November 2013 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

November 2013 - Posts

  • Hitting the Pause Button

    One of the strange things about working from home is the fact that work time and home time are not clearly delineated during your day.

    It's for this reason that I had myself convinced that the addition of a new baby would be no big deal in terms of my freelance writing career. Babies sleep a lot. I can write under almost any conditions. It's a match made in productivity heaven.

    Then reality hit, in the form of days wherein I was still unshowered, under dressed, and over caffeinated (yet still sleepy) as of 4:00 in the afternoon. And let's not mention the spitup in my hair.

    Oh, yeah. I remember. Babies are a heck of a lot of work. How had I forgotten that?

    In any case, I made the executive decision that just because I could be working my normal schedule while BB was home with me didn't mean I should be doing so.

    This is all to tell you, dear readers, that I will be taking a short break from Mensch. I am taking the rest of 2013 off from my paid work. It's been a crazy year, and it will be good to just focus on my little family for a couple of months.

    Not to worry, however. I will be back in January.

    Since I won't see you, I hope you have a restful, fun, and bright holiday season.

    And of course, a happy new year.

  • Measure Twice, Cut Once


    Photo courtesy of Silar

    My father was an accomplished amateur woodworker, and I'm pleased to have several pieces of his handiwork throughout our house. I grew up watching This Old House, The New Yankee Workshop, and The Woodwright's Shop with Roy Underhill, among others. (The Woodwright's Shop was pretty hilarious to watch, since Roy refused to edit out mishaps. I imagine I was not the only viewer who watched in hopes of seeing some sort of minor disaster, a la Dan Ackroyd as Julia Child).

    This background of course means that I have the phrase "measure twice, cut once" all but embroidered on a throw pillow.

    But I think there is a much larger lesson in there than just the obvious avoidance of woodworking (and sewing and cooking, etc) waste.

    Measure twice, cut once is another way of saying "look before you leap" or "take the time to decide if the purchase you're about to make is really something you need or something that will in some way improve your life before you lay out the cash since you'll have wasted your time, money, energy, and space in your home if you end up having to throw it out or give it to Goodwill." (That's a saying, right?)

    Basically, I think of this piece of woodworking wisdom as an excellent reminder that I need to think twice about what I buy/bring into my home/accept into my life. Because cutting may be more fun than measuring, and buying on impulse may be much more fun than thinking twice and keeping money in your wallet--but avoiding the waste of perfectly good and improperly cut wood, or the waste of money, is its own reward.

    I'm reminded of this every time I make an impulsive purchase (a certain sofa of marital strife comes to mind). There has never been a time that I regretted taking my time about a decision or process, but rushing in where angels fear to tread has more than once made me wonder what the heck is wrong with me.

    It does help, however, to remember that the wisdom from Bob Vila, Norm Abrams, Roy Underhill, and dear old Dad, was itself hard-won. I'm certain that each one of them made the cutting-without-adequate-measuring mistake at least once, and learned an expensive (or at least frustrating) lesson from it.

    Because learning to measure twice before getting to the fun stuff is the sort of life lesson that most of us have to learn on our own.

    When have you ever failed to "measure twice" and lived to regret your impulsiveness? Did you end up with a sawzalled couch because of it? (Or is that just me?)

  • Halloween's Social Contract


    At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, I must say that Halloween has changed since I was a kid.

    Every year for the past four or five, I have seen teenagers trick-or-treating sans costumes. On one memorable Halloween, an adult woman who was dressed in street clothes came knocking at my door. (When she saw my disbelieving look, she told me that she had been wearing Halloween makeup, but that it had irritated her face so she washed it off. IF that had been true--which I seriously doubted since there was no trace of makeup on her face--then the end of the makeup should have been the end of the festivities, even if it were acceptable for an adult to go trick-or-treating without a child along).

    I frankly do not understand this phenomenon.

    First of all, a bag of assorted candy costs anywhere between $7 and $12 depending on where you buy it. Each of the young people (and one adult) I have seen trick-or-treating on Halloween should certainly be able to scrape together that kind of money in order to get their candy fix. Heck, if they wait until today, November 1, to do their Halloween candy shopping, they should be able to buy a great deal more candy for a lot less money. And they'd only miss out on a single night of candy gorging.

    Secondly, I anticipate that the teens (and one adult) who engage in costume-less trick-or-treating might tell me that it's more fun to go door-to-door than to buy candy for themselves. That would be a valid point if I were complaining about costumed 17-year-olds. But these kids are just showing up in whatever they wore that day.

    The fun of Halloween is not really about the ability to solicit free candy from neighbors you otherwise never exchange two words with. It's about the cute/funny/scary/clever costumes and seeing the neighborhood full of children having fun and enjoying an opportunity to meet the neighbors you otherwise never exchange two words with. Subtract the costumes, and the whole endeavor becomes a candy stickup. After all, there's a reason why you can't do this every day of the year. The neighbors giving out the candy deserve the fun of seeing your costumes, too.

    Last night, as a neighbor and I walked our kids from door-to-door, I was disheartened to see how many porch lights were off--the universal sign of "No Trick-or-Treaters." Perhaps I misremember, but it seemed like there were next to no houses that didn't participate in Halloween when I was growing up. I can only remember one or two non-participating homes in my childhood neighborhood--homes where the owners were ill or housebound in a way that made welcoming trick-or-treaters nearly impossible. But our neighborhood last night was full of homes without porch lights, and as I passed two different sets of uncostumed teen trick-or-treaters, I wondered if there was any kind of correlation between the two.

    Halloween, when you think too hard about it, is one of the most bizarre traditions in our culture. (I imagine this was why LO last year was so thrilled to get two suckers at the first house we stopped by that he was perfectly happy to then go home. Because why on earth would it be okay to suddenly don a costume and hit up all the neighbors for candy by threatening them with a trick should said candy not be forthcoming?)

    The reason why this tradition of trick-or-treating works is because we all agree to it. We have a social contract--kids get to dress up as heroes and monsters, and in exchange, we're willing to give them treats when they knock on our doors. The uncostumed kids--who, it could be argued, are too old to trick-or-treat regardless--are breaking that social contract. That just helps show how weird our tradition is, and makes it eminently reasonable for people to opt out.

    As someone who loves Halloween, that makes me sad. I want LO and BB to have the same kind of lovely memories of costumes, candy, exploration, neighbors, and delicious scares that I do.

    A breakdown in Halloween's social contract might jeopardize that.

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