Trotting

This year we are “Thanksgiving orphans,” in that we don’t get enough days off to make a cross-country plane trip worthwhile for this holiday. Our dinner will be tonight at the home of some generous friends of friends. I made the persimmon bread and chocolate truffles that we are bringing to the feast yesterday, so I found myself with a little time this morning. Continue reading Trotting

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Egg Foo Young Instead

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and right now I’m procrastinating cooking and baking for it because, unlike most people who blog about Thanksgiving, I don’t enjoy cooking. I don’t enjoy cooking under the best of circumstances, and this day strikes me as a good opportunity for performance anxiety. Continue reading Egg Foo Young Instead

A Little NaNo Whining

NaNo2014Last year at this time I had temporarily given up on my NaNoWriMo novel. It was day 23 and I was hanging out there below 20,000 words. I was at a stopping place and I decided I was done. The last week was crazy and honestly not a lot of fun. But at least I got a discounted copy of Scrivener out of it!

I’m doing better this year. Continue reading A Little NaNo Whining

Fall Colors in my Backyard

Another installment in a series of photo essays about Belmont, MA, my former hometown.

New England, where I used to live, is famous for its fall colors and “leaf peeping.” There were a few years that we went for a drive up north into New Hampshire, but mostly it was all right to stay put there in Belmont, a suburb of Boston, MA. Continue reading Fall Colors in my Backyard

Simple Gifts

What can I do to simplify my life?

This is a surprisingly hard question to answer. On one hand, I feel like I’m always trying to simplify, but that other people are making it complicated.simplicity

On the other hand, I feel like simplicity is not a big goal for me right now. When I moved to CA this summer, I spent a lot of time decluttering for the move. I’ve blogged about this. I got tired of it. Simplicity had taken on a complicated life of its own. Continue reading Simple Gifts

Book Review: Off Balance by Terez Mertes Rose

Off Balance (Ballet Theatre Chronicles Book 1)Off Balance by Terez Mertes Rose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I might not have read this book if I didn’t know the author online, but I am glad I did. It is fascinating and well crafted, with relatable characters and an satisfying plot.

The book is about two ballet dancers at different stages in their careers: Alice is a former soloist who sustained a career-ending injury and now works in arts administration. Lana, a young newcomer, has just joined the company where Alice used to dance. The book follows their unlikely friendship as they wrestle with their own inner demons and their significant relationships with men and with their mothers. Continue reading Book Review: Off Balance by Terez Mertes Rose

Sand Circles

This week, Impromptu Promptlings asks, How does this picture relate to your life?

When I was 10, my family took a sabbatical to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Before that we lived in Williamsville New York, a suburb of Buffalo. My father was a Chemistry professor at SUNY/Buffalo, and so every seven years, he could take a sabbatical and visit another university to do research.

At the time of that first sabbatical, I had decidedly mixed feelings. I wasn’t a particularly adventurous or outgoing child. My face didn’t light up at the thought of new places and new adventures. I thought more about missing my friends, especially my best friend who lived next door, who was also named Karen.

Looking back now, of course I’m glad we did it. Adults are like that; we have the benefit of hindsight. It was the only time I have ever lived in the southern United States, and we experienced the famous southern hospitality and friendliness. My school in upstate New York had been pretty uniformly white, and my time in North Carolina was the first time I got to have black friends and teachers.

Her family's campsite
Her family’s campsite

Over spring break, which included Easter, my best friend Karen and her family came to visit us for a camping trip on the Outer Banks of Cape Hatteras. We hadn’t seen each other for months, and social media didn’t exist yet.

Our family's campsite
Our family’s campsite

I don’t honestly remember all that well, but if subsequent experience is any indication, the reunion was probably awkward.

But we finally went off together, just the two Karens, and we started drawing circles in the sand. The waves came in and washed them away. We drew more, and tried halfheartedly to run away from the waves before they got our feet wet.

sabresThen she drew a heart, and inside it she wrote, “Love is being a Buffalo Sabres fan.” As I read it, trying to figure out what it said, I stood there too long, and got drenched up to my knees by a wave. After that we ran back and forth, into and out of the waves, writing about Buffalo’s hockey team in the sand and watching it wash away. Improbably, back in Williamsville, we both had been Buffalo Sabres fans, collecting stamps from the grocery store to fill a collector’s book, going to the mall to get autographs, following their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals the previous year. But hockey was not much of a thing in North Carolina, and I’d let it slide. Now we reconnected over these sand drawings.

