Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch…

Tonight I learned that They Might Be Giants is doing a tour next year for the 30th anniversary of Flood. My delight at this news was tempered by the way I crumbled into dust when I realized that album will indeed be 30 years old next year.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Flood for people who were nerdy kids in the early 90s. You see, in the long long ago, before most people had the Internet, and before the stuff we liked was being made into major international blockbusters, before geeks were cool, Flood was a nerdy-kid shibboleth. If you dropped a reference to the “blue canary in the outlet by the light switch” and someone got it, you knew you were going to be friends.

And unlike a lot of the things we loved in the early 90s, Flood holds up pretty well. I will never hear the phrase “minimum wage” without immediately imagining that whip-crack sound effect afterward, reminding us that minimum wage is effectively “I would pay you less if I could.” The lyrics of “Your Racist Friend” are sadly as relevant as ever, with literal white nationalists setting national policy.

So when the tour hits DC in April, I’ll be there, singing every word to every song.

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch…

Tonight I learned that They Might Be Giants is doing a tour next year for the 30th anniversary of Flood. My delight at this news was tempered by the way I crumbled into dust when I realized that album will indeed be 30 years old next year.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Flood for people who were nerdy kids in the early 90s. You see, in the long long ago, before most people had the Internet, and before the stuff we liked was being made into major international blockbusters, before geeks were cool, Flood was a nerdy-kid shibboleth. If you dropped a reference to the “blue canary in the outlet by the light switch” and someone got it, you knew you were going to be friends.

And unlike a lot of the things we loved in the early 90s, Flood holds up pretty well. I will never hear the phrase “minimum wage” without immediately imagining that whip-crack sound effect afterward, reminding us that minimum wage is effectively “I would pay you less if I could.” The lyrics of “Your Racist Friend” are sadly as relevant as ever, with literal white nationalists setting national policy.

So when the tour hits DC in April, I’ll be there, singing every word to every song.

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch…

Tonight I learned that They Might Be Giants is doing a tour next year for the 30th anniversary of Flood. My delight at this news was tempered by the way I crumbled into dust when I realized that album will indeed be 30 years old next year.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Flood for people who were nerdy kids in the early 90s. You see, in the long long ago, before most people had the Internet, and before the stuff we liked was being made into major international blockbusters, before geeks were cool, Flood was a nerdy-kid shibboleth. If you dropped a reference to the “blue canary in the outlet by the light switch” and someone got it, you knew you were going to be friends.

And unlike a lot of the things we loved in the early 90s, Flood holds up pretty well. I will never hear the phrase “minimum wage” without immediately imagining that whip-crack sound effect afterward, reminding us that minimum wage is effectively “I would pay you less if I could.” The lyrics of “Your Racist Friend” are sadly as relevant as ever, with literal white nationalists setting national policy.

So when the tour hits DC in April, I’ll be there, singing every word to every song.

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch…

Tonight I learned that They Might Be Giants is doing a tour next year for the 30th anniversary of Flood. My delight at this news was tempered by the way I crumbled into dust when I realized that album will indeed be 30 years old next year.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Flood for people who were nerdy kids in the early 90s. You see, in the long long ago, before most people had the Internet, and before the stuff we liked was being made into major international blockbusters, before geeks were cool, Flood was a nerdy-kid shibboleth. If you dropped a reference to the “blue canary in the outlet by the light switch” and someone got it, you knew you were going to be friends.

And unlike a lot of the things we loved in the early 90s, Flood holds up pretty well. I will never hear the phrase “minimum wage” without immediately imagining that whip-crack sound effect afterward, reminding us that minimum wage is effectively “I would pay you less if I could.” The lyrics of “Your Racist Friend” are sadly as relevant as ever, with literal white nationalists setting national policy.

So when the tour hits DC in April, I’ll be there, singing every word to every song.

Who is cleaning the juicer?

It’s not a new observation, but I’m pretty well done reading articles about productivity and “morning routines to help you win your day” (is my day a competition?) from wealthy dudes* who do not have caregiving responsibilities.

Like, you can get up at 5 AM and go for a run in the park and then come back and meditate for 30 minutes and drink a perfectly-balanced green juice before taking a cold shower, reading for 30 minutes, writing in your journal, and THEN commute to the office? How nice for you. Who is cleaning the juicer?

