Connecting the Dots

Favor Effectiveness over Efficiency

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off

Laura Vanderkam pointed me towards an article today that came at exactly the right time: Chasing Efficiency? You’re Wasting Your Time

A few choice quotes:

Nobody other than perhaps you really cares how efficient you are, but everyone cares how effective you are.

Sometimes the least efficient thing can lead to the most productive outcome. A great example of this would be carving out time in your already too busy schedule to mentor someone in your organization. Clearly this endeavor will take time, and may not yield immediate results, but the payoff organizationally, relationally, culturally, and in terms of future contribution can be huge.

When you ever so efficiently cross something off your to-do list, has it moved you farther away from, or closer to, putting points on the board?

And finally, my favorite:

If your desk is so clean you don’t have anything to work on then you might be focusing on the wrong thing — it might be time to make a bit of a mess.

That last is SO NOT MY PROBLEM, although I took some time tonight, while my two youngest worked on Valentines in my office, to clear the surface of my desk before they trashed it still further. I could grab any one of half a dozen things within arms reach this minute and begin a post or project—books, like Emily Bazelon’s Sticks and Stones, Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World, Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On, Warrior and Scary Mommy Jill Smokler’s Motherhood Comes Naturally and oh, how about those three advance copies of the revision of the book I wrote with my friends Susan Straub and Rachel Payne? Another book I need to send to a guest writer. Business cards for a whole pile of blogs I want to follow up on. Expenses, art stuff that could figure in my next illustrative tableau or Vine video…or I could just grab my laptop or open a file. I have projects. I have too many projects, like Hugo Lindgren riffed about in the NYT Magazine a few weeks ago (Be Wrong As Fast As You Can).

Come to the glowing screen…come to me…

I have projects. And I have fear, and I have all these tiny little smoking assorted piles of lightly flaming things that seem so urgent, and could be crossed off some list somewhere or put to bed, and there are admittedly too many days when I just put out the fires and I don’t move anything forward. I’m not actually sure it’s efficient, and it certainly isn’t effective. Do we have any e words left? It’s…evasive. Equivocating. Enmeshing.

And what I also think it is, is girly. I was talking to a friend about email recently, and we both realized that our spouses just don’t stress about it. They shut the laptop, and all the clamoring voices just drop away. I feel something similar here–although that’s actually advice meant for the big, swashbuckling, unfortunately still statistically likely to be male CEO, it still has a girly feel to it, that need to just get a bunch of little things done instead of saving yourself to blow it all on the big project that really matters. It’s very good student, very safe.

My random February resolution is to be just a little—or maybe a lot—less safe.

Behind the Scenes at Motherlode: Sam’s Sugared Cranberries

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 2 Comments

I refer to this recipe in a post on Wednesday, November 21, 2012–and I’m packing them up for the trip to Fairfax County/DC right now.

Sam’s Sugared Cranberries

1 lb fresh cranberries, picked over
2 cups sugar
2 cups superfine sugar, for rolling

Make simple syrup: combine 2 cups sugar with 2 cups boiling water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool. (Let COOL. LET COOL. If you pour it over the cranberries now, they will burst.) Divide cranberries into 2 gallon-size zip lock freezer bags. Pour half of sugar syrup into each bag. Get as much air out as possible, then seal. Let cranberries sit for at least 72 hours and up to a week, turning bags frequently. For distance travel, double-or triple bag and roll on arrival—if you’ve soaked them for long enough, you can even drain most of the liquid and pack them in checked luggage. I simply have no idea if they’d fly with TSA.

Place a small amount of superfine sugar in bowl or on rimmed cookie sheet. Using a small sieve or draining spoon, scoop out a few cranberries at a time, let dry very briefly on tea towel, then roll in sugar to coat. Place coated cranberries on separate cookie sheet or drying rack to dry. In about an hour, when sugar is hardened, gently place in glass bowl to serve. Realistically, you have to move them one or two at a time, or all the sugar will come off.

You can strain the sugar syrup and use for lemonade, smoothies or cocktails. Keep it refrigerated.

I know these originated with Martha Stewart (for me, anyway) and I found her recipe here.

Clutter-free (almost) and Happier: Check

Sunday, September 30th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

This post could be all before and after shots. There was no behind the scenes at Motherlode last Sunday because I stayed up late transforming this:

Our clutter-filled hall, mudroom and entry.

Into this:

Oh, yeah, that’s better.

And then very eventually into this:

Note how dark it is in this image. It is late. Very, very late. Or early, depending on your POV.

I also transformed the kids’ room, with their help. But what really mattered to me this past two weeks was only partly about “going shelf by shelf” as Gretchen Rubin puts it, and mostly about my second mantra for the month of September: Get it right.

I have a confession to make: I do things half-assed. I’m impulsive. I fly by the seat of my pants. All the cliches that aptly describe your average flaky type? Yep, I do that. Leap before looking, the works. I’m a big fan of the jury-rigged semi-solution, the it’ll do, the good-enough-for-government-work.

