Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Solution

Few who care about our country are completely satisfied with the direction that our government is taking us.  While we have much to be grateful for in the USA, we also have ample room for improvement.

However, if you watch the election coverage, (and sadly, I do), it is easy to get the impression that the whole country is spiraling out of control, and only the extreme, fringe elements are prevailing.  I find that notion to be poppycock.  The problems of this country are deep and complicated, decades in the making and years in the repairing, but hardly beyond the ingenuity and dedication of the American citizenry.  Clearly, our problems cannot be solved by any one person, as our president is beginning to figure out.


Our problems cannot be solved by the Democrats.

Our problems cannot be solved by the Republicans.

Our problems cannot be solved by chucking the two-party system.

Our problems cannot be solved by dismantling our nuclear arsenal.

Our problems cannot be solved with health care coverage for all.

Our problems cannot be solved by prayer in schools.

Our problems cannot be solved by new Czars.

Our problems cannot be solved by more speeches, town hall meetings and television appearances.

Our problems cannot be solved by court decisions, new amendments, unfunded mandates or executive orders.

Our problems cannot be solved by leveling the playing field, affirmative action, increased diversity or wealth redistribution programs.

Our problems cannot be solved by erecting a fence or wall, or creating a national ID card, and we solve nothing by strip-searching grandmothers in airports.

Our problems will not be solved by a food pyramid, a new, improved food pyramid, better access to nutrition information or a national Food Police Force.

Our problems will not be solved by furtive intolerance of or legislated protection of particular religious sects.

Our problems cannot be solved by penalizing big oil, big banking, big pharma, or any other big industry that can afford the huge punitive fees used to fund so-called restorative programs.

Our problems cannot be solved by increasing the size, budget, power or authority of the federal government.

Our problems have been caused in large part because our apathy as citizens has allowed do-gooders and evil-doers alike unfettered access to the cogs and wheels that regulate our system of government. 

Our problems have also been caused by the idea that someone else should help us solve our problems, or better yet, take them over for us.  Lately, that someone else is the federal government.  The can-do attitude that typified American self-sufficiency is becoming a vestige of the distant past.

Our problems will not be solved by one election cycle, one political party, one man or woman, one bill passed or repealed, one clever ad or yard sign.

We can only begin to address and repair the many challenges facing this country by shaking off our apathy and doing our civic duty.

The solution is simple and elegant.  Vote.

Vote on Tuesday, November 2nd.  Excuses abound: yes, it's optional, it may seem pointless, you may be just one person, but the rest of us are counting on you.  It doesn't matter if we don't agree on one single candidate or issue.  The country needs you to care enough to make that small but very important effort. 

Call me if you need a ride or a babysitter.  

See you at the polls.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lessons from the Facebook generation

I saw the movie, "The Social Network" yesterday.  It was very enjoyable as a story, and the juveniles who portrayed all those geniuses and billionaires and Harvard bluebloods gave impressive performances.  I understood the movie, because even though it dealt with highly technical stuff (server loads, megabytes, Morse code), the central story was about friendships, love, sex, heartbreak, betrayal and loss - a soap opera.  I understand that story arc, even when it's framed in Gen-X speak.  Incidentally, if you are a female with eyes, the scenes with the twin brothers rowing crew were well worth the price of admission. 

I guess the title of the blog is misleading, because I'm not yet sure what lessons I've learned from this generation reared on life via technology.  My own children are part of this culture, and I think they are pretty nice people, so I can't write off the whole techie generation as a bunch of social misfits and wire-headed loners.  I'm sure lots of nice teenagers own multiple laptops, have a gps on their phone, and know how to hack sophisticated security systems.  Am I a bad person for hoping that my kids never need technology that badly?

My beloved Flipper - the resuscitated "phone only" phone
A very tech-savvy friend got a new I-Phone Number 4 recently.  That looks wrong - is it version 4, ap 4, generation 4, 4 gig, 4 hz, 4 watts?  I don't really know why it has a "4" after it, anymore than I know why it has an "I" in front of it.  I know I'm supposed to be wowwed by it, but the only thing that caught my attention is that it is bigger than my little drowning survivor.  It won't slip easily into one of your pockets, but that's okay since I think they are meant to be worn, like a wedding ring, or some other kind of social identifier.

