Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31 -- Check in with 2011 goals

1--Improving Overall Health: since 1.5, I've
  • signed up for and am attending yoga classes weekly
  • joined Weight Watchers
  • added extra biking to weekly scheme... still working on that one!

2--Living Situation: very recently, it looks as if by March 1, I will be in a new apartment, owned by friends. The advantages include:
  • 50% more space overall
  • HE washer-dryer included
  • an additional closet
  • outside, enclosed patio space
  • a bigger complex with more green space and no one looking in my windows directly!
  • still within 3 miles of campus and nice biking routes as well as easy drive
  • a swanky wet bar!
  • less rent! (which will go right into the IRA fund)
This means 2011 goal #2 will be resolved by March, and in a way that will make me very happy. Amazing!

3--Managing my Resources: working on it. Since 1.5, I've
  • organized specific daily times (3x daily) to check and send email
  • cleaned out 3 email inboxes and unsubscribed from multiple 'new sellers
  • focused my two-class-day weeks to allow 1 more day on campus for meet-and-greet with students
  • reassessed/assigned my retirement funding and IRA for improved outcome
  • continued to pay off credit card debt and not incurred new debt
  • made one Goodwill run, mostly clothing
  • bought no new books but downloaded free classics to my Nook (for 50 Books 2011)
  • started to burn CDs to laptop/iPod for selling
  • pulled out CDs, DVDs, and books for selling

4--Improving My Community. Since 1.5, I have
  • reconnected with 2 friends via email; now sending weekly quick-touch emails
  • made plans to visit one in march for long weekend
  • this week, contacted 2 friends on campus for drink/dinner meetings
  • connected a colleague into my divisional project and made a lunch date with her to talk about her project
  • reached out to connect 5 artists from local theatre scene into project

5--Bringing Creative Closure. Since 1.5, I have
  • started working on manuscript submission to publisher
  • already writing a new novel
  • started talking about a new on-campus project with one fo the colleagues I met this week
  • organized, bullied, spear-headed departmental project (via creative management) so much so that colleagues who initially pulled out and forced me to redefine the entire program now want back in to play in my playground!
Lots of "start-up energy" and circumstances. Hopefully, this will sustain me through the coming two months (crazy period!) and then into summer. I am actually surprised at how much has bee started and accomplished in a short time.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Manners: A Decidedly Good Practice!

"Good manners are just a way of showing other people we have respect for them." So quotes the character of Troy in the film BLAST FROM THE PAST, referring to what he's been told by the character of Adam.

I love this quote. It is exactly my idea of why we should cultivate good manners and use them, every day, in every interaction with family, friends, and strangers. No one should be immune to our employment of manners.

Sadly, because most of the world focuses on its own bellybutton and being "authentic" is so very in, manners have come to be regarded as extra baggage no one really needs. Not only are basic good manners foreign to most people, but the recognition of when someone is being polite also seems (sadly) foreign to us all. We do not even recognize when someone has been polite to us by saying "Thank you" or "Excuse me" or "You're welcome." We are all privileged and therefore entitled to other people's generosity or courtesy.

This includes such tiny things as holding the door for someone or acknowledging that they have done so for you. Allowing someone older or weaker or pregnant or burdened to have your seat on the train, a space ahead of you in line, or simply a hand with packages. An arm across the drive in a parking lot for goodness sake!

We think of them as something aristocrats used to make themselves elite from others, and us democratic folks don't need 'em. We're all equal, so manners are fooey.

When I was a kid I found these books of teenage manners (below), written in the 1940s, in my grandmother's house. My mother and aunt had them. (These below, for sale on Etsy, are sort of flashcards, but the illustrations are from those original books.)

Funny and straightforward: and yes, manners are how we each show our respect for other people. Is respect out of fashion in our diverse and democratic society? God, I hope not!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Express Checkout Experiment, 2011

This spring, there is a new wrinkle in my "dressing": I am teaching only two days weekly.

Which means that there should be no excuse for me to look very good on those two days! I will have the choice of my clothes for the admittedly 8-hour teaching/meeting days ahead; I also plan to bike in everyday, so this will give me practice in dressing for the bike as well.

Two days of formal clothes: no jeans allowed, despite the "studio" nature of my courses. Shoes or boots to scarves and jewelry.

But that leaves two new days when I will be either running errands or home, working the scholar mode. Which means I must mindfully dress myself every morning despite being home writing on the laptop or researching my book or the two articles I am stringing along. It is a huge temptation to stay in pajamas or ultra-casual flannel bottoms or sweatpants and a t-shirt, fuzzy socks (no shoes in the house), and a light pashmina tossed over my shoulders. After all, no one will see me at home and errands are just quickies, right?

Not so.

First, I do plan to stop by my department at least once on a day without classes to work the phones and meet students in scheduled advising meetings or casual hallway encounters. Sort of keep my presence alive.

Second, the libraries will be a great source of journals, newspapers, and various other sources for my research, and stopping by always leads to, well, conversations, lunches, etc.

Third, not dressing--beyond flannel items--simply discourages focus for work. I am still "working," even if not among colleagues. I have set goals (dates for completion, for example) and need to realize them. Thinking professionally is being professional... and who knows who will come to the door, or be out at the grocery store or tailor, or call.