But as our lives have eased up, the children have become big enough to be more self-entertaining and its just felt more like we had room and space to do a little better by ourselves and our family, I’ve found myself wanting to do that less and less.

You know that house, when you were growing up, with all the piles in the corners and the horrible soap dishes full of toothpaste and hair in the bathroom where you sometimes spent the night? That was my house, now. Not, mind you, the house I grew up in. No, in my mother’s house, things were right. The guest room was neat and had empty drawers. The pantry had places to put things. The bookshelves were neatly filled and the tchotckes (not a word I would have known growing up) grew light coats of dust and were then dusted weekly.

My house, as I said, was the gross toothpaste house. The house with the scary piles and the dark corners and the lopsided guest bed and the drawers that never quite closed because there was too much in them. Very little in my house was either neat or orderly or right. That, as much as the clutter, is what I set out to change this week. The house I grew up in was calm. You could sit and read, and look up, and not fear the pile of magazines on the coffee table or sense the ever-growing stack of dishes on the counter. During the day, it was bright, and dust mites filtered in the sunlight over empty rugs and couches without quilts and remote-control helicopters and the paper covers of books discarded on them.

So when I set out to de-clutter this time, I set out to fix all the things that nagged at me at night, all the things that seemed, in the immortal words of Miss Clavel, “not quite right.”

I emptied and cleared all the gross bathroom drawers and lined them with white contact paper.

I cleaned two garbage bags of old towels and sheets out of the linen closet (and I guarantee to you that you will never, ever be short an old towel should you need one, still).

And I turned the guest room/playroom/kids’ dressing room (my 4 kids all sleep in one of the two upstairs bedrooms and keep their clothes in the other, along with some toys) into a place someone—my parents, say, especially if they were coming Wednesday, for example) would be happy to sleep. There are two cleared drawers. There are empty hangers. There is space for a suitcase, and an alarm clock, and an electric blanket.

But most of all, at a cost of $160, we went from this:

You can’t really tell, but the bed buried under all that crap is just a mattress on a frame.

to this:

Ok, more than $160, because those are new sheets.

Box spring. I put a box spring under the mattress. I put a box spring under the mattress and turned it into a real bed, a fluffy, tall, inviting bed, that anyone would be happy to sleep in. And while we were at it, my oldest son (who loves welcoming guests) and I moved everything out of the room, cleaned it, and brought back in only what belonged, leaving this:

It used to be Wyatt’s room when he was a baby. I painted the giraffes. Guests will just have to try to appreciate them.

It’s still primarily a dressing room and a home for Sam’s slot cars–but now those are up off the floor on a board a friend made of foam core and six milk crates. Lily’s dolls, the other primary occupants of the room, are behind the screen, which can easily be moved. I’m so happy–it’s so inviting.

But I”m happiest that as I’ve done all of this, I’ve done it right. There isn’t one room where all the stuff moved out of all the other rooms lurks, waiting for me. It’s not all in the basement, although that space is anything but pristine, it’s not a catch-all. It’s not in the office or the guest room or anywhere. (actually, the Playmobil and a small basket of Little People are in the office closet, but neatly and intentionally there because it’s nice to have toys for very small guests in one case, and in the case of the Playmobil, because I’m hoping they will forget about it and I can give it away in a few months, but for now it’s in boxes and sorted and it can stay). There’s nothing, no toothpaste or otherwise, lurking.

I have two spaces to go: our room, which we’ve done within the past year and which shouldn’t be too bad, and the kitchen drawers (as opposed to the pantry) and a few cabinets–also not too bad, really. And now that it’s so close, I have no doubt I’ll get them done.

It seemed to me for a long time that it was impossible to get the house to a point where nothing lurked, but I kept looking back at my parents’ house and thinking, there were no secret stashes of slumminess there. You could go in any room and know what you’d find, pick up any item and know where it belonged. It was clearly not impossible. It only felt impossible.

I’m almost there, and what I’ve done has increased my happiness enormously. I enjoy emptying groceries into my reformed pantry. I like giving the living room a quick straighten at night. I like tucking things away in the hall—and so does everyone else. The children don’t put everything away without being asked, but they put away a lot. I hear the older ones asking the younger ones to hang things up. I hear “Gross! Who didn’t wipe the toothpaste out of the sink!” And mysteriously, the laundry this weekend included eight bath towels, old ones or kids ones that live in their bathroom, way more than they’d use. And I watched the next morning as one of my children, after brushing her teeth, went and got a bath towel, carefully wiped out the sink, and put the towel in the wash.

Laundry or no, that made me very happy.

Full Cappelletti (or Ravioli) Recipe from Motherlode

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots, Feeding the Devils | 1 Comment

I uploaded the full, 11 minute long pasta making video I made for my cousin (minus the NYT intro) to YouTube. You should be able to see it above, but if not, it’s here.

Ready to roll.

I posted a video and some thoughts about sharing a kitchen’s worth of ethnic heritage to the NYT Motherlode, and several commenters asked for the full recipe, so here goes. This is SO not in proper NYT recipe style! But it’s worked for years. Decades. Generations. I guess that’s the point.

