Jumping the shark — February 27, 2019

Jumping the shark

I recently-ish watched “Jaws” for the first time.

That admission might make you ask yourself, “Self, what took her so long?” Well, you know what, smarty pants? Once you’ve seen every movie released during the past 40 years, you can judge me for missing a few.

One of the reasons I had never watched the blockbuster is because I’m not intrigued by sharks. Sure, I previously devote a column to a hypothetical fight between a shark and a lion, but that had more to do with my love for cats, both big and small, than an interest in fish, big or small.

But after watching “Jaws,” I devoted a minimal amount of time to thinking about sharks, specifically their sleep patterns and eyes. For instance, I had always heard that if a shark stops moving, it dies. So, when the movie ended, I researched the topic and it turns out this is sort of true.

The explanation involves too much science for me, but basically, some sharks depend on water flowing over their gills to keep them alive. If they stop moving, the water stops flowing and they stop breathing. Other shark species, however, breathe through their mouths, which doesn’t sound much better than using the gill method.

My mind immediately made the jump from (some) sharks can’t stop moving to sharks don’t sleep. It turns out this is also sort of true. Indeed, sharks don’t sleep the way humans do. According to my limited Internet research, they don’t enjoy deep sleep. Instead, part of their brains remain active while they “sleep swim.”

As someone who’s plagued by bouts of insomnia, I can empathize with sharks. It’s no wonder they always seem to be in a bad mood and looking for a fight. They’re sleep-deprived. I get cranky if I miss a night’s worth of sleep. If I had to miss a lifetime’s worth, I’d bite a swimmers head off, too.

Of course, sharks must contend with other anatomical issues. In fact, they don’t have eyelids. All that saltwater has to damage their eyes. I bet a few cases of that dry eye medicine Jennifer Aniston hawks on the TV would benefit them greatly.

Anyway, all this makes me feel bad for sharks. Think about it. Everyone’s afraid of them, but they can’t sleep and they can’t close their creepy, dead-looking eyes. I’ll take resting my eyes and brain over instilling fear into mankind any day.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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A track record — February 13, 2019

A track record

In spite of their popularity, until recently-ish I harbored skepticism for fitness trackers. I couldn’t understand why people chose to spend what I viewed as outrageous sums of money to track their fitness when much-less expensive pedometers would do just as well.

But as my exercise routine evolved, so did fitness trackers. The more I heard about their improvements, the more I asked myself, “Self, in addition to monitoring your sleep patterns and accurately-ish recording your steps, wouldn’t it be great if you could compare and contrast your resting heart rate with your active heart rate? If only there existed a tool that would allow you to do this.”

Of course, such a tool existed, but I wasn’t ready to commit to buying one. I was, however, ready to commit to researching said tool, reading online reviews, checking prices, and harassing friends and acquaintances who made the mistake of wearing trackers in my presence.

Months, if not years, of this research revealed that the acquisition of a tracker wouldn’t require an outrageous sum of money, that my friends and acquaintances were satisfied with their purchases, and that I really wanted one.

So, I ordered one.

According to my retailer of choice, my tracker of choice wasn’t supposed to arrive until Thursday. So, imagine my surprise when I spied a box on my porch Wednesday. My reaction was similar to that of Ralphie’s dad’s in “A Christmas Story” when his major award arrives. Indeed, I stopped my car and announced in a serious yet hopeful tone, “It’s here.”

Although I needed to use my facilities, I rushed into the house, grabbed the scissors, and tore open the box containing my major award. I didn’t wait to use the facilities, to feed the cat army, or to change into my exercise apparel before setting up and charging my tracker, who I named Esmerelda, or Esme for short.

I started using my tracker that night and I have not been disappointed. In fact, some might categorize my behavior as obsessive. Upon waking in the mornings, I check the app to see how I slept. (By the way, Esme even knows when I’m dreaming.) I loyally log my water and food intake, and when Esme reminds me that I haven’t achieved my hourly step goal, I jump up and start walking.

I also check my stats constantly. I’m happy to report that my average resting heart rate is 62 beats per minute and that once whilst exercising I entered my peak heart zone.

As with any tool or toy, I’m sure the new will wear off. I’m sure there will come a day in the near future when I’ll be awake for minutes or hours before I check to see how I slept. I’ll probably start forgetting to log my water and food intake. I might even lose interest in my heart rate.

