SHADES OF PURPLE AND ORANGE, 50% OFF!

I have a lot of sweaters. Winters are long; this one is endless. Heating oil is expensive. Sweaters fill the gap. I like sweaters anyhow. These are cuddly, warm, soft garments into which I can snuggle when the north wind blows. Most of my sweaters are purple. I’ve got a few in black, a handful in red, but purple rules. Until recently, all my sweaters were black. I’m from New York where women wear black. It’s a right coast thing.

The purpling of my wardrobe occurred gradually. It crept up on me, a sweater at a time … a lavender cashmere here, a dark purple merino there.  Seasons passed until my wardrobe was awash in purple.

purple and orange sweaters

Purple sweaters scream “final mark-down.” One of the perils of waiting until the end of the season is the selection of colors and sizes is limited. As a habitue of end-of-the-season sales, I know what to expect. Lots of purple, white, orange and some nasty shades of green in which no one looks healthy.

Leftovers also include the “specialty colors” designers were sure would be the next big things. They never sell well, so there are plenty of whatever it was in the clearance bins. All normal, neutral colors are gone, but you’ll find fruit salad: cantaloupe , mango, kiwi, aubergine, honeydew, sugarplum, pumpkin, mocha and vanilla bean. But we all knew they were tan, and orange and coral and lavender. No one was tricked and the new names didn’t make old colors the next big anything.

I’m a fan of neutral colors. I’m conservative about color having I spent decades working. Dressing had to be fast, mindless. Neutral colors are the backbone of a working woman’s wardrobe. If your clothing is all black, grey, off-white, taupe, brown, or khaki, putting together an outfit is a piece of cake. Grab a top, a bottom, attach earrings and voilà. It’s a go-anywhere wardrobe for the fashion-challenged. Me.

The years rolled on. I stopped working and had no money or legitimate need for new clothing — except the usual gaining weight so nothing fit (oops). Our persistent lack of money elevated and honed my bargain hunting skills, but … I have always been a bargain hunter.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve hunted down final sales and closeouts, even when I wasn’t strapped for cash. It’s a family tradition. My mother raised me to hold fast to one unyielding principle: “Never pay full price,” or rephrased, “Only fools pay full price.”

I take great pride in scoring really great buys. You aren’t supposed to brag about how much you pay. You’re supposed to brag about how much you didn’t pay. The less you pay, the greater your bragging rights. I was astonished to discover some people are proud of paying a lot for something for which they could have gotten half off if they’d waited a couple of days. That’s weird, don’t you think? Okay, they might have had to buy it in purple or orange, but think of all the money they’d save!

Would I have different attitude towards shopping if I were rich? I don’t think so. To put it in perspective, back in the early 1990s, I got into a tug of war with Carly Simon for possession of a 70% off final clearance silk blouse in a chi-chi shop in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. Neither of us was poor. It was principal. The blouse was orange. I won. It was a fantastic blouse.

Bargain hunting is not just for people on a tight budget. For many of us, it’s a contact sport. Somewhere, in Heaven, Mom is smiling proudly.

WHEN CHRISTMAS KILLS YOUR CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

For twenty Decembers in a row, I maxed out my credit and emptied my bank account buying gifts. A lot of the gifts were items no one really needed or wanted, stuff that just caught my eye. Or because anything the recipient wanted or needed, I couldn’t afford. And worse, they didn’t want the stuff I gave them either. I also got a lot of junk gifts, stuff I didn’t want, had no use for. Felt obliged to keep anyhow, so it cluttered up my house and made me feel obligated to keep the giving and getting cycle going against all logic and reason.

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After Garry and I had to stop working in 2001, our financial situation went downhill. At some point in that long, painful slide, I realized I had to do something to stop the hemorrhaging. Christmas was killing us.

It was 2007 when I finally stopped exchanging gifts with everyone except my best friend and her husband, and my immediate family. Immediate family was defined as my son, his wife, my granddaughter, my husband and his brothers.

I tried to think of a subtle approach to handling this, but there wasn’t any. Finally, I simply called everyone. I told them I wanted to stop exchanging gifts. Explained I couldn’t afford it and in any case, anything they really wanted or needed was outside my means. We all wound up buying junk, so what was the point?

At first there were a lot of objections. In the end, though, everyone agreed I had a point and I think they were relieved. Because unless you have unlimited resources, Christmas can wipe you out. After initial objections were overcome, everyone settled down and the idea began to gain traction.

Now, especially with so many of my friends retired and living on fixed incomes, most of the people I know limit gift exchanges. There’s no viable alternative. If Christmas spending is killing your Christmas spirit, you have to talk about it. People will understand.

Set spending limits even (maybe especially) with close family. Even with your spouse. Garry and I have a $50-75 “under the tree” limit for each other. After Christmas, if we have a bit of money, we go shopping together. We hit the post-holiday clearance sales where we each get stuff we really want. I know a lot of couples who do the same thing. It works and it’s fun.