Cappelletti/Ravioli

Filling

1 lb ground meat mixture (pork/beef/chicken) fried in ½ stick butter
3 cups grated cheese, half romano, half parmesan
1 cup bread crumbs
salt, pepper
3 garlic cloves
pinch nutmeg
3 eggs

Fry meat in butter with three garlic cloves, add salt, pepper. Remove garlic cloves after cooking. Add pinch nutmeg. When cool add beaten eggs, cheese, bread crumbs, mix well. Refrigerate at least an hour or over night. Can freeze extra filling, but do NOT defrost in microwave—let it defrost in fridge. I know, that seems obvious, but still.

Dough

Food processor before gasping last desperate breaths.

4 eggs
approx. 2 ¼ cups flour

Mix eggs in mixer or food processor, add all flour, mix slowly until dough ball forms, then switch do dough hook and let it beat around a while. Take it out and knead it by hand, then leave it in the fridge until ready to use. At least an hour is best, but you can use it right away if you don’t mind sticky. I should probably say I have killed two food processors this way, but this last one has hung on a while.

Part-way mixed.

Ready to come out and knead by hand.

Squoosh, squoosh. It’s harder than it looks. Italian grandmas have great arms.

You can see another post on making pasta, with more detailed illustrations on rolling it (although I made spaghetti with it that time, but the dough is always the same) here.

You’ll have to watch the video for the fold, and you can also see my mother making the filling with me grilling her at every step (and you can hear how approximate the recipe really is, as she sits there going “well, I think I put in a cup of bread crumbs…maybe half a cup, it just depends) and watch me make a small batch of dough with her grilling me at every step (and me saying “well, I think I put in a cup of flour, it depends…). Or you can just make ravioli, which you make exactly like you’d think you’d make them. Fold the dough over the filling, cut, seal. Mom does that way at the end of the video, about minute 10.

A perfect sheet of dough.

Cappelletti, I need hardly say, goes in soup. Any soup. Growing up, my mom used Wyler’s beef boullion cubes, which I can’t even spell now, let alone find, and I loved it them. I use boxed chicken broth, or very occasionally real soup, which is honestly too rich most of the time.

Ravioli goes in sauce. I make my sauce with a big can of Muir Glen diced tomatoes with garlic and basil. First I sauté extra grated garlic, and maybe some grated onion, then I add salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, and then I puree the hell out of it with my hand blender because I hate chunky sauce.

And that’s it. We freeze it in bags suited for a meal, I serve 8 ravioli to kids and 12 to adults, and figure 10-12 cappeletti each for soup. It lasts months, particularly if you have hoarding tendencies. Make a double batch of sauce, freeze half, and it’s practically an instant meal the next time. Loaf of bread, bottle of wine, you’re ready to go. I hope someone tries it. I hope my cousin Ashlyn tries it!

Enjoy.

Rory turns the handle, circa 2011.

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Go Shelf By Shelf and Snack By Snack: “Happier at Home” Week 2, in the Pantry

Sunday, September 16th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 9 Comments

I am, indeed, happier.

Saturday morning, our pantry looked like this:

Most dispiriting.

You may think that that is not so bad, and in some ways it is not. Certainly it could be worse. But in addition to general crudiness (and do, please, examine this close-up, below), there were other problems. The children couldn’t reach the crackers and cookies they typically snack on after school (or on Saturday morning while their father and I sleep). The microwave (no counter space) could only be used by moving a basket of nuts and bars and coffee filters (because there’s a grouping that makes sense) out of the way. And we had lots of stuff I had no idea we had. Note to self and husband: we simply don’t need to buy any more ketchup. For years.

You can’t actually see the spilled popcorn and goldfish, but trust me.

It was ugly, it was unpleasant, it was a constant annoyance. Every time I opened the doors, my heart sank. And you know, I open those doors a lot.

For months, I’ve been spending quality time with pantry porn in the form of Williams Sonoma and the kinds of magazines with headlines like “control your clutter” and “10 clutter-busting strategies!” And we’ve been distantly planning a kitchen remodel, so I like to draw my new pantry, which will have room for dishes and appliances and, I dunno, mops or something. Also, laundry, which is right now in my bathroom.

But distant plans and colored pencils are no substitute for immediate action. So Saturday, I opened the pantry doors, and I took everything out.

Every Thing Out!

I had to get a folding table. I had to use the stairs, and the floor, and the counter. It was astonishing, the amount of stuff that fit in those two cabinets.

I’m all done, right?

And once it was out, I sorted. I tossed (after the third time, the nearest available child began to refuse to taste-test any more crackers for staleness. It’s been a very, very damp summer.) I collected for a food pantry (no, not the stale stuff! I briefly had a babysitter who would grocery shop for me, and the food pantry will benefit from the continual misunderstandings that led to my not having a babysitter who would grocery shop for me any more. Grits; they’re getting lots of non-instant grits. Also, spaghettini, which is not at all the same thing as spaghetti. Actually, I don’t have a regular sitter at all anymore, but that’s another post.)

