Friday, August 26, 2016

You gotta laugh

I have reached full saturation with negative, combative, downright nasty news. I can no longer stand to listen to political commentary. I am beyond disappointed with all the politicians, actors, and athletes who are being investigated, charged, and convicted of wrongdoing. I am disheartened with all the violence and disrespect against anyone considered different.

Life is too short, and too amazing, for all that. And so I am taking a holiday from the nastiness and looking for laughter.

Some of the comedy bits that have made me laugh lately include these:

From the late John Pinette
On working with a trainer at the gym to lose weight:

“Then he says to me, ‘Give me a situp.’ I said, ‘Oh, Nay Nay!’ I don't do ‘Ups.’ I told him that when I signed up. I don't do ‘Ups’. I do ‘Downs.’ Sit down, lay down, Black-Jack I'll double-down...Give me a cheeseburger I'll wolf it down. Put on a little music, I'll boogie down. But I don't do ‘Ups.’ Ups defy gravity...Gravity is a law...I obey the law.”

From the late Mitch Hedberg:
“One time I had a Jack and Coke and it had a lime in it. And I saw that the lime was floating. That’s good news, man. Next time I’m on a boat and it capsizes, I will reach for a lime. I’ll be water skiing without a life preserver on and people will say, ‘What the hell?’ And I will pull out a lime. And a lemon, too. I’m saved by the buoyancy of citrus.”

“I bought a house. I bought a two-bedroom house. But it’s up to me how many bedrooms there are though, isn’t it. This bedroom has an oven in it. This bedroom has a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom is AKA a hallway. This bedroom is over in that guy’s house. ‘Sir, you have one of my bedrooms. Stay out.’ I’ve got a king-size bed. I don’t know any kings, but if one came over, I guess he’d be comfortable. ‘Oh, you’re a king you say, well you won’t believe what I have in store for you. It’s for your exact specifications.’ When I was a boy, I laid in my twin-size bed and wondered where my brother was.”

From still-alive-and-well Kevin Meaney:

“We couldn't wear tight pants growing up in my family. ‘You're not wearing those tight pants out, Mister. Put your big pants on. Going outside with tight pants on. We’re big pants people. Get upstairs to your room and put your big pants on. The Loferman’s are coming over and you're wearing tight pants. Why? Your father doesn't wear tight pants.”

From sometime-local-resident and always a celebrity Wanda Sykes

“We all really should be organ donors. I mean, c’mon why are you holding on to it? You’re dead. Give it up. Let somebody else use it. Although, I hope whoever gets my liver, God bless ‘em. There aint gonna be much left on it. But I don’t understand why people don’t want to give. Some people say, ‘Well, it’s my religion.’ …You scared when you get to heaven your God gonna be like, ‘Where the hell are your eyes? Ain’t this a bitch. You up here with empty eye sockets. Where are your eyes? You can’t even see all this pretty shit I got up here for you.’”

So forgo the news and look for laughs. At least until the elections are over. If there's something we all could use more of, it's laughter in our lives.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

All the news that’s fit to print

If I hadn’t been at the breakfast table reading the print newspaper — or what we used to call the newspaper — I would have missed it. It was a piece about the stir John Oliver caused on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” about the newspaper industry. The short version, as he later tweeted, is the industry “is suffering. That’s bad news for journalists — both real and fictional.”

In his video segment, he said it was bad news for the public, which will suffer because of “our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce.”

Oliver had well researched and reasoned arguments for his concerns. I only have my shallow preferences and self-interests to support his thesis. I happen to love newsprint.

It's not that I'm against digital news. I read that, too. Nothing beats the immediacy of breaking news or watching how stories develop by the hour. But a steady diet of digital is like having dessert for dinner. I can only consume so much digital news, maybe one or two screens' worth, which on my iPhone isn't very much. It’s like, SQUIRREL! Something else captures my attention.

In print, I see the complete story laid out and can decide what to read and what to skim. There are graphic and tactile qualities to the piece. And a nice rustle of pages as I flip forward and back.

I don’t mind spilling coffee on my newspaper; not so much my iPhone. I don’t mind leaving a just-read paper behind in my travels for others to read; again, not so with an iPhone. Well, you get the point.

Occasionally, when people find out I subscribe to the paper, they ask whether I still have a certain article or section. One woman was quoted in a trend piece and eager to see hard copy. She had read the story online, but having the real thing was special.

One thing that has never happened to me while reading a newspaper is being interrupted by a popup, asking, “Do you want to subscribe?” “Do you want a live chat?” “Are you dealing with male pattern baldness?” Yes, online publications do that.

To me, it’s not about print versus digital. I want print and digital. And while I’m always looking for a bargain, free news isn't always a bargain if it decimates the profession of journalism and the papers they work for. I still want real news, not crowd-sourced input or infotainment. I want critical, investigative reporting that brings important issues to light. And, yes, I am willing to support that work with paid subscriptions, which attracts ad dollars, which keeps papers afloat.