There’s no law that says you have to bankrupt yourself every December. I used to do it because I love buying presents. As much as I had to set limits for everyone else, I had to discipline myself too. I’ve learned to stick to my own rules —  a lot harder than I thought it would be.

The end result has been good all the way around. If Christmas has become something you dread rather than look forward to, you might want to restructure your holiday. Try a new approach. More celebration and less shopping. It might save Christmas for you.

THE PERFECT GIFT

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“I want these earrings, or something as close to it as you can find,” I said, handing him the picture, item number and the website address. The trouble is, my husband doesn’t take orders. If I say I want those earrings, he will buy the other ones because he likes them better. Which would be fine, if he were going to wear them.

I am pretty good at following orders, but it isn’t much fun.  I always tried to find something a little creative … until I realized he didn’t want something unique. He wanted that shirt, that sweatshirt. He didn’t want different colors. He wanted it to look exactly like all his other ties, all his other shirts.

A couple of years ago, my best friend got desperate. She bought the beautiful hand-made leather bag she wanted, handed it to her husband. “Wrap it up,” she said. “You just bought my Christmas present.” That is one approach. I came up with an alternative.

We buy each other something relatively small for Christmas — an “under the tree” gift. We try to be sure it’s something each of us wants. Amazon wish lists can be a big help (just saying). After Christmas, we go shopping. He gets stuff he wants and tries it on. So what if it’s the same stuff he always buys? That’s his choice.

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I buy the earrings I want, a sweater that fits. The electronic gadget I’ve been yearning for, the lens on my wish list.

We are both happy. We shop together, share the experience, get to make suggestions, offer input and have a lot of fun. Prices are always rock-bottom after the holidays are over and if you wait a few extra days, the stores aren’t crowded. It totally removes the stress from trying to find a perfect gift.

It turns out if you bring the recipient with you — and he or she can choose — they will always find the perfect gift.

WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: SNAPSHOT OF LIVING POOR

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Should I buy it? Do I need it?

I sit here a mass of nerves, stomach jumping, head spinning. What’s the problem?

My Kindle isn’t working like it should anymore. It has served me well for more than two years. Now, things that didn’t work perfectly at the start work even less well. It’s beginning to die. So what’s the problem? Get a new one, right?

Poverty. I can buy it cheaper now — on credit — than will be possible for months (years?) to come. I depend on my Kindle. I don’t buy paper books. No room. I have to make a decision. Today.

My hands are shaky. I should use what I’ve got until it dies then buy something. But that won’t work well. I’ll wind up paying full price. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

You wouldn’t think I’d get into such a stomach-churning lather over spending $200 — especially when it’s something I use constantly, on which I depend. You wouldn’t think so. You’d think, at my age, this decision would be simple, obvious. But never having enough money means nothing is obvious or simple.

My moment in time. Sitting on the edge of a razor, ready to slide downward. I feel myself about to be cut in two. I see us losing the house, living in our car, no place to go. The moment is pure panic worry, anxiety, insecurity. Caught doubting myself, my motives, my reasons. Gut-wrenching fear, because the ever-hungry demons of poverty shadow me, make me second-guess each purchase, no matter how tiny.

Should I have bought the cheaper spaghetti? The generic rice? Not bought the fish that wasn’t on sale? Skipped the better dog food? Never mind a Kindle. I don’t deserve it. The other one still works, sort of. What’s wrong with me?

There’s no fun in this. No fun, no reward. I’ll be sorry no matter what I do.

I hate being poor. Right now, I hate being me.

WHAT I BOUGHT ON BLACK FRIDAY

English: DC USA, Target, Black Friday

Honestly, I was in the mood to buy something. A camera, a lens, a widget, gadget, cool electronic toy. I was eager and ready. But wherever I looked, the stuff on sale was something I already own … or something I don’t need or want. I’ve already shopped for my family and close friends, so there are no gifts on my list to be bought.

So I looked. And looked. And looked again. Finally, I found exactly what I needed on Amazon — and snapped it up. Greenies tooth cleaning dog biscuits for small breeds. I was thrilled to find it on sale for 20% less than I usually pay.

That concluded my Black Friday shopping. Garry and I bundled up and went to enjoy the annual lighting of Heritage Museum and Gardens.

Today is the last day of NaBloPoMo. Thanks to all of you who came and visited. Congratulations to all of us who stuck it through and made it to the end. It has been an experience … and a lot of fun! See you next year!

WHERE DID YOU GET THAT THING YOU’RE WEARING?

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

YLE Wardrobe

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “huh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one. But more weird are when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the story in progress. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking and running from or after serial killers while they wear 4-inch spikes. My feet hurt just looking.

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other. Everyone dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is quite common. I understand why.

NCIS Filming

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice. My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They are cheaping out on wardrobe figuring if you and I notice at all, we won’t care or we’ll keep watching anyhow.

It’s a bottom-line driven world and wardrobe is one area where corners can easily be cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming. Movie costuming is often no better. Whoever is in charge figures if you’ve noticed the clothing, you are must be watching the show. They’ve got you. Why worry?