I wonder if some wit has invented a name for people who use technology without any understanding of it.  Is there a one-word description for someone like me? Technophobe?  I enjoy and use certain products of technology, like the laptop and the cell phone, but I struggle against dependence issues. I don't text or twitter.  I don't like abbreviations stemming from texting. When it comes to devices, I settle for minimal features and I dread upgrades.  I also can't tell if I'm watching a show in HD or not.

   If I had the choice between getting an I-Phone and getting my favorite chair recovered, I'd choose the chair, and not just because it's $70 less than the phone.  I guess it's because I find these devices useful, but not that interesting.  I don't have the courage or the energy to eschew all technology and convenience and go live in the woods away from civilization.  I definitely don't want to go back to a time where you couldn't look up the word "eschew" without having to get up from your chair, walk across the room, hoist the Websters, put it down, go back across the room for your reading glasses...well, you get the drift.  I like the fruits of our high-tech lifestyles, I'm just not sure what they say about us. I love convenience, but I don't love the machines.

I am even confused by trying to figure out what my central issue is.  Am I upset at my dependence on my laptop, the internet and instant communication?  Or are they just a convenient scapegoat for the laziness these devices make possible?  For example, I can honestly say I almost never make long-distance phone calls to anyone I'm friends with on facebook.  Sadly, the site seems to have made voice communication almost unnecessary.  Announce your plans, intentions, thoughts and raves in your status and it's everyone else's responsibility to know what to do with that information.

I also hate to admit how many books I have bought online, rather than wait for the library copy to become available.  Waiting for what I want has become a lost skill.  When watching an item on ebay, do I wait out an auction or pay a few cents more for a Buy-it Now?  Just check my feedback.  Is it any wonder that I struggle to  teach my kids not to expect instant gratification? A Facebook chat is so much easier than a real spoken conversation - talking on the phone...that takes real effort.  Suddenly I'm feeling nostalgic for the days when Eric used to complain about the long-distance bill.

A "long distance" call - does anyone even think that way now?  My girls have no idea why you even have to dial "1" from the home phone but not from the cell.  To them, a phone number always needs an area code.  They've rarely had to observe an ironclad phone call time limit, or wait their turn to use the only line in the house.  And they never suffer the disappointment of missing a call - if we can't be reached on the home phone, there are four cell phones here, and 3 computers with multiple messaging networks on them.  E-vites don't get lost by the USPS like invitations can.   They've rarely ever had to crack a musty encyclopedia for information, or sit through an endless recording to find out store opening times or movie show times. In their world, getting information doesn't take work, so much as it takes creativity.

Oops, I'm still rambling.  I guess I'm stuck trying to figure out what I've learned from this generation that has the brilliance to invent Facebook, the I-Phone and Resident Evil.  I know that a poll of 18-25 year olds revealed that they rated the song "I'm A Survivor" by Destiny's Child as a better song than "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, which I find unnaturally disturbing. That single data point just may demonstrate how vast the gulf is that separates our generations, taste-wise. And really, when I think about it, that generation probably doesn't care if I learn anything from them or not.  After all, I blanched at the idea of my mother learning to disco dance and ran the other way when my uncle challenged me to play "Asteroids" at a college bar. When you are young, you'd rather die than witness old people trying to be cool.  I guess that's how the Harvard kids feel about seeing all of us bored housewives on facebook these days.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Domestic Diva Revisited

When we last saw our heroine, she had just taken a break from a major upstairs cleaning project to indulge in a little celebratory blogging.  Self-congratulation was followed by self-deprecation, which was followed by requests for self-motivation.  Let's check in with her now to see how her projects turned out and what new challenges she is tackling today:

Devoted Reader:  Hello there.  How is it going today?

Michele: Great, but I'm very busy.  What do you need?

DR:  Well, we were just wondering about all those hours of cleaning and organizing upstairs.  Did everything turn out the way you hoped it would?

M:  Huh?

DR:  Your daughters' spent hours one day recently working on getting them clean, organized, throwing out junk, making space for new junk, swapping summer clothes for fall, stuff like that. 

M:  I did?  

