Going Off The Beaten Path

We’ve been watching Russell’s dog Betty recently.  She’s a very nice, well-trained dog — kudos to Russell on that! — who absolutely loves taking walks.  Every morning I leash her up and take her for a walk around Schiller Park so both she and I can get some fresh air and exercise first thing in the morning.

img_0028For the most part, Betty is an easy dog to walk.  She keeps her nose down, hunting for interesting smells, and stays on or in close proximity to the sidewalk, swiveling her head from side to side and remaining on absolute tactical alert for any random dog that might be seen off in the distance.

But the interesting thing is what happens when we depart from the sidewalk for even an instant — say, to drop a tied-off bag of doggie doo into one of the Schiller Park trash cans.  When that happens, Betty’s entire personality changes.  She goes from the dedicated, straight-ahead walker who diligently tracks down every stray scent to a young dog who clearly wants to frolic.  She does a kind of antic, bouncing dance, going down onto her paws then leaping into the air, makes a growling sound, veers suddenly from side to side with tremendous force, and then starts to nibble at my shoelaces while I’m trying to walk.  Frankly, it’s pretty annoying on a cold workday morning, but she’s just having a dog’s definition of fun.  After a few minutes of such play, I give her a tug on the leash and we head back home.

It’s instructive, isn’t it?  Betty likes her walks, to be sure, but what really charges her up is to go off the beaten path.  Betty’s little dance just demonstrates the value of departing from the straight line and going free form every once in a while.

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Reasonably Achievable Resolutions

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  If so, how’s it going?  According to a social network called Strava, which somehow conducted some research into the topic, most people who make New Year’s resolutions end up breaking them by January 12.  So hang in there: you apparently only have to suffer through a few more days of compliance before you can go back to those old habits.

The Strava research seems to have focused on exercise and dietary resolutions, which are probably the most challenging resolutions of all.  People buy that health club membership and start eating leafy green vegetables for dinner with the best of intentions, but are felled by unrealistic expectations of what will happen.  When those unrealistic expectations aren’t met, they fall off the wagon.  And then, after they fall off the wagon, they figure it’s hopeless to try to change and totally give up.

I think making resolutions makes some sense, and the start of a new year is as good a time as any for some self-reflection and consideration of how a beneficial behavioral change might be in order.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to get more exercise and be more healthy, but why stake your New Year’s resolutions entirely upon goals that experience teaches are incredibly difficult to reach?  Maybe we should start small, and think about little, reasonably achievable resolutions that might just make you a better person and improve your life at the same time.  Consider, for example, this list of 58 New Year’s resolutions that don’t involve dieting or exercise.  It’s not exhaustive and right for everyone, of course, but it may give you ideas for the kind of resolutions that are suitable for you.

This year, I’m going small with my resolutions.  I’m going to clean out my closet and give the clothes that aren’t being used to a charitable organization.  I want to go through what we’ve got stored in the basement and the pantry, figure out whether we’re using it, and donate what’s unneeded to the Goodwill.  I’m going to tackle my emailboxes and iPhone photos, delete what I don’t want to store forever, be happy about the reduced clutter, and see whether that improves my phone battery life.  And while I’ve done a better job of leisure reading this past year, in 2019 I’m going to up the ante by identifying and then reading through to the end at least one really mentally challenging book.

Making goals is a good thing, but reaching those goals is even better.

 

That Extra Hour

I woke up this morning, looked at the clock, and then realized with a bright surge of delight that we had “fallen back” an hour overnight.  So I rolled over and enjoyed a pleasant doze and some rambling dreams to commemorate the occasion.

img_7460After getting up, I made a fine cup of coffee and continued the celebration by walking around the house, changing the settings on all of the clocks that aren’t “smart” — which means pretty much every clock in our house except the ones on our cellphones and the computer — and relished rolling them back an hour.  I punched the new time into the clock on the microwave, and rewound the old-fashioned art deco clocks at our bedsides.  It’s all part of the ritual, as important to the proper observance of the time change as any aspect of any religious service.  Some people recite the Rosary, some people sing the Doxology, I happily engage in the Liturgy of the Extra Hour.

Because getting an extra hour on a Sunday that dawns bright and crisp and clear and full of possibilities is truly a cause of rejoicing.

Birdbaths And Breadboxes

The other day I was out for a walk and saw a birdbath.  As I walked by, I thought:  boy, you don’t many birdbaths these days — even though they were a common feature that you saw in people’s yards when I was growing up.

It made me think about other once-common things that have pretty much vanished from the everyday scene.  Like breadboxes, for example.  When I was a kid, we had a wooden breadbox in our kitchen.  Every house seemed to have one.  In our case, it was part of a decorated matched set with the flour and sugar and coffee containers, and when you wanted to get the Wonder Bread to make your peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich you went to the breadbox, flipped down the front lid, took out the bread in its plastic wrapping with the red, yellow and blue balloons, and made the sandwich on the back part of the flipped-down lid.  I’m not sure whether breadboxes were supposed to really serve any meaningful function in terms of keeping bread from going stale, or whether people just wanted to have a central place to store their bread.  In any case, nobody puts a breadbox on their kitchen counter anymore, I doubt if anyone sells breadboxes anymore, and I imagine if you gave a breadbox to somebody under 35 they would have no idea what it was.  At some point, Americans collectively made the decision that it was better to put bread in the refrigerator, and breadboxes went into the dustbin of history.