And then I replaced. Gently, slowly, with labels for the backs of the too-deep shelves. I moved shelves. I wiped, I vacuumed, I moved shelves again. I tried things out in a few places that didn’t work; I finally used a set of matching containers I bought ages ago in the hopes of doing just this; I scrounged baskets that were being misused in other rooms; I labeled, I thought, I dumped.

The result is beautiful. I didn’t spend one penny. (I’m not going to count those three extra plastic containers because I bought them months ago.) I didn’t order anything new from the Container Store. I didn’t do anything except what I should have done in the first place: think about the best place for stuff and put it there, and not shove anything into the back without making sure there was a way to find it again.

When I open the pantry doors now, I still want to cry … with happiness. I’m delighted, I’m relaxed, I’m happy to cook and happy to put away the groceries.

Will it stay this way? I think so, in part because I used another “Gretchen-ism:” I left empty spaces. (She says “Leave an empty shelf.”) We’re not always going to have exactly four boxes of crackers or two boxes of spaghetti (although we will always have exactly no boxes of spaghettini). Things will get used and replaced and bought–but in addition to going shelf by shelf in the pantry, I found myself thinking about a new resolution: the resolution not to stock up.

No more buying in bulk, no more getting five cans of coffee to save grabbing another on the next trip to the store. We don’t have room for ten boxes of macaroni and cheese no matter how much it’s on sale, and I pay a price in coping with all the excess, not to mention the price of losing it in the back of the cabinet, or watching it expire. It’s false economy, and false security. We need two boxes of macaroni and cheese. When one is eaten–or even, should we decide to live life to the fullest, when BOTH get eaten, we can go to the store and buy another.

Doesn’t that sound profligate? But we can. Should the apocalypse arrive, a stock of macaroni will not save us (I’m going for a stock of bourbon, actually). Should a flu epidemic prevent our shopping for weeks, some system will surely arise to allow us to get food. If it doesn’t: if systems fail and bourbon proves useless in the zombie economy, well, we have bigger problems than a few boxes of macaroni would have solved, and at least I got to enjoy my clean pantry in the meantime.

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“Happier at Home:” Gretchen’s Project, KJ’s Clutter

Sunday, September 9th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots, Motherlode | 9 Comments

You can’t really click to look inside, I was just too lazy to use my own image. You can, however, click the name of the book in the post to get to Amazon and buy the book.

Motherlode sneak peek: Next week, I’m going to Boston to meet up with Gretchen Rubin and record a video introduction to a series of posts she’ll be writing for Motherlode starting 9/17. Like so many of us, I found a friend when I first opened Gretchen’s book “The Happiness Project,” and when that words-only friend turned into an actual live friend (at the ASJA conference) a while ago, that was even better—especially now that it means Gretchen will be writing a weekly Motherlode post this fall. (About what? That’s the only part I’m not going to tell you here.)

Since Gretchen’s writing for me, I thought I’d turn the tables and write, well, not “for” her but “inspired by” her. I know plenty of people started their own “happiness projects” after Gretchen’s first book. I did nothing so official, but this time, perhaps instigated by the fact that her very first topic in “Happier at Home” is something I know would make me much happier if I could just get a grip on it: clutter.

Ok, Gretchen doesn’t call it clutter. She calls it, rightly, “Possessions,” and that just puts a much happier spin on the whole thing, or at least it would, if my “possessions” weren’t so buried in my clutter that it’s become very hard to tell the difference.

I’ll blog my own “Happier at Home” project, which conveniently enough Gretchen began one September, every Sunday night along with my now-weekly Motherlode sneak peaks (and probably the occasional mid-week picture update of my, um, progress).

Gretchen started her latest project with “Possessions” because she’s smart enough to know that the clutter isn’t all there is to her relationship to her stuff. “My possessions had a powerful influence over the atmosphere of my home, and they contributed to, and reflected, my sense of identity,” she wrote.

I know what she means. I battle the clutter and mess of two adults and four children with an abundance of identity in the form of books, toys, magazines, newspapers and small, indeterminate but invariably important plastic objects (whose importance rarely becomes clear before they’re thrown away) daily, but the clutter isn’t all I’m dissatisfied with as I survey my domain. We just don’t live, physically, they way I want to live, or even the way we want to live. It’s pretty depressingly Tobacco Road around here, and I suspect the friend who just sent me an email about her new no-filter fish tank may have been commenting on our tank, which has been fish-free and filled with evaporating water for months. (Ok, maybe longer.)

Gretchen’s goals, and mine.

Gretchen’s goal was to “Find a True Simplicity.” Mine is to Cultivate an Ordered Calm. “Simplicity” will never reign here; I like clear surfaces but I also like books and magazines and easy access to things we love and use, and a few toys here and there don’t bother me as long as, if the spirit moves the child to put the toy away (and my “spirit” I mean “allowance” or possibly “threat”), there is a clear place to put it.

