My Bingeing Problem

One Halloween long ago, maybe ten years, I was telling a friend that when I was a kid, I had no trouble with self-control when it came to candy. The treats I got on Halloween would last until Easter, if not longer. However, I lamented, those days of self-control were long gone.

Since the advent a few years ago of the beautiful activity known as binge-watching, I have been a devoted fan and addict. Why wait a week between episodes of a show, when you can get the whole storyline in a few days?

In the last year, I have added reading to my (albeit very short) list of hobbies. Over the years, I’ve had stretches of time to read, like when I would commute to work by bus. But mostly, it hasn’t been a major presence in my life. I consciously wanted to change that, feeling that I was being too consumed by the on-demand, information-less list-icle online culture.

Funnily enough, one of my favorite things to read about is culture. Over the past two weeks, I have been reading my way through Brigid Schulte’s fantastic Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One Has the Time (a book I began to read a couple of years ago but didn’t finish because I didn’t have the time.) When I read, I usually do so in fragments, when Sonja is otherwise occupied for five minutes, and I don’t want to do the dishes or whatever other chore is staring me in the face. Since I work in the evenings, I try to get up before her in the morning and read for 20-30 minutes, but most days it doesn’t work out that way. I sometimes get upset that I don’t get more time to read in pleasant, daylight-filled uninterrupted stretches of time, which is the entire point of Schulte’s book. Before I started reading this book, I read a short novel that I breezed through in a couple of days. I started to become upset that I couldn’t finish this much denser, much longer book in that amount of time. And something about that thought in combination with the content of Overwhelmed made me realize I have fallen victim to the culture of bingeing.  I was overlooking the fact that I was enjoying the time I was spending reading this book, far more than the little novel I read, because I couldn’t binge it fast enough.

Here’s what I think about that: finishing a book, or a season of a show, feels like an accomplishment. I’ve actually made it to the end, I can close the cover, hit the power button, check it off my list. And there is so very little these days that I can finish. I am interrupted a thousand times a day. Something as simple as paying bills, which should take five minutes, must sometimes be abandoned half-way through, picked up again either late in the night or when the nice people at the water company remind me they haven’t been paid. For Pete’s sake, I don’t even put my legs under the table when I sit down to dinner because I know I’m going to have to get up fifty times before the meal is over.

So finishing a book is like completing a thought. How novel – pun intended. I don’t suffer from the overwhelm as much as some of the people Schulte describes. I work part-time and I have the help of dual sets of grandparents. But the pressure I feel and put on myself to do everything and be perfect is real, and overwhelming. I tend to self-sacrifice instead of trying to find leisure time, because what would I do with the time if I had it? Oh Lord, I’d probably just screw it up. Or worse yet, I’d write a blog.

 

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My Best Of 2016

I think there is a widespread cultural feeling that 2016 was a shitty year. We had to listen to all the election crap, and then when the election was finally over, things just got crappier. But regardless of all the crap, I love writing this post and looking back at all the great things that I found during the year. Things I loved. Things that made me happy. Things that may have changed my world or me as a person. And 2016 was not devoid of those things. Here they are, in no particular order.

Better Call Saul, Season 2

I worship at the altar of Vince Gilligan. As I said last year, the idea of doing a spinoff of one of the greatest shows ever is fraught with peril, and such a show should not be any good. But, Better Call Saul is really good, and if it’s possible, season 2 may have been better than season 1. And the show somehow manages to tie itself in with Breaking Bad completely seamlessly, while still being a completely different show. You could watch this show having not seen a lick of Breaking Bad and still understand it and think it was the best show ever. I cannot wait for season 3, but to paraphrase our favorite children’s author, I will have to. Speaking of which…

Mo Willems

Children’s books are a mixed bag, and there are plenty that should be put in a bag and thrown straight out the window. I feel like if I have to read another rhyming couplet, my brain will melt and seep out of my ears. So thank God for Mo Willems. His stories are always creative, entertaining and devoid of saccharine. The Knuffle Bunny series and Waiting is Not Easy are my favorites, but with the help of the library, Sonja and I have read just about everything he’s ever written. Speaking of which…

Libraries

I’m putting the library on my list for the second time in 4 years. I used to take Sonja to library story times when she was little, and now we go all the time so she always has new stories to read. As I have put the pressure on myself to read more, I have been really impressed with the library’s collection. In the past couple of months, the only thing I could not find was an F. Scott Fitzgerald memoir*. When the public library didn’t have it, I realized that I was an employee at a community college, and that the community college has a library, and that the college library might have it. And they did! We talk a lot about the great access to information we have in the information age, but let’s not forget the original, and still best way, to access information. Speaking of which…