But as I move toward even more culling of my wardrobe, this change may affect me more fully in that area of thinking than I imagine. Right now, I can see that since October I have given away or thrown away a full one-third of my clothing. Closets have space, where before they were too tightly packed. Shelves and drawers have shorter, more focused piles. I am still holdng on to things, and need to make three trips--one to Goodwill (a last one about clothing!), one to the consignment store, and one to the vintage store--before I can really say I am taking a break from de-cluttering my closet further.

So the experiment continues, with my own knowledge that I'll really be wearing the dressier parts of my current list less. And maybe with more pleasure, after all.

Mostly, this spring will enable me to assess where I am and what I need (and don't need) to keep.

Tally for this week: Monday & Wednesday, teaching -- dressed toes to head; Tuesday, errands and yoga -- unfortunately, went everywhere in yoga gear. Thursday, meetings on campus and errands -- plan to dress up.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And the penny drops...

I was too busy this morning to be ready to ride my bike in. So--lunch prepared, me dressed, backpack ready... and not enough time (35 minutes) to ride in, lock up, and cool down from the ride. Drove car instead.

Note to self: add 15 minutes to early morning line-up for "getting a move on"--that is simply what I needed, a boost! 


Yesterday I took yoga class #3, handed over 3+ bags of clothes to Goodwill, handed in my application for a new/larger apartment, turned coins into cash at my grocery store, and exchanged a blouse at a store (for a smaller size!) without paying any attention to the looming SALES going on at same...

Feeling very virtuous... something bound to change!

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Clutter-Free Living: National Clean Out Your Inbox Week

While there are 12 rules, I plan to take them bite-by-bite.

This week:
#1. Decide that you want to change your emailing habits: Done.
#2. Turn off all bell, flashers, and notifications; all automatic contacting devices. Done.
#3. Create action folders and use them. Done!

I plan to introduce three new folders to my biggest email account: Action Today, Action This Week, Action This Month. Done!

Then I can immediately move emails into these folders... or delete them or handle them (in 2 minutes).

I'm looking at this as "managing my resources," one of my 2011 goals. Not to be controlled by the cell phone or email box, but to use it as I need. As I said in my post on "Five Essential Things" this week, I don't want to list my phone, because I do go out without it... and plan to continue to do so. I don't want to be ruled by electronic/technical devices, or have my time dictated by them.

Or find myself in unnecessary conversations in grocery stores, or texting constantly while waiting in traffic or standing in line. I don't really have that much to say, nor am I important enough to be "on call" for everyone--or expect them to be so for me.

Here's another point of view: Zen Habits.

The New Frugality: Smart Decision!

I am patting myself on the back right now because I decided to use my rewards points from various accounts to fund my Christmas gifts: gift cards from various bog box stores and sites like iTunes.

"Right Now" Pat: I have no credit card debt or post-Xmas hangover from buying too much on credit.

"Good Idea!" Pat: Everyone was happy with their cards! My mother got a B&N card, my dad a Home Depot card, my nephews iTunes, Best Buy, and Target, my brother-in-law Starbucks (which he likes but thinks is too pricey, so he won't buy there on his own--also signed him up for on-line rewards), and my friend AMC Theatres. Then, here and there, I also bought non-gift-card gifts for people with Christmas-time birthdays (like my mom and sister) or just because I found things perfect for them.

I used to think gift cards were a lazy kind of gift, but more and more it simply seems that people want to choose how and when they "reward" themselves with card cash. They really appreciate the freedom and seem geniunely excited about the possibilities of "spending" their cards.

A big "Whew!" from me, too, because expenses have emerged--as they do--but I am not sweating an increased balance anywhere. In fact, quite the opposite! I managed to pay off significantly more than usual in January and keep the debt-lowering train moving forward.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Favorite Things: Art & Decoration

I am a sucker for French design magazines. When in Paris I buy them by the armload, but here I only buy Art & Decoration. I had a subscription to it for a year, but that was ridiculously expensive. Now, I buy one every three months or so, but make the trip to the Borders in town that carries it to have a coffee and read it (without buying) more often.

The pictorial spreads are marvelous, very French. The particular sense of style here is delightful, and the editors feature as many small spaces and inexpensive rooms as they focus on chateaux and country homes. Sometimes they show apartments, sometimes suburban or vacation homes, sometimes historical houses.

The point seems to be creating a functional, elegant, comfortable home with a distinct sense of style -- not spending lots and lots of money or the homes of famous people.

They also offer articles on individual cities throughout the French-speaking world (last month, Bruges), historical periods of style and antiques, artists or craft schools, and great "where to buy" sections focusing on individual items shown by color and style.

What I really like is the sense of style featured here. It is definitely not an American sensibility, but I am not certain I can describe what they do. Sometimes the rooms are incredibly contemporary, sometimes historical--but each one shows a definite use of color and texture, a sense of the smallest detail in terms of design and function, and a lack of crowding that is so completely part of borth American and British design magazines, where every surface is loaded with knick-knacks, collections, plants and flowers, mementos, and "stuff." And yet there is usually a sense of warmth in the rooms, a welcoming sense of comfort as well.