I’m adopting Gretchen’s second resolution, “Go shelf by shelf” as my first. My goal is to remove and clear, and to keep only what I “know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” with an eye towards finding a place for everything that remains, even if not everything is in its place.

It’s not at all realistic to expect that I’ll have gone “shelf by shelf” in our 4 bedroom house by next Sunday, but I’ll at least write about where we stand, and whether the bookshelf I took out of the guest room upstairs and then couldn’t find anywhere to put except the hall floor is gone, next Sunday. Beyond that lie two more resolutions for September: Make it right, and Put it back.

I want to do more than clear the clutter. I want to get what stays behind right: to finally replace the kitchen soap dispenser and repair the broken dresser drawer and put all the pieces in the Monopoly game. That, to me, is “make it right.”

And then I want to learn to keep it that way. “Put it back,” means more than that. It means embracing David Allen’s requirement that if it takes less than 2 minutes, you do it now by putting the tape back after wrapping a present, or picking up the clump of hairbands and replacing them in the box instead of dropping them in the nearest bowl. If I’m going to be happy with my possessions, each thing needs a place, and I need to make a habit of resecting those places.

Honestly, I go into this discouraged and overwhelmed. We’ve been letting things pile up for the five years since we moved into this house, and we have both had to accept of late that the children never put anything away because we rarely do: yep, there are six plastic spaceships and a half-built lego on the coffee table, but then, there’s a Sunday times and an open notepad (mine) next to them, and the bag I brought out yesterday to dig out hand-me-down soccer cleats on the floor next to it, unreturned to its place, and next to me on the end table is the squirt bottle Rob used to squirt the dog for barking at the UPS man on Friday.

A sneak peak of hall chaos.

I set out to clean the hall today, and mostly just stood gazing miserably, knowing that I can’t really clean out the shoe cubbies unless I pull out all the outgrown shoes, and I can’t pull out the outgrown shoes without something to put them in, and then I will need to take the ones that aren’t handed down somewhere and put the ones that are somewhere else, with a label and the hope of finding them in two years (girls) or four (boys). And that’s just the shoes; there are jackets and rackets and swimsuits and kites and backpacks and hats…

I finally managed to open the four elfa drawers that store up the projects children bring home from school all year; in a happy, ideal family, one goes through these at the end of the year, pulls out treasures, tucks some away, frames a few pictures and talks to each child about his or her school year. Instead, I dumped last year’s contents into the four bins I keep their artwork in in the basement without a word while three were out with various friends and the fourth played Minecraft. Now they’re empty and ready for 2012-2013, filled only with my intent to do better next year and the near certainty that I won’t.

I’d hoped for before and after pictures of a hallway transformed, but instead, I realized I needed the bins I keep Sam’s clothes in upstairs for mittens, etc., which meant taking Lily’s doll clothes out of his old dresser and giving it back to him and then switching the bins currently in the hallway for swimsuits up for doll clothes and…well, long story short, all the bins and the dresser are empty; the swimsuits and Sam’s entire wardrobe are in various piles, and it is all much, much worse than it was when I started.

What is it Gretchen always says? Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy. But it really, really will feel so good when it’s done—and making the mess guarantees that one way or another, I’m going to have to pick it up!

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Actual Mail

Sunday, June 24th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off




Actual Mail

Originally uploaded by kjda

I am so happy, and feeling yanked back to childhood, because someone-as in Ayun Halliday– sent me a big fat fabulous envelope in the mail!!!

Farewell, Mystery Twitter Dude (Plus, How to Have a Good Birthday Party)

Sunday, June 10th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off

My dad just alerted me to the fact that my Twitter widget was broadcasting someone else–I changed my handle, but not the widget code, a few weeks ago and apparently this is the inevitable result: whoops! He looked like he had a very interesting life and an entirely different twitter audience than me…

Today was Lily’s actual birthday, and I’m proud to say that after last year’s, which could have been used as the MTV video for “It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want to,” we managed a small, successful party with only four guests (five if you count her sister). No more big, full family, siblings welcome parties for Lily until she’s much older.

Lily got two walkie talkies for her birthday, and they’re playing “walkie talkie hide and seek.” Unfortunately they seem to have told Rory to hide and then forgotten to find her…and the drama continues.

Rory apparently got someone else’s fortune

Friday, June 1st, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment




Rory apparently got someone else’s fortune

Originally uploaded by kjda


The Perils of Hangman With 7-Year-Olds

Sunday, April 29th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off




The Perils of Hangman With 7-Year-Olds

Originally uploaded by kjda


Boxes

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 2 Comments




Boxes

Originally uploaded by kjda

The worrisome thing is that all I REMEMBER ordering from the Container Store are hangers.

