Monthly Archives: February 2023

Turn, Table, Turn

A few weeks back, I’d put in my earbuds and was planning on listening to a podcast while I cleaned the kitchen. Somehow (because, apparently, I don’t know how technology works), I loaded my old Apple Music library instead.

I hadn’t listened to these songs in ages, these relics from back in the days of my old iPod.

The first song made me smile. The next sparked a particular memory. The third was from a playlist I’d created for a long-ago novel. I kept listening even after I’d finished up with the kitchen.

And it struck me—hard. There’s a significant difference between a curated playlist and one generated by an algorithm.

So much so that a few days later, I went out and bought a turntable.

I’d been planning on doing this for a while, but I was hemming and hawing over what to buy. Then I found this little fellow:

It does everything. It plays records, CDs, FM radio. It even has a cassette tape deck. (Somewhere, I still have mix tapes.) And if I really want to, I can stream via Bluetooth. (And I might. See above re: Apple Music library.)

The sound is lovely, and its size is nice and compact. It now lives between the kitchen and the living area, so I can hear it while I’m cooking, then turn the volume down for reading in the evening.

Then I unearthed some actual records. We have more—somewhere—but these are the ones I’ve found so far. An eclectic mix, to be sure. These particular records belonged to my parents. Except for the Sesame Street one. Pretty sure that was mine.

After my surprise Apple Music encounter, I realized that I hadn’t been listening to music lately. I miss it. What I also miss is doing it myself. Streaming is fine (I guess). But sometimes, all you want to do is pull a record from the stack, blow off the dust, and hear the telltale scratch and hiss of the needle before the music plays.

Sometimes, you don’t need perfect.  

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Thoughts on Bloganuary 2023 (also, work is a bear)

I’m so glad I did the challenge. So, so glad. Granted, I didn’t do it exactly as prescribed. But going into it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to.

There’s a difference between writing in a journal and shaping your thoughts so others can understand them. Obviously, you don’t have to share everything. But working through the prompts brought clarity to my thinking. Far more than I expected.

I want to keep blogging in this manner. It’s fun. I’m enjoying it.

However, a blog post a day—or even a prompt a day—is not sustainable. I’ve had to set aside other writing, and other things, to do this challenge. And it’s not so much the writing part; it is the shaping, the proofing, and the posting that takes time.

Also, a post a day leaves me little time to comment on other blogs. Part of the reason I did the challenge was to get back into both blogging and connecting with other bloggers. I want to make a concerted effort to reach out and comment more often.

The other reason for my lack of time is that work is a bear.

Just for fun, I submitted work is a bear as a prompt for DALL·E.

This accurately illustrates how I feel at the end of the day. Really, our AI overlords know far, far too much.

I’m trying to adjust and create a schedule that includes blogging, writing, and other things. It may take a few tries. In fact, I know it will. Still, I plan to be here on the blog more often, and I’m looking forward to visiting other blogs regularly.

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Just step outside

Bloganuary: Where is the best place to watch the sunset near you?

This one is easy: our back deck.

True, we can’t see the horizon.

The property is surrounded by hills and trees.

The pond is covered with duckweed and doesn’t reflect the light.

Still, the way the sun filters through is amazing.

Granted, once the sun starts to sink, you don’t want to step down onto the grass—unless you’re fond of mosquitoes. But in the last couple of years, we’ve been deliberate about what we plant in containers we keep on the deck. If it has the slightest reputation for repelling mosquitoes, into a container it goes.

This works! Well, more or less. It’s a lot better than standing in the yard.

We also get some fairly excellent sunrises.

So despite not having a home for the vacuum, our house is a keeper.

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The story of our lives

Bloganuary: What would you title the chapters of your autobiography?

I’m not sure I would write my autobiography. (Isn’t that what a blog is for?) But if I did write one, I do know this about the chapter titles:

Puns would be involved.

I love puns and plays on words. If you’ve read any of my Coffee and Ghosts episodes, you already know that. Of course, it often takes me a long, long time to think them up. This is the reason Coffee and Ghosts is called Coffee and Ghosts.

Initially, this was the working title for the series. But when it came time to publish, I kept spinning my wheels for a better title. At last, I kept the working one because, if nothing else, it’s accurate.

Silliness aside, I am noodling a memoir. I almost hesitate to mention it because this might not come to pass. Every time I inch closer, I take a step back. This might be because I’m not ready to write it. It might be because I know it’s going to hurt.

But here’s the thing. I want to explain how caring for my mom during the last six months of her life was like being at war. It was like seeing the elephant all over again. I want to explain—if only to myself—why these two things are linked. Because somehow, they are linked in my mind and my heart. Maybe, if I can explain the why and the how behind that, I can help someone else.

