Should so much depend on a bath mat?

Its early life, hanging on a towel rack

Some months ago, we were having dinner at a friend’s house. At some point I made use of the facilities. Little did I know that I would fall in love.

It was just hanging on the side of the tub–so pristine and white that it drew my eyes to it. I reached out to touch it, and it was everything I’d imagined and more. I didn’t want to leave the bathroom without it. I felt the need to share the tactile heaven I’d experienced, so I carried it out to the group assembled around the dining table and exclaimed to our host that it was the most exquisite bath mat I’d ever felt. Then I actually offered the other guests the chance to feel it for themselves. (I may have already had a few glasses of wine by this point, but it honestly didn’t feel like odd behavior at the time.)

Our host admitted that it was indeed brand new. He’d just gotten it at Ikea that day. Ikea? I thought it must have come from some high-end bath boutique where the toothbrush holders cost a day’s salary. But if it was from Ikea, it was probably reasonably priced.

But we’ve been on belt-tightening mode for several months now, not purchasing anything but food and the basics in order to pay the mortgage and property taxes (you know, so we can remain in our beloved home). So I didn’t really consider buying a new bath mat, especially since we don’t even need one. Both our bathrooms have somewhat worn but perfectly serviceable rugs in place.

A few months later, Dave had to replace something–I don’t remember what–and he casually asked me if we needed anything from Ikea. The memory of that soft, pebbly fabric washed over me. First I resisted. Then I broke.

“Well, if you happen to see a bath mat like the one Andre has–I mean, if it’s a really good deal. We don’t have to have it, but…”

My unfinished sentence hung in the air like a pitiful wish.

“Okay,” he answered noncommittally.

Despite the lack of its necessity, Dave brought one home. I was beaming when he handed it to me. It was kind of ridiculous how much I loved it.

I love, love, love Ruby. But she has fur to spare.

The next question was where to place it–upstairs where I would get to enjoy its softness on my bare feet every morning and night? Or downstairs where guests could appreciate that luxury under their shoes? Downstairs is also the bathroom where Dave washes our dog Ruby every morning when they return from Point Isabel (where Ruby inevitably goes swimming and rolls around in sand and mud). I started to feel a bit possessive, almost protective of the bath mat. If I put it on the ground, it would get dirty. With people tromping all over it, it would lose its cottony cushy goodness. I decided to hang it on a towel rack until I could find it a good home.

Since then, we decided to rent out a room in our house to help pay the bills. So we moved the office out of the downstairs bedroom into the nook of the master bedroom upstairs, which previously housed all my books, yearbooks, photo albums, and boxes of photos that I’d always planned to put into albums. And of course the downstairs bedroom, though small, is quite a bit larger than the nook where the office was being relocated. Bottom line? We had way more stuff than room to put it in. Our bedroom became stacks of books, boxes, files, and an excess of office furniture. We also had to relinquish use of the closet in the downstairs room in order to rent it out. (Tenants don’t usually like landlords barging into their room to access shipping boxes or out-of-season shirts.) So more stuff had to find a home. And the shed in the back yard is already full of Whereabouts Press inventory since we stopped paying for off-site storage.

Basically, we were living like hoarders, clearing paths in order to travel from our bed to the bathroom. This was not the sort of place that deserved a beautiful new bath mat. And since we’d let our housekeeper go last year, the bathroom is cleaned somewhat irregularly. It would look ridiculous to put down a new, white rug when dog hair was just going to find it anyway. So the bath mat remained clean and perfect on the towel rack.

For weeks, most of our available energy was going toward making the downstairs room attractive and livable for a tenant–painting, cleaning, etc.

Once our tenant moved in, we started to focus on our bedroom. Luckily, 24 years ago I gave birth to a master organizer who lives with us once again. Kylie’s work hours–and let’s face it, OCD tendencies–allowed them the time and talent for projects such as going through all the office supplies and getting rid of items we’ll never use. (Maybe it’s because my dad lived through the Great Depression and raised me to be frugal or maybe it’s because I taught elementary school for so long, but I have a hard time getting rid of perfectly usable containers and extra highlighters.)

In any case, our home is starting to look once again like a home.


So I thought it was time. Our house is not perfect, and neither are we; but we deserved to feel that soft, fluffy bath mat beneath our toes. Because life is too short.

And besides, it’s only a bath mat.


Bumper sticker wisdom

img_2414On my way back from the dog park, I was at a stoplight behind a truck with this bumper sticker: I’D RATHER BE HERE NOW.

I loved the message. Instead of stating that he’d rather be fishing or golfing or anything else, he’s content being just where he is. He’s living in the moment without excuses, the way a dog does.

It’s so simple but says so much. Don’t complain if you’re not doing something you love; make it so you are doing what you love. And then live as fully as you can. Don’t be in the position where you’re often thinking, I’d rather be ___________ (fill in your own pastime). If you’d truly rather be doing that, figure out a way that you can! Obviously you can’t be doing something you love every minute of the day. (I mean who genuinely likes to clean their toilet?) But you can make sure you love at least part of every day.

