- At the vacation cottage, do not allow anyone to accidentally knock a half-full roll of toilet paper into the washing machine while loading it. Continue reading Things I learned on my summer vacation
We’ve been packing up our house for the last three weeks, more or less. It’s been a huge amount of work, and it’s highlighted that we’re both packrats willing to acquire and store as much stuff as our surroundings will allow. Clearly the only option left to us is to live aboard a boat, where we will only be able to acquire so many different shoes and bottles of different vinegars before sinking.
(I suppose the alternative is developing self-discipline or some sort of Buddhist detachment from material possessions, but come on. Living on a boat seems way more realistic than either of those things.)
My mom and stepfather came and stayed with us for five days last week and were astounding catalysts for us to get our asses in gear sooner than we would have otherwise. While we’ve got some serious cleaning and packing left to do before we load the truck Tuesday, we’re in much, much better shape than we would have been otherwise.
We’ve been immersing ourselves in the things we love about living up here — dinner with friends, lunch looking at trees, quiet mornings and dead rodents on the back porch — and so the idea that we’ll be rolling into New York City Wednesday afternoon and actually staying there seems totally unreal. We’re psyched and nervous and suffering the fatigue that comes from handling all of one’s ludicrous number of worldly belongings, and at the moment we’re still agog at our optimism about how much we’ll fit into this apartment. It’s a two-bedroom, to be sure, but still.
One quick story, and then back to packing: when I moved out of Somerville four years ago, I called the Somerville Office of Traffic and Parking and let them know that we’d have a moving truck parked outside our apartment at a particular date and time. The night before the truck showed up, Somerville’s Finest dropped off two sawhorses with “No Parking” signs on them, and we happily placed them so that when we got the truck, we’d have a place to park it. Worked like a charm.
So on a whim, I called New York’s city information line to ask if NYC did anything similar. The very pleasant woman on the phone had to have me explain my request twice, paused for an incredulous second or two, and then said, “Well, we do things differently here.” I asked her if we’d just have to double park, and she laughed and said, “of course I can’t tell you to double park — that would be illegal.” I guess we’ll just figure it out when we get there.
I’m on a five-day junket through Germany with my dad, his sister, and her kids. (Aunt Noa, Gilat, and Shaul all live in Tel Aviv.) We’re primarily here to put a headstone on Grandpa Franz’s grave (he died here in 1981) and take care of some family business near Dresden.
We arrived in Berlin at 9 this morning after an overnight flight from Boston, stopping just long enough in Paris to change planes and have Air France lose our luggage. Annoyingly, I had purchased a rolling-bag specifically for this trip which claimed to be carry-on-sized, and then was forced to check it at Logan. It’s now 7 p.m. here and there’s no sign of it. So much for the much vaunted German efficiency, although in their defense, it is Good Friday, and technically the French lost our luggage anyhow. Our hotel isn’t all that far from Potzdamer Plotz, for those Berlinophiles in the house.
Spent the afternoon seeing the Berlin Jewish Museum and sipping coffee to stay awake; tonight will be family dinner with my grandfather’s mistress and then a much needed night’s sleep.
I realized the other day that I’m reading more daily than I ever have before,
but that I hadn’t opened a book in about 2 weeks. For this I blame both
my own inclinations and the technology which enables me to pursue them: RSS
feeds, or more prosaically, blogs.
When I first began seriously working in technology, I became a contract
systems administrator, working with a consulting group composed nearly
entirely of ferociously bright, technically agile, people, most of whom could
multi-task like a many-armed Shiva on speed. A good number of my coworkers
began as or became close friends of mine, and over the course of a day I’d
observe them interacting with clients, sharing expertise on our company IRC
server, writing devastatingly cutting missives to social mailinglists, and
keeping an eye on the news of the day. Impressive, yes, but initially
perplexing to me. Over the course of 15 minutes, I’d watch the person I was
apprenticed to do a cycle amongst their carefully placed terminal windows:
work email (rare), work IRC channels (technical), social mail (moderate),
social IRC channels (chatty), web browser, and then back to the task at hand,
which was fieldstripping a client’s Powerbook Duo to put in more memory. And
then again for the next 15 minutes, and the next after that. Naively, I
thought that it would be far easier to simply finish the memory installation
and take a 45 minute lunch break to look at the other stuff (though I never
said this out loud).