The thing is, the overriding disdain for viewers adds up over time. Eventually it feels like a virtual slap in the face. As a viewer, I have to assume they think I am astoundingly unobservant or plain stupid … or so hooked on their product they needn’t worry about retaining my loyalty. They are wrong.

NCIS Filming

This nonchalance extends beyond costumes. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors … Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

You notice it on long-running shows that had good scripts and editing but suddenly don’t. The quality of the show starts to slide. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in. It isn’t baffling to a normal person but is apparently incomprehensible to producers and network executives.

The most surprising thing is when quality stays high for more than the two initial seasons. Few shows survive more than 3 seasons anymore. An embedded disrespect for viewers is, in my opinion, the root of much of the illness besetting the television industry. They either treat us like morons or discount us because we are too young, too old  or some other incorrect and undesirable demographic. If you are under 18 or over 49, you literally don’t count. There are other, subtler forms of discrimination. Someone decided young people and old people don’t buy enough stuff. No TV for us!  Reality never intrudes into the decision-making process. I’m pretty sure I buy a lot of stuff and so does my granddaughter. Her and her friends are always shopping.

They should be nicer to us. We are, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

BEWARE THE TREACHEROUS BLACK TRASH BAG

Long ago, when Garry and I were first married, before we owned a home, we rented a tiny, adorable and over-priced apartment on Beacon Hill. I had bought curtains and drapes — nice ones — for all the windows in the apartment. It was a building dating back to the early 1800s. The ceilings were high, the windows tall. That was the best part of the apartment … that and the fireplace in the living room and what was probably the nicest marble bathroom we’ve ever had. I could have lived without the other residents of the flat — the cockroaches who had apparently been there since Paul Revere made his ride. Quaintness comes at a price.

Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash.

Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash. We lived up the street on the left, ground floor.

I put all the new curtains in a black trash bag and warned Garry — or thought I warned Garry — this wasn’t trash. It was our new drapes. I either hadn’t actually warned him or he hadn’t heard me. We had just moved in and there was a lot of trash to go out, all in black trash bags. I’m sure you already know the punchline.

By the time I realized the drapes had been taken to the curb, the scavengers of Beacon Hill had snagged them. Everybody on Beacon Hill, rich and poor alike, scavenges. While we were still in the process of moving in, people kept coming by trying to take our stuff. I’m not talking about poor homeless people. I mean The Neighbors. Several times I had to remove lamps and other items of furniture from their clenched fists.

So, to no one’s surprise, the drapes were out there a nanosecond and then gone. Since they were all still in their original unopened wrappings with the price tags attached, whoever took them had to know they were not trash. In Roxbury, where we later lived — a poor, mostly black neighborhood — I’m sure they would have returned the drapes. They would have gone door to door until they found the right house. But that was Roxbury. Beacon Hillers have a different way of looking at things that reminds me of an old childhood chant “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” Just saying.

I had to buy new drapes and the second set wasn’t as nice — or expensive — as the first. I’d used up the money and couldn’t spend it twice.

We lived on Grove Street. This looks a lot like it.

We lived on Grove Street. This looks a lot like it.

Over the years, my penchant for storing stuff in black trash bags has cost us dearly. Christmas presents, out of season clothing, household items intended for the attic — have all vanished. Who done it? Me? Garry? One of the kids? It could be anyone. I’m inclined to blame the terriers. They are always sneaking around, up to no good.

As a family, we have a knee-jerk reflexive response to black trash bags. We throw them out. It could have been anyone. (I still suspect Bonnie, the Scottie.)

Last night, I realized that our down comforter (yes, stored in a black trash bag), had vanished. This is not an item that you can easily overlook. A queen-sized down comforter is big and fluffy, even in a trash bag. It had considerable size, if not heft. This is not like looking for a piece of missing paper. This was something that would be easy to spot. It should have been in the bedroom — but wasn’t.

I checked the closets and the attic. Nothing. No black trash bags.

When finally the dust settled (I really liked that comforter) and I had ordered a replacement from Kohl’s, hopefully to be delivered before the cold weather closes in, I apologized to Garry for accusing him of perfidiously disposing of our bedding and said: “I have to stop storing things in black trash bags. This isn’t working out.”

He enthusiastically agreed.

Do they make big bags like that in clear plastic? Just wondering.

FORTHEPROMPTLESS – KUMMERSPECK: Me and the Fat Lady

I originally wrote this six years ago. I’ve rewritten it many times since. Some day, I’ll get it right. It does seem appropriate for this topic. The deeper meaning, such as it is, is obvious: all us are haunted by someone or something, an evil shadow of what we were and never want to be again.

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Twelve years ago, I lost 160 pounds, an entire full-grown person. I have gained some during the past two years as a side effect of anti-hormone therapy following breast cancer, but I’m still more than 100 pounds less than I was before the story began.

