Back to the Ol’ Blog…but Why?

So here it is, almost ten months (gasp) since my last post on this blog. So what inspired me to cough up the cash to reserve my little acre of the Internet so as to keep regaling you with my reflections? Here are a few of the reasons…

1. I just couldn’t let X-ing A Paragrab become a ‘goldfish’ blog (a blog that its creator becomes bored with, stops “feeding”, and lets die.) I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I think it’s been more due to the blog’s format (more on that later) than to lack of interest. Also, I don’t like to fall back on the “I don’t have time” argument, but especially in recent months I have had to give some things a higher priority than X-ing (shocking, I know).

2. Keeping the blog helps keep me honest and encourages me to lead as authentic a life as possible. In order to have things to write about, I have to go out and DO and EXPERIENCE things. I think that one of the problems with the society we live in is that so much of our time is spent on being spectators rather than participants. In my opinion, the habit of watching rather than doing makes people more passive and less likely to instigate change, either in their own lives or in the world in general. I think you can definitely see the effects of these habits in the current status of the Presidential race (a sorry state of affairs, if you ask me) and in the pop-culture climate of today (can reality TV get any trashier? That’s a statement, not a challenge). I also will go so far as to say that I believe that the powers that be WANT a population of passive, brain-dead sheeple which will serve their own need for unlimited power and influence. So to me, getting involved and engaged is an act of civil disobedience, and this blog is part of it.

3. Generation X has gotten the short end of the stick since the day we were born (literally). In our youth we were insulted for being “slackers” and blamed for rising crime rates (remember “super-predators?”). In adulthood, we’ve borne the brunt most of the financial collapses since the 1990s; we’re virtually overlooked by the media as well. Without getting into too much generation-bashing, I believe that Gen X needs more of a voice, even if it is a voice crying out in the (Internet) universe.

4. Between crocheting, jewelry making, cosplaying, historical reenacting, fitness and reading, I just don’t have enough hobbies. Just kidding. This space gives me a place to write about those things.

5. The breakup format had problems and I want to fix those. First, the scope was too narrow. Second, and more important, I was getting tired of the negative aspect of breakups (I will stop doing something bad, hopefully forever) and I would rather focus the blog on positive change.

As I said, these are a few of the reasons I have decided to breath new life into this blog. Stay tuned for more!

#The100DayProject, 100 Days of Creativity, April’s Breakup, and Why I’m a Sucker for Anything with 100 In It

Greetings again, faithful readers.  It’s the beginning of a new month, so time for another breakup…and the introduction of another accountability project!  So, without further ado, here’s a current status update on the Breakups.

November Breakup (Inactivity): I average two days of working out for each day of rest; therefore I work out about 4-5 times a week.  At my last doctor’s appointment, I was able to tell the nurse with complete honesty that I get, on average, 150 minutes of exercise a week.  And I could tell that she believed me.

December Breakup (More than two drinks a week): I’m on a roll with this one: a couple of glasses of wine on the weekend and San Pellegrino Sunday to Thursday.  Easy peasy.

January Breakup (Buying grocery bags): Still haven’t bought a bag in the grocery store in over three months.  I have bought a fabric shopper at See’s Candy (forgot mine in the car, and the bag they sell there is really cute) and got a store bag at the American Girl Store (once again, forgot my shopper…but the AG bag is the perfect size to fit a lunch in).  Using my own bags has become a habit…a habit I should have adopted a long time ago.  But, better late than never, right?

February Breakup (Sugar):  Uh, hey!  Did you see how well I did on the previous three breakups?  Look!  Look!  Reread them and bask with me in my triumphs…while I sweep my EPIC FAIL with sugar under the rug.  More on that later (painful as it is).

March Breakup (Procrastination): A mixed bag on this one, folks.  I have gotten a lot of unpleasant but essential things done since the beginning of last month, but I’ll be the first to admit that I have a long ways to go on this resolution.  This, though, actually brings me to this month, namely, the…

April Breakup…which will be twofold.  This month, I am breaking up with A. poor prioritization and with B. buying candy.  When I started the March breakup, I got completely into a “do it NOW” mindset. Not a basket of laundry remained unwashed, a recommendation letter unwritten, or a phone call unreturned.  However, as I tried to tackle everything as it came up, I was often hung up on finishing non-essential projects while important things languished incomplete (temporarily, but you get the idea.)