Reading

I read a bunch at the beginning of the year during my Facebook hiatus. Then, I went back to Facebook and found less and less time for reading. Then after the election, like everybody else, I had to turn off Facebook for a while. So I started reading again, and I was like, “hey, this is really great, and it was great at the beginning of the year, too. What was with me during the middle part of the year?” After all, it was this self-imposed self-control that led to the best discovery of the year, which was…

Shirley Jackson

How did I ever live without Shirley Jackson? I first heard about her book, Life Among the Savages, on the podcast, Mom & Dad are Fighting. When I needed something to read at the beginning of the year, the library had it. Though Shirley Jackson is a horror writer, this was a memoir (if you’ll recall, my favorite genre) about raising her kids in the 1940s and ’50s. I immediately fell in love with her prose and connected with her. I mention in my Best Of: Entertainment Edition that I abandoned a book I was reading called, I Want My Epidural Back. I read a good chunk of it and laughed a couple of times, but it was just another boring attempt at comedy through generalization. There was little in the way of narrative, and much vulgarity directed at this modern mythical creation known as the supermom. I don’t know if it’s our current culture that has created this motherly insecurity, or just our current technology that amplifies it, but I don’t find it productive or enlightening. There were no generalizations in Shirley Jackson’s memoirs, only characters. She definitely did not consider herself what we would now call a supermom, but she didn’t demonize anyone else, either. The only person you could call a villain is another mom that Jackson argues with over which of their kids started a fight, but even that ends in hilarity when they bump into each other at the store.

Mrs. Howell and I met at the meat counter in the grocery the next morning; she smiled and I smiled and then she said, “How is Laurie today?”

“He seems much better, thanks,” I said solemnly. “And David?”

“Fairly well,” she said without turning a hair.

“Horrible little beasts,” I said.

“Liars, all of them,” she said. “I never believe a word they say.”

Contrast that with the Epidural author:

Speaking of rugrats, I’ve got two of them. Zoey is six and she is AWWWWESOMMMMME. I also have a three-year-old named Holden who kicks ass. I don’t mean he literally kicks ass. He’s more of a hitter and a puncher. But not a biter, thank God.

I read every non-fiction story and essay of Jackson’s that exists, and now I’m left wondering if I’ll ever love reading anything as much again.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This show packs in more laughs than most anything else you can watch on TV, and it also does two or three musical numbers every week. Pretty impressive.

The Crown

I’m generally not interested in any malarkey about the monarchy, but this was so well done. Though just because it is a well-done period drama does not mean it can fill the void Mad Men left, I really enjoyed watching it. So that’s something.

A Jane Austen Education

I’ve never read an entire Jane Austen novel, but this book made me want to. I think it’s just because I adore the writing of William Deresiewicz. But, with all that reading I’m doing, I’m sure to make time for Jane Austen at some point.

Brooklyn

This film had been on my radar for some time because the screenplay is by Nick Hornby, and it was nominated for an Oscar. However, I just can’t get that excited about any movie these days though, so I sort of settled for watching the radar blips, knowing eventually I’d probably get around to it. Plus, the last Hornby screenplay, An Education, was decent but forgettable. However, I really liked this movie. Saoirse Ronan was terrific, and I found I had a very strong opinion in her America vs. Ireland decision, which surprised me. It’s been a while since I felt emotionally involved in a film. So this one earns a hearty recommendation from me.

So there you have it. Not a bad haul for a year like 2016. I cannot wait to see what 2017 will bring. But I will have to.

*The library now has it available to borrow as an e-book.

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My 2016 Year-in-Review: Entertainment Edition

At the beginning of the year, I bought a planner made of (gasp!) actual paper. I just thought I would like it. And I do. One of the unusual manifestations of this purchase was that I decided to keep track of everything I watched or read throughout the year, in the notes section at the top of each page.

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Check marks next to things I finished.

Now I’m glad I did that because I can compile the list below. I love lists, don’t you? (Especially ones that tell you what you have already done, not what you have yet to do.) This will be a two section list: shows and movies watched, and books read. There are no dates, but the list is more or less in chronological order. This is only a list – no reviews or opinions. Anything that I particularly liked will show up in my forthcoming best-of post. A few caveats: My record-keeping was not perfect. I only finished reading Funny Girl this year, having started it early in 2015. (I almost always inhale Hornby books at an alarming rate; this one was a disappointment.) Also, I did not read every essay in the Shirley Jackson collection, Let Me Tell You, just the autobiographical essays.

