Sunshine & Vanilla

being eclectic while trying to be less electric.

In with the Old, out with the New

Were you to ask some of my friends, particularly those who I consider some of my closest of friends, they might tell you I’m a closet “hippie,” a “tree-hugger,” definitely one of those liberal minded people.  I haven’t taken things so far as becoming vegan or ceasing my use of deoderant or even purchasing a hybrid car, but I do hug my Christmas tree.  I recycle, but I could do more. I find little ways here and there to try and reduce my carbon footprint or better the Earth, but I could do more. I switched to using sugar cane paper at home, I stopped buying bottled water and other drinks, I have been switching out all the regular bulbs to the CFLs as the regular ones burn out, I pay my bills online and requested companies stop sending me paper statements/bills, I stopped most junk mail (until I moved then – yikes!), and so on and so forth. The fact is I do more than some people, but I still do much, MUCH less than others.

When it comes to cell phones, I am much the way I am when it comes to the environment. I could be worse, but I could be a lot better.

I was always a little resistant to the cell phone idea.  I didn’t even get one until the mid to late 2000s. Then the iPhone hit and I was horrified at the way everyone was suddenly addicted to their phones. If someone forgot their phone it was as though they had left their right leg at home or their best friend had died. If the battery was dying OH MY GOD!  It was terrible and gross and getting worse and worse and worse.

In 2010, I tried out my friend’s iPhone while on a trip to Seattle. In that moment, a monster was created. I purchased a smart phone shortly upon our return and thus joined the ranks of smart phone junkies. Everything was at the tip of my fingers. Twitter! MyFitnessPal! Facebook!  Gooooooogle…. Oh my!  As a google addict, well, now I was in for some trouble.

And trouble it was. I quickly became the person I had been secretly rolling my eyes at in my mind. Family functions saw me flicking through my apps.  Nights out with friends were photographed and posted for posterity.  (Drunken nights out with friends were hastily erased the next morning).  I was sending messages through Facebook while driving, Tweeting from meetings, there was the AngryBirds craze, then WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething shortly thereafter, I played Suduko every night before bed, and don’t even get me started on how quick my draw was when it came time to google something. I had answers and I HAD THEM NOW!

I spent last week camping in beautiful Yosemite, California.  While there, I spent a lot of my time thinking about my life and the strange disconnect between the way I have been living and the way I feel like I want to be living. The two are not entirely different from one another, but they are not at all the same, either.  I already wrote, here in this blog, about my goals to live a less wired life.  I wrote about ditching the cell phone entirely now that I have a land line. Further reflection proved it was just too big a step for me, particularly as I do need a phone for work purposes during the busy season.

So what then?  What could I do to help turn the life I am living to the life I want to live?  What could I do to take away some of the constant influx of information and technology and interruption from my day to day life?

Being due for my new-in-two upgrade, yesterday I took a trip to my local cell phone provider store.  And walked out with this:

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Yes, it’s true. I have reverted back to a flip phone. Gone are the apps, the games, the internet.  No more handy directions when I am lost (good thing I still have a GPS), no more instant gratification of google, no more world wide web.  I think the feature I will miss the most will be the syncing to my google calendar, but I can work around that.  I worked around it for years.

Gone is the temptation to “check in” everywhere I go. I don’t need to give a detailed play by play of every  moment of my life. I don’t need to get a detailed play by play of every moment of your lives. I may have to plan things a little better, but there’s something to be said for spending a little more time, putting in a tiny bit more care and effort in to things.  I’m no longer locked into a contract with any cell phone provider (as I worked through a loophole there) and, should I decide this was a completely crazy move, I can still use my new-in-two deal to purchase myself a smartphone at a deeply discounted price.

People at work have reacted as though I grew a second head straight out of my neck. One in particular thought I downgraded due only for financial reasons and couldn’t understand  when I told him it really had nothing at all to do with finances. I had no problem affording my $90someodd payment every month, though, yes, cutting that in half will be nice.  It wasn’t about money.  None of it is.  It’s about quality. It’s about living a life I want to live, even if it may not jive with what people think is “normal.”

So maybe I’ll take the $500 I’ll save and treat myself to another week of camping under some incredible stars somewhere.  That’s a glow I’d much rather spend time staring at.

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In with the new old and out with the old new.

On Being Eclectic (or was that Electric?)