But that’s not happening today.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Becoming a pod person — February 6, 2019

Becoming a pod person

Last week a friend mentioned she had been listening to a podcast that deals with one of my myriad obsessions. In fact, she’s one of many friends who have been encouraging me to listen to podcasts for some time. Although I’m frequently intrigued by some of the podcasts they suggest, I had never before taken the step to listen to one. Heck, I didn’t even listen to a podcast that featured me. Basically, I lose focus and interest when I’m listening to something for large chunks of time. It’s the same reason I don’t listen to books on tape. (Yes, I realize books haven’t been on tape in years, but books on tape sounds better than audiobooks.)

Anyway, such is my obsession with the subject my friend referenced that I made a vow to listen to my first podcast.

Thus, I couldn’t wait to get home and finish my chores so I could download the podcast. Of course, this presented a problem. My friends listen to podcasts whilst exercising or driving. Even though I exercise and drive, but not at the same time, those options don’t work for me.

I thought I might be able to listen whilst writing, but that undertaking lasted for approximately two seconds. Then, I tried listening whilst reading. That lasted approximately three seconds.

That’s when I decided to quit multitasking and give the podcast my full attention. For the most part, that worked. As expected, I did lose focus a couple times and had to rewind, but my biggest problem was that I didn’t know where to put my eyes. I kept expecting a video to pop up on my screen and I kept thinking I should be doing something whilst listening.

So, I turned to my podcast-experienced friends for more advice and that’s how I learned that my bestie listens whilst cleaning. As it turns out, I had baking and housework to do this weekend, so I plugged my ear buds into the phone and set about downloading and listening.

There were some issues. For starters, I moved around a lot, which resulted in me repeatedly and accidentally yanking the ear buds out of the phone. I finally solved that problem, however, by placing the phone in my garments.

What’s more, one of the times the ear buds popped out, I overcorrected and pushed the wrong button on my phone, which resulted in the folks on the podcast sounding like the Chipmunks. I finished that episode in record time and was onto the next one when I finally figured out I was listening at double speed.

Overall, though, listening whilst cleaning house and baking worked for me. Not only did it help me learn oodles more about one of my myriad obsessions, it’s as if I cleaned at double speed.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Mixed up — January 30, 2019

Mixed up

A few weeks ago, I had one of my wisdom teeth extracted. It wasn’t giving me trouble, but as the dentist explained, if it continued taking up residence in my mouth, it would soon give me trouble.

I’m happy to report that the extraction was dern-near painless. I experienced pain once the numbing wore off and I’ve had some issues created by food becoming lodged in the new hole in my mouth, but that’s not the purpose of this-here post.

Although I had grandiose plans to eat chicken the evening of my extraction, once the procedure was complete, I realized I would have to settle for something that wouldn’t necessitate much chewing. Thus, I decided to make cornbread. Hot bread and butter followed by milk and bread wouldn’t require much work from me at all.

So, I stirred up some bread using the recipe my mom taught me, which comprises four ingredients – cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, and water – none of which we measure.

Not that it’s relevant to this story, but at some point during the years, my mom stopped putting flour in her cornbread. However, I still spoon some flour into the batter. Indeed, I used it the evening of my extraction. And once the aforementioned four ingredients were blended together, I poured the mixture into a cast iron skillet and put said skillet in the oven.

Approximately 20 minutes later, I checked the bread and immediately noticed that something was amiss. The crust felt hard and the inside felt sticky. Still, I cut a piece of bread, slathering it in butter. But the butter didn’t melt into the bread. Instead, it pooled atop it. Although the sticky bread didn’t look appetizing, it was there and I was hungry, so I took a bite.

It was inedible.

I hate waste, but I couldn’t finish one bite, yet alone an entire pan, so I dumped it into the trash.

Later that evening, after I had made a mashed potato run to the KFC, I implored to my mom, “What did I do wrong?” At first, she seemed as puzzled as I. However, recognizing my reputation for using aged ingredients, she suspected that my cornmeal might have been old, and I conceded that it could have been in my cupboards for a significant amount of time.

Then Mom assumed the role of a detective interrogating a suspect. She asked me to list the steps I had taken, starting at the beginning.