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Every since the initial weight loss, there has been a Fat Lady following me. She is me, or more accurately, she is the me I used to be. She is invisible to everyone else, but I can see and hear her clearly. She waddles after me wherever I go. She talks to me, nags me, teases me. She sits with me at meals, whispering in my ear. She’s my co-pilot while I drive. Worst of all, she goes shopping with me.

While I try to decide whether or not to buy the size that looks great and fits just right … or play it safe and get the bigger size … she is there taunting me. This is probably why I have a half closet of clothing that’s too big. Always is the terrible whispering voice of the Fat Lady saying: “Yes, but what if you gain weight … what if you need bigger sizes? What will you do with this little stuff?”

The Fat Lady never shuts up. “You know, your feet might swell. You’ll never fit into those narrow little shoes.” Panic. What if my feet really DO swell? It hasn’t happened in more than 10 years, but still I expect it any day.

What if this is all some kind of weird dream? If suddenly I wake to discover I’m big? Every time I try on a garment, that Fat Lady is there, doing commentary.

Ah! The terror and triumph of shopping; the sheer exhilaration of sliding comfortably into skinny jeans … until the Fat Lady says. “You’ll never get into those pants.”.

“I am wearing them,” you point out.

“So,” she says, “what about tomorrow, eh? You could gain more weight. They might not fit tomorrow. Then what’ll you do? All you have is LITTLE clothing.”

“I’m going to stay little,” you reply, trying to hold firm.

“SURE you are,” she says. “Just like all those other times before …”

There’s no getting away from her. I have to run to the bathroom scale to confirm that I am not, in fact, fat. I stand in front of the mirror and stare at this body looking for signs of creeping obesity. I press my hands hard against my belly.

My belly is flat. Although I’m not longer all bone, I’m normal. Not bad at all for a gal of my age with a lot of miles on her. Perky breasts, too, since the nasty ones with the cancer were replaced with firm, youthful silicon implants.

I can feel the Fat Lady breathing in my ear. “See that flab?” she mocks. “That’s your old fat self. It’s just waiting for you.”

“It’s loose skin from all the surgeries.”

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“Hah,” she says. “We both know better, don’t we.”

I have a theory about fat. It’s connected with the concept in physics that matter and energy is interchangeable and that the actual amount of matter and energy in the universe never changes. It just converts back and forth from energy to matter and around and around.

I lost 160 pounds.

That fat went somewhere. It’s in the ether waiting.

My lost fat transformed into a Fat Energy Field. Not only my fat, but all the fat anyone ever lost is hanging in the atmosphere, huge, amorphous, invisible … waiting for some unsuspecting person to cross its path. Then … WHAPPO ZAPPO. The Fat Energy Field transforms back into Fat Matter. Hips become huge, bellies grow pendulous and thighs and buttocks fill with blubber.

How many times have you … or someone you know said “I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, I just put on 40 pounds. I don’t understand. I didn’t eat more than usual. It just happened.”

That poor soul intersected with a Fat Energy Field. It could be his or her very OWN Fat Energy Field, if he or she recently lost weight, or it could be mine or someone else’s.
So after all is said and done, it really isn’t your fault when you gain weight. You were engulfed in a Fat Energy Field.

All of which brings me back to my shadow, the Fat Lady. She is me, but she isn’t either. She is my shadow, a demon-self sent to discourage and frighten me. Somewhere, deep in my psyche, I know her. Me as my Fat Lady was comfortable and safe in those folds of fat. I sent her away but she wants to come home so she won’t have to remain amorphous, without a true body.

The Fat Lady wants my body back.

I spend a lot of time looking in mirrors. Vanity? No. I look in mirrors for reassurance. I have to keep checking to make sure that I am the “now” me, not the “old” version. I check that mirrored image for signs of bloat, for hints I will be who I was and who I do not wish to be ever again.

There was a movie called “Charly” that starred Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom, based on a short story called “Flowers for Algernon” written by Daniel Keyes.

Released in 1968, it told the story of Charly, a retarded adult transformed by a miracle of medicine into a brilliant scientist  but ultimately, the miracle fails and he returns to his former state of retarded man-child. He knows, before it happens, that it will happen.

How terrifying must that be? How terrified am I? (Note: These days I have lots of stuff to be scared of and regaining lost weight has dropped from my number 1 fear to around number 4 … but it’s still way up there on the worry chart.)

I feel his fear, the gnawing anxiety that he would have felt knowing he would lose all that he had gained. I live with that fright. I am scared to eat, even when I’m hungry. I’m afraid to buy clothing that really fits because I may not fit into it tomorrow morning or even later today.

Life in a new body is a daily adrenaline rush of mixed joy and panic, an endless roller coaster ride that CYCLONE-ahauls me up then drops me in a screaming rush then whips me around a curve only to drag me up again.

Fortunately, I love roller coasters, the bigger, faster and scarier, the better. If you are going to completely alter your physical self, you need to like living on the edge because you are on it for life. That roller coaster becomes life.

Life is to be lived and excitement, change, and danger make life interesting. We take risks because we want our lives to be edgy. We deny it, claim all we want peace, but we don’t really seek peace. We are ambivalent, wanting safety yet craving excitement.