I have a few lurking around the house, and unlike the rest of my magazines, I hang on to these. I think of them as research, rather than clutter. For future reference.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cinq choses essentielles

Or "Five Things I Cannot Leave Home Without."

Having been tagged by Une femme d'un certain age with this key question, I spent yesterday actually focusing on what I did need, away from my home. I am afraid some of my list will duplicate that of Deja Pseu's list.

#1 Mascara. When I am at home all day, I rarely put it on. But one of my early lessons in being an adult femme was to wear mascara whenever I go out the front door.

Currently, I wear Maybellines's Colossal Blast in Waterproof Black. I have always worn black mascara (black, very black, blackest black) because my lashes are naturally so dark brown, brown is a waste of time. Blue mascara is my change-of-pace color. For me, mascara is either the finishing touch to a more made-up face or the only thing (almost) I wear. A kind of essential polish that helps me face the big ol' outer world, even when I can't or don't take the time to even put on foundation.

#2 Lipstick: Red. This is a definite adult choice I have developed in the last decade, although I have always loved red lipstick. I probably have about ten different variations and brands, from French and American drugstore brands through Chanel.

While I read a lot about how red is too harsh for older ladies and a softer rose is better, I cannot move away. I have soft red lipstick... and brighter red lipstick. And brownish-red lipstick. And blue-red lipstick. LOVE it. Like all good beauty advice, I have adapted it to myself and plan to wear red until I am in my coffin... oh, and even then.

For me, it is a constant reminder of the glamour of the 1930s and 1940s movies I loved as a young girl developing my own unique style.

#3 Glasses. Yes, any longer leaving the house without my glasses is a bad idea. I have readers, not prescription lenses, but I cannot function at the grocery store, the restaurant, or anywhere else where reading up close is necessary. Since I do wear readers just for close reading (meaning my arms aren't long enough any more) I like to switch it up. When I do need full-time lenses, I'll have a good idea what to wear.

#4 Notebook & pen. I have always carried journals or notebooks and pens. An all-purpose list/observation/memory book. Right now I am using Moleskine notebooks (small, hard-cover, lined) and the same pens I've used for years. One of my favorite writers on writing, Natalie Goldberg, talks about finding your instruments: I did.

#5. Ring. I bought this at the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, when I first visited that city en route to a conference at University of St. Andrews. It is a very fine moonstone set in gold. I love the blue shimmer of the stone when the light hits it just right.

I have to say, #6 would be either my phone or my watch (I am still a wristwatch girl, despite the phone) but I do occasionally leave the house without either one, sometimes deliberately and sometimes forgetfully... and no one suffers.

A word about my purse as well. About five years ago I discovered the perfect purse for me: Longchamp Roseau series. I am not a purse gal, but this series... suffice it to say I have a medium red one, medium black one, and a small brown one. And each one will last me a lifetime and be incredibly useful. My only remaining desire: a medium one in saddle tan. Oh, yeah.

Friday, January 21, 2011

If I were in Paris... Friday, January 21, 2011

Wow! This week, I would have a rich set of choices for seeing events.

First, at the Musee Rodin, "Monet-Rodin: Just the Two of Us," an exhibition charting the crossovers and connections between the two artists, which closes this coming week, on January 30, 2011. There is also a huge exhibition of Henry Moore at the Rodin Museum, well worth seeing on a visit there.

Which could of course be nicely rounded off with a late morning tea at the restaurant on the museum's grounds.

Since it is just aorund the corner from the Musee Rodin, I'd also visit the Basilique Sainte-Clotilde, on Rue Las CasesThe Travel Channel says, "In the 19th-century, this was the most posh basilica in Paris. This neo-Gothic beauty is best known for its magnificent twin spires. The open space in front of the basilica is a heartbreakingly beautiful scene, with children playing ball, watched by parents relaxing in the lush garden." Sounds lovely and worth a visit!

Then I'd toddle over to the American Library in Paris for their exhibition celebrating their 90th anniversary with an exhibit of photographs and other materials, especially those on WWI and WWII. And Marlene Dietrich's personal collection/contribution to the library!

And, since we're coming to the end of the month of "Soldes" in the shops, I would definitely hit some of my favorites (if I had not already) like Repetto! Followed by a nice, brisk walk along Boulevard St.-Germain to enjoy the windows of those stores I can't afford.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

AT&T following up...

After I wrote a true but angry email to AT&T I got a phoen call from a... what? I guess super customer service rep, or something. Anyway, he tried to get me ito my account, and while he could get in (he assured me he was staring at my account on the screen), I couldn't. He told me, it was my computer. A-huh.

We cleared out my cookies, my browsing history, and still I couldn't get in.

Again he told me it was my computer and advised that I take it in to be serviced.

Nope. Told him I didn't buy it--I could get in everywhere else--and that he could fix it or I'd have to cancel my account. it was not my damn computer, it was their system! Oh--he could fix it. But it would take 2 days.

Surprisingly he got back to me in ten minutes, and told me that he'll call me today and we'll definitely get me into my account.

Sure, dude. We'll talk.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Favorite Things -- Presents to myself!

I have to admit I bought myself two early birthday presents: a Clarisonic Pro and a set of cobalt Le Creuset bakers...