So, in the last week of March, I adopted the Top Five Daily Hits time management technique.  Every day, I list the five most important things I HAVE to do that day, and, no matter how dreary or boring or intimidating they are, I get them done before bedtime.  Then, I tackle the rest of my to-do list, and I always include a few soft-ball items that I can check off happily and easily.  Work out while watching the latest episode of Reign? Check.  Moisturize my cuticles before giving myself a gel manicure? Check.  So, everyone else is happy because I’m getting them their deliverables and meeting their due dates, and I’m happy because I’m prioritizing things that allow me to nurture myself.  Winning.

And the other breakup?  No one brings candy into my house (except during Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter) except me.  So, I resolve not to buy candy and bring it home or to school.  I have several good reasons to take a second swing at this piñata: I don’t want my daughters developing health problems from excessive sugar consumption, and excessive sugar can imitate estrogen in the body and cause inflammation–which can lead to developing (or re-developing) cancer.  So as you can see I have a dog (several dogs, in fact) in this fight.  Wish us well as we tackle this again.Finally (and this is not a breakup, but it’s related to developing good habits and putting dreams into action), today is the start of #The100DayProject. This project’s aim is to provide an incentive for creative people (basically anyone) to jump-start creative projects: everything from painting to writing to weaving potholders.  Being a total sucker for any 100-day challenge, (Happiness anyone?) I am taking this one on, also, in addition to my Breakup regime.  So, expect more blog posts (and more things of a literary nature).

So, now, I must cut myself off…I have to check on the status of that new seatbelt I’m having installed in my car (after years of having a broken one, I’m embarrassed to say).  And, yes, it was a Big Five Item.  So I am winning, little by little, day by day.  Wish me luck!

Procrastinating on Not Procrastinating? Thoughts on Daylight Saving Time and Getting Things Done Now

It has been almost two weeks since my last post and I am sure that you have all been waiting with bated breath to see how I am doing on the resolution to not procrastinate.  I think the fact that it has taken me that amount of time to sit down and just write a short post should give you some idea of how that resolution is going, but there’s much more to the story.

According to the Oxford University Press, procrastination means “the action of delaying or postponing something.”  That begs this question: how do you define delay and postpone?  At the risk of turning this post into a fifth grade vocabulary assignment (and I know too well how much my students looove vocab assignments) or an exercise in splitting hairs, I think the  problem–and the challenge of this particular breakup–is that procrastination is hard to define.

And if it’s hard to define it’s doubly hard to accomplish. All the other breakups so far have been challenging, but pretty simple.  Break up with not exercising=break a sweat for half an hour at least five times a week.  Give up more than two drinks a week–everyone can count to two, right?  Sugar is trickier, because it’s in a lot of things besides desserts, but cutting down to one sweet a day (which is what I’ve amended that resolution to) is easy to monitor, if not to do.  But procrastination, to me, seems a bit like pornography, or rather, the Supreme Court’s definition of it: you know it when you see it.

Based on that definition, I’m still doing it far more than I should.  One thing I have noticed with these breakups is this: in the first few weeks after making them, I suck at keeping them.  This has been no exception.  I do sort of feel that I have had an excuse in the last week, though.

Daylight Saving Time is my least favorite weekend of the whole year.   I know it only pushes you forward one hour, but for me it’s like getting over jet lag from being on a transcontinental flight.  It has been hell being tossed back into waking up when it is pitch dark outside.  Then, waking up tired means that I’m slow with my morning ritual, which sets everything back before school, which leads to getting into the car five to ten minutes later, which leads to getting to work later, which eats into prep time…you get the picture.  The end result is that I seem to have less time and energy to accomplish stuff, and though I’m getting a lot of stuff done within a non-procrastination timeline, a lot of stuff is still falling off the table.

