Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Great Clean Fail

I grew up in a hoarding household. There was a path from the front door to the couch and to the beds and that was about it. The house was pretty much stacked from top to bottom with junk everywhere else. It was even hard to use the kitchen, what with outdated canned goods and empty soda bottles on every horizontal surface.

So, as an adult, I overcompensate. I throw away pieces of paper we later need on a regular basis. I freak out if a grocery bag is not emptied immediately upon its arrival inside the house. I very strictly keep my wardrobe to one in, one out.  Everything brought into the house has a place to be stored. If there's no home for something, it can't come in.

I like our house to be clean. I don't mind if there are books or magazines out on the tables or if the blanket is thrown willy nilly over the couch, but I really can't stand filth. Or things on the floor. I once read somewhere that the floor is no place to store things and it changed my entire worldview.

Which brings me to an early sneak peek at how I'm doing one of  my 2018 goals, specifically the goal of cleaning for 10 minute a day.  I bet I've only accomplished this goal a handful of times and it will look like I'm failing this goal. But, no, I'm not. I just want the house to be clean if someone decides to stop by unannounced*.  And it is incredibly unlikely that I would ever let the house get bad enough that I would feel shame in someone seeing it.  Here's why. I have rules for keeping the house in okayish shape.

1.  Leave the room cleaner than when you came in.  This is my number one rule of keeping the house looking nice.  If I use the bathroom, I also wipe down the sink. If I go to change Zelda's water, I also pick up the lint on the floor.  It doesn't matter how small the thing is that you do to make the room better, these little things add up.

2. If it takes less than a minute to do a chore, just do it.  I don't necessarily want to empty all the dishes out of the drainer, but guess what?  It takes less than a minute. Just do it.  I don't want to wipe down the kitchen counters** for the fifth time today, but guess what? Less than a minute.

3)  Don't be lazy.  If there's visible cat fur on the rug, get out the vacuum and clean it. It doesn't take ten minutes, but I vacuum almost every other day. Because it doesn't take long.  My innate, I grew up in a hoarder home tendency is to let things be. My own personal mantra is "don't be lazy" and I must say it a couple of dozen times a day to myself.

4) Declutter before bed. The house needs to look nice before we go to bed. The kitchen is sparkling, the bathroom ready for whatever whirlwind is going to hit in the morning, and everything is in its proper place. This is crucial for everyone's sanity.
Yes, there's dust and books everywhere, but it's not terrible, right?
It helps that there are only two of us and my husband is naturally tidy, if not clean. I don't know that he's ever cleaned a mirror, toilet, or tile floor in our marriage, but when he sees me digging in for a big clean, he Swiffers and dusts with the best of them. We don't have kids or the clutter that comes with them, but we do have a cat and she brings her own special brand of cleaning challenges***.  Anyway, I don't clean for ten minutes a day straight on most days, but I definitely spend more than ten minutes a day cleaning in various smaller ways.

I don't actually know why I'm writing this. I'm guess I'm already justifying how I've failed one of my quarterly goals by telling you that I don't think it's an important goal, but I must have thought it was important when I created these goals in December.  I don't know.  Just tell me I'm not alone in my overwhelming desire for a clean house with an overwhelming desire to do that in small bursts rather than giant long bursts of cleaning. 

We need a rug****, but otherwise it looks okayish, right?
*This has never once happened since we've been here unless you count the time the guy came to fix the house humidifier once without calling ahead of time.

**The counters are a dark laminate and EVERY speck of a crumb or WHATEVER ends up on those counters.  Heavy sigh.

***Kitty litter EVERYWHERE. I vacuum the bathroom almost every day. Seriously. How does she get so much of it in every crevice of the tile? 

****Ted's parents' friends offered us free rugs. They keep telling us the rugs are coming and I keep putting off buying a rug, but I'm at the end of my rope with the need for a rug in this room.  Soon.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Podcast Roundup Week #11

This week I listened to 49 episodes and unsubscribed from two podcasts altogether.  I'm much more likely to just hit unsubscribe these days than I used to be. I used to really give podcasts a break, but now if you have one or two bad episodes, I just don't have time for you.

Here are the highlights from this week.

The BBC's The Documentary had an episode called "China's Generation Gap: Part Two" that looked at changing norms regarding marriage and family in China, with a particular lens towards how the one-child policy affected women and women's roles. I thought it was a particularly well done view of China showing both an old school dude who is appalled that his son only has a daughter (but the family name!) all the way to young women who don't really see the need for marriage at all, although the desire to have children does seem to remain strong.

Death, Sex, and Money had a great episode called "Sharing DNA, and Nothing Else" about a woman who found out through one of those mail-in ancestry kits that the father she grew up knowing was not actually her biological father. Also, she doesn't want to get to know this guy because...politics. In 2018, this makes so much sense to me. With the worries I have about the unintended consequences of these DYI DNA kits, this show really spoke to me. And when the woman talked about her father dying in front of her, I almost started crying in the middle of the street. I know I talk about DS&M a lot on this blog, but it's consistently excellent and Anna Sale is such an empathetic, but good interviewer. She gets honest responses, but never flinches from asking hard questions. I feel like this show makes me a better person.