This is sort of a frugal move because I actually saved $65 off total price of both combined. I bought the Clarisonic on eBay (my first time!) and bought the cooking dishes by email  not only on sale but with the inclusion of a "bonus" dish. In each case I am also replacing multiple items which are in my newest Goodwill bag (first of the year!). So pretty/useful things in, clutter out, money saved: win-win!

In terms of the Clarisonic Pro: I had already been thinking about buying one, admittedly a Mia, when I read the review on In My Professional Opinion, and was swayed. Then I read more customer reviews on and I decided to buy this version because it also targets the body, and I've been using it on my neck, decollete, shoulders, and arms. In less than two weeks, I am seeing great results: smoother skin on my forearms, which has the most sun-damage, thanks to driving in a 24/7 sunny geography; less bumps on upper arms and elbows, and generally better color and texture everywhere else. I am also using the sensitive head on my face, and while the results are less spectacular, I am very pleased. I am using my own gel cleanser, using it 1-2xs daily, and no peeling, dryness, or irritation (thanks, I think, to the sensitive brush). But I did get the normal facial brush as well, and may incorporate that later. In about 3 minutes every morning in the shower I am seeing a difference in my skin and appearance. That  may also be due to the better absorption of facial moisturizers, serums, and body lotions applied after.

I also have 2/5 of the usual price by bidding on eBay, which is good because it is pricey. I had already tried the Neutrogena facial system (now in Goodwill!) and looked at the new system Olay has in stores. Neither has the craftsmanship or value of the Clarisonic, in my opinion. But if you do want a system and don't want to spend what I did, they will work. I simply like the brushed better than the pads (Neutrogena) and like the softer, more dense facial brush (rather than Olay).

I will let you know how things move along.

My other birthday purchase (early, by the way!) was the pair of Le Creuset bakers I wrote about before Christmas. No one took the hint, so I decided to do it myself. You might remember that last year I gave myself a Le Creuset round casserole, so I kept the same color: cobalt.
The bakers are small: the larger is slightly smaller than a sheet of paper, and the small one is about 1/2 that. Perfect for a single cooker/eater who occasionally has a friend over. The big one can hold a casserole for four reasonable eaters or two huge chicken breasts (like this weekend), while the small one can comfortably bake a good piece of salmon, a pot pie, or a 2 or 3-day supply of lasagna (want to try the Winter Green Lasagna from Chow!). In other words, I have downsized portions without dramatic struggle, while upgrading the chic of my kitchen! Yay, me.

Two new things to brighten the long days of winter... even here in the Big D!

Kindness and the World

Recently, A Slice of Pink and Une femme d'un certain age have both written about being positive in the face of an unkind world around us. I completely agree, and have always tried to be polite, thoughtful, and aware of how my rudeness infects public discourse.

Unfortunately, today I was reminded--forcibly--that this is not the common attitude any longer, and both encounters I had today suggest to me that I am largely out of tune with the thoughtlessness and "me, first" stance of the times.

First, I have been battling with AT&T to get my online account information (username and password) in order to see my bills because--as they urged me--I changed to e-bills. ninety minutes, two "customer service" reps and one supervisor later... I have a username and new password that DO NOT WORK.

I simply yelled. Threatened to quit AT&T--ah, now some movement! Described the problem, the non-help, the frustration... and heard no genuine concern, sympathy, or thought going into the "help" process in return. "Procedure" was all they offered, which insulated them from doing anything for me.

This is the second day of battling simply to get into my account: they cannot do it themselves and cannot enable me to get in. The secret of my username/password is more tightly protected than my bank account or any of my credit accounts--it is possibly better protected than Fort Knox.

The result? Complete frustration on my part. How did I even get this far, after initially being fobbed off by promises of returned phone calls (but only until 5 pm weekdays!) and insincere apologies?

I threatened to pull my account. I raised my voice and yelled at any and all AT&T personnel on the phone. Then--and only then--did I get help, but the help's help isn't accurate. I still do not have access to my own online account. But a new registration code is on its way to me... via US postal mail.

Second, in a meeting today, a colleague said--sort of to me but really to two other colleagues and a student--(paraphrased) "Another colleague, you, and I have all failed students in the last few years, but I am still considered a nice guy."

Think about that: what's wrong with this guy's statement, and with him saying this about me (and an absent colleague!) in front of peers and a student? He did not say it in a mean or angry tone, he did not say it to score on me, he said it simply as a matter of fact--to him--about how having high standards could still mean one was popular and liked.

I sat there with my mouth open, thinking, did I really hear this?

First, it is wrong for any teacher to say "I failed a student"--in most cases, no, you didn't. The student failed to meet the basic expectations or to fulfill the basic assignments of the course. The teacher simply gave the grade earned--whether A or F.

Second, am I suddenly in a battle for Miss (or Mister) Congeniality? Am I not "liked"because I set standards and gave 5 students the D and F they earned? Despite giving 20 other students the C, B, or A they earned? Huh?

Third, wasn't that just flat-out... rude?

My unfortunate lesson for today is, being polite may be as dated as writing thank you notes and wearing hats outside during the day. Lovely to think about, but not in fashion as a practice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Cooks!