They say that you stay young by constantly learning. I think you stay young by continuing to take risks. It may not always be smart, but sometimes, smart isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

A Book Junkie’s Confession

If reading were illegal, I’d have spent my life in prison. The most frightening book I ever read was Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than a life with no books.

As a kid, I literally read myself cross-eyed, but today, I have been redeemed by audiobooks. Praise the Lord and don’t make me give up my subscriptions to Audible.com. Early during the 1990s, I discovered audiobooks. I was a “wrong way” commuter, which meant my commute started in Boston and took me out to the suburbs. This was supposed to make the drive easier than going the other way.

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Reality was different. Traffic was heavy in all directions, from Boston or from the suburbs. The east-west commute was nominally less awful than the north-south commutes, though coming from the north shore down to Boston was and is still probably the worst commute anywhere.

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When we lived in Boston on the 17th floor of Charles River Park, we had a perfect view of the Charles River … and an even better view of 93 northbound. We could look out the window any time of the day or night. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see every day of the week, any time of day or night. Garry had a 5 minute walk to work. I always drove somewhere. You’d think at least once during the more than 20 years Garry and I have been together I’d have found one job near home. Funny how that never happened.

In New England, you do not measure a commute by distance. Distance is irrelevant. It’s how long it takes that matters. No one talks in terms of miles. The mall is half an hour away. Boston is about an hour in good traffic, who knows how long in rush hour traffic. It can take you 2 hours to go six miles, but maybe you can travel 15 miles in half an hour. In which case 15 miles is the shorter commute. Ask anyone.

My commute was never short. Wherever my work took me, it was never anyplace convenient, except for those wonderful periods when I worked at home and had to go to the “office” only occasionally.

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The 1990s were serious commuting years. Boston to Amesbury, Boston to Burlington, Boston to Waltham.

It got worse. By 2000, we had moved to Uxbridge. It’s never easier to get from Uxbridge to anywhere, except one of the other Valley towns … and I never worked in any of them. Probably because there is no work there …

As jobs got ever more scarce and I got older and less employable, I found myself commuting longer distances. First, Providence, Rhode Island, which wasn’t too bad. But after that, I had to drive to Groton, Connecticut a few times a week — 140 miles each way — a good deal of it on unlit, unmarked local roads. It was a killer commute and unsurprisingly, I was an early GPS adopter. Even though I didn’t have to do it every day, Groton did me in.

Hudson was almost as bad, and Amesbury was no piece of cake either. The distance from Uxbridge to Newton was not far as the crow flies, but since I was not a crow, it was a nightmare. On any Friday afternoon, it took more than three hours to go twenty some odd miles. On Friday afternoons in the summer when everyone was taking off on for the weekend, I found myself battling not merely regular commuter traffic, but crazed vacationers, desperate to get out of Dodge.

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The job market had become unstable, and it seemed every time I turned around, I was working in a different part of the Commonwealth or in another state entirely. If it weren’t for audiobooks, I’d probably have needed a rubber room.

First, I discovered Books On Tape. Originally intended as audiobooks for the blind, me and a million other commuters discovered them during the mid 1990s. They were a godsend. Instead of listening to the news, talk radio, or some inane jabbering DJ, I could drift off into whatever world of literature I could pop into my car’s cassette player.

I bought a lot of audio books and as cassettes began to disappear and everything was on CD, Books On Tape ceased renting books to the consumer market. Fortunately, audiobooks had become downright popular and were available at book stores like Barnes and Noble. Everybody was listening and most of us couldn’t imagine how we’d survived before audiobooks.

In 2002, along came Audible. At first, it was a bit of a problem, figuring out how to transport ones audible books into ones vehicle, but technology came up with MP3 players and widgets that let you plug your player, whatever it is, into your car’s sound system.

Audible started off modestly, but grew and grew and having recently been acquired by Amazon (a company that, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Verizon, is plotting to take over the world and succeeding pretty well), is getting bigger by the minute. For once, I don’t mind a bit. The company was well run before Amazon, and Amazon had the good sense to not mess with success. It is still easy to work with them, literally a pleasure doing business.

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Five years ago, I became too sick to work anymore. Would that mean giving up audiobooks? Not on your life. When I was nearly dead, I listened to books and they distracted me from pain and fear, kept me company when I was alone and wondering if I’d live to see morning. Sometimes, they made me laugh in the midst of what can only be described as a place where humor is at a premium.

Today, I listen as I do everything except write. I can listen to books as I play mindless games on Facebook, edit photographs, pay bills or make a seven letter Scrabble play. I admit I cannot listen and write at the same time. That seems to be the point where multi-tasking ends. Actually, I can’t do anything while I write except write.

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I get a lot of reading done while accomplishing the computerized tasks of life, not to mention turning hours of mindless messing around into valuable reading time. I am, in effect always reading.

Reading in Bed: My Guilty Pleasure

I read at night on my Kindle because reading in bed has always been one of my guilty pleasures. Oh how I love snuggling into bed with a book, electronic or paper, I don’t care. A book is a book by whatever format.

