these studies has helped me navigate a chaotic work environment, helped me stay calm on the tennis court, and has helped me grow as a person. 

To suppress anger, you have to suppress the urge to enjoy the beautiful juiciness of it all.

Brad Warner, Sit Down and Shut Up

One of the things I’ve tough quite a bit about lately was the role of anger. I’ve been imploring a few people I genuinely like to be nice to each other. Yet, they seem to choose anger. I couldn’t put my finger on why until Warner pointed it out:

To suppress anger, you have to suppress the urge to enjoy the beautiful juiciness of it all.

It’s hard for people to admit, but when you start paying attention, you’ll notice that you actually enjoy being angry. There’s a wonderful rush of self-righteousness to it. Because, obviously you can’t be angry about something unless you know you’re right and the other person is wrong. You are angry because you want to be angry. Always, always.

The main thing is to avoid acting on any angry impulses that might pop into your head. No matter how justified you might know yourself to be, an angry action will only invoke another angry response, both in the person you’re dealing with and in yourself. These actions and responses scramble your brain and make it impossible to act in any kind of efficient way to solve the problem at hand.

Watch how your anger begins, and see how it grows. When I did this myself, I discovered that anger always starts out very, very small. It’s always based on the difference between how I think things should be and how they are. Within this gap, the fiction known as “me” appears and reacts. To protect this fiction, I begin to justify my anger, to build a convincing case to prove to  myself that I have every right to be angry. I do this, I found, because the very existence of this fiction of self is based on its supposed ability to feel angry. To let go of anger is to let go of self. And that, my friends, is very, very, very difficult.

You cannot accept any of the justifications for anger that your ego coughs up at you, no matter how reasonable you make them sound. Even the absolute, incontrovertible certainty that your anger is 100 percent utterly and without doubt justified is an excuse to allow yourself to feel angry.

Look hard at what is happening within you. Your habit of reacting with anger has been built up over long years of reinforcement from a society gone terribly wrong.

With practice this stuff gets easier. But you’ll never completely lose your desire to get bad at things.

Drop me out of the equation. When there is no “you” there is nothing for “you” to get angry about and no one outside yourself to get angry at.

So to end my own anger, I have to stop enjoying it. To stop seeing the world as “me” and everyone else.    

To end the anger of my friends, I need to help them understand the same thing – that they are the world. There is nothing external. 

As Warner said, this is extraordinarily difficult.

In the midst of reading this book, I was musing to a friend that I was sometimes exhausted being the “nice” person in the room. Now, I see that this is the only way of being because everything is connected. Every action ripples throughout the universe because we are all connected. This is no me. There is no them. You can send that negative out or you can counter it by being nice. By being of service to others. Always.