Since being back home from the holidays, I am cooking up a frenzy. Sort of.

Last night I made a delicious improvised dish for dinner with a friend: chicken breasts with shallots, lemon, and artichoke hearts. Mmm, my mouth waters just thinking about it. And easy. Here are my improv'd directions--feel free to play!
  1. Pound 2 chicken breasts flat (the most fun part!)
  2. Meanwhile, melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a heavy skillet (you could probably use olive oil, too).
  3. Chop or thinly slice 2 shallots and dump into butter in skillet. Let cook about 1 minute, then add chicken breasts. Let the breasts cook 1-2 minutes per side (depending on size), then add about 1/4 c. chicken stock, white wine, or water. Squeeze one lemon into the mix. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. cumin over top of breasts. 
  4. Let this cook, turning the breasts occasionally to make certain both sides get equal attention. after about 10 minutes, add 1/2 c. artichoke hearts direct fom the jar (no extra liquid). Let all this cook, paying attention, for another 15 minutes, until the breasts release clear juice when sliced (or until you feel satisfied hey're cooked, again depending on the size of the breasts, your stove, etc.).
  5. Remove the breasts to a plate and continue stirring the juices and artichoke left in the pan until it thickens. Then pour the juice over the breasts and serve.  Yum.
If you are counting calories, replace the butter with olive oil (more heart-friendly) or one of the sprays available. Not a big deal. Just make sure the breasts don't stick. The cumin can barely be tasted, but gives a subtle kick to the artichoke hearts and lemon... and it's just my favorite spice. I would add cumin to everything, if I could.

Today I am "roasting" a chicken in my slow cooker. At 5 lbs., the chicken barely fit, so we'll see how it goes. (I downgraded from a huge 7 qt. cooker to a 3 qt, remember?) Followed the directions online, by coating it with a thin film of olive oil, seasoning with lemon and rosemary, salt and pepper, but no room for onions, vegetables, or anything else in that crockpot with the robust-sized chicken. Note to self: next time, get no more than a 3 lb. one! I love the slow cooker, frankly--set and go? Perfect!--but am still developing regular recipies for it.


+ B.

= ?

Have to make to home after errands to switch to low in... 2 hours. Then simply clean house and wait.

Friday, January 14, 2011

If I were in Paris... Friday, January 14, 2011

Today's temperatures are between 54 and 44 degrees, so cool but not freezing. What would I be doing?

Definitely I would be at the exhibit at Musee Malliol in the 7th, where their exhibition "Tresors des Medicis" is winding down. The exhibition carries 150 items from the Medici collections, which practically guarantees a variety of amazing items across the spectrum of useful and artistic possibilities.

The museum is located in the 7th on the Rue du bac, open 10:30am-7 pm everyday and at 11 euros seems... well, reasonable. The exhibition will undoubtedly be amazing, including materials from both Catherine and Marie, the two Medici women who were queens of France and brought Italian culture, art, and learning to French courts.

I would love to follow this up with the exhibition on designer Andrea Putman at the Hotel de Ville, again open every day from 10 am to 7 pm in the 4th... and it is free. The designer is 85 and this is a retrospective of her career as one of the quintessential French designer, beginning in the 1940s. As a woman and a designer she is unpredictable; her work is labeled "eclectic" and her signature is black-and-white duochomatic design. Hotels, interior design, movie sets, and even the Concorde... how could it not be a great exhibition?

From that exhibition, today I think I would walk a few blocks and treat myself to tea at Mariage Freres on Rue Bourg Tibourg. This means a single pot of tea chosen from their huge selection of house teas or infusions and a treat--cake, pastry, or custard of tea-based recipes. This is my favorite of the MF shops. On a cool, cloudy January afternoon, nothing could be better.

After that, a walk through the Marais, perhaps, looking into the brightly-lit windows of the shops, and home to a cozy, late dinner, reading my current book (perhaps on the Nook!), and well-earned sleep.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Favorite Things -- my new Nook

Stupid name, great product!

This is the Barnes & Noble e-reader, which I asked for and got for Christmas. Oh, a cute red cover which really does make it look like a book and protects the screen.
I really did fight the e-reader for a while. But... de-cluttering got me. Of my 50 titles for 2011, about 20% can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg. I can also now sell my classic paperback titles, freeing up several shelves in my living room. I cna also access free titles from Barnes & Noble, as well as from other sources. I'll be looking into e-books from other soruces as well; mostly, they cost somewhere between hardcover and paperback costs, which seems ridiculous. I look forward to e-books reaching their real costs (no paper, no type, no printing/shipping/storage... so why more than a paperback?).

I am also of the belief that soon/someday academic publishers will wake up and utilize e-publishing more and more--in fact replacing "real" books with virtual e-ones. Or at least that would be the smart thing for academic publishers--who are bleeding money for books no one can afford--to do.

But... I love it!

When I travel, I always load a bag full of books and/or buy lots of books while I am away (oh, yeah, Oxford bookstores LOVE me!). This will enable me to a/ load up on ebooks before I leave and b/ travel without backache.

My only caveat: the print is dark gray on light gray. Eyestrain, much? Yes. I would love to have the option to make it more/black/white contrasted for reading ease. But that's small... love, love, love the Nook.