What I am trying to do, though, is give myself credit for what i have accomplished. Like last weekend, for example.  My younger daughter’s room has been a pit for a long time.  But rather than waiting for spring break to tackle the mess, we did it over last Saturday and Sunday.  And not only did we clean and organize the room, we re-enforced our mother-daughter bond.  We discussed what things to keep,which to junk, and which to give to the less fortunate.  We laughed over old memories inspired by items we hadn’t seen in a while, and we just learned (or re-learned) the value of perseverance as we powered through one more drawer, or one more box, or one more shelf before taking well deserved breaks.  I wouldn’t say it was a great experience, but it was a teaching moment and the end result was awesome–one more clean, organized room in the house.

Another achievement was getting my conference notes done on time.  At my school, we are required to keep a document for each parent conference we have. So at the fall and spring conferences, I need to write 15 of them.  Usually, I jot down notes while conferencing, but it takes me weeks to type them up in sentence form and get them into the office for approval.  This year, I decided to  type up the notes for each conference the day I had it.  This was a little painful, but I was very glad I did it for two reasons: one, the notes were more detailed than they would have been if I’d waited, and two, I was done and didn’t have have the task of doing them hanging over my head for weeks at a time.

I know doing those two things well don’t totally excuse me for also pushing back a lot of things during the last two weeks, but I have to give myself some credit for what I have managed to do.  So, I think the right breakup might be with poor prioritization, rather than with procrastination.

And with that, I need to cut this blog post short, since my Saturday is a-wastin’ and I have a lot of things to do that I have prioritized ahead of spending my afternoon sitting on a couch, monopolizing the laptop and bloviating about procrastination.  So, off to work; my to-accomplish list awaits.

Another Month, Another Breakup

Another day, another dollar; another month, another breakup.  Before I get into what I plan to friend-zone this month, though, let’s take a look back at the previous months’ breakups and see how they’re going:

-November 2014: Physical inactivity.  I can say with confidence that I seem to have established better exercise habits over the last four months.  I average 30 minutes on the treadmill five times a week.  I do need to add weight bearing exercises to my workout, and I have noticed that my weight is creeping up a little, but overall, I have had more energy, slept better, and felt more optimistic over the last few months than I have in a long time.

–December 2014: More than two alcoholic drinks a week.  This challenge has been, to my surprise, a runaway success. I have all but eliminated drinking on weeknights and I don’t remember the last time I had hard liquor or a mixed drink.  I have been very pleasantly surprised by the realization that, apparently, I do not have an irresistible urge to imbibe; my real addictions lie elsewhere (more on that later, too.)

–January 2015: Buying grocery bags.  Two months have elapsed; I haven’t bought a single bag. And, with grocery bags in my county now costing a quarter a piece, I’ve probably saved somewhere between five and ten dollars by now. I’ll declare this one a total success.

–February 2015: Eating no more than one item with processed sugar a day.  Some of you might remember that my other resolution this month was to get going on achieving my writing goals; I did start this blog last month and, after taking three trips in three weeks (two of them as a chaperone for my class) and finishing a stack of report cards, I finally have enough spare time and energy to devote to writing semi-regular posts.

But the sugar?  Don’t ask.  I led the league this month in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup consumption, and (with apologies to the late Will Rogers) I never met a dessert I didn’t like.  I will carry this resolution into the months to come and continue to work on it, but I have come to the realization that I am addicted to sugar.  It will be take very hard work and an ocean liner full of willpower to change that, though I plan to keep trying.

So, what breakup to make this month?  As February drew to a close I was toying with a lot of ideas.  Friends and family know that my car is basically a Dumpster on wheels; so, break up with driving a dirty car, perhaps?  Every day, I’m a vegetarian before six o’clock; should I bite the bullet and dump meat from my diet entirely?  I always seem to generate a small drifts of clutter wherever I go; perhaps I could part ways with untidiness?

I certainly had a lot of alternatives, and the first of the month came and went without a decision.  I decided not to force it; the breakup would reveal itself.

And today, tragically, it did.