10 Things Guaranteed to Send You Into a Whirling Death Spiral of Depression

Thursday, April 5th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

    • The old guys who sit in the bookstore once a week in the morning are much older than when I used to sit here and work. And some of them are gone.
    • Filling Easter baskets for four children. Buying three small, cheap Easter toys is fun and cute. Buying 12 is a depressing commentary on our disposable society.
    • Ditto Nicolas Kristof. Even though he’s on my list of people I want to be when I grow up, along with Po Bronson and Gail Collins and some other people I can’t think of right now because that would be too optimistic, thinking about life goals and whatnot. I’m not doing that until after I have more coffee.
    • That one song.
    • An email from a friend that says “OMG, Linda’s comment: so harsh!” and the knowledge that somewhere, at some point during my day, Linda’s comment on something or another awaits.
    • That’s such a cute baby! I don’t have a baby. I’m too old to have a baby. I don’t even want a baby. Look at that tired mother and the toddler on her other hand. I used to be her.
    • Clouds. Not the white fluffy kind. Those are ok. These are not them.
    • Spilled boiling water on a kid (and myself) this morning. Burn, blister, chaos. I have low standards for morning success but this definitely fell outside of even my lose goals. Child surely now detailing mad, inattentive, dangerous household to school nurse.
    • I think I’ve been hiding mental illness for years. Does everyone think I’ve been hiding mental illness for years? Is everyone hiding mental illness? How come some people are so good at it?
    • My subscription to the Atlantic must have run out. Also, O.
    • People in the U.S. spend more on plastic bags of various kinds and sizes, from snack to trash, annually than many families worldwide make in a year. NPR is not cheerful today. At least I missed Storycorps.
    • The mewling, scrabbling, demanding, persistent, deserving contents of my in-box. And my back seat.
    • That’s more than ten. I can think of more than ten things guaranteed to send me into a whirling death spiral of depression. That’s another one.
  • Oh, this is where I end the post with a little twist of good cheer, right? Buck up, we’ll all be dead soon. Meh.

    All the Words Rory Can Spell

    Saturday, March 31st, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off




    All the Words Rory Can Spell

    Originally uploaded by kjda


    Today, Three Years Ago, We Told the Other Kids About Rory.

    Sunday, March 25th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

    How do I know? Because three years ago, to the week, if not the day, it was Sam’s “Wild Mites Jamboree” which is a hockey thing, and right before we went to the rink, we lined them up on our bed and produced pictures.

    They were beyond thrilled. We were happy. Our biggest problem was that we hadn’t printed enough pictures, because all three of them wanted to carry all the pictures around (and they did, too, until the day we left for China). I just went back and read about it from old blog entries–you can feel our excitement coming through the words.

    Today was Lily’s “Wild Mites Jamboree” and Rory and Wyatt’s “Learn to Play Jamboree” and frankly, I sobbed all over the place thinking about how far we’ve come, and especially watching Rory and Wyatt dually dominating their small games.

    I knew this, but Rory’s been reminding me lately that what was, at the time, all happy for us was not happy for her. That’s her story to tell, but suffice it to say that she’s told me a couple of times lately that she was “SO MAD.” Not so sad, but MAD. I’ve always agreed that in fact she should be mad, and it’s ok to be mad, and I would have been bad too.

    Right after we told the other three, we were able to Skype with Rory and her foster family–another anniversary, although I’m not wholly sure it was the same day. Another anniversary that I remember fondly, and Rory, I’s sure, does not, and she shouldn’t. How does one handle this duality, the happy that comes from the really really sad? She doesn’t need to look back with pleasure at any of this, but I think it’s ok that I do.

    In any case, it was a very emotional day here, and physically exhausting, and it ended, for Rory, in forty-five minutes worth of tears over something very small, and in a whole series of unusual behaviors and regressions and just general not-fun-ness. I’m left wondering if she picked up on my thinking back over our history, together and apart, or if, because it’s a real anniversary of sorts for her too–right about now is when we first came into her life, one way or another–if she’s just having some tough inner times of her own. I suspect the latter. I’m so, so glad that we’re both more equipped to weather these emotional storms together–finally. I hope that lasts.

    Of COURSE I Can Interview Anne Lamott i/f/o the Whole Times Newsroom

    Sunday, March 18th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 3 Comments

    I’m beyond thrilled about the Motherlode Book Club reading Anne and Sam Lamott’s Some Assembly Required, and ditto for the opportunity to interview them both, for a short video to be posted on the Motherlode blog. I’ve always loved Anne Lamott’s work. This follow-up to Operating Instructions is fascinating: her son had a son. At nineteen.

    There are so many questions to ask them both about that that the mind boggles. (The mind also notes repeated use of that in previous sentence, but that’s what made sense. Sorry.) I’d be thrilled–over coffee.

    Now, doing it on the Times’ news set, which is smack dab in the middle of the Times newsroom…that makes me nervous. (Who are we kidding–interviewing Anne Lamott makes me a little nervous, but that I can wrangle.)

    I know Times staffers don’t pay any attention to what goes on on the set. They just walk right by. But I’m distractible. Lots of people walking right by could easily just throw the end of my question right onto their lunch tray and walk off with it. I’ll be revved to ask the tough questions, you know, giving Terry Gross a run for her money, and all the sudden I’ll be all, hey, did you see? She had a Starbucks mocha! I want a Starbucks mocha!