2011 Goal #5 -- Seeing Creative Work to Closure

Last goal of 2011!

This issue of "closure" is double-edged: I have several creative projects "in process" right now, and my plan is to a/ finish them off successfully and b/ begin new ones. Yes!

This is again an issue of focus, in my opinion. Focusing on seeing a project through to the end and, by completing it, moving myself on to the next one. On the principle of moving one thing out, to move something else in.

I feel better when I am creative: when I write, when I research, when I do needlework and beading, when I cook. A spiritual de-cluttering, if you will. A ton of energy comes into my house when I am actively producing creative work, and, like my students, I need to work on the same stuff they struggle with:
First: perfectionism. Yeah, making work that is NOT perfect... but good. My mentor used to say, there's good work, and there's done work, and there's good/done work: aim for the third. Not "perfect" or "great" work--because that aim is unreal and self-defeating. of course, while it may turn out to be great, that's not the goal I need to aim at. I need to aim at "done": completion is my bete noire right now.

Second: focus. Oh, yeah. Removing distraction but keeping a place to work on each creative act. In terms of needlework and jewelry, that means organizing my materials so I can store them and work without messing up any workspace (Michael's, here I come!). My kitchen is minuscule, which means cleaning off the counter and (probably) getting rid of the pots, pans, and items I don't use (my beloved Wolfgang Puck pans!) so that I can store the appliances I loooove and actually use.

Third: process vs. product. Again, oh yeah! OH yeah. I tell my students--and believe!--that focusing on the process of the work will make the product great... or even just plain ol' good. And encourage growth  & risk (fourth thing to work on, in fact!).

Right now I've got one big project started... and plan to finish it by month's end.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Favorite Things -- Clean House

I love, love, love the TV show Clean House on the Style Network.

This is surprising since I mostly hate reality shows. Low-cost, low ethics, low expectations, with playground bickering disguised as honest drama. Ugh. And people humiliating each other, conning each other, abusing each other--in general, acting in the rudest and most common manner possible... and I don't mean "belonging equally to" but "mediocre, coarse, vulgar, lacking distinction."

BUT... I love Clean House.

Why? Because the show is focused thus: one house, crowded and full of ridiculous junk, is cleaned, decluttered, and made livable in one week... often clearing out old issues, arguments, and personal problems, leaving the family not only able to use their living spaces perfectly but in a better "space" emotionally.

What's not to like? Junk is discarded, clutter-be-gone! People's relationships are improved, not so magically! And then the experts go away, and people have to deal with day-to-day... but some problems are solved, some rooms are cleared, and lives are freed up for new opportunities. I LOVE IT!
No one's psyche is destroyed, no one is humiliated, and only positive stuff is promoted.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Goal #4: Building a Better Community

"Community" has come up several times during the last couple of "goal" postings. I have become more aware of my community as my primary external community--my work colleagues--has dwindled. Without going into melodramatic details, let me say that this community has dwindled through neglect (from leadership downwards), a lack of generosity, downright rudeness, and the 21st century malaise of "too much to do."

The problem here is not about others, but about myself: I have let collegial ties fade, neglected new ties, clipped old ones, and simply not worked to maintain friendships, familial relatonships, and networks.

Step #1 in this goal or intention for 2011: take the time weekly to contact friends, family, and peers via email, socal networks, phone, and plain old handwritten word. This doesn't mean everyone, every week, but certainly making the first move toward regaining or reafffirming ties. And for me, yes, this means a schedule of people to contact on a regular basis by one of the above methods.

I notice that I am so "electronic" and yet emails rarely carry any semblance of the enotional connection between contacts that voice or pen does. My students regularly query me about a brief email: the equivalent of "are you mad?" when I do not say more than "yes" or "no." Two students and I got into a hilarious (and eye-opening) discussion about that, including their suggestion that I include emoticons with every typically brief email. Something to give a temperature of the message, rather than a brief and bleak reply.

Relax: no emoticons for me, except perhaps in the most hilarious manner. But it did confirm for me that emotion and relationships aren't carried by emails, mostly. Only reactions, or facts, or information.

So phone (which I actually dread, mostly) and writing are a better basis for emotional connections.

Step #2: develop new, self-constructed communities. In other words, don't wait for opportunities within the structures I already belong to (My U or My Division, for example) but create new groups. For example, the women within my division could use a "night out" as a group, which may have nothing to do with work at all, but simply being women in a fairly patriarchal structure. Being colleagues with slightly different agendas than our male colleagues. Or a bi-monthly writing group embracing my former students who are in town and others, brought into the group by us. Again, this sounds so ambitious that my goal is to create one "developmental" event per month, starting in February.

Of course, this also appllies to my blog, as I write here and connect (I hope!) with other bloggers and readers.

Step #3: seek out new communities. Already on this, with my yoga class, which looks promising. I also want to consider working outside My U and giving back to the community (!) by participating in something like Habitat for Humanity, starting in March. And maybe... joining a church? I am not much for organized things (I am the product of two people who refuse to join organized groups--my youth was spent avoiding such things and, frankly, never quite fitting into them). While I love the ritual and ceremony of church services (I am in theatre, after all) and the power of the music, and I am a believer, I find the politics and daily practice of being part of organized religion annoying at best and hypocritical at worst. Hmm. No easy answer: just like most of life. But this month, just getting into yoga class is a good idea.