“Well,” said I, “I started with the flour.” Gasping, I added, “That’s it!”

As far as I know, my mom didn’t teach you to make cornbread, so you’ll be forgiven if you don’t understand how that aha moment solved the mystery of the sticky bread. Here’s the gist of it – she taught me to start by scooping one or more cups of cornmeal (depending on whether we were making a big or small pan) into a kettle, followed by a spoon or two (again, depending on the size of the pan) of flour before adding the buttermilk and water. On the evening of my extraction, I mixed up the ingredients and started by scooping in a cup (more or less) of flour and a spoon (more or less) of cornmeal before adding the buttermilk and water.

Obviously, my mistake can be attributed to the pain emanating from the new hole in my mouth. After all, I’ve successfully made hundreds of pans of cornbread in my day. Until, that is, the evening of my extraction.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A numbers game — January 23, 2019

A numbers game

Although I’ve been on Goodreads for years, I haven’t taken full advantage of its features. Oh, I’ve read plenty of reviews and followed my share of discussions, but other than ranking books on a scale of one to five stars, I haven’t offered my opinions of them.

I do, however, enthusiastically add books I’ve read to my bookshelf and update the progress of the book I’m currently reading. In fact, if you heard sounds one evening a couple weeks ago that prompted you to ask yourself, “Self, are banshees native to this area? Should I be worried?” rest assured that you have nothing to worry about. I experienced something akin to a meltdown when a glitch in the system momentarily prevented me from updating the percentage read on a book.

I have no idea why I’m so concerned with updating my progress. It’s not like my Goodreads friends are sitting around waiting for my updates. It’s not like they’re saying, “Hmm. She’s been on 17 percent for 25 hours. And she calls herself a reader.”

Of course, if they are judging me, then I can only imagine how many sidelong glances they’ve directed toward the read section of my bookshelf because it contains only 302 books.

You might deem that a respectable number of books to have read during a lifetime. And I might agree with you were it not for the fact that, according to my Goodreads challenges, I read 117 books during the previous five years. That means, if my bookshelf can be believed, I read only 182 books prior to that timeframe.

I know that’s untrue. Heck, I could read that many books in less than eight years. (Yes, I figured that out using math.) But I can’t remember the titles of all the books I read in my youth or even last year. Just this weekend, however, I remembered a book I read in college that I had henceforth forgotten existed. You can rest assured that it will be added to my virtual bookshelf. Yet, until I build that time machine, I’ll never recall all those Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie books I finished.

Anyway, just as with my progress, I’m a tad invested (okay, obsessed) with updating my bookshelf. For some people, an accurate bookshelf might give them the opportunity to look back on the books they read and remember where they were (physically, mentally, professionally) when they read said books.

That’s not the case for me. I’m just there for the numbers.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Survive and advance — January 16, 2019

Survive and advance

A couple years ago I started keeping a weekly blessings jar. As you might expect, that means that very week I wrote down a blessing on a scrap of paper in my serial killer handwriting. Then, I placed said blessing in a popcorn tin decorated with puppies wearing Santa hats.

While most people might include life’s bigger blessings, it’s a given that I appreciate having a place to call home and people who love me. So, I choose to focus on the smaller things. For example, according to my blessings tin, in 2018, I read a lot (week 10), treated myself to a Blizzard on my birthday (week 29), and benefited from the wonders of liquid Mucinex (week 47).

Upon reviewing my blessings for 2017, I realized that salads made several appearances in the tin. So, during 2018, I made a concerted effort to track the other important aspects of my exciting life.

Proving that old habits are hard to break, however, in 2018 I recorded the enjoyment of no less than four delicious salads. (Not in the same week, though.) What’s more, in no fewer than five weeks I felt the need to mention that my head hadn’t hurt all that much. That leads me to wonder how much my head hurt during the other 47 weeks of the year.

What’s more, apparently the first few weeks of 2018 were fraught with dangerous situations and health scares as I shared that I had survived a ride home from work (week three) as well as the flu (week six). Those months weren’t all bad, though. After misbehaving for a couple months, my garage door miraculously started working (week two) and the Eagles won/the Patriots lost the Super Bowl (week five).

Also sprinkled among the blessings were several play dates with my great-niece and great-nephew, holiday celebrations, lunch with a dear friend, and a surprise visit from my bestie.