My daily commute is mostly on one very busy street that cuts through the town that my school is in.  It runs from the hills in the west to the tidal flats in the east, and it’s car-packed and bustling from dawn till way past dark.  Some daring folks even ride their bicycles on it. Flying down the hills, wheels a-blur, it looks like fun–especially when you’re stalled in rush hour traffic.

Or so it did, until today.  I left my school during the noon recess to go get some lunch.  As I was driving down to the local market I nearly rear-ended the car in front of me, which had come to a sudden stop.

The street in question has two lanes going in each direction, with a wide median strip separating them.  I couldn’t see anything in the road on my (the east-bound) side, but on the other side, it looked like there was a piece of machinery–a lawn mower fallen off a gardener’s truck, perhaps–blocking the left lane of traffic.

I took a closer look and realized that the object in the road was a bicycle–a severely traumatized one. Its front wheel was mashed into a clumsy oval; its frame was bent like a paperclip.  Its rider lay face-down, motionless in the barren dirt of the median strip.  I could tell right away that he was–at least– very badly injured.  Also, the accident had just happened; there were no emergency response vehicles on the scene.  As a teacher, I have CPR and first aid certification, but I get queasy when a student suffers anything worse than a moderate nosebleed.  Would I have to get out of my car and offer assistance?

Fortunately, a man in a white van two cars ahead of me parked and jumped out to help, cell phone in hand.  Numb and shaken, I passed the cars in front of me, got to the market, bought  some food, and headed back to school.  By then, the street was blocked off and fire engines and EMT vehicles were everywhere.  The detour was miles long and by the time I got back to school lunch was over–not that I was very hungry by then, anyway.

That was about 12 hours ago, and it’s still on my mind.  I can’t stop wondering about that bicyclist.  Where was he going at that time of day–was he off to get a bite to eat, like me, when boom!  he lost control of his bike?  What exactly happened?  Did he hit a rock, maybe, or swerve to avoid a motorist, and thus begin the chain of events that ended with his lifeless body face-down on a median strip with his mangled bicycle beside it?   And, most basically, who was he?  Did he have a spouse?  Kids?  A job?  Dreams?  Hopes? Beliefs?

We’ll probably find out the answers to most of those questions over the next few days; the small town vibe of our community reduces the usual six degrees of separation by half, or even more. But whoever he is, or whatever his life’s circumstances happened to be, one thing is true: whatever future he had as of 12:15 PM on March 2, 2015 is now gone.

And, this fate can befall any of us.  It’s a cliche to say that any of us could be hit by a bus at any minute, but we all have to admit that sudden demise is, if not probable, at least possible.  Some of us (me included) have had closer brushes with our mortality than others; but what I’ve noticed in those situations is that once the immediate danger is past, we tend to let down our guard a little.  While in the valley of the shadow, we may have vowed to make the most of every day, take joy from small pleasures, and follow our dreams.  But as our troubles recede in the rear view mirror, we fall back into our old habits: we take things and people for granted, we complain when things don’t go our way, and we treat time as if we have an inexhaustible supply of it.

Taking all of this into consideration, this month’s breakup will be with procrastination.  What will that look like exactly?  I’m not sure, but it will definitely involve planning ahead, accomplishing goals, and most importantly, not wasting time.  I know that I’m not going to live forever, so I plan to, as the Internet meme says, carpe the heck out of this diem.  Watch this space as I document the inevitable challenges that will result from this particular breakup; it will be very difficult, but interesting.

More to come–stay tuned.





So, Why This Blog? And What’s Up With That Name?

To the handful of people who will wander over here in the next few days to see what mischief and mayhem I am up to now, please let me extend a formal welcome to my blog and inform you of why it exists.

Its inception is part of a challenge that I have taken on in the last four months. Many of you know that since November 1, soon after I finished the 100 Happy Days challenge, I have been challenging myself every month to permanently “break up” with a bad habit–or at least to friend-zone it.  So, in the last four months, I have given up these things: being a couch potato, consuming more than two drinks a week, buying bags at the grocery store, and eating more than one serving of processed sugar a day.