DR:  Yes, and you wrote about it during a brief break in your labors.  Your blog called "Halfway There" talked about all your hard work and the great plans you had for finishing the job.

M:  I wrote about that?  That was pretty stupid.

DR:  Why?

M:  Because I never did finish the job.  Daughter #1's room is just like I left it - empty bookshelves, piles that need to be sorted, boxes and bins of stuff I sorted but she needs to find a place for.  Of course, she's added a week's worth of dirty clothes and another pile of sketches that we can never part with, but otherwise it looks just like it did when I took a break that day.  

DR:  What happened?

M:  I'm not really sure.  I think I got distracted.

DR:  For a week?  Did you at least finish in Daughter #2's room? 

M:  Daughter #2 finished what I started by putting everything that was sitting out into any drawer with space.  Pencils went in the sock drawer, spare retainer cases in the jewelry box, books under the dresser, lip gloss in the pencil drawer, clean laundry on top of the 3" pile of unframed  pictures and certificates on the desk.  But she can walk around in there now.

DR:  But you had such good intentions!  You were so motivated!   You seemed committed to getting those rooms done, once and for all.  You even did some embarrassingly public soul-searching and admitted that avoidance was your strategy, because you said you cannot look at an unfinished job and leave it undone.

M:  Hmmm...well, I lied.  Ninety-five percent space in my home is devoted to unfinished jobs; the other 5% is taken up by people and dogs.  Come on, if I told the truth about my housekeeping philosophy, not only would it not be funny, no one would want to read about it.  It makes a better blog if I pretend to care about my "job," but am prevented from achieving my noble goals by "unforeseen emergencies."* I prefer to be thought of as a tragic heroine of housework, tirelessly working for the good of others while hoping for that rare moment of self-indulgence with a fat-free, no-sugar-added mocha latte.

DR:  If that's all it would take to help you finish your project and feel good about yourself, I'll bring you that mocha latte.

M:  Don't bother.  Coffee without sweetener and milkfat reeks of communism.  If you gave it to me I'd be compelled to call you "Comrade Reader."  I was referring to those calm-looking women who drink General Foods International Coffee and watch Colin Firth movies while soaking in a jetted tub full of Calgon bubbles. 

DR:  But after you finish a project, that's when you indulge in a "Colin coffee/bath." 

M:  You don't get it!  Obviously I don't need more pampering - I need negative consequences for my inaction. But as the High Priestess of the Household, there's no one to deliver that punishment.  Besides, there is nothing you can say that I can't turn into an excuse not to get things done.  It's called "rationalizing," root word "rational," therefore it is a good thing.  It's my special gift.

DR:  So how much longer are you going to sit at the computer, putting off the projects you were so passionately devoted to last week?

M:  At least until you go away and quit bothering me, so I can concentrate on writing a new blog.

DR:  Goodbye.

*shameless plug for my blog entitled "Ironic sarcasm and other repetitive redundancies."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In Praise of Autumn

Growing up in southern Alabama, I had a very limited appreciation of the potential of autumn.  The time of cooler days and turning leaves seemed very brief, lasting from a muggy Halloween to a wet Thanksgiving.  I can remember throwing the football on Christmas day in shorts, just as I recall going to the beach on Valentine's Day.  The south Alabama seasons never deviated very far from the stock daily forecast:  "Warm and humid with a chance of an afternoon thunderstorm."

Fall or autumn as shown on television or in magazines was something that happened in Vermont, or somewhere equally remote, it seemed.  As anyone who has visited the Gulf Coast knows, heat and humidity are the defining factors behind the weather - most days of the year, there is a lot of both.  And the dominant color in the landscape is green, all year 'round.  Summer lasts a long time in that part of the world, and a year without a frost is not unusual.  I saw my first snow as a middle schooler, and can't ever remember spring being all that exciting of a season.  It was just a short, colorful, mild version of summer, in my memories.

I had friends in Mobile who moved there from Tennessee, and frequently, if not helpfully, complained about the climate.  Their description of a year on the Gulf Coast:  "There are two seasons here - summer and February."  Because that was the norm for me, I never realized I was missing anything.  However, since moving to Indiana in 1995, I have developed an appreciation for experiencing four distinct seasons in a year.  Of course, our dreary, bitter winters here in northern Indiana can be as bad in their way as the unrelenting damp, hot days down South.  But I'll take the cold and snow and ice and wind, because I so enjoy the transitional seasons which precede and follow our long winter.