I love the work of "fictional journalists" like Oliver, but I also subscribe to print publications so I can read the work of real ones.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Size really does matter

There is a drawer in my mother’s refrigerator stuffed to overflowing with little packets of condiments. She gets them with every dinner served in her retirement community, and she squirrels them away.

I add to the cache with every visit. When I stop to get us sandwiches, I can’t resist adding a few of everything to my order. I just can't be sure she'll have, or be able to find, the exact condiment needed. Silly me. By now, she must have gallons of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and relish, all in single-serve packets.

On the other end of the spectrum are the colossal boxes, bottles, jars, and cans sold by membership-only warehouse clubs. Often, like potato chips, you can’t have just one. Products are packaged in pairs and cartons and, quite possibly, pallets.

I’ve walked those warehouse aisles with my husband, begging him not to stock up. Who can lift a gallon of liquid laundry detergent without spill or sprain? Won’t 88 ounces of ketchup (five-and-a-half pounds) pass the expiration date well before the two-pack bottles are used up? Am I the only person who can barely get a hand around the 1.5-liter-bottle of mouthwash?

Another place size matters is restaurants. Some feature “small plate” menus, with the idea being to order more and different things to share. It’s an approach that doesn’t work well for me. It's hard to share generously while still getting enough of the tasty parts and, with multiple plates, any sense of portion control goes out the window.

Other restaurants equate volume with quality, figuring an overfilled plate makes for happy customers. But more isn’t always more. If it’s not truly and amazingly delicious, less is more appropriate.

Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks. Some sizes are too small. Some too big. What I want  is something that’s just right – in size and volume – to suit the specific occasion. It matters. It really does matter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What kind of person are you?

There are no bumper stickers on my car. No tattoos on my body. I don’t wave flags indicating my heritage or wear jewelry with religious symbols.

I never gave my non-identification a thought until I received a gift that signals exactly the type of person I am: a cat person.

Actually, I am both a cat and dog person, but the gift in question was a handbag embroidered with cats. It was cute. Cats are cute. And so I stuffed my wallet, keys, and smartphone in my new handbag without hesitation.

Then the comments began. My running buddy immediately noticed the bag and claimed she loved it. Her husband, well known for his animosity toward cats, responded that he hated it. I gave little notice to either comment.

It wasn’t until I visited a new local restaurant that I began to recognize the conversation-starting capability of this handbag. My first visit prompted the hostess to ask about the bag and my cats, and then she told me about her cats. Several weeks later, when I walked into the restaurant a second time, she remembered me. More precisely, she remembered my handbag…and a fellow cat-lover.

I found another kindred spirit in the elevator of my mother’s independent living community. The woman wanted to know where she could buy a similar handbag and was disappointed when I couldn’t name a store. But in the minute or so we traveled vertically together, I learned she was a member of the community's Cat Lovers Club and had probably met my mother at a recent meeting.

The cat connection happened again last week on vacation. I walked into a store in Cape May, and one of the shopkeepers remarked about my cat bag. It wasn’t even the woman at the register, but a young man at the back of the store. He used it as entree into a broader discussion encompassing cats, handbags, vacations, home towns, and the weather. He was so friendly I felt bad about trying to escape back to the beach.

The power of pets to connect people is clear to me. Or maybe it’s handbags. I used to have an embroidered one from Ten Thousand Villages that got its share of comments, too. Either way, it’s nice to carry around such a convenient conversation starter. These days it works so much better than “How about those Phillies?”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What do you do with old photos?

Binders circa 1930
My mother asked, “What will you do with all my photographs when I’m gone?”

Being her smart aleck kid, I said, “They’re going with you.”

The joke’s on me, though. After sorting through a small fraction of inventory during her move from house to apartment, I developed a sentimental attachment to quite a few.

The problem is she has several large plastic bins filled with family photos. I don’t know how she collected so many, because I don't recall ever seeing her with camera in hand. My brother thinks digitizing them is the answer. I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble and, even if it was, would we really be able to throw away the old prints?

This is more than a philosophical question for me. I printed my first black & white photos in a small science-class darkroom in junior high. In high school, I converted a closet into a part-time darkroom and continued printing there. For a few years, I worked for a pharmaceutical giant as a photographic specialist. There I furthered my skills printing photographs used, in those pre-PowerPoint days, in business presentations and also for product publicity and scientific test results. One perk of the job was the freedom to print my own work as well.
A recent and rare sighting: 35 mm film on store shelves.

Now I have a walk-in closet packed with slides, contact sheets, negative sleeves, and prints, prints, and more prints. Compounding the problem (or the riches) is the fact my husband is an avid photographer, and so we also have boxes of prints cataloguing his early years of documenting events for family and friends. If it weren’t for digital photography, we would have had to build an addition years ago to hold our growing collection of images.

