Sep 272012

Sometimes living on Capitol Hill drives me crazy. There are people everywhere, all the time. Walking the kid and the dog one block to the park in the evening (necessary, because who has a backyard?) means stopping to greet other dogs, sidestepping anti-social dogs, stopping so other kids can pet our dog, giving directions to random tourists, saying hello to neighbors, sidestepping anti-social neighbors, dodging bikes breaking traffic laws, waiting for three directions of traffic lights before crossing the street…. Did I mention the park is one block away?? Sometimes you just want to get to the *$@&# park and home for dinner.

But there is one thing I love about the people of Capitol Hill, and it is that they are not always the same people. Looking around Vera’s schoolyard when I dropped her off this morning, I was struck by the scope of diversity at her school. There’s every possible shade and mix of skin color, but that’s just the beginning. We heard parents speak with accents from Europe and Africa. We saw a kindergarten girl with her hair covered by a scarf, and another being dropped off by two mommies. We saw nannies and yuppie parents and hipster parents and grandparents with canes. There are many kids wealthier than we are, and many who can’t afford the $2 school lunch. I am so grateful that our daughter can grow up surrounded by this smorgasbord of humanity.

One of the enduring things I learned in college psychology is that our brains are hard-wired to divide the world into categories. There will always be an “us” versus “them.” It’s how the brain works. But how you define “us” and “them” — ah, that’s where the question lies. Too much of human history has defaulted to easy categories of tribe, nationality, skin color, religion, or sexuality. Some of the news and images surrounding this election prove those defaults are still alive and kicking.

I want to raise a child with a modern view of “us.” One who sees “us” as her co-workers, her neighbors, her friends — no matter where they fall in all those old group definers. It’s a state of mind and one you could develop anywhere. But I’m sure this crazy neighborhood can only help.

[Image from here. Because can anyone my age think “diverse kids” without looking up old Benetton ads?]

Sep 252012

Do you read blog feeds via RSS feed reader? When I first started following blogs, I kept a long list of bookmarks that I visited every day to check for new posts. I was thrilled to finally discover that feed readers automatically pull those new posts and give them to me in one place.

Unfortunately, I’ve had bad luck with the actual feed readers. Every time I find one I like, within a year or two the company decides to stop supporting the program. And I hate the search for new readers. There are plenty out there, I find most of them flat-out ugly. If I’m going to look at the interface for hours every week, I don’t want ugly!


Luckily, the latest search led me to a reader that I really, genuinely, kind of love. It’s called Feedly. Have others heard of it? Apparently it’s been around for years, but I’m always behind the curve. (See “long list of bookmarks,” above.)

Feedly integrates with Google Reader but puts the content into a form I find more appealing. I’d call it “attractive minimalist.” The default is the magazine-style layout above, but you can customize the settings to read posts however you prefer (I like full-text), group related feeds into folders (I’ve got “Friends,” “Travel,” “Deep Thoughts,” etc.), play with background colors, and more. There’s always one small ad, like the black-and-red one in the screen shot above, but I find them unobtrusive and they make the program free. Best of all, Feedly integrates well with my phone and I’m now reading blogs from my phone for the first time. Both the web and mobile versions make it easy to save posts for later, email links, and share with Facebook or Twitter.

My main grumble with Feedly is that I don’t like the magazine-style defaults on the web version — I prefer to read one blog at a time, in full text. I’ve updated my preferences to make that possible, but it takes a few extra clicks to get there on each visit. And once I reach the bottom of each long page of posts, I have to click the “up” arrow to get back to the navigation areas at the top of the page. All minor things, but for me it keeps the system a few clicks away from perfection.

A few basic details: Feedly is free and well-reviewed, even by people who actually know a thing or two about technology. Apparently there are “integrated” versions for Firefox and Google Chrome, but it works for me as a regular website in Safari. There are mobile versions for iPhone, Android, iPad, and Kindle. You can find it here.

How do you read blog feeds? Have you tried Feedly, or do you recommend a different program?

Sep 182012

I’m not usually big on link roundups, but lately I’ve read some particularly interesting articles. These are all worth a read:

  • Courtesy of the principal at Vera’s school, how — and why — to teach your children that smarts are something developed rather than inborn. How Not to Talk to Your Kids at New York Magazine
  • The “white supremacy” theory is (to me) a reach, but this makes interesting points about Breaking Bad‘s meth-making storyline: The White Market at The New Inquiry
  • Speaking of TV shows, home decor photos so rarely show the owners’ giant flat-screen televisions. Here’s an article about how to work your decor around the TV. (Actually, the TV doesn’t bother my much in our house. But whither the cable box, DVD player, and stereo in all these photos? What do I do with their ugliness?): 9 Ways to Design Around a TV at Centsational Girl
  • Most “best of beauty” awards are more about sponsorship than science. Here are some recommended products from the Good Housekeeping testing process.
  • When I was young I didn’t care much about beauty, body image, and the like. Turns out I was so easily able to “get beyond” those issues specifically because I was young and slim and reasonably pretty. Now that I’m old, sick, and heavier, I don’t have any of the skills for dealing with appearance uncertainty. I recently discovered Eat the Damn Cake and am in love with this smart blogger’s discussions of body image. Suspect most women know the feeling that life would fall into place if they could just drop the last 10 pounds or find that perfect hairstyle: Stop Waiting to be Prettier. And I could stand to go back and re-read this one frequently: The Extreme Importance of Letting Yourself be Occasionally Ugly.
  • (But I suspect the most-thought provoking thing on that  blog was actually a comment left by an older woman who gives some historical perspective. Comment 4 on this piece was an eye-opener to me. How have women allowed this overwhelming focus on appearance to distract us from so many more important issues?)
  • And finally, speaking of important issues, last week was Diaper Need Awareness Week. Many poor families don’t have enough money for diapers, and diapers aren’t covered by aid programs like food stamps. Families risk diaper rash and other health problems when they leave a baby in wet diapers to stretch their supply. Thankfully, diaper banks across the country have stepped in to provide free diapers to families in need. Here’s a list of diaper banks across the US. (Here in the DC area, they’re doing great things at the DC Diaper Bank.) Please consider picking up some extra diapers or Pull-Ups next time you’re at the drug store and dropping them at the nearest collection spot.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read online recently? Know any good regular round-ups?