    Even with really good editing, this should be interesting. So, tune in next week (probably Wednesday, as this happens Tuesday) and see if you can tell that I am sitting there pretending very hard that oh, I just interview famous authors that I admire in the middle of the Times newsroom with people drifting by all. the. time. Because that’s just how cool I am. Also, poised. Really, and in control and on topic at all times.

    Actually, I feel a whole lot better about my interviewing skills (which have improved dramatically in the past two years) since listening to the unedited interview Krista Tippet did with Nicolas Kristoff in February. (SO worth a download.) Edited, she sounds completely together: fast, with great recall and depth of knowledge, and the right follow-up questions every time.

    Unedited, she still sounds great (On Being is one of my favorite shows–she should have Anne Lamott on), but with more, yanno, digression. More oh, hey, you said this one thing I wanted to ask about–wait, I wrote it down–and more conversation, which is always my downfall. I want to interview you, but it’s easier for me to express what I’m interested in by talking than in a perfectly worded question, and I often replay my interviews thinking oh, hey, when am I going to let her talk?

    For this, I’ll be (very well) edited, and I’m confident it’s going to be great. I’m reasonably confident that I’ll find the balance between admiration and consternation, too–because the elephant in the room is that hers was in some sense the iconic-non-advice-baby-advice book, and her baby –well, can’t we love the resulting grandkid without pretending that this wasn’t the path anyone would have chosen for a beloved child? On some level they must each be mourning what wasn’t, but the book is about embracing what is. I’ll be doing my best to go there, and get talking about both.

    Oh, and the Times’ video wizards can probably cover up the moments when my gaze drifts off because someone walked by with a box of donuts. But you’ll know.

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    Me and Malibu Pilates. And of Course, This Week at Motherlode

    Sunday, March 11th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 4 Comments

    I got sucked in by an infomercial.

    I haven’t exercised in months. I had pneumonia last, um, August. And although that excuse obviously eventually became somewhat less than valid (I think even the most sympathetic of us would have to agree that I am probably all rested up now). you know, one thing led to another, I finished a draft of my book, auditioned for Motherlode, took the job…I was busy, ‘kay?

    But inspired by a variety of things: this great Real Simple series on Time, my ever-softening midriff, my third annual jaunt to the Waterbury, VT “Gravel Grinder” season-opening ride (23 miles, 3000 vertical feet) and my general feeling of just never, ever having enough energy, I’ve relaunched ye olde exercise plan. Oh, and also picked up this book, The Power of Habit (awesome excerpt in the NYT magazine a couple of weeks ago) in the hopes of improving a few things here and there, the whole workout thing being one of them.

    I’m well on my way. First of the season bike ride last week, and then a surprise snow dump up here at what we like to call the “higher elevations” (which means we can often see down to neighbors who didn’t get snow when we did) led to the first–and last–time we will groom our trail this season.

    I am willing to bet you never imagined this was what I did with my free time.

    But snow is over (although at least I finally remembered why we like the stuff) and biking, while fantastic, too time consuming to make up the whole of anyone’s fitness routine. I won’t run on the treadmill, like my husband. I won’t ride an exercise bike, like my husband. (I think this has something to do with not watching Sports Center, as they seem somehow connected.) What to do, what to do…

    And then there I was, couch bound, while Rob scrolled the on-screen TV guide, which we mostly do so we can mock the movie descriptions, when I say “Susan Lucci Pilates.”

    I have no idea what made me say “what’s that?” Perhaps I am still trying to remember if she ever son that Emmy. Maybe I have “All My Children” Flashbacks. I don’t know. Put I made him stop, and there was THIS:

    It was so small. And it looked so easy. And everyone using it looked so sculpted. And even Rob said “that does look kind of okay.”

    I think I now have to pay them $15 a month for eternity or my money back. Or something like that. It came Friday, and my first workout today consisted of dragging it up the stairs and removing all the packaging. DVD Number one is in the computer, ready to fire up first thing in the am. No excuses. 20 minutes. I’m doing it, on weekdays, for the next four weeks, so help me.

    And then I’ll either be telling you all how awesome it is, or trying to hide what an idiot I am (an idiot who also owns something called “Beach Body” and the “Cardio Zumba Kit”) while I look for someone to take it off my hands on Craigslist.

    At work tomorrow, AFTER my 20 minute malibu something-or-another-workout, and if I am not trapped in the springs of the chair. I get to choose among the panelists for the first Motherlode Book Club: Anne and Sam Lamott’s “Some Assembly Required.” I’m half way through, and this ought to be a great discussion. And I’m stalking my next selection–a fantastic, controversial book that I”m dying to talk about on Motherlode. Can’t tell yet, though.

    I’ve got guest posts to read (sorry, waiting authors)–this is one of those habits I need to work on: faced with the choice of writing or reading and editing, I tend to write, because that’s what I KNOW gets the job done. But the fantastic goes posts we’ve had in the past few weeks are adding so much to the blog and the discussion, and I’ve realized I love that part of the job too. It’s just that when I’m bouncing around a research study here and a great Times article there, I keep too busy writing to read. I’m working on it.