Right now I can look out any window in my house and see a scene worthy of a postcard.  The colors of the leaves are a feast for the eyes.  With a dazzling sun and a clear blue sky, the endless variation in leaf color from green to yellow to red to brown seems to vibrate with wavelengths of energy.  I took a ride through the country yesterday morning just over the line in Michigan, and every half mile or so I'd think, "That's it!  That's the most brilliant color so far!"  Then around the next bend there would be another tree or burning bush or far-off colorful grove that would nearly take my breath away, and I'd think, "Oh, that color is even more amazing than the last one!"

In the coming weeks, I get to look forward to apple-picking, fall decorating, fires in the fireplace, bringing down the sweater box, trick-or-treaters, and hot toddies on the back porch. For a few more weeks I'll have lots of long, brisk morning walks, admiring the constant change of color in the neighborhood.  It seems even the air is a different color this time of year.  After the previous four sunless South Bend winters, I've learned to embrace all possible enjoyment before the north wind and Lake Michigan conspire to transform our landscape into a months-long study of grey and white.  

Before the sun retreats to it's low, distant winter angle, the grass fades, the leaves drop and the snow flies, I look forward to enjoying the season as much as possible.  And if you live in Baldwin County, Alabama, and you get to drive that stretch from the east end of the Causeway around the bend where it merges into the four-lane at I-10, there's a grove of trees on that bluff that used to be my favorite view of local fall color.  I'd love to see a picture of that grove in full color this year.  It only last a few days, but whether yours is a few days or a few months, I hope you enjoy your autumn as much as I do mine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh, the pain...oh, the a-go-neeeeee!

To avoid chickening out on the third invitation, this weekend I agreed to try a fitness class called "Body Pump (add registered trademark symbol here)" taught by my amazing neighbor, Aliesa.  Today is Monday and I am happy to report that, not only am I alive, but I can drink coffee with one hand again!  (It helps if I support my elbow with my free hand, however).  

It's one thing to know, intellectually, that you are out of shape.  I was in no doubt of that fact.  It is quite another to go to a class where everyone looks like they could whup Chuck Norris' butt, and attempt to keep up.  And the class was enjoyable!  Unlike most of my previous group fitness efforts, I never looked at my watch or pretended to need a bathroom break so as to catch my breath.  I used very small weights on the bar thingy, and modified my stance when my knees felt wobbly.  When it was over, I honestly felt like I'd want to do it again.  Until later...

Saturday night we went to dinner at a place that had a few steps down to the patio where we ate.  I actually had to angle down sideways, slowly, one step at a time, holding the railing, to safely get three feet to the bottom.  Later pushed back in my chair to stand up, but my thigh muscles (quads?) revolted and sat me right back down.  It would have been funny if it wasn't so sad.  Well, okay, it was pretty darn funny, too.  But this was still the same day of the class - I hadn't even gotten to enjoy the stiffening effects of sleep...

Sunday morning I experienced pain of a quality that cannot be described with words.  I think I now understand the purpose of primal scream therapy; it would have felt good yesterday morning.  The only thing that got me out of bed was the certainty that, once I started moving these traitorous muscles, they would begin to feel better.  This proved not to be the case.  It took me several minutes to get down the stairs, only to find that bending my arm beyond the 90 degree point was excruciating!  My first few sips of coffee were accomplished with the mug on the counter and me hovering over, slurping like a rude child.  And when it was time to "use the facilities," I actually required the handicap grab bar!

As of today I am still moving like that Tim Conway character on the Carol Burnett show - slow, careful shuffling with occasional lapses of limb cooperation.  I actually tried to do my morning walk, but I'd be amazed if I burned 25 calories at my reduced speed.  

This has been a humbling experience.  I've always enjoyed thinking of myself as one of those people with hidden, untapped strength; a well-spring of power that I don't need for everyday life, but that would appear if I had to outrun a tornado or lift a car off of a pedestrian or fight off a mugger.  Sadly, it's not hidden: it ain't there.  I'm a weakling in a healthy, sturdy body, but a weakling, just the same.  I'm a pantywaist.  And more than anything, I just want to whine about how sore I am.  Amazingly, neither my husband or the kids seems surprised to find out that I am an out-of-shape weakling.  Their sympathy has been hard to detect behind all the snickering and eye-rolling.