I remember reading in my bedroom under the covers using a flashlight, or worse, trying to read  from a sliver of light from the hallway nightlight, or, if everything else failed, by the light of a bright moon.

“You’ll ruin your eyes” cried my mother who probably had snuck books into her bed and read by candlelight.

To this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just let me turn a light on. She had to know I was going to read anyhow. She was always reading too! In fact, if books were my addiction, she was my dealer. Even in today politically correct world, giving your kid too many books to read is not yet considered child abuse. Aren’t we glad!

So my love affair with books continues. My tastes change, favorite authors move up or down the list. I go through phases: all history, nothing but fantasy, a run of thrillers, a series of biographies. Getting older has few advantages but there is one huge gift – time.

I have time to read. I can get so involved in my book that I look up and realize that oops, the sun is coming up and I’ve lost another night’s sleep.

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It doesn’t matter. Because I don’t have to commute anywhere anymore. I don’t have to leap out of bed with 10 minutes to shower, dress, make up, and get out.

I can stay up too late reading, or writing, or watching movies and for the rest of my life, no one can make me stop. And that, friends, is really, truly, my fondest dream come true. And in the end, it doesn’t matter to me what form the book takes. Kindle, paperback, hardbound, audio or printed … the story, the author, the book is the thing. Everything else? It doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit.

Daily Prompt: Stranger in a Strange Land – Magic Time!

Last summer, we drove into Gettysburg on the return trip from Williamsburg. It was late afternoon, so we asked Richard, our faithful GPS, to take us to the nearest motel. We followed his directions since we were in a town we’d never visited. Finally, Richard announced “You have reached your destination!”

Indeed we had, though not the one we had it mind for that night’s repose.

As far as the eye could see, Richard had brought us to what must have been Gettysburg’s largest non-war related cemetery. It seemed to stretch for miles. Who knew our GPS had a sense of humor? We didn’t stop laughing until we finally found the EconoLodge.

Ghoul Soldier

I’m the world’s best traveler. I love it all. The good parts, the weird parts, the things other people would call the bad but I just think of as part of the adventure. I love it all. Short of food poisoning or getting arrested by a local militia for crimes against the revolution, it’s all good. Oh, and don’t make me eat bugs. I don’t like bugs. And I will admit I prefer it not rain the entire time.

I love meeting people — weird and otherwise. I love seeing different architecture, customs, local legends. I don’t care if no one speaks English. As long as they don’t point a gun at me (in which case, I’m gone), I’m up for anything especially if it makes a good photograph. So’s my husband. We travel well together.

Rain Rain Go Away

We were supposed to be in New York for the weekend. Seeing old friends. Doing stuff with the college radio station where Garry and I met. Instead, we got weathered. Tropical storm Andrea, or her remnants, are meandering up the coast dropping tons of rain. We couldn’t face the 500 mile round trip drive in heavy rain.

Saguaro Storm 06

So the day didn’t get off to a very good start. I expected to be on vacation, but find myself at home. It makes me grumpy.

This was not one of my best days. A stupid day. I had a snippy fight with the bagger kid in the grocery store and the dogs did things in the house they should have done outside because they don’t like rain. Through all this, my body kept reminding me that like the dogs, it doesn’t much it like the rain. The argument with the dogs and ongoing disagreements with my body were both pretty much one-sided, but the kid in the supermarket actually mumbled in what I believe was English.

The issue was pizza. I wanted my frozen pizza laid flat, not shoved into the bag sideways so all the toppings fall off. The young bagger was baffled. I suggested — perhaps a bit testily — if he would lay the bag on its side and insert the pizza, voilà, you get a flat pizza. Then I could transport the pizza and it would be ever so much more attractive when it became a future dinner.

He said I didn’t need to give him so much attitude. And me, a white-haired senior citizen.

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I prefer to think the lad was giving me an unintended backhanded compliment. He finally worked out what I mean about putting pizza into the bag, but then he put another 5 pounds of groceries in the bag on top of the pizza, including a half-gallon of milk, totally defeating the entire point. Some days you really can’t win. I shudder to think what that pizza will look like when we want to eat it, but I could not argue any further. My head was beginning to hurt. I wanted to go home and sulk.

Putting the groceries away reminded me how much prices have gone up without an equivalent rise in our so-called income. It is hard to believe how little stuff $100 buys these days.

My current goal is to restore my sense of humor. I think I’m about ready to forgive the bagger and the rain has eased off enough so the dogs are going back outside. It’s going to rain tomorrow and Sunday too, or so the weather gurus are saying. These long drenching rainy periods puts all our systems to the test.

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We don’t get out much any more. So many friends are gone. Many have moved far away and more are planning moves to the left coast or someplace in the southwest. It’s entirely possible I will never see many of them again. If they move to the other coast, there will be no more spontaneous gatherings. Probably ever. It’s tough to deal with. The world is supposedly getting smaller and indeed, our personal world is shrinking, but the distances between people seems to be ever-widening.