    Last week I knew exactly what was coming up on Motherlode—this week, it’s all open. I’m planning to write about the dumb, pricey things we buy when we’re first time moms (hello, Muzzy Spanish DVD set!). And maybe this will be the week I finally pull together the work I’ve been doing on raising “imperfect” kids, or (less likely) on chemicals and their impact. Guest posts? So many possibilities, I can’t even give you a preview. I’ve planned out my workouts, but not my work week! Yeah, but that I KNOW I’ll get done.

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    Behind the Scenes at Motherlode, 3/4

    Sunday, March 4th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots, Motherlode | 4 Comments

    Seriously, what was I thinking?

    Ah, Sunday. The week always looks so CLEAN on Sunday! SO much time! So much glorious room to fill in the blog, so many great guest posts that I will so easily get to…

    I probably shouldn’t hold my breath, time being the slippery beast it is… Tomorrow I’ll be posting about a really interesting survey about exactly that. I interviewed Kristin van Ogtrop (whose book I love) about an upcoming story of their about women and time, and it offered a few surprises that I can’t wait to riff on–not to mention the pleasure of talking to her, and to Amanda Schumacher, her lively and fun communications director.

    I also know I’ll be writing about teacher ratings tomorrow, thanks to a pair of “bad teacher” articles, and interviewing a few experts on lead in our homes and how it impacts our children, and unborn children–and how the CDC may be about to hang us all out to dry.

    And that’s just tomorrow! I’ve got 10 unread gusts posts from writers I know will have rocked it, and 6 waiting for a final edit and the cue to go (think homeschooling and homework next week, unless events intervene). I’ve got three unpublished reported topics I haven’t even embarked on–what’s the dumbest thing you ever bought as a new mom? Giving kids the gift of imperfection and–dang, something else! Plus I’m deep into the question of toxic chemicals and kids, and pondering lunch boxes and a million other things.

    I love it when someone asks me how I “think of so much to write about.” It’s more like waking up every morning, sitting down at my desk, and being pelted with great topics like so many Angry Birds. It’s family–there’s nothing more important, and there’s an endless array of exciting stuff going on.

    On another note entirely, someone using my credit card seems to have gone on quite the online shopping binge. Fortunately, she had it all sent here, and she had fantastic taste–but she seems to have been a little confused as to whose life we are living. See the shoes, pictured above–ideal for dirt roads and mud season, no? You should see the silk blouse she picked out. I love it. I can’t imagine where I’d wear it. It’s a good thing she got a couple of tshirts, too—and shops where return shipping is free.

    I think maybe I need to limit my late-night reading of Vogue, particularly when I am feeling just a touch anxious about myself.

    Oh–BIG announcement at Motherlode this week. Well, cool announcement, anyway. Hint: beloved author, me, conversations…

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    Delicious Nutritious Chocolate Cereal Pretzel Mix Part 1 of 4

    Monday, February 6th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 2 Comments




    Delicious Nutritious Chocolate Cereal Pretzel Mix Part 1

    Originally uploaded by kjda

    You know you want some. I just made TONS. My special gift to me.

    Recipe below.

    KJ

    Delicious Nutritious Chocolate Cereal Pretzel Mix Part 2 of 4

    Monday, February 6th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off




    Delicious Nutritious Chocolate Cereal Pretzel Mix Part 2

    Originally uploaded by kjda

    The ingredients and the caloric markup:

    1 box Crispix: 1330 calories
    2/3 box Wheat Chex 1100 36 g fiber
    2/3 box Multi-grain Chex ditto
    1 bag Spelt Pretzels 840 calories 38 g fiber

    2 bags scharfenberger bittersweet choco baking chunks 680 calories 11g fiber (1360 22)
    1 bag scharfenberger semisweet baking chunks 770 calories 11 g fiber
    2 squares 280 calories 8 g fiber
    Sea salt: caloric contribution negligible. But sprinkle liberally!

    At a minimum I’ve got 60 servings here: 67800 calories divided by 60…that can’t be right. Ok, time to abandon doing the math in my head…no, I just got carried away with the zeroes. 6780. And a bonus couple grams of fiber every time.

    70 calories. I could eat 70 calories worth of Tings just by walking past the pantry. This is relevant.

    I would never have counted the calories, except that my friend Mimi seriously doubted the healthiness of my healthy nutritious good-for-me snack mix. Of course, Mimi doesn’t know what I’m up against. For that, read on:

    KJ Dell’Antonia

    Delicious Nutritious Chocolate Cereal Pretzel Mix Part 3 of 4

    Monday, February 6th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off




    Delicious Nutritious Chocolate Cereal Pretzel Mix Part 3

    Originally uploaded by kjda

    One large bowl: filled twice to allow room to stir, with half of all the ingredients. Don’t stress over equal chocolate distribution, it all works out in the end.

    I spread parchment on the counter to spread the mix out on to cool and harden. Overnight is best, but that really depends on where your cat sleeps. So, why is this so good for me? Keep reading.

    KJ Dell’Antonia

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