So today my only goals are to carry a basket of folded laundry up the stairs, and roll the vacuum cleaner back down the stairs.  This may necessitate a short nap on the heating pad between trips, but the most important thing is to be able to check those tasks off of my to-do list.  So I can rest.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Halfway there

Yesterday I worked my fanny off in the upstairs bedrooms.  I can say in all honesty that it has been months - plural months -  (technically anywhere from two - infinity) since I have done anything in their rooms beyond screaming at the top of my lungs that they are unacceptably disgusting.  But because I'm only as mean as my short-term memory allows me to be, I forget to ground them until it is clean, and I forget to check under the bed and in the back of the closet for the source of the mysteriously tidy surfaces, etc.  So I donned my hazmat suit, grabbed some storage containers and a 55-gallon drum for trash, and headed up early yesterday morning.

Someone like me shouldn't live in a two-story house.  I subscribe to the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" philosophy of housework, so bedtime is often the only time I'm faced with the horror of my neglect.  As long as no one (except my family, who doesn't count) knows that there are actually small microbes singing and dancing in my tub, and they aren't scrubbing bubbles, I can maintain the polite fiction that only my downstairs is in need of attention.  And I "topclean" the downstairs on a fairly regular basis, only resorting to heavy housework (windows, baseboards) if I'm expecting my mother or Colin Firth for a visit.  I love a clean house, I just don't like being the one who cleans it.

Anyway, I made tremendous progress ridding the girls of some of their crap, junque, garbage and trash.  They went to bed with compliments for my efforts and promises to try to keep it looking better.  Then today arrives, and I have to go finish what I we run into another thing I'm not good at:  project completion.  A brisk morning walk, another cup of coffee, and unexpected long phone call, a loose dog who had to be returned to a neighbor, suddenly it's noon and my motivation has disappeared.  I know it is upstairs, my motivation, that is.  If I just walk up there and see the piles, boxes, bins, shelves, all waiting for me to complete the "good intention" part of the equation, my motivation will kick in.  If I see something that needs doing, invariably I do it.  Which is obviously why I am sitting downstairs blogging, where I can safely pretend that the semi-clean upstairs is just a dream.

Well, since I know a couple of people are nodding their heads, wagering I'll take a nap or check my ebay watch list before I ever go upstairs, I think I'll just shag my fat fanny up there right now.  It's a chance to accomplish two worthy goals:  clean rooms that I can hold over my daughters' heads in martyr fashion; and  complete a project that I can scratch off my list.  Plus, if I finish that, I can mow the lawn as an anniversary gift for my  husband.  Obviously, I don't need to be appreciated, I just want everyone to know how hard I work.  At least half the time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Not-So-Desperate Housewife

So far I've been writing about writing, but that's getting boring.  Now I think I'll blog about my life.

When I was setting up this blog, I had to come up with a name.  I wanted to call it "My Life According to Me," but that clever title was already taken.  But that's really all I know anything about, and I've got to start somewhere.  I also had to choose a "screen name" or something like that.  I considered Esther Blodgett and Hildegaard Yabromowitz, but ultimately decided on Hoosier Hausfrau.  Again, someone else got there first.  So I decided to quit designing my blog and just start writing it.

I am a housewife.  There, I said it.  I stay home.  I don't participate in the "workforce."  I have a paying job, of sorts, babysitting for some neighbor children after school, but my primary job is taking care of my family and home.  And you know what?  Home is a pretty interesting place to be, and the job of housewife is more engaging than it sounds.

I find it fascinating and rather surprising that most of the interesting things that I see and hear on a given day take place within 500 feet of my house.  I mean, I watch the news, History Channel, and Discovery nature and science programs; I read a great deal and I get out of the house on a regular basis.  But when I think of amazing people, inspirational stories or humorous situations that have made an impression on me, invariably they take place right under my nose. It reminds me of how Jane Austen was said to remark that a story about 6 to 8 families in a village or neighborhood had all the components she needed for novel.   Or words to that effect.