There were also two weeks missing from the blessings tin. Despite studying on the matter a great deal, I have not solved the mystery of the missing weeks. Even if my head did hurt all that much … even if I didn’t read a lot … even if I sampled no scrumptious salads, I obviously survived weeks 33 and 46. That sounds like a couple blessings to me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Problem (re)solved — January 10, 2019

Problem (re)solved

I don’t make resolutions. Indeed, I view resolutions the same way Master Yoda viewed trying. In other words, I believe there’s no need to resolve to do something. You either do it or you do not.

There are plenty of things, however, that I should either start doing or do better. For example, take dusting. I abhor dusting. People don’t believe me when I tell them that I dust only a few times a year. But it’s true.

It’s also true that I’ll do dern-near anything to avoid dusting. Just today, I cleaned the bathroom – including the toilet – to delay dusting. Then, whilst in the midst of dusting, I so tired of the chore that I decided to clean out my cupboard.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, doesn’t her cat army leave the house a tad dusty? How can she live like that?”

You can tell yourself that the answer to the first question is yes. As for the second question, I can get by, more or less, with running a rag over the furniture instead of applying polish.

That’s not so easy to do in the cats’ room, however, because of the kitty litter. Specifically, that is, because of the kitty litter dust that settles on everything in the cats’ room.

Of course, there’s not a lot in that room. After all, they’re cats. They don’t require much furniture. But what is in there usually boasts a layer of white dust so thick that the cats could make snow angels in it.

Now, I guess I could resolve to dust more often. But I’m not in the habit of intentionally lying. And that’s what I would be doing because I know myself well enough to know that dusting more often is not something that awaits me in 2019.

So, does that mean I plan to let the cat army continue residing in a cloudy room?

Nope.

I had the brilliant idea to drape old sheets over the furniture. That’s right. The cats’ room currently looks like they’ve shut it down for the season whilst they’re vacationing at the shore.

Anyway, when an adequate amount of dust settles onto the sheets, I’ll throw them into the washer. Problem solved.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Christmas Chronicles — December 19, 2018

The Christmas Chronicles

Last weekend I watched the new holiday movie, “The Christmas Chronicles,” on the Netflix. The flick follows the exploits of a brother and sister who accidentally cause Santa’s sleigh to crash on Christmas Eve.

While Kurt Russell, who plays Santa, makes the movie worthwhile, it is not without flaw. For starters, the title doesn’t evoke feelings of heartwarming, holiday fare. In fact, when I heard that Russell was attached to something called “The Christmas Chronicles,” I figured he was narrating a documentary that chronicled the holiday through the centuries.

What’s more, the elves are downright scary and annoying. They’re a combination of the demonic Chucky doll and the irritating Ewoks with a dash of Smeagol added to the mix.

Anyway, after the sleigh crashes, Santa and the younglings head to a crowded restaurant looking for help. You read that right. The restaurant is crowded – on Christmas Eve.

As Santa goes from table to table, calling skeptical diners by name and mentioning gifts from their childhoods, I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to make a point about how we lose our belief in the magic of Christmas as we age.

But I couldn’t stop wondering why these families weren’t home, opening presents and shoving homemade goodies into their mouths. Of course, I’m sure some of the characters don’t celebrate the holiday due to religious and/or cultural reasons. Could that be true of all of them, though? I don’t think so.

Then again, I’m always surprised to learn that, unlike my immediate and extended family, not everyone starts their Christmas baking early in December for their various pre-holiday spreads. One year, I asked a former coworker of her plans for Christmas Eve. She told me that, as they do every year, she and her husband planned to spend a quiet evening at home. I also learned they don’t do much for Christmas Day, either. Another former coworker complained to me that her husband’s family did nothing for Christmas.

To be clear, the aforementioned folks do not shy away from Christmas due to religious and/or cultural reasons. They’re not orphans. They have loved ones. So, it took all my resolve not to tell the first coworker she could spend a quiet evening at home on the eve of Christmas Eve and ask the second coworker if I could share some recipes with her husband’s family.