One of the problems I have when it comes to the world of blogging is choosing a theme. All the marketing classes, blog tips, advice sites, and even cool kids will tell you the most important thing you can do to get people interested in your blog is Choose A Theme.

I can do that to some extent.  I have my somewhat abandoned home/crafty blog and my slowly becoming obsolete fitness/food blog.  Those are both pretty focused.  But what about THIS blog, what’s Sunshine & Vanilla all about?

I guess it’s all about me. Surprise!  I wanted a space to dump all my random thoughts.  Then, after my last entry, I decided it would be my blog about becoming a less WIRED, more UNPLUGGED, version of myself.  It would be my Unplugged Blog, detailing the adventures of a girl trying to give up a little technology every day.

But then what about other things?  What other things, you ask?  Well, I’ve been tossing around the idea of trying and writing about some of the exercises found in a book I recently purchased called “This Book Will Change Your Life.” Originally I’d hoped to do all of them and blog about each exercise, however, looking through the book, I know I won’t do some and some I wouldn’t blog about *winks.*  Then there’s that whole book and music obsession. Concert reviews? Book reviews? General rambling? Where do those go?  And what of the introspective side?  I’ve been revisiting my gratitude journals and listing things I am grateful for each day. So I thought I could blog five or ten of those things each day, but that doesn’t fit in with the unplugging or the life-changing book.  I do list those things on my facebook most days, though, so I guess I’m alright there.

Maybe I should just call this the life blog. The anything and everything blog. Sunshine & Vanilla, Commas & Ampersands.  It’s a little bit of everything all tossed into one.  I’m throwing caution to the wind and blowing into the universe without a given theme.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s all tied together and I’m just beginning to connect the dots.

In any event, in true rambling form, I have wandered away from the topic I originally came to discuss which is the idea of unplugging and how difficult it is proving to be.  I am slowly coming up with a plan, but have been met with obstacles at every turn.

Mostly in my own mind.  Which, let’s face it, is where most of our true obstacles lie.

Step 1:  Rather than just up and cancel my phone immediately, I decided baby steps were key.  I would delete the Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail apps from the phone.  No more pavlovian reaction to the endless notifications of messages and comments and emails.  The need to obsessively check these things would be gone. Extinguished. It would be tough, but I could do it!

Or so I thought.  I was all set to do it until I realized and subsequently held a massive thirty second pout session with myself: That means I can’t upload cell phone photos anymore…. ………………..  Which severely impacted Step 2 (which was to decrease amount of FaceBooking I do, limiting it to one status update of gratitude and photos only from here on out.)

So now Steps 1 and 2 had a wrench firmly inserted.

Step 3:  Cancel the cable when my “bundle pricing” runs out in September. No problem! I can totally do that, I’ve lived without cable before. I’m on it!  Only I had to call the horrible cable company from the ninth circle of hell for something else two days ago and, as a consolation prize, they extended my bundle out for another year.  Which means if I cancel my cable, the price of everything else goes up.

Thwarted, again!  But not defeated!

Step 4 is in the works but requires a bit of fine tuning.  I am no longer going to allow myself to utilize my laptop in my den (where the television is).  Laptop must be used elsewhere in the house.  No more laptopping while watching television/movies/whatever.  I have to CHOOSE one electronic device or the other and focus only on that one.  But this means I must first make my laptop more easily mobile by purchasing it a new battery so I needn’t always be tethered by the cord as I am at the moment.  Step 4 can still be implemented, but not as awesomely as I’d hoped.

So I guess sometime between curling up with my kindle and wrapping up “That’s Alright, Mama,” finishing Alice: Madness Returns on the xbox, watching the 75 episodes of useless crap stored on my DVR, battling it out in a few games of Words with Friends, laughing through a couple games of Draw Something, and wasting 75% of my time on the internet learning more useless crap I never needed to know I’ll regroup.  Revisit this idea of unplugging.  Regoal, relist, revise.

Too Much of A Good Thing

I have four blogs.

1) The one you are reading: I started it awhile back as a way to morph over from my super-secret blog to a more public place but never did much with it. This may soon change.
2) Another Fitness Journey where I write about my never-ending attempts to become a healthier version of myself.
3) Domestically Impaired where I write (or, rather, was writing, it’s been awhile) about my endeavors to become a craftier, more domesticated version of myself.
4) The Super-Secret Blog where I’ve been writing over ten years. It’s an emotional dumping ground where I am at my most honest and most raw. I very rarely write there anymore these days. And, no, you don’t get a link.