One change in my thinking that happened a couple of years ago was that I started questioning why I was connected to certain long-time friends. Was it habit? A real foundation of experience? Enjoyment of their company? Was the relationship growing or stagnant? In some cases, I found it to be stagnant. In others, the relationship seemed to be buoyed along by my emails, calls, and cards... but was not a shared or growing experience. I found myself examining all my friendships and rethinking the time involved. One friend, for example, who I admire and genuinely like never initiated contact by phone, email, or card; she in fact let me down rather spectacularly on a project we were developing, and never accounted for it. If I did all the work, we connected. If I did nothing, there was no connection. This kind of relationship brought about huge questions regarding my own balance and definition of friendship. It also pointed me toward finding new connections outside "work."

In the end, this is all about balance and bringing balance to my life, which is been dominated by my job for too long. The overall goal I want for this year, for 2011, is to be more engaged, more in control, and more rewarded by my own life... which can only be done by me. So community is, for me, another way of defining who I am becoming and what I want to do with my time (resource) and my future (health).

Step #1: reconnect with friends, family, peers regularly through email, phone, letters, and personal contacts.
Step #2: develop self-defined communities locally or by distance.
Step #3: seek out new communities and connect. This will need about three possibilities, because not every trial group is right.

2011 Goal #3: Managing my Resources

Again, this is an overlapping goal and intention: money, belongings, time, and even friends.

Money is easiest: paying off debt, shaping retirement funds more effectively, selling and donating unwanted things, and re-investing in myself more wisely.

Belongings means using the things I love often, giving away, discarding, or selling the things I do not need or use, and using Morris's dictum as a guideline... which will help eliminate impulse shopping and useless belongings. Keeping a minimalism guideline, I can focus on what I need and love vs. everything else.

And stop distracting myself with "stuff." Have I ever mentioned I love the TV show Clean House? (BTW, this is not my house, below!)

Time is the most important of all, really, and the key to everything. This includes setting boundaries for others and myself in "technology" time (like emails, internet, etc.) and establishing time for me to work on classroom work, scholarship, and creative work... a goal I always have.

Again: distractions. I'm reading Focus by Leo Babauta (free on the web here), which is a simple but powerful text on how to "focus in the age of distraction" (wow!)--it is helping me by identifying new sites of distraction, but also confirming what I already know (I don't want to be available 24/7 to electronic/digital devices, let alone people!) and there are strategies for creating effective boundaries. Time-wasters like mindless TV, video games, and reading admittedly trashy books--necessary in their own ways, but too big a portion of my time now--redirected to the 50 books I listed, my own creative and scholarly goals, and simply being more mindful. And yes, still enjoying "time wasting"!

Community is the big resource I want to manage (goal #4): I have work to do on this one. Honestly, I have trouble stepping into already-formed communities, like church groups. Since the community of my department at My U has dissolved, that internal community would have to be of my own making. Which means stepping up my own connections to chosen colleagues. More, it means identifying and creating my community among family, friends, and colleagues, including real and virtual communities. Community is a lot of work, both on an individual basis and a group basis.

As we get older, communities are tougher to find and maintain. I have noticed friends dropping out because of marriage, babies, moving, and even death. I have stopped talking to or connecting with people because of my over-involvement with work, time, or simply laziness. In this way, social networks like Facebook have actually improved connecting, because of the already-available platform for emailing notes and pictures, low-pressure ways of staying in touch.

But communities are a huge resource, especially for single people, because that maintains your health (according to studies) and keeps you involved and joyful. Like watching your money, it is important to watch your friends, family, and other social groups. More on this, tomorrow.

But managing my resources means being mindful of my resources--all of them--and balancing them, again mindfully. Being aware of the variety and strength of each one, and maintaining each one as well (for some reason, I just flashed on the medieval morality play EVERYMAN! And I am so a teacher!).

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Goal #2: Change my living situation

This one entails buying a house and/or moving to a new apartment. Life in the 'hood has gotten interesting, frankly, and moving makes sense.

Ugh, moving. It is always crazy-making, isn't it? Maybe a house will be a good thing, instead of another apartment--I'm kind of thinking so, but such a big commitment. There was a time when I thought buying an apartment in Paris would be my dream--and when it was affordable. Not so much, any more.

Philosophically, I know moving means getting rid of the excess "stuff" in my closets and my life, so I don't drag it with me yet again. It's been a pleasure since October to be in de-cluttering mode; the results have been so positive, and I plan to continue. I need to finish the Big Project I am on right now so I can move into selling or donating the items I've decided to release.

This also means I have to stop lurking on the 'net and actually do things like find a realtor, get pre-approved for a mortgage, and scout houses. I do know what I want in a house, but taking these steps means choosing a house, which seems so deliberate in some ways. The process makes me discover that, for me, buying a house or renting an apartment is philosophical.