How successful have I been? Here’s the tale of the tape; judge for yourself. As for the first breakup (with inactivity), I now average about four workouts a week, and I have actually progressed from walking to jogging. On the second (alcohol), I struggled a bit during the holidays, but once January rolled around, it’s been much easier.  The third (bags) has been a raring success– I have not bought a bag since the day after Christmas. The fourth, though, has been the hardest of all– I am still struggling to limit my sugar intake (not easy with all the Valentine’s treats floating around.)  So, to make myself feel like less of a failure if I couldn’t get my act together with the candy, I adopted a second goal for this month:  I would break up with not writing.

Hence, this blog.  I figure that coughing up the princely sum of about five dollars a month will be the impetus to get me off my virtual duff and onto my virtual soapbox on a semi-regular basis (and make me feel a bit less guilty about the large bag of Rolos I have hoovered up in the last week or so).  But also, the desire– or dare I say it, the need– to write more than school newsletters and fifth-grade report card comments has been gnawing at me for a long time.  I don’t know how successful I will be, but I will endeavor to entertain, inform, and challenge you whenever you stop by.

Oh, and to answer the question in this entry’s title, “X-ing A Paragrab” is the name of an obscure and atypical Edgar Allan Poe short story. We tend to think of Poe as the Grand-Daddy of Goth, and he was–he was the father of the horror story and he also wrote several of the most famous tragic poems of all time.  But Poe was also the progenitor of the detective story, an astute literary critic, an esteemed editor (when he wasn’t drunk, drugged or depressed) and…wait for it…at times, a humorist.

Yes, you read that right.  Edgar Allan Poe was no Mark Twain, but he wrote a number of short stories that range in tone from ironic to almost laugh-out-loud funny; one of those is “X-ing.” It’s about a hapless editor named Touch-and-go Bullet-head who moves West to a town where a rival paper already exists.  He sets himself up in business with his own publication, the Tea-Pot, and tries to drum up a rivalry with the established paper (whose offices are right across the street from his.)  However, his overuse of a certain interjection in his first diatribe against his competitor (“Oh, yes!–Oh, we perceive! Oh, no doubt–the editor over the way is a genius…Oh, goodness, gracious! What is the world coming to?”) leads to a riposte that “..the fellow [Bullet-head] is all O!”

To retaliate, Bullet-head writes a response that uses the offending vowel in nearly every word, but when he turns it over to the printer (a twelve year old boy who is about four feet tall), it’s discovered that the Tea-Pot‘s entire supply of Os for its printing press has been hoisted by the rival paper.  So, the lad used the “habitual” recourse of printers of the time–he substituted all the Os with Xs.  Bullet-head’s rebuke becomes even more ridiculous than it originally was (“Sx hx, Jxhn!  Hxw nxw? Txld you sx, you knxw…”)  The town’s populace, convinced that the editorial contains some hidden satanic message, joins forces to run the editor out of town–only to find out that Bullet-head has already fled.  As the citizens of the town later reflect on what caused this missive to see print, some say that the excess of XXX spirits the editor drank caused him to be X (cross) in the X-treme, prompting him to write the tribute to the Devil which led to his expulsion from the community.

OK, the humor is broad to say the least, but it is a rather charming little story and it shows a different side of Poe than the one most people are familiar with.  So, how does that relate to this blog?  Hopefully, I won’t make an ass out of myself in print like Touch-and-go Bullet-head did.  I also strive for the goal in my writing  that we (reader and writer) will consider things in new ways, thus loosening our grip on stereotypes and prejudices we hold dear.  That, and being a member of Generation X, I am tickled that there is an X in the title of the story, and the ‘paragrab’ referred to can be seen as symbolic of this blog’s content.

OK, I’m probably over-analyzing (and wandering dangerously close to Bullet-headesque literary silliness) so I’ll stop here.  Just let me reiterate: welcome and thanks for at least starting this ride with me.

Here I Am!

After much agony setting up this website, let me say that I am thrilled to be here.  Much more to come; I’m just a little wiped out from dealing with all the technological stuff that got me to this little island in cyberspace that will be my virtual home…for a while at least.  Welcome friends, new, old and virtual–and let the wild rumpus start!