You might not be able to tell it from the titles, but my reading list certainly has a theme. I like autobiographies/memoirs, and another genre that you might call cultural non-fiction. Well, that’s what I’m calling it, but I just made it up*. In fact, if you look at the titles of the books that I abandoned, they’re almost all fiction. I still have several fiction books on my to-read list, and I hope to read more fiction and find more fiction authors that I like next year. Having said that, we are who we are, or we are what we read, so read what you like.


Series and Movies Watched:

Making a Murderer

Narcos (Abandoned)

Better Call Saul (season 2)

The Good Dinosaur

Trumbo

Steve Jobs

The Big Short

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Halt and Catch Fire (season 2)

The Americans (unfinished but maybe not abandoned…)

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Star Trek: Beyond

Hail, Caeser

Mr. Robot (unfinished and probably abandoned…)

Parks and Recreation (all 7 seasons)

Angry Birds

Zootopia

The Secret Life of Pets

The Jungle Book (2016)

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Halt and Catch Fire (season 3)

Ghostbusters (2016)

Orange is the New Black (seasons 1-4)

Project Runway (season 15) (in progress)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 2) (in progress)

Jane the Virgin (season 3) (in progress)

The Mindy Project (season 5) (in progress)

Big Eyes

The Crown (season 1)

Finding Dory

Dana Carvey: Straight White Male, 60

Gilmore Girls (revival)

Fed Up

Cooked

Spotlight

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Mitt

Into the Woods (abandoned around the 90-minute mark)

American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson

Brooklyn

Still Alice

Rosewater

Sully


Books Read:

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Fire in the Hole (short story) by Elmore Leonard

Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation by Adam Resnick

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub

Death of Friendship (essay) by William Deresiewicz

Life Among the Savages by Shirley  Jackson

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl

Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery (short story) by Shirley Jackson

Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I Know I Am But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

Bucky F-ing Dent by David Duchovny (abandoned)

Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn (abandoned)

A Short Autobiography by F. Scott Fitzgerald

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, et. al (abandoned, almost immediately. It’s really not even worth putting it on the list.)

I Want My Epidural Back by Karen Alpert (abandoned – so sick of this genre that makes fun of the so-called elite, put-together mommy with self-depreciation. There are so many of these books because somewhere in the culture we’ve been lead to believe that these women exist, but as far as I can see, they don’t.)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff, and Guests by Chris Smith – Foreward by Jon Stewart

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Fowl Language by Brian Gordon

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai (in progress)

 

*Okay, having now looked up “cultural non-fiction” I find that it is a real term, and Pollan and Gladwell turned up on a list of popular books from the genre, so I guess I hit the nail on the head.

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My 2016 Year-in-Review

I consider the year-in-review post a labor of love. I love it, especially for posterity, but it’s a labor to remember just what I did all year. Mostly I’m afraid that I may not be able to come up with anything. This year seems thin, but I’m sure I feel that way every year. Either I have to start taking better notes or doing more memorable stuff.

January

The first day of the year I begin a three-month Facebook cleanse, probably one of the only resolutions I kept. It was quite a productive time for me.

Sonja in PJs, photobombed by the dog, the vacuum and me.

Sonja in PJs, photobombed by the dog, the vacuum and me.

Sonja at a birthday party.

Sonja at a birthday party.

Stock! I make chicken stock about 6-8 times a year, and beef stock once a year, after Christmas dinner.

Stock! I make chicken stock about 6-8 times a year, and beef stock once a year, after Christmas dinner.

February

February is boring.

Valentine's Mailbox

Valentine’s Mailbox

Sid

Sid

Playing in muddy puddles

Playing in muddy puddles

Sleeping in her toddler bed

Sleeping in her toddler bed

March

Knowing that March is also largely boring, I make plans for my spring break: I paint Sonja’s room and buy her a “big girl” bed.

New room, angle 1

New room, angle 1

New room, angle 2

New room, angle 2

New room, angle 3 with closet doors

New room, angle 3 with closet doors

Sleeping in her big girl bed.

Sleeping in her big girl bed.

Hunting Easter eggs

Hunting Easter eggs

April

Sonja and I go to the Spring fair. We are supposed to meet friends, but they back out last minute so the two of us tackle kiddie-land together.

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Face paintin’

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Car drivin’

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows

I hope she doesn't mow over someone's foot...