I’ll feel better when the sun comes out.

Prompts for the Promptless: Episode 3 : Catch That Running Gag!

PromptlessEP3

Ball Gag lay in the dark at the bottom of the closet amidst the rubble of discarded sex toys. He fondly remembered the good old days when The Master and Mistress used him and all his friends to play exciting games every night. Sunk in nostalgia, Ball Gag remembered the crack of the whip, the moans, the screams, the foul language. Those were great days.

Then came the babies and the jobs. PTA and late hours at work. Master and Mistress were tired and busy and they no longer came to The Closet to play with all the toys.

Ball Gag wondered if he were actually getting rusty from disuse. The idea so appalled him, that he began to shiver, which made him rattle and set up a noisy clamor as the various chains, clamps, and other metal things banged against one another. Ball Gag tried to move and surprised himself.

“I can move!” he thought. “How can I do this?”

He realized — to his amazement — he had eyes and could see. From his little round body, itty bitty arms and teeny tiny legs clothed in pointy shoes had sprouted.

“FREEDOM!” he cried and began to throw himself at the closet door. It gave way easily and he found himself in the master bedroom. Light streamed in from the windows, covered by … what? Fluffy lace?

Repelled by the sight of so much light and fluff, Ball Gag … at first hesitantly, then with more sureness in his steps … marched to the hallway.  His leather straps scraped along the floor, but apparently no one was home to hear the racket. He tucked up his tiny arms and legs and rolled clackety-clack down the stairs, clambered out the mail slot and onto the front walk.

FREEDOM!” he screamed again and began to run.

That was when the cops spotted him.

“Catch him!” they cried, talking to each other and calling into the precinct on their radios. “It’s a running gag!!”

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There’s always something new …

Just when I thought it was safe, that I have every camera I could ever want, out comes the new Olympus E-P5. There’s some kind of law that as soon as I buy the camera I’ve finally saved up for, out comes the next generation that’s got all the nifty features I hoped to see.

Olympus E-P5

Actually it isn’t coincidental. I wait until the price on the equipment I want drops before I buy it. The price drop nearly always signals the imminent release of a new generation of equipment, or at least a new model. So I’m likely to remain at least a generation behind in camera technology.

That’s what happens when one lusts for the coolest newest stuff, but don’t really have the money to buy it. Moreover, I have nothing more than the flimsiest excuse to get another camera, even with my rationalization engine turned up to full. Lucky for me there isn’t much the P5 is offering that I don’t (more or less) have with the P3/PM2 combo. So it’s lovely, but I can resist it.

On the other hand (trumpets and a drumroll) … the new Panasonic (Leica in all but name) LUMIX DMC-LF1 was announced this afternoon. She’s lovely, scheduled for delivery in June. Just a few short weeks from now.

Lumix DMC LF-1

Lumix DMC LF-1

It’s got a built-in (be still my heart!) optical viewfinder, shoots in JPG or RAW, has a fast Summicron F/2.0 medium-long telephoto lens. At $499, it is almost affordable. Could this be the perfect do-it-all camera for which my soul yearns?

LUMIX DMC LF-1 (back)

I have a longstanding policy of never buying a new model of anything  (cars, cameras, computers, software) until I’ve heard from regular users, not the PR spinners. I want to feel the love before I start hoarding my pennies and quarters.

Since it won’t even be available to regular users until next month, I figure it will be a while before feedback starts coming in. There’s a strong possibility by the time I might be able to afford it — assuming I hear really good things about it — my computer will stop having intermittent seizures and quit working entirely, ending any chance of getting another camera no matter how wonderful.

Somehow, I think I’ll manage anyhow.

It’s new, better, exciting, cool. But if I miss it, there will be another — and another after that.

Because there’s always something new on the way. Trust me.

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Charge! Address the Mess!

My world runs on rechargeable batteries.

Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, six cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand. To keep the world running, Other than those things that run on AAA and AA rechargeable batteries, everything else uses some kind of proprietary battery. I do not understand why camera makers feel obliged to use a different battery for each camera model. Surely they could design at least all cameras of one type to use the same battery.

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I don’t always realize how dependent we are on batteries and chargers until I’m packing for vacation. Half a carry-on bag is entirely allocated to chargers and wires. And that’s just for items we use while traveling: laptop accessories,  Kindles, cell phones, mouses, portable speakers, cameras and accessories. Laptops and cameras have their own cases … but there’s never enough room for the chargers.

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I used to pack all the chargers and wires carefully, all coiled and tied to avoid tangling. One day, I gave up. Now I shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

At home, I have to keep track of what needs charging and which chargers they use. There are so many I finally was unable to remember which batteries went with which gadget. I really had to address the mess.

The floor of my office is covered with wires and power strips. I’m afraid to walk anywhere because I might step on something fragile.