My morning starts at 6 when my alarm goes off. I do not make the bed at this point, because my husband is still in it. I try to get up a bit before everyone else in the hope of being up and showered and dressed before my 6 year old wakes up and wants my attention. (Admittedly, I move very slowly in the mornings and need to build in “stare into space and think about stuff” time; not everyone does.) He’s pretty capable of getting himself dressed, though he frequently argues with me about it, so my husband and I tag-team him through it. If I’m very lucky, I get downstairs before him and have a few minutes to think about my own breakfast needs before he comes tumbling down and wanting a waffle or a jelly sandwich or something, which I will repeatedly remind him to eat while he gets distracted by telling elaborate stories with his Legos.

If it’s my turn to take him to school, we leave around 8-ish, fight traffic and get to school around 8:30-ish, and then when I have the car to myself on my way back, I can sneak in a podcast or some new music I’ve been wanting to listen to. If traffic is on my side, I can steal a few more minutes to read something or do some other hobby before I get online at 9AM.

If it’s my husband’s turn to take him to school, they leave around 8-ish, and I have the unspeakable luxury of an entire hour to myself to do whatever I think will start my day off right. I try to fit in some reading or some art time, but the truth is I’m often using this time to finish up the dishes or tidy up a little.

And look, I’m pretty privileged: I have a well-paid job, where I work entirely from home. I don’t have to worry about making it to an office on time, and if I get online a little later than I wanted to, no one is standing over me to question me about it. I have a partner who can and does actively participate in parenting, and I only have the one child to be responsible for. Just one school drop-off, no elder-care or other caregiving responsibilities. But the presence of one young child in my house pretty much wrests away control of my morning.

So here are the habits I’m trying to stick with, because I have a reasonable level of control over them:

Get 8 hours of sleep. I just need it. I can get by on 6 or 7, but that catches up to me quick. I’m just happier and more functional when I prioritize getting 8 hours.

No devices for 1-2 hours after waking up. At our Automattic Grand Meetup a couple of weeks ago, Jim Kwik spoke, and something he said stuck with me: for the first hour after you wake up in the morning, your brain is at its most relaxed and focused it will be all day, so if the first thing you do is reach for your smartphone, you’re just training yourself to be distracted. So I’ve set my phone to show me no notifications at all until 8AM. Frequently by 7:30, our day has gotten rolling enough that I need to look things up or start an Instacart order or something, but by then I’ve theoretically been awake for 90 minutes. I’ve been liking the results from this.

Make time for reading and other self-enrichment activities. I can’t read novels in 30-minute chunks; all I want is to lose myself in a story for hours. But I can read books to learn stuff in small chunks, and I can draw quick sketches or write out quick journal entries. I’m only going to be able to do more than one of these activities on days when I’m not taking my son to school, but on days when I do, I can carve out time for one of them. The point of this exercise is as much about the actual activity as it is about making the effort to prioritize myself when allocating my own time, which is something I’m notoriously bad at.

*I mean, I’m done reading these takes from people without caregiving responsibilities in general, but it’s almost always dudes whose articles about the 25 things they do every morning that require complete solitude go viral.

Playgroup Strong

Our neighborhood playgroup got an email this morning from one of the parents on it, breaking the news that they have been diagnosed with a medical condition that will require a grueling course of treatment that will likely last months, but also expressing gratitude for the way they knew they could count on us to show up for their family in the times ahead.

And they were right. The mobilization was immediate and impressive. Our phones lit up with WhatsApp notifications: plans to provide child care and meals, to take the older child along on the playgroup beach weekend that the affected family was going to have to back out of, and to designate point people to coordinate our efforts so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed. “Playgroup Strong,” we tell each other.

Continue reading “Playgroup Strong”

Self-care is a stocked freezer

When I’m feeling a very particular combination of helplessness and rage, say, the kind I felt the day Christine Blasey Ford testified, my coping strategy is to cook.

I don’t mean that I pick a new recipe and cook an elaborate meal. I don’t mean that I bake decadent treats to self-soothe by sheetcaking. I mean that I cook like your great-grandmother who lived through the Depression. I cook like a pioneer farmer’s wife. I make huge vats of stock from scraps and bones. I cook beans in that stock and make stew. I fill the freezer with enough dinners to last weeks.

So anyway, after our family got some upsetting news about someone important to us, tonight I took out a vacuum-sealed bag of homemade meatballs from the 5 pound batch I made the day Bill Barr’s half-assed summary of the Mueller Report came out, simmered them on the stove for half an hour in some crushed tomatoes, garlic, and herbs, and fed my family homemade meatball subs for dinner.

Because cooking is how I remind myself that I always have my own back.