I hope she doesn’t mow over someone’s foot…

Milking a fake cow

Milking a fake cow

Sonja-Go-Round

Sonja-Go-Round

Helicopter flyin'

Helicopter flyin’

Fairy T-Shirt wearin'

Fairy T-Shirt wearin’

Stair nappin'

Stair nappin’

Helping Mom cook

Helping Mom cook

May

I see Paul Simon in concert, and buy a tour hoodie which I ultimately find to be a little ridiculous because the hood covers the logo, and other than the logo, it’s just an off-brown hoodie. But I still wear it nearly every day because, dammit, I bought it. I also paid off my car about a year early, so hooray for one less bill…

The Back

The Back

Pepper got a haircut

Pepper got a haircut

Fun at the park.

Fun at the park.

Sonja has her special day at preschool

Sonja has her special day at preschool

A preschool photo

A preschool photo

June

I tackle some decluttering a la Marie Kondo, making the trash can my new best friend.

A new bike

A new bike

She said it was her "summer break."

She said it was her “summer break.”

July

Day trippers! In lieu of a longer vacation, we take the first of two summer day trips. We also let Sonja play with fireworks for the first time, and we do a little photo shoot down on the farm. (Not our farm.)

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Family photo, Leavenworth, WA

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Friends

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More friends

A sweater was required for fourth of July fireworks this year.

A sweater was required for fourth of July fireworks this year.

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Dancing with fire

Tire swing

Tire swing

Carrying vegetables that she would not even try.

Carrying vegetables that she would not even try.

August

In August, we take another trip to the zoo. Shaun and I celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. I have another birthday. And, on the hottest day of the year, we take our second road trip, the genesis of which is bathed in confusion, but the execution of which is memorable.

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Something tells me it’s all happening at the zoo

In the Columbia River

In the Columbia River

The girls coloring.

The girls coloring.

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September

We begin a bathroom remodel that is still agonizingly unfinished. Sonja turns 5. And I somewhat ill-advisedly start playing Pokemon Go, even though I know squat about Pokemon.

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The 5-year old

Birthday fun

Birthday fun

Birthday girls in a car

Birthday girls in a car

Some pinata confusion

Some pinata confusion

This is early, but after some work was done, such as waterproofing the subfloor and moving the wall.

This is early, but after some work was done, such as waterproofing the subfloor and moving the wall.

October

The predicted storm of the century turned out to be, quite predictably, nothing. Sonja goes on a field trip and trick or treating.

storm-meme

Totally prepared and completely underwhelmed

Totally prepared for and completely underwhelmed by the storm.

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

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Porch decoratin’

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Field Trippin’

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Giant Pumpkins

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Trick or Treatin’

November

We eat a turkey.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

December

We see The Nutcracker and we visit Santa Claus. We decorate the Christmas tree and bake Christmas cookies. Sonja leaves out two cookies and a glass of milk for Santa, plus a carrot for his reindeer. And of course we open presents and eat ourselves into a stupor. As always, we really overdo it on Christmas. As always, I vow not to even leave the house after about December 10th, but then proceed to go out every single day to pick up some item I forgot the day before. It’s too much trouble, but I suppose I do it so that I’m not left wondering what I did all the long, dark winter.

Seeing the Nutcracker and eating very expensive M&Ms.

Seeing the Nutcracker and eating very expensive M&Ms.

All decked out

All decked out

Thumbs up with Santa

Thumbs up with Santa

Stocking stuffers

Stocking stuffers

A purple brontosaurus (that thankfully she loved...Santa was worried.)

A purple brontosaurus (that thankfully she loved…Santa was worried.)

Christmas dog

Christmas dog

The yearly picture with all of her gifts.

The yearly picture with all of her gifts.

Now on to 2017!

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My Five-and-a-Quarter Year Old

On Friday, Sonja and her pre-K class went to the nursing home to sing Christmas carols for the residents. It was a ten-minute production, top to bottom, which went, I suppose, as well as you could expect for a gaggle of four- to five-year-olds. When we got home, Sonja told the family how much she enjoyed singing for “the old people.”

Last week, we went with friends to see a performance of The Nutcracker. Even though she’s only five, I figured she would do pretty well, as sitting and watching things is one of her fortes. Afterwards, Sonja told the family how much she enjoyed seeing The Nutcracker.

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We started a new preschool this year. It is not a co-op, and I do not have to work in the classroom. When we arrive, she is so excited she can barely take the time to hang up her backpack and coat. She runs into the classroom to greet her friends. I say something along the lines of, “Bye, sweetie, have a good day.” Without turning around, Sonja sticks her hand out behind her in a half-wave and says, “Bye!”