I have a twitter account. Mostly I ramble sarcastic comments about pop culture to and/or about celebrities. Vanilla Ice became my 100th follower after retweeting something I said about him vs an old boyfriend. It’s that sort of thing. Frivolous.

Of course I have a Facebook account. Who doesn’t these days? I’m kind of a FaceBook junkie, though I’m beginning to get it under control.

I have a tumblr. I actually had the tumblr way before I had any of the wordpress blogs. I started it as a place to vomit all the heartbreak I was feeling when a boy completely and totally obliterated my sad little heart. Many a sad song, poem, photo, quote, and lyric went up there. It was a wallowing place of woeful self-pitying therapeutic catharsis. Then I sort of forgot about it (until he and I went through round two.. or maybe it was three.. or fou? who cares). In any event, at some point I went back, cleaned it up, and began toying around with it. Now it’s mostly a place my Instagram photos end up, an occasional story, sometimes some youtube videos or an occasional reblog, sometimes some quotes.

Obviously I have an Instagram account.

I have a Pinterest account. I really REALLY loved Pinterest just before it really caught on and blew up like mad crazy. I was O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D with it. I used some of the ideas I have pinned there in my own house, I pinned some things of my house, I did some of the craft projects, I still want to do some of the craft projects, I’ve made some of the recipes, etc. etc. I’m not sure how I fell out of love with it… It’s still such a cool site, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I logged in and pinned something.

There’s also the Flickr account, the RunKeeper account (I use it for walking), the MyFitnessPal account, the FitBit account… I have two active hotmail accounts and two active gmail accounts. I have an inactive yahoo mail account and an active yahoo messenger account (though I’ve tried three times in the past three weeks to cancel it and it won’t let me!?!). Photobucket, LastFM, Spotify… I’m pretty sure I have about ten other accounts I can’t even think of right now. All I know for sure is I do NOT have a myspace account. And I’m fairly sure I never signed up for LinkedIn.

I bank online, I put library books on hold online, I shop online, I pay bills online, I make reservations online, I buy tickets online, hell, I even order my pizza online these days.

I am W-I-R-E-D.

I love it. I hate it.

I love whenever I think, “What is this person talking about?” I can just google it. I love that I can google any random thing that pops into my head and find an answer. I love that I can KNOW. Google is probably my favorite thing about technology. It’s like an instantaneous index. I’m a nerd, remember? I loved indexes. I’d think of something while studying or reading, flip to the index, and AH-HA! There it is! Page 42! I loved encyclopedias for the same reason. Now we have google. It’s making us all geniuses. But it’s making us all stupid, too. We all know so much, but we all know only so much. We all know a little bit about everything, but few of us know a lot about anything.

But that’s a debate for another time.

I have come to a place in my life where suddenly I am tired of being so wired.

I’m sitting on my sofa. The television is on, but I’m obviously ignoring it. I know I’m ignoring it because the OnDemand menu is on and Leonard Maltin is previewing his picks repeatedly in the little window in the upper right corner. Again.

At the end of my sofa, actually on the sofa, is a power strip. Plugged in to it is my camera battery charger, my kindle charger, and my cell phone charger. The laptop charger is plugged into a separate outlet behind me. On the coffee table next to me you can find the television remote, the cable box remote, my portable phone, my cell phone, and an xbox controller. I am, obviously, typing on the laptop (with five tabs open).

Most weeknights, after about 9pm, you can find me on my sofa. I’ll be perusing the internet while watching something on television and playing a game or two of words with friends & draw something on my cell phone. At the same time. It’s really started to bother me, this need to be multitasking always. I feel like I’m only ever really giving anything 1/2… 1/3… 1/4… 1/6 of my attention. It’s unsettling me. Something in me is shifting inside. Something in me is beginning to protest this overwhelming amount of technology I have spent the past few years embracing.

I feel like I need to disconnect myself somehow. Clearly I can’t disconnect all the way, but maybe I can find some ways. I have tried television free evenings, those work pretty well. Actually, twice in my adult life I have canceled my cable entirely, not because of cost, but because I felt like I needed to watch less and live more. I am thinking of doing this very thing again when my “deal” runs out come September. Will I DIE without The Walking Dead, Judge Judy, and Person of Interest? No (but I might die without the next season of American Horror Story).  In fact, maybe I will even convince a friend to let me come watch one of these shows (not Judge Judy, don’t worry friends!) at their house – thus becoming more socially involved.