“What happened to you?” demanded our parents when we returned to the campsites, wet from head to toe. Just a walk along the beach, drawing circles in the sand.


Beach

Review of I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their TimeI Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I know the author a bit online, we are alumnae of the same university, and I really liked her previous book, 168 hours. This one’s strengths are similar, but the rest of it is not as compelling.

First, the positives:
1. The idea to think in 168 hours (a week) instead of 24 hours (a day) is the insight of Vanderkam’s that has been the most consistently useful to me. I tend to fare poorly with any kind of program that insists on daily goals: daily word count, daily exercise, daily violin practice, etc. I invariably miss a day and then waste time and energy beating myself up about that. I also tend to get bored and anxious, and procrastinate when I face having to do the same thing every day, especially if it’s something relatively complex that takes a long time. Whereas I can get on board with doing something 4 or 5 days a week, maybe in different circumstances or at different times of day.
2. Her “Strategy 6” for using bits of time, starting on p. 194 of the Nook version that I read, is IMO worth the price of the book. I don’t think everyone will feel that way about it, but this is one area of time management in which I am especially weak. It’s similar in some ways to the “List of 100 dreams” that she recommends in 168 hours, but I could never make that list; it was too daunting. This list is already made for me, and I can use it right away. Overall, Chapter 9 of this book, strategies for Mastering the Tiles, is helpful and snappy. It can be read in 5-10 minutes and there’s probably something in there for most people that will boost your productivity and make you feel better.
3. Her insight about the power of narratives to shape thinking is both obvious and profound. I think most people start out almost unaware of the narratives that shape their lives, and the process of maturing brings this into sharper and sharper focus. I found myself thinking about the narratives that have shaped my life; they are different from the author’s, but the book gave me space to do so.

Now the not-so-positives:
1. I found this book’s tone to be annoyingly preachy and somewhat repetitive. It was also kind of boring. The insight that the stories and narratives we tell ourselves have power is wonderful, but the author’s only use of that insight is to hammer away at this notion: the dominant cultural narrative that as a group mothers who work outside the home are overwhelmed and stressed out by trying to fit in work and family life, is just wrong. The author overstates both the cultural dominance of this narrative and its wrongness and thereby undermines her otherwise good points. Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Sometimes.
2. I also found some of the advice to be obnoxious, in particular the notion that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. It may be easier to ask forgiveness than permission, but I think that in order to actually obtain said forgiveness, one has to be quite privileged in some way. If you’re not so privileged, rather than being forgiven, you may be taught a lesson or made an example of. I’ve seen that happen more than once.
3. The advice to delegate or just blow off administrative/housekeeping tasks is frustrating as well because the author doesn’t seem to understand fundamentally why most people do these tasks in the first place. She says that if you don’t do them, “the world will keep spinning on its axis.” She also says that if you don’t answer email, if it’s really important the other person will just remind you of it again. And in another chapter, she writes about people who quit working at a consulting firm because they were tired of long hours and travel–but had unused vacation time. Apparently in her view the only factor in the workers’ not taking the vacation time was their own attitudes; the company’s or coworkers’ needs and expectations were irrelevant. Just take the vacation time, she says.
In all these examples, she assumes, without providing evidence, that any negative consequences to these decisions are all in people’s heads. Under that worldview, if you could just get over your inflated sense of self-importance and take the time off, blow off the email, etc. nothing bad would happen to you. I have direct experience that this is not always–or necessarily even often–the case. Blowing off people’s emails and delegating administrative scut work to others is inconsiderate and makes people angry. Sometimes you don’t take vacation time because the work doesn’t go away just because you did–you may find, upon getting back, that you are more overwhelmed than before you left, and you have resentful colleagues to deal with on top of it.

Perhaps much of this attitude is a consequence of the fact that, for this book, the author only interviewed women making $100K a year or more. She explains why in the introduction, and the reasons make sense, but that decision does limit the book’s utility for the rest of us.

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