Breadboxes.  Rotary telephones.  Rabbit ear interior TV antennas and elaborate TV antennae on rooftops.  Fancy silver tea sets, always slightly tarnished, on dining room tables.  Elaborate ashtrays on coffee tables and end tables and standing cigarette lighters. They’ve all been left behind as America has moved on and tastes have changed.

And birdbaths have been left behind, too.  Which makes me wonder:  where do birds go to freshen up these days?

 

Off The Hallmark

Walking home from work yesterday, I saw a new sign on the side of a building on Third Street, just across from the Ohio Statehouse.  I greeted the sign with an audible groan and a mixture of horror and resignation — horror, because I’ll now have to endure the building equivalent of a Hallmark card every day for weeks to come, and resignation, because that’s just the way the world is these days.

What’s next — a sign saying that “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” or maybe a picture of some cute kittens with a supposedly clever saying about work?

It used to be bad enough with greeting cards, where some anonymous writer labored in a back room to draft trite, generic sayings attempting to capture the sentiments evoked by important events like marriages, birthdays, and deaths, but with the internet and social media we’ve reached a whole new level.  You can’t go to Facebook or other social media sites without seeing some meme or posting that is like a bad Hallmark card writ large, and always with the “share if you agree!” command.  And now, apparently, even buildings are going to serve as platforms for vapid platitudes that presume to reduce complicated, multi-layered, quintessentially human concepts like friendship and love into a single banal saying that’s supposed to make us nod knowingly and perhaps feel a throb deep inside.

And what’s really appalling is that the tag line at the bottom of the sign is “#AMillionLittle Things.”  That’s apparently the name of a new ABC TV show that I won’t be watching.  But does that mean that, after this sign is taken down, I’ve got 999,999 more hackneyed sayings to go?

By the way, I don’t care if this is shared or not.

Thinking About Dreamland

Last night I slept very soundly, with lots of dreaming to keep my brain occupied while my body recharged.  I don’t remember what my dreams were — I almost never do — but I do remember thinking, as I was dreaming, that these dreams were very entertaining.

1100_story_babysleep_co-sleepingWhen I awoke, I thought about what a marvelous thing dreams are.   One second you are observing and participating in a curious, often inexplicable place where anything can happen at any moment and storylines can casually shift and twist and morph without it seeming at all unusual.  Then, after you awaken, your experiences in dreamland vanish in the blink of an eye and you’re back in the actual world where the laws of physics and basic linear reality once again hold sway.  Sure, you can have terrifying nightmares that give you the creeps even after you awake, but for the most part dreams are pleasant enough — nonsensical and crazy, to be sure, but non-threatening.

I found myself wondering whether my parents ever explained the process of dreaming to me.  I don’t remember whether they ever did, and I don’t remember explaining dreams to our kids, either.  Every mammal seems to dream — anybody who’s seen dogs run in their sleep knows that — and I remember watching our newborn boys’ eye movements as they slept in their cribs, knowing that they were dreaming and wondering what in the world infants could possibly be dreaming about.   By the time they were old enough to have developed the language skills needed to have a meaningful conversation about it, they had been sleeping and dreaming for years and had long since grasped the difference between dreamland and real life.  I suppose that’s why we never had a talk about the process of dreaming, as opposed to trying to interpret individual dreams.  Perhaps dreaming is so basic and reflexive for mammals, and humans, that it is understood on an intuitive level, with no explanation required.

The Case For Making Your Bed

Every morning, just before it’s time to head off to work, I make the bed.  I pull the sheets taut, put the pillows back in their place, adjust the blanket so that it’s the same length on all sides of the bed, and make sure there are no wrinkles to be seen.  Making the bed is just part of the morning ritual that means I’m now ready to face the day — but apparently not everybody does it.

I read an interesting piece recently about the simple act of making your bed, and what it means. It’s entitled The Unmade Bed and the Fall of Civilization, which is a little over the top, but the essential point holds:  little things matter.  They’re not significant by themselves, but they can add up to big things — and it really doesn’t take much time to take care of them, when you think about it.

So why not do those little things?

Clean off your dishes and put them in the dishwasher, so they’re not left for your spouse or roommate to deal with, and then rinse down the sink.  Hang up your coat and your clothing rather than tossing them over a chair.  Put old magazines and newspapers into the recycling bin.  Pick up after yourself, and when you leave a room see that it’s tidy.  Take out the trash before the wastebaskets are full to overflowing.  And make your bed.

I was a total slob in college — who wasn’t? — but when I graduated and moved into the working phase of my life I decided I needed more order.  The best way to accomplish that was to start to do those little tasks myself.  I found that it not only made our place look better, it also made me feel better, both when I was doing those little chores and when I got home to a place that was neat and shipshape.  Doing those things made me feel like I was was pitching in, carrying my share of the household load, and actually behaving like an adult.  After college, that seemed like a worthy goal.  Now it’s all habit — but I still like the feeling I get when I do those little things.

So every morning, I make the bed.  And by the way, if you make the bed properly, when you climb back into bed at night you’ll find that the sheets are cool and inviting, even on a hot Midwestern summer evening.  It’s just one of the benefits of trying to live an orderly life.