Sonja is, to put it mildly, a well-adjusted child. It is surprising, to say the least, given her lineage.

Of course, she is still only five. She traded little plastic rings with one of her friends, and wore her new one to school. She lost part of it during play time, and according to her teacher, had a 45-minute meltdown, resulting in the first time her behavior card was changed to yellow, which is like a warning.

Sonja now knows how to read several simple words, and has a memory like a steel trap. Some of this memory is used on characters from Pokemon Go, which she has taken to playing with Mom & Dad, and which I feel is taking up valuable space in that big brain of hers. She seems to be slowly letting go of the fixation with the color green. She has not expanded her palette, though thanks to her preschool, she better at taking adventure bites, even if she does just say “phe, that’s disgusting.” She loves doing mazes and other activities in coloring/activity books, but she passes right by the coloring pages. She loves it when we think she is being funny, but her attempts to tell jokes…well you’d tell her not to quit her day job if she had one. She likes to listen to music or play with her stuffed animals after I put her to bed. She’s my little insomniac, but the nice thing about insomniacs is they sleep in.

For my part, I sometimes forget that she is a now at an age where she will remember these days. I do not remember going to preschool. I remember kindergarten, though, and as I may have mentioned a time or two, I was Sonja’s age when I was in kindergarten. We are so close to this giant milestone of school, and I feel like her not being in school is one of the things that leads me to think of these days as future forgotten.

Speaking of forgotten, I’m having trouble remembering what we did the last few months. I often forget to take photos for long stretches of time, which seems to be the case for the last quarter. I’m also having some photo organization issues, now that most of my photos are on my phone and my cloud storage is full.

We did, I recall, have a birthday party. It was at the house for the first time since she turned two, and a great time was had by all. I actually planned games and activities this time, and the kids enjoyed them, minus the requisite fits from Sonja when she didn’t win. I also finally figured out, after two years, how to properly bake a chocolate chip cookie cake. The neighbors lent us a bouncy house and “other grandma and grandpa” bought her a car.

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Pinatas are the new must-have for any kid-oriented occasion.

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Pizza ‘n’ Paw Patrol

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Birthday girls!

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Cruisin.

The first field trip with her new school was to a pumpkin patch, on a miserably soggy and frigid October day. I was impressed when the teacher’s assistant quelled a potential meltdown after one of the farmers suggested Sonja pick a different pumpkin that wasn’t bruised. Sonja really liked her pumpkin, and the assistant told her that was all that mattered, not what anyone else thought.

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Old friends

 

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

We finally had a successful Halloween. By successful, I mean that she didn’t have a meltdown every time she got a piece of candy she didn’t like (candy she doesn’t like: anything that’s not a plain Hershey bar or plain M&Ms or a plain Hershey kiss.) She also went trick or treating with her friend so that made it even better.

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Later, there was a Halloween pinata.

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Our Halloween decorations.

Sonja was not interested in “the holiday with the food,” but once it was over, she said she loved it.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

December has been all about Christmas. We attempted to make a gingerbread house, which the dog then ate. There was the preschool concert. We visited Santa. And now we wait, in tremendous agony, for Santa’s visit. While we do that, we play the games on Google’s Santa Tracker, which is an enormous hit in this house.

Santa 2016

Santa 2016

12_dec-2016-santa-2 12_dec-2016-santa-3 12_dec-2016-santa-6As we prepare to head into the long winter’s void, my wish is that Santa brings her plenty of things to fill the time and plenty of space in which to keep the things.

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My DSSP: Line 8

Fa la la la la, grades are due.

At that point, I wasn’t sure where my allegiances lie, and it seemed better to be unsure with a friend than unsure without one.

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My DSSP: Line 7

All told, I took a week off from work to recover from the incident.

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My DSP: Line 6

I’m not sure if I’m mad at myself for concocting this project all together, or just not waiting to start until after the quarter finished.

There was a small stretch of time that I really enjoyed being a food critic.

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My DSSP: Line 5

I know it’s past midnight, but let’s pretend it’s still the 5th, k?

“Subtle, Callie, I’m sure nobody saw that and thought they were watching a sitcom.”

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My DSSP: Line 4

Some days you’re just not feeling it. Which is why it’s good to have a plan in place that you stick to, like sitting down for just 15 minutes to try to put something on the page. From today’s “not-feeling-it” session:

How hypercritical can one person be of oneself before one just implodes? Or explodes? Or otherwise bursts into pieces?

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