Speaking of crying, Code Switch released "A House Divided by Immigration" in which a family has kids with various immigration status (one is a citizen, two have DACA-protection, one is a DREAMer with no protection) and the youngest, the one who is a citizen, called the interviewer back into the room to tell her that if his family gets deported he's going with them and it was such a powerful moment from a teenage boy who until this point had seemed like a clueless kid who didn't seem to care about anything that I did choke up. You know what's important to this kid? His family.  Immigration is one of the most salient political issues of the day, but sometimes it's hard to forget in all the partisan bickering that there are real people and real consequences to these issues.

In a more lighthearted recommendation, This American Life had a David Sedaris story "The Youth in Asia" in a recent episode. He tells the story of the role that pets had in his family's life in his typically hilarious way.  Sedaris tells of having to put his cat to sleep and here's the line where I laughed so hard I cried. My mother sent a consoling letter along with a check to cover the cost of the cremation. In the left-hand corner, under the heading marked Memo, she'd written, "Pet Burning."His mom sounds like she would be fun.  I like to put things under the Memo line because I'm pretty sure no physical eyeballs actually look at checks these day.  Anyway, it's good old-fashioned David Sedaris if you need a giggle.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran, leaving her family for Europe during the Iranian Revolution, returning to Iran as a westernized woman, and then her eventual self-exile.   And it's all done as a graphic novel.

It's a very honest telling of her story and the artistry of the panels is amazing. She tells stories of her own life that definitely put her in a poor light (becoming homeless, getting a guy arrested falsely) and I struggle to imagine if I would be as willing to put my own mistakes on the page in such an open fashion.  It also does a great job of humanizing the people of Iran - something that we don't always do a good job of in the United States. The stories of day to day life in Iran, through all of the political turmoil, were really some of the most remarkable pages.  The perspective of a young Iranian woman is one that I don't think we get much of and it's an important one to listen to, I think.

I didn't much like Marjane, though. I thought she was self-absorbed and indulgent. And, I mean, yes, of course she is - she's a child and an adolescent through much of the book.  But not wanting to be with this character meant that I would read five pages and put the book down for days on end, read another five pages and then put it down for another couple of days. I didn't want to read it and only managed to read it when I puposefully took it as the only book on a car trip.

So, yes, it's good.  And I think it's an important book.

But I would probably only give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. It's just not a book that speaks to me.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Podcast Roundup Week #10

This week I listened to 48 episodes.  My second job is starting to slowly pick up again (there's a normal decline at the beginning of the year, but this year has been especially slow) and so I'm spending a bit more time alone in the car commuting, which is a pretty normal time for me to listen to podcasts.

A highlight for me was definitely listening to the three-part miniseries that Casefile did on the Silk Road, a now defunct dark website that sold drugs, weapons, and poison.   The podcast walked through the development of the site, which could only be accessed using Tor and was one of the first "big" places to accept Bitcoin.  It tells the story of Ross Ulbricht, who would later be sentenced to life in prison on charges related to the operation of Silk Road.   If you want more on the Silk Road, there's a Longform podcast interview with Nick Bilton who wrote a book that was frequently referenced in the Casefile episodes.
Casefile is probably one of the top five true crime podcasts out there. The narrator doesn't even introduce himself - he just gives you the facts about the crime he's dealing with.  Many true crime podcasts try to lighten the mood with jokes and banter and this can frequently come off as disrespectful, particularly when there are victims involved, but Casefile just sticks to a recitation of the story.  The narrator seems to be Australian, too, so there are some cases that I bet are familiar to Australians that get covered, but that are new to me as an American.

I also want to just demonstrate my nerdiness by pointing out that two NPR podcasts I listened to this week made me laugh out loud in a way that attracted attention as I was walking down the street.

Pop Culture Happy Hour had an episode about the Winter Olympics in which Stephen Thompson admits to being stunned into silence as something happened in the bobsled, Glen Wheldon talks about his utter disdain for the entire affair, and somehow coalesced many of my complicated feelings into a fun conversation among friends. Also, Planet Money's yearly compendium of things they are jealous of "Our Valentines" had me rolling on the floor as a born and bred New Yorker talked about how much enjoyed leafing through the pages of Farm Show Magazine.  It was a good time.

There was also a Reveal episode on redlining and I am mostly making this note here so that next semester when I'm teaching this subject, I can quickly refer back to this post. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra was our book club book this month. It tells the tale of a small group of friends during the war in Chechnya in 2004.  A girl's father is abducted by Russian forces and the neighborhood must band together to save her. It leads us through this war-torn country, back and forth in time, before, during, and after the war, and is bleak as all get out.