I know that to some extent, privilege plays a part because people with more money and opportunities have more choices available to them. But there are plenty of rich people who aren’t happy either. So I think the key is figuring out what you’re happiest doing and do it as much as you can. Also have the best possible time while you’re doing it, or while you’re doing anything, for that matter.

Just a little bumper sticker wisdom to start your day. You’re welcome.

Taking signs from wherever they come

toiletIt seems an odd topic, I know, but it occurred to me today that within the last ten days, I’ve had three encounters with dark bathrooms.

Not dark, as in evil, gloomy, or somber–just dark as in an absence of light. Two of the incidents in question were at friends’ houses where I didn’t know the exact location of the light switch but figured I didn’t need much guidance to find the toilet, so I ventured trustingly into the dark. The other was in a public place where the lights ordinarily go on automatically, but something must not have been working.

In any case, three times seems like a lot. Especially compared to the number of previous instances when I’ve attempted to use such facilities in the dark, which is zero. Perhaps I’m just getting cocky in my old age and figure I’ve done this particular activity so many times in my life that I could do it in my sleep. (And in fact, I probably have.)

The first time I was the unwitting victim of a male who did not think it necessary to put down the toilet seat. After all, anyone who used the loo would presumably turn on the lights first. I mean, what kind of doofus goes in the dark? Luckily, I did not plop down confidently on the porcelain, so I caught myself before I ended up taking an unscheduled tushy bath.

The second time I couldn’t immediately find the light switch, but I knew basically where the toilet was because I’d used the restroom earlier when it was still light outside and electric illumination was not required. But I hadn’t remembered that the cat’s water fountain (yes, fountain–not dish) was right next to the toilet, so I inadvertently dunked my hand when reaching for the t.p. No biggy.

Today, I entered a public restroom that was designated as a women’s room, so I never thought to check whether the seat was down or up. My theory is that it had just been cleaned, since I’ve occasionally noticed custodial practice. Again, I was fortunate that I crouched tentatively and so averted a wet disaster.

So I have no tales of woe stemming from my recent dark bathroom adventures, but I think if I’m smart, I won’t risk it again. Perhaps the universe has given me ample warning, and I shouldn’t ignore the signs. I vow that, in the future, I will not blithely go about my business when I cannot see where I’m sitting. Okay, most people would just call that common sense, but I’m calling it a new rule to live by.

A spa by any other name…


mole rat
the lowly mole-rat

Names are important. When you’re in the market for a product–any sort of product–the name is likely to influence your decision, whether you admit it or not. Would a Jaguar still be the epitome of luxury cars if it were a Mole-rat?

Some companies choose a perfectly good name, but circumstances can change a name’s ability to draw customers. Take, for instance, Isis Skin & Body. I’m sure when the marketing department suggested the name of the Egyptian beauty queen, everyone thought it was a great idea. Who could have predicted that the name ISIS would become synonymous with terror?

When I was a kid in the 70s, my mother was often on a diet. One of the many tools she used to try to lose weight was an appetite-suppressant candy that she ate with warm water. It was called Ayds. Then in the 80s, AIDS became a killer epidemic of vast proportions. Ayds the diet aid limped along for a few more years before its inevitable death.

And then there are those names that should never been chosen in the first place. From a recent Mental Floss post, I learned that in Ghana one can drink Pee Cola and a spicy gravy product called Shitto. (And English is Ghana’s national language, so it’s not something that got lost in the translation.) In the same article, you can read about Barf detergent and Fart bars.

Shakespeare (via Juliet) famously posited: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But I counter with this: any food labeled “Shitto” is fighting an uphill battle.

How do I spend my time? An exposé

recording chart

Last week I wrote down everything I did.

It was harder than I thought it would be to keep an accurate account of my time, even though I kept the log open on my computer so that I could jot down my activities as I did them.

I had to decide what was worthy of writing down because early in the week, I was spending too much time recording what I was doing, which, of course, changed the results slightly. I didn’t want my scientific findings to be sullied by faulty testing procedures! So I stopped tracking bathroom breaks and started lumping smaller activities together, e.g.,

8:20-9:15  took Sophie to vet, got gas, did Jumble & crossword

But that made it harder to tally up the time spent on types of activities, such as games. This meant that afterward, during the analysis phase, I had to estimate how long it took to take Sophie to the vet and get gas in order to give me the number of minutes spent on games.

There were definitely some time sinks, which were not a complete surprise. One turned out to be going through my email. Here are the stats: For the 5-day testing period, I spent a total of 430 minutes, or a little over 7 hours, checking and reading the stuff that comes into my inbox, which averages about an hour and a half per day. That seems crazy to me. Of course my email gets somewhat tangled up with Facebook because I receive comments to posts and tags on email, which lures me into the social media world for varying amounts of time.