But that's why it is a 12-month goal, something that will require lots of little steps and change and commitment on my part. A good thing, I think. At my age, I am also deciding whether I want to buy a "now" house here in town which is for the next few years, or a "future" house that will be about retirement. I've got a couple decades to go before retirement, but that house could be a vacation house, a rental, a part-time house, if I plan it well. Which is very appealing, in many ways.

On the other hand, given events around here, I may have to move quickly--like within the next two months. Which in some time would be a blessing: quick move, quick sales, quick decluttering... Boom!

Moving is a shake-up, given that one must find and adapt a new environment. Shake-ups are good, every once in a while.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

50 Books

This year my challenge is to read 50 books outside my favorite genres, including re-reading favorites from years past. I’m thinking of the following as a list of suggestions, as well as books I have piled up in my house waiting to be read. These books are not in any particular order, and won’t be read in the exact order below, but around and about. A number of them are books I've had in my "to read" pile for some time, and some are simply books I've wanted to read or re-read.
1. More than Love Letters by Rosie Thornton
2. Paradiso by Dante Aligheri
3. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
4. Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by E.W. Ives
5. Shelley by Ann Wroe
6. The Sentry by Robert Crais
7. The First Man by Robert Crais
8. South of Beach by Pat Conroy
9. Just Kids by Patti Smith
10. Tinkers by Paul Harding
11. The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
12. The Discovery of France by Graham Robb
13. Balzac by Graham Robb
14. Paris, Capitol of Modernity by David Harvey
15. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
16. The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
17. The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp
18. Dear Theo by Vincent Van Gogh
19. Orientalism by Edward Said
20. Rhythm in Drama by Kathleen George
21. Living the Writer’s Life by Eric Maisel
22. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
23. Too Nice for Your Own Good by Duke Robinson
24. Getting Things Done by David Allen
25. Deep Writing by Eric Maisel
26. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyways by Susan Jeffers
27. Other Powers by Barbara Goldsmith
28. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
29. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
30. Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson
31. Body Clutter
32. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
33. Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
34. Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
35. The Anthologist by Nicholas Baker
36. The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane
37. Chez Panisse by Alice Waters
38. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David
39. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
40. The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria
41. The Road to Monticello by Kevin J. Hayes
42. Strapless by Deborah Davis
43. The Medici by Paul Strathern
44. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
45. Touchstone by Laurie King
46. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
47. The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard
48. Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
49. Montmartre and the Making of Culture by Gabriel Weissberg
50. On Photography by Susan Sontag

And on we go.

2011 Goal #1: Improve Overall Health

Sitting here with Jack this morning, drinking my coffee and writing this blog, I am really thinking about what this goal entails: physical, mental, financial, and creative health, in fact. Again, I am not using the word "resolution"; instead, I like goal or, yes, intention. Something to suggest the 12-month process ahead of me.

Physical: I have put on too much weight in the last five years, after several life upheavals. Sooooo, okay, time to dump it, which will definitely improve my mental and emotional health! And eventually my financial health, when I don't get the viruses and diseases flowing regularly through my department or worse things brought about by unaddressed stress and poor habits. I'd like to start by losing about twenty pounds, which would take me down to well below the weight gain.

This means more mindful eating--as a life choice, not a diet!--and being aware of my own metabolism which is SSLLLOOOOOOOWWW! It means being mindful of preparing ahead of time: breakfast, lunches, snacks--not just dinners. And being more mindful when I eat out: I love eating out, I love eating delicious, well-prepared food, and I sometimes simply love someone else cooking, cleaning, and thinking about meals. Eating out is so connected with friends, while my current apartment is not designed for entertaining friends, even one at a time (see goal #2).

And we all know food alone won't do it, not at my age, so movement of some kind every day is necessary. Necessary. Necessary. Which is normal for sensible people. And, joy of joys, that will require biking and walking to work... on errands... and signing up for a yoga class weekly (which I JUST did!). And it is possible that the yoga class will require biking to and from...

Mental health will definitely be improved by the increased physical movement, and by the subsequent weight loss. I am also going to change my own internal scripting: being more aware of how I talk to myself. For example, Friday I had scheduled a phone meeting, but left my phone in my car... and missed the meeting. I spent about ten minutes buffeting myself for messing up--and I realized that I do that all the time, when I am not "perfect." So rewriting those internal mental scripts is necessary. I called back and rescheduled the meeting--no sweat. I listened to what I was saying to myself (and how I was subsequently feeling) about making a small mistake... so I stopped.

That kind of self-talk is not only paralyzing, but ridiculous because it always make the incident seem larger than it is.

Creative health, of course, means continuing what I've been working on: writing everyday, and developing a process to make that as painless as possible. And I mean enabling myself to start everyday. As well as developing my interest in drawing with pastels and photography. Maybe even taking a class in one or the other. The writing has been delightful this past semester: productive and, again, emotionally stimulating. I've built early morning time into six days weekly for writing, including two days outside the house.

Goal/specific: lose 20 pounds or two dress sizes.
Goal/general: improve physical stamina/endurance by adding daily movement.
Goal/general: change lifestyle and eating habits, including making it a habit to be prepared for weekly menus.
Goal/specific: change mental self-talk script to be kinder, gentler with myself.
Goal/general: set and accomplish creative goals weekly.