I did what I do best: research. There are solutions. Not all power strips are the same, and there’s a whole new generation designed to address exactly the problems we all have with too many chargers and power supplies. Some of them are quite pricey, some more affordable. It’s still cheaper to buy a generic strip at Walmart or Target. But you may actually wind up with more usable space if you pay a bit more and get a strip designed to accommodate various sizes and shapes.

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These deal with the problem of oddly shaped and variously sized chargers and power supplies, both strips and as wall sockets.

Let’s start with the Belkin Pivot Surge Protectors. These are available in a 3 versions: a 6-outlet wall mounted version, plus 2 corded versions (6 and 8 foot).

There is extra space between sockets and most also pivot and rotate to let you use all the outlets without waste. Belkin products are usually high quality and they are well-known for their surge protectors. Of course, you may or may not actually need surge protection, but most of these units include it.

I put surge protectors on computers and printers. Battery chargers are cheap and easy to replace and anyway, surges aren’t my problem. Power outages are more likely to be the problem, but a surge protector is no help with that.

Lightning is a problem. Surge protectors are useless against lightning.

We’ve been hit by lightning on three occasions. The first strike was on a utility pole in front of the house. It took out two computers and a printer. The second took down a tree, but no equipment. The third strike killed the well pump which is more than 450 feet underground. That’s how I learned that lightning can strike underground. Apparently the combination of electricity, metal, and water is very attractive to lightning. Well pumps are expensive and not necessarily covered by home insurance.

Lightening is incredibly powerful. Anything plugged in when lightning strikes will get fried. The only thing that will protect against lightning is having your equipment physically unplugged when it strikes. Just a bit of advice from someone who has learned her lesson the hard way.

Insurance will replace equipment, but no one will replace lost data. For that you need a backup on a separate drive.

Prices for the Belkin surge protectors (on Amazon) range from about $18 for the wall-mounted unit, to $25 for the 12-outlet unit with an 8-foot cord, to $27 for the 8-outlet surge protector with a 6-foot cord. The 8-outlet is a very different design and lets you rotate the outlets so that you can use all of the outlets regardless of the size or shape of the chargers or power supplies you want to plug in.

The design of the 8-outlet unit spreads the outlets along a round, wand-like strip that lets you configure the sockets to fit a wide variety of variously sized and shaped chargers and power supplies.

Quite a bit of creativity has gone into some of the designs. By the way, all of these are available on Amazon.

The creative solutions don’t end here. The Kensington 62634 SmartSockets 6-Outlet 16 Foot Cord Table Top Circular Color Coded Power Strip and Surge Protector looks like an electrified lazy Susan. Designed to put in the middle of a conference table so participants can all plug their laptops in at the same time, you could as easily use it on the floor.

It’s rather pricey at more than $40, but it is very cool and if you need a table top strip, this is probably a good choice.

For 25% less, Quirky makes something similar. The white Quirky Pivot Power 6 Outlet Flexible Surge Protector Power Strip costs a couple of dollars less than the identical unit in black. I have no idea why.

Though not cheap, it is not as expensive as the Kensington or Belkin units, nor as fancy. The sockets rotate, but don’t swivel. If you can live without swiveling and color coding, you can get one of these for just under $30. Exactly what will work for you, whether or not any of these will be right for you, depends on the shape of the space you have and how many devices and chargers you have.

If, like me, your charger problem extends into your kitchen and bathroom, there are wall-mounted units for that let you rotate outlets.

360 Electrical 36035-W 4-Outlet Rotating Surge Protector

You can keep your electric razor and water pic plugged in and still have somewhere to attach the hair dryer or curling iron. And if, like my husband, you want to play the radio while you do your daily ablutions, you have a plug for that too. At about $15, it’s a real problem-solver. There are other versions made for kitchen appliances that come with more outlets in some fascinating shapes.

My personal favorite and what consider the most power strip for the least money is Ideative’s Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-Foot Cord. It’s simple and costs just $15. You can set the spacing as needed. Since the equipment in our life keeps changing, I’m attracted by a strip that I can adapt to changing requirements. I have two of them and need one more.

Ideative Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-foot Cord

Ideative’s strips are comparatively simple. No rotating or color coding outlets, but you can make the space between outlets larger or smaller, so most things should fit easily. The sockets are angled to make it easier to plug stuff in.

There are more. Tripp Lite makes a series of high voltage surge protecting traditional strips that have as many as 24 outlets.

They are expensive and much higher tech than I need, but it depends on what you need … and the size of your budget, because those babies cost upwards of $50 apiece.

Below is a cord splitter, one alternative to a strip. I have one in my office and it has the advantage that any size device will fit into any plug. These are also sometimes called hubs and may include special sockets for charging USB devices, or hooking up phone lines. I also have a hub like this on my desk that gives me an extra five USB outlets. Just be aware that not every device operates properly through a hub; some devices need to be plugged directly into the computer.

Civilization probably wouldn’t survive the loss of electricity, but until the world as we know it comes to an end, at the very least we can make life a little easier. All you need is willingness to do the research … and a credit card. With some credit on it.

Like so many problems in life, if you throw money at it, you can make it to go away. More or less.