Sep 172012

Well, I’m back. Seems all I do is talk about leaving and coming back, so let’s just skip it for now, shall we? Photos are much more interesting! Here are a few highlights from the months I was gone.

We celebrated Vera’s third birthday:

Mama had a much-needed solo vacation in Sedona, AZ:

The whole family spent two memorable weeks in Hawaii. (Expect many more details/photos about that!):

Vera spent a lot of time with her sibling Sheltie:

Our walls looked like this for 4 months (and counting). But don’t worry, everyone assures us it’s much worse in person. The garbage bag covers a spot where the ceiling fell in. Thanks, water leak from the condo upstairs!:

Vera further developed her own personal style — best described as pink sparkly fairy princess ballerina — and Mama discovered Instagram (@twowishes):

Biggest and best of all, Vera started public full-day preschool a few weeks ago! Big transition, but it’s a fantastic school, she has a fantastic teacher, and she’s going to love it once she gets past the social anxiety of her first time away from home.

And you, my friends? Any big events in 2012?

Jun 022011

Despair, Inc - Mediocrity

(image from the glorious Despair, Inc.)

I grew up a perfectionist. And then, in my 20s, I got very, very sick.

If there’s one thing a person learns from serious or extended illness, it’s that sometimes you have to let perfection slide and go with whatever works. Illness reduces available time, energy, money, and just about anything else you can name. Once, I could create perfection by ignoring my natural limits and overextending till my goal was reached. Now, that’s really not an option. The only choice is to live within my new limits. Can’t clean your house often? Learn to live with dirt. Can’t post on the blog as much as you want? Learn to live with a light posting schedule. Have to cancel a big event that you’re not feeling up to? If you can’t force yourself, what can you do?

In the decade since my original illness, I’ve seen many other perfectionistic, Type-A women fall prey to disease. It happens so often that I’ve developed a theory: illness happens to Type As to force them to slow down and stop sweating the details. Maybe it happens because stressful lifestyles leave women prone to physical exhaustion that becomes illness. Or maybe it happens in a more touchy-feely, “life sending you a lesson you need to learn” sense. But one way or another, illness is often the teacher that sets perfectionists on the path toward a healthier approach.

As a newly minted “good enough”ist, my biggest comfort is the 80/20 Rule. According to this theory, 80% of the benefit in most fields comes from only 20% of the work you put in. After that, you receive smaller and smaller rewards as you put more and more effort into perfecting the details. Of course, 80% is only a “B.” There was a time in my life when Bs were not okay. But if you’re dealing with very limited resources, the 80/20 rule is pretty darn comforting. Who needs to waste so much more time on that last little margin? It’s not my own limitations, it’s economic efficiency!

Why bring this up now? My next couple of posts will be about a book called Good Enough is the New Perfect. The authors say that the title is a bit of a touchstone for dividing the perfectionists from the, uh, recovering perfectionists. Real perfectionists recoil at the idea of “good enough,” saying it’s the same as settling for mediocrity. But for me? These days, it’s basically my credo.

How do you feel about perfectionism versus “good enough”ism?

Feb 222011
Baby Giant Anteater at SF Zoo, via Zooborns

Not a nameling*

A few months ago, Mrs. Hot Cocoa posted about an effort that encourages people to “adopt” rarely-used words from days gone by. As a fellow word nerd, of course I rushed over to the Save the Words site.  The experience was a bit sad — all those sweet, abandoned words waiting for their forever homes. Several gazed at me hopefully as I walked past, blinking their liquid vowels and wagging their stubby consonants, but none seemed like quite the right fit.

And then I found it:

namelings (plural noun, c. 1706)

persons bearing the same name

If there is one type of word I love, it’s anything that sounds like a little forest creature.** Nameling definitely fits that bill, so nameling it is.

Also?  Totally useful!  Lately I’ve been receiving alumni mail from Boston College. I never attended Boston College,*** but my maiden name is so unusual, I think they did an Internet search, found me, and assumed there couldn’t possibly be more than one. There actually is one other — a few years ago I met someone who actually knew her. And now she is no longer just “the one other person in the world who shares my maiden name” … she is my nameling.

Do you have namelings?  Have you ever met one?


* But isn’t this baby anteater OMGcute??!?  Why haven’t I visited Zooborns before?

** Favorite Dutch word — makelaar (mah-keh-lahr). It means real estate agent, but tell me that doesn’t sound like something you’d find scampering around in the underbrush….

*** Dear Boston College: I’m sure you’re perfectly nice, but I have zero plans to donate money to my own law school because it’s a pricey private school … can you guess how likely I am to donate to a private school that I didn’t even attend??!?

Jan 052011

(I am in loooooove with this illustration from Jenny at Geek in Heels — look for it popping up all over my Internet accounts in coming days!)

I have been juggling various ailments for the past 6 weeks. Sad to drop out of #reverb10 halfway through, and even sadder to miss my dear readers for so long. Hope to play at least a bit of catch-up in the near future….

Meanwhile, just wanted to drop in and wish you joy, love, and lots of memorable adventures in 2011.