But for now? I’ll simply ponder it.

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How does your garden grow?

Bloganuary: What is something you learned recently?

I’m only a few lessons into the Master Gardener course, but I’ve learned a lot:

  • Like how I can get a soil test from the University of Minnesota
  • Or how I should rotate the “crops” in my raised beds this spring
  • Or how to improve my compost pile—add water. But not now since everything—including the compost pile—is frozen solid
  • Or how I properly (and somewhat unintentionally) prepared my raised beds last year (I’m kind of proud of this one—I was winging it)

Each lesson has additional resources and links and downloads. There’s enough information to provide a framework, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. It’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours each Sunday.

I’m looking forward to spring for so many reasons, but I’m really excited to put this new knowledge into practice.

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In which I ask our AI robot overlords to bake me a cake

Bloganuary: Describe your perfect birthday cake

Mmmm. Did someone say cake?

I love cake. My perfect birthday cake would involve chocolate (maybe white or dark) with raspberries. Or maybe white and dark chocolate with raspberries! And ganache. I love a ganache.

For fun, I ran various descriptions through DALL·E just to see what it would come up with.

The prompt I used was: a dark chocolate birthday cake with raspberries professional food photograph in the style of a bestselling cookbook.

Something isn’t quite right here. You know? I mean, it’s close, but it’s like DALL·E has never actually seen a cake and is winging it. Also, I’m not sure what those spikey things are in the bottom photograph, but they’re frightening.

So I changed the prompt to: a dark chocolate birthday cake with raspberries and happy ghosts professional food photograph in the style of a bestselling cookbook.

Ah, now this is a cake! Although I’m not sure why we’re celebrating my birthday in some sort of futurist prison.

So, I tried again.

Now that’s more like it! I think we have a winner. And you doubted the abilities of our AI overlords.

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My tomato friend

Bloganuary: What are the pros and cons of procrastination?

Poor procrastination. It gets such a bad rap. Blame the productivity/industrial complex for this (h/t Becca Syme).

One thing I like to remember is that procrastination is simply trying to tell you something (and that something isn’t that you’re lazy).

It’s unearthing what it’s trying to tell you. That’s the tricky part.

Can’t write? Maybe you need to ponder the story a bit more. Or maybe it’s tax season, and you need to clear the decks and finish your taxes. Maybe you’re procrastinating at work because there’s a problem elsewhere in your life.

Maybe you’re approaching burnout and really, really need to take a break.

How to tell? One trick I use is the Pomodoro technique. I set a timer for 25 minutes, focus on the thing I’ve been trying to do (but procrastinating), and see what happens. At the end of those twenty-five minutes, I’ll know whether I was wrestling with garden-variety resistance or if there’s a larger issue at hand.

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Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Bloganuary: What language do you wish you could speak?

Sigh. I wish I could speak the ones I’ve actually studied.

Over the years, I’ve studied German, Russian (my college major), a smattering of French (high school), and even a little Swedish.

But studying languages does not mean they can come out of my mouth. While stationed in Germany, I even took a beginning Russian class taught at the German equivalent of a community center.

Fortunately, the instructor also spoke English, which was handy for when I got stuck, which I invariably did. Two foreign languages at once? I don’t think my brain has hurt so much before or since.

I never had any issues with reading in a foreign language. My listening comprehension was adequate. Ask me to talk?

Then, it’s all over.

I visited Russia near the end of my tour overseas. When I returned to Germany, every time I attempted German, it came out as a strange mishmash of Russian and German. It was so bad that the locals looked alarmed every time I spoke.

Even ordering dinner was fraught.

So there you have it. I would dearly love to speak a foreign language.

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Wild and precious

Bloganuary: What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?

I recited Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day at my mom’s celebration of life. You’d think that, as a writer, I could come up with my own words. But that wasn’t happening. Some writers are brilliant in the moment, conjuring up the right thing to say without hesitation.

My writing BFF Darcy was like that. She could dazzle at a moment’s notice. On the other hand, I need to pause. I need to think and then go think some more.

These days, I’m more comfortable telling people I need to think before I produce words or give them an answer.

But back to the poem. It does encapsulate my mom’s love of nature. She had deep passions that included birding and gardening. Despite life-long and chronic back pain, she did both for as long as she was able.

I want to do things for as long as I’m able as well.

Perhaps this is why I hear the echo of those last lines more and more frequently:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

And I pause. I stop what I’m doing—the busy work, the chores, or whatever—and remember I only have this one wild and precious life.

And I want to embrace it for as long as I’m able.

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