I definitely don't want to be living in a place where a war takes place, that is for sure.  The most intriguing part of the book from my perspective were the day to day details that showed how life changed so gradually. The author talked a fair amount about food and you could kind of see the descent from food like you and I eat to food if you're really hungry to food if you have it to food is so rare that you have taken to eating unconventional items in the hope that you get some nutrients from them.

I also thought the plot lines that delved into the survivors' guilt and PTSD to be understated, but well done.  Yep, the doctor is addicted to opiates because it's her coping mechanism. Yes, the sprite is imagining conversations with her schoolyard bully who was killed by the Russians. It all makes complete sense in a world in which nothing makes sense.

I thought this book was an awful lot like All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is to say that the plot was similar, but they cover different wars. They're both award-winning novels that have beautiful writing and I would recommend reading them.  But there's a remove between the reader and the characters that I think is on purpose as a symptom of PTSD, but that remove makes it seem more like I'm watching a movie rather than intimately getting to know characters like I expect to in a novel.

Read it if you like. Even if you don't know much about the Chechen war, the book will take you along and explain what needs explaining.  It's well done and doesn't take all that long to get through.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Cage Match: New Diet Coke Flavors

Four enter the ring...which one will the heart and taste buds of NGS?
My love for Diet Cherry Coke is well known. Hearing the hiss of the can as I open it with dinner is one of the most pleasurable moments for my day.  I was quite worried when I heard that Diet Coke is switching up its flavors (not the original Diet Coke, though), but I've been reassured that, at least for the time being, I can still access Diet Cherry Coke online.

Our grocery store recently stocked the new flavors, so here's the lowdown.  Obviously, this is just what I think and taste buds are different for everyone, but here's my opinion.

Ginger Lime:  This tastes like watered down Diet Coke. I didn't get even a fleeting hint of ginger or lime in it. The OG Diet Coke with Lime is oodles better.  I didn't even finish the can.

Twisted Mango: Have you ever wanted your Diet Coke to be tropical?  I mean, I don't think I ever did, but this is what it would taste like. I'm not sure I got "mango," so much as "papaya/pineapple/coconut/tropical," but if someone handed one of these to me at a party, I'd politely drink it.

Zesty Blood Orange: This tastes like Sunkist and Diet Coke had a baby. I don't hate it. As a matter of fact, if I had to buy one of these four options, this is the one I'd get.

Feisty Cherry: This has the worst aftertaste of any diet soda I've ever had. This was revolting. I was kind of expecting it to taste just cherrier than the stuff I drink every night, but instead it tastes like someone threw battery acid into a Diet Coke and sold it over the counter as if it were safe to consume.  I do not recommend it.

Meanwhile, our local grocery store still has the OG Diet Cherry on the shelves and I'll keep buying it there until I'm forced to Amazon Prime it. 

Friday, March 02, 2018

Podcast Roundup Week #9

It was a total of 39 episodes this week. That's actually more than I would have thought considering it was the flu-pocalypse in our house this week and I spent three full days huddled under blankets on the couch without moving and praying that a fairy would send popsicles.  The fairy turned out to be my hsuband who got sick before I did, but managed to leave the house before I did, too.  Next time he gets sick, I'm literally just going to buy everything I want when I get sick because he requested chicken stock and Vitamin Water and USED NEITHER.  But, I'm back, if not at full strength, strong enough to get pumped about something.

I listen to a podcast called "Crime Writers On..." that discusses true crime media.  I really enjoy their main segments and pretty much skip everything else. I don't always trust their judgment (they were really much more enthralled with the podcast Done Disappeared than I was, for instance), but they recently reviewed the Audible original podcast series West Cork and they were so enthusiastic about it that I downloaded it as soon as I got home.

West Cork is available for free until May 9, so get it while you can.  It's through Audible, but Audible is apparently an Amazon-affiliated company, so I just go it through Amazon. For free.  I mean, most podcasts are free, but this is an Audible production, which is normally not free, so that's why I'm stressing the free part so much.

Anyway. It tells the story of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in the town of Schull in West Cork, Ireland in 1996.  This is apparently quite a famous tale in Ireland (maybe most of Europe?), but as an American, this was a brand new unsolved murder to me. 

I thought the first two or three episodes were a bit of a trudge, but then it just picked up and got zippy from there. The creators tell the story chronologically, but the best parts of the podcast are when they go back to an idea you thought they were just going to bypass. They might mention Topic A very briefly in episode 2, but then all of a sudden Topic A is the main topic in a later episode. I thought it was really well done.

It's 13-episodes long and probably 8 hours or so overall and I was riveted after the first hour or so.  I highly recommend it.

Also, there was a truly sad story about the high suicide rate for veterinarians on Death, Sex, and Money, if you're really interested in a sad tale. 
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