I have neighbors who are unfailingly compassionate, extremely witty, wildly profane, puritanically demure and just plain heroic.  There are housewives who volunteer at school, church or in the community practically every hour that their children are at school.  There are husbands who work all day, then come home and jump in to help with the non-stop evening activities of their  families.  When a neighbor has surgery, other neighbors step in to cook, mow, keep the kids or pick up prescriptions.  There are doctors, nurses, teachers and public servants right around the corner from me, each contributing to the welfare of many souls.   One of my neighbors suffered an unspeakable tragedy a few years back, but slowly pulled out of a bleak depression and reconnected with her neighbors.   I have only to sit on my front porch at 5:00pm any weekday to see an amazing array of humanity pass right in front of my eyes.

After 4 years here in my neighborhood, I can honestly say I love where I live and wouldn't want to leave here.  And considering how different my current home is from the ones in which I grew up, 900 miles away, that's saying something.  When you have good neighbors, home is a great place to be.

Ironic sarcasm and other repetitive redundancies

I always thought that I shouldn't write unless I could at least remember the parts of speech.  I could always imagine an editor, handing a manuscript back to me, and remarking, "Good ideas, but way too many dangling participles and not enough gerunds," or something similar.  I am kind of grooving on the idea that I can publish my blog (a word I need to politely rave about in another posting) without any oversight.  I don't have to take it in to Jason Robards, watch him adjust his reading glasses and light a cigarette, quickly peruse my text, and tell me to "run with it, Jonesie."

But my hesitation to put pen to paper has always had less to do with a shortage of ideas or a lack of someone to help me improve and filter those ideas, and more to do with my total lack of organization, discipline and motivation.  And nothing has changed about my personal flaws.  I still have numerous projects in various stages of completion and no real plan to bring even one of them over the finish line.  But technology has changed the requirements for one such as me to step on the soapbox.  This website I'm being hosted by has empowered me to broadcast my most inane thoughts and opinions with the same moral authority as an elected leader or a seasoned journalist.  That thought makes me light-headed.

What I need to do now is find some of the inanities I penned or collected in the past.  The title of this post refers to one such effort.  My granddaddy, Bob Smyer, is a lifelong collector of idiotic utterings.  At one point, he typed his collection and distributed it throughout the family.  A few were particularly funny to me, because of the unnecessary repetition of words or ideas (example: "You have won an extra bonus gift!")  I made it my aim to note and share any of these "repetitive redundancies" with my family.  At one point I had over 50 scraps of paper with one or more of these phrases handwritten or typed on them.  I kept the scraps in an envelope with the intention of typing them up like Granddaddy did.  On pain of death I would never get rid of that envelope.  But where to begin to find it?  I haven't a clue.  

However, this blog provides the motivation to locate that writing effort from two decades agoand perhaps others.  Now that I can climb on my soapbox without Jason Robards' permission at any time, I may just clutter the cybersphere with all the crap I meant to write about 20 years ago.  Or I may just mutter and muse like I'm doing now.  But it really doesn't matter, since there's no one reading this anyway.

Starting a blog is scary

In the dark ages (before the Interwebs made everything easier yet more complicated), it was possible to claim to be a frustrated writer without having to prove it.  I mean, you could always say your unfinished novel was in a drawer, or your mother threw out your spiral notebooks containing your gut-wrenching poetry, or you burned all the rejection letters from all the publishers you submitted your short stories to.  After all, who, in 1985, would expect an average mortal to have the necessary skills, talent, determination and connections to get anything published?  I was always one who started things, like novels, talked about my efforts to anyone who would listen, then got distracted (or lazy) and never finished.  So I could claim to be a frustrated writer without actually writing anything.  Prove I'm not one.

Fast-forward to 2010:  I have run out of excuses.  I love to write and want to share what I write.  Technology has made it possible for people like me, having no demonstrable talent or skill, to reach an intergalactic audience with our rantings, musings, advice, predictions and drivel.  And there's not even so much as a junior editor to stop me.  So now I have created a blog.  Will I stick with it?  Will it be interesting to anyone but me?  Will I figure out how to do anything interesting besides choose a font?  Tune in next time to find out...if there is a next time.