But what else could I do? What else could I do to live a more focused, less zombified by the little glaring screen type existence?

What if I started by giving up my cell phone? I have a landline in my house now. I have the internet. What if I suspended my cell phone service for a time and saw how it went? So what if I couldn’t check my email, facebook, twitter, whatever every five seconds? So what if I had to actually call people (but not even really, I could email people and vice versa)? So what if I didn’t have instantaneous access to everything all the time? I posed the question on my facebook, some of the responses were pretty hilarious. No, it’s not the early 90s, but…

I think it might be an easier transition for me than for some. I didn’t even technically have a ‘real’ cell phone until the mid-late 00’s. To be precise, I was 26. I was forced to get one when I left to live in Europe for a few months but ended up realizing how useful they could be. Specifically when you needed to call your Italian friends for directions. I didn’t get a smart phone until about two years ago. That’s right, I held onto my little no-internet flip phone as long as I possibly could while everyone was loving their iPhones. I watched as I spent more and more time hanging out with people while they hung out with their phones. I rolled my eyes and made snarky comments and much to people’s horror (and sometimes anger) asked them to please put their phones away when we were together. Then I got myself a smart phone. And joined the ranks. Over time I climbed the ladders until I, too, was one of the worst offenders. Having google on my phone is one of the best worst things that’s ever happened to me. INSTANT ANSWERS ON THE GO? Good god.

So what if I gave it up? What if I gave up my cell phone? I rarely talk on the phone as it is and now I have a land line with an answering machine. It would make certain things more difficult, but let’s face it, I went almost 30 years without any of those things – I think I could handle going back that way.

I’m really considering it. But taking that leap… It’s hard.

Late night reflections 11 years later.

I have a secret. Maybe it’s a secret a lot of people share. Maybe secret isn’t the word for it at all. Maybe it’s just one of those weird idiosyncrasies. Maybe I’m just a freak who is overly sensitive about things. Well, I’m definitely that, I know. But this. This goes way beyond that.

Eleven years ago, I was living at my parents house (yes, really). I woke up one morning to the sound of their television. It was a very weird thing to wake up to given the television never went on in the mornings. My dad worked nights, so he slept in late. I didn’t think much of it and went about my morning, getting ready for work, until I heard them talking to one another. At that point I walked into their bedroom just in time to see what I can only describe as the worst reality television I have ever seen. It was September 11.

I went to work that day. I emailed back and forth with a couple of friends who were worried about loved ones. I tried to console my coworker as she tried frantically to reach her family back in New York City. I quietly wondered about the cousins I have who live in Manhattan.  I held it together for the people around me.

It was the worst tragedy I had ever seen happen in my lifetime. I remember being a kid and watching in wide eyed fascination as the Challenger took off into space. But it never made it. It exploded in front of a million watching eyes. I was all set to give a speech on Sally Ride the following week. I added the line, “I was very sad when the Challenger exploded” to the end of it. It was sad, but being so little, it was also harder to comprehend.

Or was it?

I hadn’t yet been to NYC when September 11 happened. It was my “dream city.” I had dreamed of moving there for as long as I could remember. From the time I was in elementary school until I moved out of my parents’ house after 9/11, I had a beautiful poster of the Brooklyn Bridge with the towers in the background tacked up on my bedroom wall. The Big Apple. The Big City. It was a whole world outside the small-town world I had always known. It was something to aspire to. Something to dream about.

But on September 11, 2001, it became the sight of horrors I could never really imagine. It was bad enough watching the smoke billowing from the buildings. Watching the second plane hit. Watching the towers fall. Watching the people running, screaming away from the area. Thinking of all those people. Thinking of the people who ran into the buildings to save them. Thinking of the people in the buildings nearby. Thinking of the unthinkable really. You think you can imagine it, but can you? Can you really? It took hardly any time before even more horrors were revealed. The internet came alive with disgusting photos of people jumping from the buildings. Horrible photos, magnified and blown up and so awful they literally made me sick to my stomach. Stories of limbs and pieces and people reduced to nothing but ash.

I remember how eerie it was, those days with no planes flying overhead. The fear I felt at the sound of one lone jet streaking across the otherwise silent skies. I remember wondering what if? What if the Golden Gate Bridge was next? The Transamerica Building? What if? What if? What if?