This is not Lucy’s video from the concert because I couldn’t figure out how to download it to embed here.

For example, on Wednesday, I was in the midst of reading email when I came upon my friend Lucy’s post about the Aretha Franklin concert the previous night. Of course I wanted to see it. Ergo this entry:

9:50 tried to watch Aretha Franklin clip on FB, got frustrated, and got Dave to help

I don’t have anything else recorded in my log until 10:30, despite the clip being only one song long (“Chain of Fools”). This data clearly indicates moments how much time is wasted due to slow technology, or, perhaps more accurately, due to my inadequate grasp of technology.

But that wasn’t the only time sink. Apparently I have a tiny gaming addiction. Not the betting on horses kind or the online fantasy game variety–no, my compulsion involves the Jumble, crossword puzzles, Words with Friends (both classic and new), Cryptoquote, Sudoku, Angry Birds in Space, and an innocent-enough looking game that I discovered on my phone called Two Dots, which is basically connecting like-colored dots but is oddly satisfying for hours on end.

angry birds
angry birds

Add to that total one of my newer projects–Lumosity, which was actually prescribed to me by a neurologist. (I’m not kidding! I was worried about my memory loss and got a referral by my g.p. to see a specialist, who gave me a number of tests that showed nothing serious. So he prescribed puzzles, such as the Jumble and Sudoku; but I already did those, so he wrote down on an official notepad and handed it to me.) So now I spend 15 to 30 minutes a day, 3 or 4 times a week on my “training,” which includes brain stretchers such as Memory Matrix, Speed Match, and Trouble Brewing, which essentially tests me to see if I’d be any good as a barista. (The jury’s still out.) And because I love, love, love Word Bubbles, I usually play a round (or three) of that at the end of my regular “workout.” (I’m using their terminology here.) I try to rationalize this entertaining break as integral to my health. But I’m not certain that it’s actually improving anything except my ability to match shapes and rescue virtual coffee cups from being overfilled.

And of course there are the unforeseeable activities that consume no small part of my life. Here are excerpts from Wednesday:

9:50  tried repeatedly to sync the app on my phone with my Active Band (my cheap knock-off version of a Fitbit that is not working)

noon  went to library rally/protest (that’s worth a whole post by itself)

1:10  tried to retrieve aloe from cracked plastic container to apply to sunburn (that I got at library rally) and used way too much so as not to waste it before throwing mess away; ended up having to peel blue sticky strands off my skin

1:30  cleaned up dog pee

2:30  tried to figure out how to upload a fucking video from my phone to Facebook. GRRR!

4:25  got hungry and wandered around looking for food, then watched the puppies play

5:15  looked all through house and in backyard for Sophie’s missing collar (Bonus: found my long-lost Active Link under the bed!)

fitz & toy
Not the actual puppy I watched last week because I CAN’T DOWNLOAD THE RUBY VIDEO THAT I REALLY WANTED TO PUT HERE!

Now in between those things, I did get a little bit of work done, i.e., proofing a historical biography of Charles Anderson (a less famous guy who made a speech at Gettysburg the same day as Abe). But I won’t lie–it was not my most productive day.

I was relieved to discover that I do spend more time working at my job than I do playing games, but I’m not proud that I spent more than twice the amount of time playing games than I do exercising (8.5 hours v. 3.2 hours total for 5 days). But to be fair–some of that game time was playing cards with Dave after dinner and working on crosswords with him at lunchtime, so that counts as socializing and eating too (double duty). My biggest disappointment in myself is that last week I hardly read any books at all! (And I don’t even have “The Daily Show” to watch any more as an excuse for not getting in my bedtime reading.)

So what’s the upshot of all this? What did I learn?

  1. I should probably save FB videos to watch at bedtime, when Dave is right next to me and isn’t in the middle of redoing some complicated table for a science book that’s due to go to press. In fact, I should probably ignore all Facebook notifications during my workday
  2. It takes a long time to record everything you do.
  3. Don’t try to use a lot of aloe when you don’t need it just to keep it from getting thrown away.
  4. I should spend more time watching puppies play. Outside. Where I don’t have to clean up their pee.

My next project? I think I have some reading to catch up on…

My phone is trying to tell me something

iPhone hot (in Spanish)

I’ve had some weird glitches with my iPhone, but overall, I like it. When I first got it, Siri called me by my brother’s name, which is just strange any way you look at it. And I’m still quite certain that she misunderstands on purpose just to annoy me.

But I’m impressed by the lengths it will go to in order to communicate, including switching  up the language when an emergency situation arises.

iPhone hot FrenchI made the mistake of leaving my iPhone on an outdoor table in the sun  a very warm day while chatting with friends. When I picked up my phone, it was not only displaying a dire warning in English, but on the slide button was this note in Spanish: “para emergência.” Then when I tried to get rid of the message, the message popped up again in French.

I have to assume it was going to keep trying different languages until either I put it away or it suffered from heat exhaustion. I wonder if it knows Italian…