Back to the movie. A couple times in “The Christmas Chronicles,” Santa produces vintage presents from the characters’ childhoods in an effort to prove he’s who he says he is. At least one of the characters doesn’t seem to care. Once again, I was shocked. If Santa were to ask me for help, I’d tell him to produce a fully-stocked 1980’s-era Barbie Dreamhouse and I’d drive him anywhere he wanted to go. But those creepy elves would have to find their own ride.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

More power to me — December 12, 2018

More power to me

Everyone experiences those moments of clarity when they realize a hard truth. That happened to me Saturday evening. As we gathered in my mom’s living room to watch TV, I realized my sister was not amongst us. Panicking, I hollered, “Get in here! The weather is on!”

And at that moment, I said to my family, “Gosh, we’re boring.”

Indeed, from the time we learned last week that Winter Storm Diego could be heading our way, bringing with him two feet of snow or maybe just two inches or maybe two-tenths of ice or maybe nothing, we talked of little else.

To be fair, though, I’m sure we were not in the minority. Sure, I also talked to plenty of people who informed me they weren’t going to spend time worrying about something they couldn’t control. But if you, my dear readers, know nothing else about me, by this point you should know that I worry about lots of things I can’t control.

Not that I’m worried much about the actual winter storm. I have enough sense to stay off the icy roads. In case of an emergency, I reckon I’ll have other things to worry about. As of right this cold second, as snow (or is that sleet?) lightly falls, I’m more worried about losing electricity.

For longtime readers of these ramblings, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, as recently as Saturday, someone did express surprise to learn that I don’t hold up well without electricity powering my HVAC system, TV, refrigerator, and microwave. (See, I don’t ask for much.)

What’s more, few months ago, a colleague mentioned to me that she had spent dern-near the entire weekend without electricity. When I extended my condolences, she said, “It wasn’t that bad. It was like camping.”

Gasping, I told her that I’m not into torturing myself. Thus, I have never been camping and I never will willingly go.

That seemed to surprise her, which caused me to wonder what I had said or done to make her think I would enjoy camping. Seriously. I consider a boil water advisory to be roughing it.

Anyway, that brings me to today. I rose early so that I could complete my chores and finish these-here ramblings in case the juice went off. Of course, I have no plans for what to do if I do lose power. Well, except for quickly descending into madness.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The gift you keep on giving — December 4, 2018

The gift you keep on giving

Tis the season of peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and warm and fuzzy holiday car commercials that make me so angry I could snap a candy cane. And not just a regular candy cane, either, but one of those that weigh a couple pounds and could cause a concussion if wielded the right way.

You’ve seen the commercials. A man, or a woman, rushes outside on Christmas morning to find a shiny new automobile wrapped in a bow and parked on a snow-lined driveway. There are variations on this theme including one where a husband upstages the two-for-one fitness trackers his wife purchases by buying two trucks.

That’s right. Because one truck wouldn’t have put them in enough debt.

You might be asking yourself, “Self, what could she possibly have against their fictional joy? After all, these people, who don’t even exist, have nothing to do with her.”

Well, once the commercials started airing on the TV inside my house, they became my business. So, it’s my business to comment on how ridiculous they are.

For starters, I’m fairly certain that if a spouse purchases a big-ticket item like a car – or two trucks – without the other spouse’s knowledge or permission, the second spouse has immediate cause for divorce. For example, if a wife runs into a judge at the dollar store and mentions that her husband plopped down approximately 20 grand on a new vehicle for Christmas without consulting her, I believe the judge has the authority to grant the wife an immediate divorce, right there in the household cleaning supplies aisle.

What’s more, I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time obsessing over who pays for these vehicles. Indeed, I’ve concerned myself with the matter since the first Lexus December to Remember commercials started airing nearly 20 years ago. From the way I see it, there are only two scenarios. In the first one, a spouse robs a bank or goes into heavy debt to purchase the vehicle outright, thereby establishing cause for divorce. (See above.)

In the second scenario, the spouse provides a down payment. And you know what that means? Spouse two is on the hook for five or six years of monthly payments, not to mention the skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Maybe I’m the only person in the universe who struggles to comprehend how this works. But it has always been my belief that the recipient does not pay for the gift. If the recipient does pay, then it’s no longer a gift. It’s a bill. Or, in this case, car payments.

Now that I’ve offered this explanation, you might have a better understanding of why these commercials trigger me. And why it’s not safe to leave candy canes in my presence.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.