Welcome to Happy Valley

I wrote the original version of this upon visiting State College, PA for the PSU MacAdmins conference in 2018. After the 2019 conference, my husband performed a dramatic reading of it actually at the Berkey Creamery, and I’ve started to expand it.

The Creamery is indeed excellent, but having grown up in Pennsylvania, I’m already aware of it, thank you.

You mention that you’re visiting State College, PA this week. You hear a sound, a low-pitched vibration just at the edge of your perception. “You must go to the Creamery,” your acquaintance says with a smile, looking steadily at the center of your forehead.

“O…K. What’s the best thing to get at the Creamery?”

“You must go,” they say, their smile unchanging, “to the Creamery.”

You turn to leave, but to your immediate left is a stranger, wearing a Penn State sweatshirt, smiling as they stare at your forehead. The buzzing is louder now. “Yes, you must go to the Creamery.”


You get into your car at the end of your day in State College. You turn the car on and start to back up. Then you turn the car off and look out the window. You remember nothing since turning the car on, but now you are at the Creamery. 

You start the car again, and as you drive down the street, you ask Siri for directions home. She guides you swiftly around the block until you return. “Siri, I need directions to HOME.” “You must go to the Creamery,” Siri replies. 


All the doors of the Creamery have signs admonishing you to use the correct door for what you are ordering. There is no correct door. They are all the wrong door.


You sit at a table among the gleaming white tiles of the Creamery, eating your chocolate ice cream cone. A drop of melted ice cream falls from your cone to the table. You reach for a napkin to clean up after yourself, but the drop is gone. You feel a shift in the air, a barely-perceptible rousing. Another drop falls. It is absorbed into the table, and you hear the faintest of whispers:

More.


There are rumors that, after the scandal, the agricultural department stopped production of Peachy Paterno and staff pulled all the stock off the shelves.

The next morning, the Peachy Paterno shelf was once again full.

No Peachy Paterno is being manufactured.

The shelf at the Creamery is always full.


Sated at last, you return to your car, shoulders drooping under the weight of insulated bags laden with gallons upon gallons of ice cream. You are bringing this ice cream home to share with your friends and loved ones.

You will take the pints and gallons from the bags as though unveiling a rare and precious jewel. “Try this ice cream,” you will say, staring at their foreheads. “It is from the Creamery.”

You are compelled to share the Creamery with others. You must share…the Creamery.


Hidden spaces, public oasis

We returned today from a trip to Australia, where we spent 6 days in Sydney and a weekend in Melbourne.

Something that struck me again and again during the course of the trip is how intentionally these cities make use of hard-to-use space. We visited a literal alley into which a street food market had been built, and an alley dedicated to urban street art, but it was an afternoon spent finding and wandering around in Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden that really got me thinking.

Continue reading “Hidden spaces, public oasis”

Sometimes, you CAN blame your tools.

I got caught up in an Instagram/YouTube rabbit hole the other day (YouTube rabbit holes: for more than just Nazi recruitment!) and ended up on this video about cheap vs. quality water color paper:

I’d been hearing forever that “Arches is the best! Just use Arches!” but a. that stuff is expensive, and b. they don’t really make sketchbooks, just loose sheets and block. And I had never really run across the explanation of what it is that makes a high quality watercolor paper, or why should care about that if you’re still in the “make a lot of crappy work” stage of making art. I knew about hot press (smooth) vs. cold press (rougher) paper, but beyond that, it was all kind of a mystery what makes one paper better than another.

TURNS OUT, the difference is wood pulp vs. cotton fiber. This video does a detailed comparison (seriously, it must have taken him most of a day to film) of different watercolor techniques across three wood pulp papers of varying quality vs. a 100% cotton sheet from Arches.

So I went back through my art supplies last night, and sure enough, the pads and books holding the pieces where I found the paint most frustrating to work with were the cheap wood pulp ones, and the pieces I liked best and found the paint easiest to work with on were on 100% cotton paper (not Arches, but still noticeably better than the others). So I guess that settles that. (The exception is my Stillman & Birn Beta series pocket-sized art journal in my portable kit- I can’t find anything about the paper composition in it, but I love it and will probably buy another one when this one runs out.)

The problem is, I’ve got this stack of cheap watercolor paper sitting here and it feels wasteful not to use it up. I’ll probably go way more experimental with those now.

Being still very much a beginner, I hate to sound like I’m blaming my tools, because if I were a more skilled artist, I could make crappy materials work better, if not ideally, but: There’s something validating about looking at the uneven color in some of my sketchbooks and comparing it with the much better color in the work on higher-quality paper and understanding which is a better reflection of my actual skill level.