Something about it all broke me. I don’t know why it affected me the way it did. I mean, yes, it was a terrible tragedy. It was probably the worst tragedy I will ever “witness” in my lifetime. But it wasn’t really MY tragedy. Well, in a way it was, it was OUR tragedy, all of us. But I wasn’t there, I was all the way across the country, but it drove a stake of grief deep into my soul.  That’s my secret. I’m still broken. And not the way your average person is. There’s no, “oh yes, that was a terrible day” conversation with me. I can’t watch the documentaries. I can’t watch the “stories of.” I can barely watch, read, or hear anything that even references it without feeling that lump rise up in my throat and the tears flood my eyes.

When I (finally) graduated from college in 2006 (there was a long hiatus there), my mother took me to New York City as my graduation gift because she knew how badly I had always wanted to go there. We saw the sites, took the tours, hung out with our cousins, ate pastrami at Katz’s deli (yes, I sat where Sally sat) and, of course, we eventually made our way to Ground Zero. I teased my mom, the overly sentimental one in the family, “oh… Are you going to get super emotional and cry a lot?”

But, surprisingly, it was me. I completely lost it. By then it looked like any other construction site. If you didn’t know what had happened, you never would have guessed it was the site of something so awful. But of course we knew. We all knew. I stood under the plaque searching for the one familiar name. Paul K. Sloan. He worked on the 89th floor of the South Tower. He was on the phone with his family when the line went dead. His best friend was supposed to fly out to NYC on September 12 to visit. We went to high school together. Schoolmates, but not friends. I knew him from the basketball games where we both went to cheer on our team. He had a huge smile and was always very friendly to everyone, even us lowly underclassmen.  I was shaky at ground zero. There were tears, but they were basically contained. I couldn’t say much though. It was one of those times where I just knew if I opened my mouth the floodgates would open.

Then we walked into St. Paul’s Chapel and those floodgates did, indeed, open. I think I maybe snapped three photos. I could hardly breathe. I felt like … I can’t even describe the overwhelming sorrow I felt. Overpowering grief mingled with an overwhelming sense of humanity and love. St. Paul’s Chapel is an amazing place. For six months it was filled with emergency rescue teams, doctors, firefighters, police, volunteers, bringers of faith, whatever was needed. The chapel was (and I assume still is) filled with cards and letters and banners from all around the country, letters of sympathy and hope and support. Thousands and thousands of paper cranes,  patches from various firehouses, all kinds of things. Should you ever get down that way, go there.

I sobbed. We got back on our tour bus. I sobbed. We got to the next stop and I was mostly okay until I started thinking about it again, and sobbed. My mom ribbed me about it, echoing my words. I couldn’t pull myself together. Thinking about it now, sitting here typing this, I have tears on my cheeks again.

I wonder if it’s something that will always affect me this way? Of course it’s become a bit better as time passes. But I still can’t watch the documentaries. I really want to. There’s one in particular that really interests me. I tried to watch it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t watch the movie about the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. I couldn’t read any of the in depth articles on what all happened, particularly those with a lot of photos. I still feel enraged at the internet making a spectacle of those people plummeting to their death. I don’t really know if it’s normal to still get so upset about something that really, if you think about it, didn’t affect my personal life at all. But it does upset me still. Maybe it’s just that oversensitive Irish gene.

The other night I started watching “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” I had interest in it because the kid in it is from around here, he’s the son of the head of a big non-profit organization. I was nervous about watching it. I watched the first half of it a few days ago and decided I wouldn’t watch the other half. But I needed to. I wanted to know. So I finished it up tonight.  If you plan on watching it and haven’t yet, don’t read the rest of this paragraph. Though there really aren’t any spoilers here.  There is one scene, with the answering machine and the photos. Those god damn photos. I sobbed. Fists clenched. Choking sort of splotchy red-faced sobs. Again. I wonder about all those kids. Those wives. Those husbands. Those parents. If I, a stranger all the way across the country still gets so strangled with emotion at the slightest mention of it, how must they feel?

And how is it so many people in this country seem to have simply forgotten? We haven’t forgotten the big picture of course, how could we? Terrorism. War. The world changed after 9/11. Everything changed. But what’s been forgotten in the mess of it all is the human side of things. The people. The people who died and the people who lived and the way, for a few days, maybe even weeks, our entire country pulled together into one giant, all encompassing embrace.

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