Lately, I’ve taken to giving old photos to the people who are in them. I don’t know if I’m doing them any favors, as most focus on how young they used to look 20, 25, even 30 years ago. Seems no one likes to be reminded about time marching on.

And so my closet shelves will continue to groan under the weight of boxes of memories of years past, barely lightened by the few photos I manage to give away. If I can avoid adding to the stockpile, and not inherit my mother’s stash of photographs, I will consider myself a very, very lucky girl.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Are you smarter than your critters?

This gazania lasted one day before being chewed to the ground.
Some people are street smart. Some are book smart. Some know a lot about one or two things; others know a little about a lot of things. But few would be able to consistently outsmart the critters in my neighborhood.

Whether it’s the squirrels commandeering bird feeders, rabbits chewing garden plants, chipmunks snacking on flower bulbs, or carpenter bees boring into picnic benches, they are quick to adapt and find their way around any human-designed barriers.

Enter the search terms “squirrels” and “bird feeders” into YouTube, and you’ll get more than 50,000 results. Obviously, my household isn’t the only one trying to baffle one species while feeding another.

After the failure of several guaranteed squirrel-proof bird feeders, I have conceded that territory to the animal kingdom. Let the squirrels and birds duke it out for seed. I’m just there for the show.

My line in the sand is the garden. Here, rabbits are the culprit. Cute, yes. But there are oh so many. And they are oh so bold. I can be reading on the porch, only to look up into the round, black eyes of a rabbit nonchalantly chewing my flowers. He won’t stop. He won’t leave. And he ignores my pleadings to eat the weeds.

I am agreeable to compromise, willing to sacrifice a few plants as appetizers. What I hate is losing freshly planted plots of greens. Fences won't work in this area of the yard, and traps are out because I don’t want to cause bodily harm to bunnies.

After some strategizing and head-scratching, I came up with a plan to protect the latest batch of tender, young basil plants. The solution seemed plausible and possible, with the added bonus of finding a new use for my growing stack of old take-out soup containers. By cutting off the bottom, I was left with a plastic cylinder that would protect lower leaves and stems from easy rabbit pickings. Time will tell whether I’ve really outsmarted those rascally rabbits, and if I buy enough time, the plants will mature enough to survive a nibble or two.

Now my battles in the animal kingdom have moved indoors, where the contestants are cat claws versus lace curtains. The cats won round one, and I have since replaced the shredded panels. I also attempted to stack the deck for the inevitable round two by imposing tighter access to window sills and installing curtain holdbacks. But the cats are cunning, showing off their advantage by sharpening and stretching their claws whenever I’m in sight.

Forget about the TV game show “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader.” A harder challenge would be to find contestants who can prove themselves smarter than the average house cat or squirrel. These critters have proven their ability to outwit, outlast, outplay as well as any Survivor castaway, with clear evidence of their victories throughout my home and garden. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The truth about freelancing

People tend to think freelancers work in their pajamas. I’m sure some do, along with wearing bunny slippers. When I moved to New Hampshire, I was told most neighbors worked in their underwear. At home, I assumed.

Maybe that’s why I returned to the Philadelphia area quick enough to get my old phone number back. In New Hampshire, I had a corporate job. In Philadelphia, I turned freelance writer. Now that it was possible to work in my PJs, I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Years of answering to a higher manager left an indelible imprint on my work ethic. For me, work = getting dressed, although not necessarily in business attire. Every day can be Casual Day; forget about waiting until Friday. There also are times when morning workout wear carries the day because client calls and deadlines push back a shower and change of clothes until evening. Timing doesn’t matter. I work out; I get work done; and I get cleaned up, eventually.

The “free” part of freelancing translates into freedom to set my own schedule. This flexibility is crucial when juggling projects and client commitments. I may schedule a 10 a.m. call on Tuesday, but my client’s priorities can change in an instant – and often do. Some calls are rescheduled once, twice, third time’s the charm.

Projects may start with tight deadlines but proceed in fits and starts, awaiting client input or executive reviews. Some interviewees agree to participate in a story, but rethink their involvement. If I’m lucky, they let me know their change of plans. If not, I'll eventually get the hint after too many emails and calls go answered.

People tell me they often think about becoming a freelancer, but fear a lack of discipline. The draw of distraction would be too strong, they say. Netflix instead of networking. Playing instead of planning. Chats with friends instead of calls with clients.

I admit there are moments when work isn’t working for me. Either I persevere or schedule a break. It helps to remember life as a freelancer is fluid. Deadlines shift. Scheduled meetings are rescheduled or cancelled. Last-minute projects surface. And long-planned projects evaporate.

That’s the reality and the potential of freelancing. Any inconvenience is a small price to pay for the freedom of being my own boss.