Soon enough I was the experienced hand at this particular job site, and
despite my earlier skepticism, found myself doing my own version of this
dance. This was 1997, and more and more companies were putting websites on
the net; my list of sites to check grew steadily. News sites, friends’
homepages, old corporate entities and new technology startups, blinking
graphics, the ubiquitious yellow roadsign-like “Under Construction” images
which ten years later you have to look fairly hard to find, the Internet has
come so far. Each site updated sporadically, if at all, and in a very mild
version of a kid’s Christmas Eve imaginings that Santa Claus might have come
by now and wouldn’t it be a good idea to get out of bed and check the
stockings just in case, I’d go and check a series of bookmarked URLs for
anything novel, receiving just the kind of irregular reinforcement good animal
trainers know will induce astoundingly repetitive behavior in pretty much
every animal known to (and including) man.
Not something I’m particularly proud of, the amount of time I spent checking
for mostly trivial informational flotsam, but it happened, and I was hardly
atypical among my peers for earning a stupid salary to solve technical
problems and “surf” the web between crises. Surfing, though, is probably a
less apt metaphor for what we did and do than “channel flipping.” “Surfing”
sounds like fun; this was the equivalent of picking up a magazine at the
doctor’s office and rapidly fanning it in front of my face, looking for a
Now, some ten years later, the habit’s only worsened. Easy access to RSS
aggregators originally saved me time — the twenty or thirty sites I wanted
to keep an eye on, all gathered together in one place! What could be better?
— until I turned around and filled the saved time with … more RSS feeds.
Each of them potentially interesting, each of them recommended by someone or
carrying a news snippet I wanted to know more about, until I’d put nearly 150
feeds into Bloglines and now had a place on the web to go where I’d be
guaranteed to find new content whenever I had a momentary urge to distract
myself from a difficult task at hand.
I read too damn many blogs. I spend my reading time scanning headlines,
looking for the (many) articles that pique my interest, and while I love the
panoply of information I have access to, I hadn’t sat down to read a book in
weeks before getting on this flight to Tucson. And it turns out I miss
reading books with the same avid thrill I used to, and I can see that ducking
off a task to go scan headlines now makes me feel a little mentally seasick,
So as an experiment, I’m knocking my blog subscriptions down to just those
written by my friends, and those involving comics, and just one or two of the
food/political/news/BoingBoing feeds. We’ll see how many I can let go of,
and how it’ll feel to not see updates as frequently.
… spent the weekend down in Maryland, just outside of D.C. and can safely report that it’s freakin’ hot down there.
As to the Whimsy Problem, I realized at the last minute that I’d brought back Indian formalwear from my trip to Bangalore, two (three?) years ago, and had never had such a great chance to wear it. It took some advising from Marcie, some rapid web searching for instructions, and some sewing from Jeanne, but Kate’s sari looked awesome on her.
Also, what’s more whimsical than a borrowed Volvo?
We had a blast at Mark and Sabrina’s wedding, even though I left both my camera and audio recorder back at Jeanne and David’s house. Phooey.
So long as we weren’t in direct sunlight (where the dark colored silk really drew the heat) we did surprisingly well in our finery, and Kate in particular drew many admiring comments. (One friend: “You know, it’s really rare that I think white women can get away with wearing a sari… but you make the cut.”) Potluck food, a beautiful ceremony with lots of laughter and applause and Sabrina asking for a program early on (“Because we really don’t know what’s going on here”). We ate pie and drank beer and laughed and talked and didn’t leave until dusk, having had a surprising amount of time with Sabrina and Mark, who were both radiantly happy, sweating, and exhausted.
This morning we had a big brunch with Colin and Nadra and David and Jeanne and Eli (who became very fond of Kate this weekend). I cooked my sourdough waffles with mind beams:
And Kate waved her hand and made hashbrowns and eggs with spinach and feta appear, as if by magic: