TBR List Declutter, Issue 33


I’ve been reading Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other (which is on my TBR—TBR List Declutter success story!). The book shows many of the ways that technology connects us with a speed and breadth that hasn’t been possible before while also highlighting how we can use this technology in ways that diminish the importance of deep, real connection, both with others and with ourselves.

Interacting on my cell phone, via voice or text, e-mail or social media, I can choose to sideline anyone at any time for any reason. In some ways, this is helpful. I can screen out distractions if I choose to, connect on my terms, and address issues on my own timeline. This can help me cope with the overwhelming volume of information and sparkly things coming at me through my various devices, but it also reduces the need to compromise for my relationships. When I connect on my own terms, I’m not necessarily thinking about the needs of the other person. This way of connecting encourages me to reframe my relationships in terms of my own convenience, which takes away from the give-and-take that relationships require to grow in depth and meaning.

This way of connecting also encourages me to label people as “worth my time” and “not worth my time,” as “toxic” or “sunshine,” when in reality, we’re all a little of each at any given moment. Experiencing both the good and the bad of another person is part of how we grow a relationship, or at least it has been. When I can turn this off and on, I worry that it keeps everyone at an emotional distance. I “connect” online through likes and brief comments and photos, but often this doesn’t feel like connection. It feels like sitting alone looking at a screen.

I’m not giving up my phone or other devices, but I don’t want to use them mindlessly. I want to be aware of how my use of technology affects my connections with other people, and how easy it is for introverted, somewhat socially anxious me to hide behind. I want it to help facilitate connection—real, socially messy connection, not just connection through likes and comments on my curated social media profiles—rather than keeping others at a convenient, comfortable distance.

The Robert Frost poem “A Time to Talk” illustrates for me an agrarian version of the way that I sometimes prioritize to-dos over real-time connection even when those to-dos can actually wait. I’m more often finishing a blog post than I am doing whatever Frost is doing with those hills, but the basic idea is the same. I want to do better about walking up to the wall to connect with my friends rather than just shouting across the field.

A Time to Talk

By Robert Frost

When a friend calls to me from the road

And slows his horse to a meaning walk,

I don’t stand still and look around

On all the hills I haven’t hoed

And shout from where I am, What is it?

No, not as there is a time to talk.

I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground

Blade-end up and five feet tall,

And plod: I go up the stone wall

For a friendly visit.

Visual Interest:

Playa de San Lorenzo, Gijón, Spain


Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 371-390:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 32


San Diego is big. The city is very spread out, and while public transit here is either nonexistent or dramatically inadequate, the highways are pretty impressive. They have lots of lanes to choose from and are quite efficient, much of the time.

Although many people I’ve talked to back in Massachusetts gasp when I talk about highways with a dozen or more lanes, I actually really like I-5. At the widest part of the highway (I’ve seen it listed as 20-22 lanes, but I haven’t counted), there’s an “I-5 local bypass” where I don’t even have to get on the highway proper if I’m going just an exit or two down the road. And when I do have to get on the highway, the on-ramps are long. In Massachusetts, I white-knuckled my way onto the highway, praying that someone would let me merge, but here, I use the ramp to accelerate to cruising speed and integrate myself into the flow of traffic, mostly seamlessly.

And while there are some crazy, weave-in-and-out-for-no-apparent-reason drivers and lots of people pass on the right, which unnerves me, the vibe overall is pretty laid-back. I’m still learning my way around, and at times I’m in the wrong lane or something and make a quick change that’s not entirely cool. In fact, I am at times a menace on the road, a scatterbrained driver with two kids talking about warrior cats in the backseat and “más rock…en español!” on the radio who can’t decide which lane she needs to be in to get on I-5 southbound. I know it’s only a matter of time, but so far, I have not been honked at (although my spouse has). I’ve not been given the finger (that I can tell; car windows are tinted pretty dark here). I’ve not been aggressively tailgated in retaliation for some perceived slight. People just let me be an idiot and wave me along in situations in which, had our roles been reversed, I would have totally flipped them the bird.

It seems I’ll have to learn how to be a chill driver after the intensity of Massachusetts roadways. I only hope San Diego highways stay forgiving and don’t take on the characteristics of their sisters in LA and in the SF East Bay (at least as I experienced those highways nearly a decade ago; I apologize if these areas have experienced a change for the compassionate on their interstates and I’ve maligned them unfairly).

Tangent to the tangent: While we were driving in León, Spain, my husband screwed up exiting one of the million roundabouts and accidentally cut off another car. The driver laid on his horn and zoomed up around us into the bike lane to honk some more and tell us off. I’m not sure of the English translation of his hand gestures or the words he was yelling, but I think I got the gist. Given how pissed he was at us, I half expected to see him pointing a gun at us. I wasn’t even aware that I had that fear about my fellow drivers until that moment. But then I realized that we were in Europe and while he might try to kill us in some other manner, the risk of him shooting us was much lower than it would be in the U.S. Yay, Europe!

Visual Interest:


A fellow hiker along the trail in Saguaro National Park East. (Maybe a carpenter ant (Camponotus ocreatus)).

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 351-370:

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Habit Experiment: September Recap, October Kickoff

September Recap

I hung on—just barely—to my goals this month. Here they are, as a reminder:

1) Drive 785 miles or less for the month.

2) Experiment with car-free travel options to local destinations.

As we headed out to hike on Sunday, we realized that we’d only driven 89 miles since last weekend. That was pretty amazing, and is perhaps a sign that we’re getting into the swing of this less-driving thing.

When September began, the odometer read 118,716. As of this morning, it’s at 119,401. We still need to drive to our afternoon activities, which will add another 20 miles, bringing the total for the month to 705. I admit, I was helped a little bit by my mom’s visit since we drove her car to go camping, but even that would only have been another 50 miles round-trip, so I still would have met my goal.

For October, I’m going to increase my goal to 800 driving miles for the month because it’s a longer month and because we’ve got a couple of longer trips planned. We’re already taking the train for one of the trips, and I’m toying with the idea of taking the train for the other, but I doubt I’ll get buy-in for that plan from my spouse. He’s more pragmatic about car-light travel than I am and uses a broader definition of “suffering” than I do.

Oddly enough, even though I’m driving less I’ve not done very well with my exercise this month. I’ve only gotten more than 10,000 steps a handful of days, and I’ve not done any strength-training. And I’ve put on three pounds. We’ll see how I do in October.

Speaking of October…

October’s habit is:

Sleep More

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Habit Experiment: August Recap, September Kickoff

August Recap

I kind of derailed myself this month. My habit for August was exercise, and to jog your memory, here are my goals:

1) Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.

2) Do 30 minutes of resistance training each day.

3) Keep a log of my exercise and internet use.

The first week I did great. I didn’t keep a log of my internet use, but I kept track of my steps and my other exercise, and I walked at least 10,000 steps every day but one. In fact, I found 10,000 steps so easy, I decided to increase the goal to 20,000 steps a day for the following week (keeping the 30 minutes of daily resistance training), and then just to make it even more fun, I started writing every morning for 30 minutes before my first walk (January’s habit).

And then…I hit the wall.

The third weekend in August I attended a silent meditation retreat (I’ll post about that eventually). The week preceding the retreat I only broke 10,000 steps one day, and I didn’t do resistance training even once. In the week since the retreat, I’m meditating every morning (November’s habit), but I’ve not gone for my morning walk even once. In my defense, my cat got sick the day I got back from the retreat, and between emergency vet visits, clean-up of feline bodily fluids, and endless loads of laundry, my mornings have been rather hectic.

With my cat essentially in home hospice care, I know what the ultimate result will be, but I don’t know how long it will be until then, nor do I know exactly what kind of care the intervening days/weeks/months will involve. But I’ll do my best to fall back into my exercise routine and be gentle with myself in the process.

On to September

In the meantime, September’s habit is:

Drive Less

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Car Light in Boston

Monday through Thursday this week, my kids and I drove the 20 minutes to the commuter rail station and then took the train into Boston, where we spent the morning riding swan boats, playing on playgrounds, sketching artwork in the MFA, and measuring our ears at the Museum of Science. After lunch, we headed to my son’s ballet class and then took the train back to the middle part of the state, getting home in time for dinner.

The carousel on Boston Common
The carousel on Boston Common

The upshot:

We had a blast.

By the fourth day, my kids both had a decent mental map of the portions of the T that run south of the Charles River. I estimate that we walked about five miles each day in the July heat, and my amazing children kept up with a minimum of complaining. They returned home worn but excited to share their adventures with their dad.

The kids loved the dance class and the museum visits and the Frog Pond on Boston Common, but each day they would spontaneously proclaim, “I LOVE public transit!” Which is good because we spent a lot of time traveling.

Which was more fun: Riding the train to the Museum of Science or actually playing at the Museum of Science?

From our house to our Boston destination each morning, it took about 2.5 hours (20 minutes driving to the commuter rail station, an hour or more on the train to Boston, then an hour on the subway to wherever it was we were heading). It took about an hour to get to dance class from our morning activities, 45 minutes to get from dance to the train station, and then an hour and a half until we got back home. And that’s on the days the rail system ran smoothly and on time.

Parking at the commuter rail station was $4.

It was also pretty spendy. For four days, it cost us just about $100 just for train and subway fares. And the kids both ride for free. But really, it would have been at least that much in gas, tolls, and parking if we’d driven, so the expense doesn’t bother me that much.

So my kids and I love public transit, but what is it we love, exactly?

1. Together time. It’s great to sit on the train and read or talk and interact with each other instead of navigating traffic. My daughter loved that she could read on the train and not get a stomachache. My son loved that he could sit on my lap for an hour while I read his Ladybug and Ranger Rick magazines to him.

2. Novelty. There’s something magical about climbing into a hole in the sidewalk and finding a train down there that will take us all over the city via a simple, colorful map. I wasn’t too keen on how often I found my four-year-old licking the metal railings, but by Thursday that novelty had worn off, thankfully.

3. Friendly people. Public transit seems to bring out the best in Bostonians. In their cars, they range from unpleasant to hostile, but on the subway, they’re practically magnanimous. Every time we got on a train, someone would stand up and offer my children a seat. When my kids squirmed and knocked into the strangers on either side of them, I would apologize and would inevitably be greeted with an understanding smile. When my son dropped his dinosaur book, the man across the train retrieved it and handed it back. One conductor on the commuter rail called my son “little man” and another gave my kids “tickets” he’d then come back and check for later. My son kept his safely in his pocket, and checked for it before we boarded each train.

4. Self-righteousness. For part of our commuter rail journey, the train runs parallel to the highway, and each day I would look out the window at the cars and think, “Those poor bastards.” And each afternoon when the mom across from me in the dance class waiting area said, “Of course, you drove today, didn’t you?” I sat a little taller when I said, “Nope. Why would we?” (I’m not particularly proud of this one, but I have to admit that it’s probably part of what I liked about taking public transit. I feel so self-sufficient getting from A to B without my car, and it makes me a little smug.)

It’s been a bit of a letdown to return to suburbia where we can get hardly anywhere (safely) without taking the car. There are good things about living out here—we’re close to berry picking and cool hikes and we get to see spotted turtles and foxes on our morning walks around the neighborhood—but it’s tough to see an alternate way of getting around and know I can’t access it in my daily life. It’s triggered another round of Salt Lake City nostalgia.

Each day since our adventure, my son has asked, “Mommy, when are we going to Boston again?”

I’m not sure when we’ll get back, but I’m happy to know that when we do, it’s possible that the journey will be as rewarding as the destination.



Not only was this a great way to avoid the internet this week, it was great practice for September’s habit.

I Am a Leaf on the Wind

Salt Lake City
Image by mariancall via Flickr

Lately I’ve been thinking of myself as Wash and all of the other drivers around me as Reavers.* I’m trying to be calm and cool and just try not to get their attention as I drive to the grocery store or to Girl Scouts or home from the library.

Even so, I get honked at practically every time I get on the road.

I’m not a bad driver. In fact, my driving skills are beyond reproach (with the occasional lapse when I’m managing snack-related arguments between my crew members or playing dinosaurs on my control panel). But I recognize that there are a few things I do as a driver that are unconventional.

For example:

-I prefer to drive the speed limit, plus or minus 5 miles per hour. (“Plus” when I’m in a hurry or there’s a driving song on the stereo; “minus” when the weather is inclement or there are road hazards.)

-I use my signals to alert other drivers of my intent to move in a manner that doesn’t follow the natural curve of the road. When a fellow driver uses his or her turn signal, I do my best to make a space for their vehicle if I can do so safely. I expect that other drivers will do the same rather than speeding up when they see I want to move into their lane.

-If there is a stopped emergency vehicle, I slow down and/or move to a lane further from the emergency vehicle, if possible.

-I obey traffic signals.

-I do not turn left into oncoming traffic, even if the person sitting behind me thinks it’s clear.

-I do my best to avoid hitting pedestrians and bicyclists.

-I use my horn prudently, mostly when I want to alert a fellow driver of a danger they may not have noticed (like my vehicle in the space they’re attempting to occupy) or a light that changed while they were texting/dialing/putting on the next audiobook for their kids.

-I avoid road hazards by slowing down and moving to another lane, if possible (see note above regarding turn signals).

-I don’t pass on the right if I can help it, and I never cross a double yellow unless it’s to avoid hitting a cyclist or a road hazard.

Perhaps it’s these quirks to which other drivers are reacting. The state didn’t require me to take a written test to get my new driver’s license, so maybe I’m incorrect in my application of some of these driving habits. Perhaps my fellow drivers are just trying to help me learn the correct driving laws with their honking, tailgating, and bird-flipping. If this is the case, I appreciate their intention, but I find their methods to be a little extreme and imprecise.

It’s also possible that my fellow drivers are hyper-aggressive cannibals having an adverse reaction to government-sponsored atmospheric additives meant to soothe the populace.

In either case, I might try to stay off the roads as much as possible.

*If you don’t catch the Firefly reference, I strongly encourage you to watch the entire series and the movie Serenity as soon as you’re done reading this post. Which is now. Go!

Where the Streets Have No Names (or Four). (The Final Day of the Cross-Country Road Trip)

We drove into Massachusetts today.

The Berkshires were gorgeous.

The drivers on the Mass Turnpike were as advertised.

Worcester smells funny (but different funny from Gary, Indiana).

MetroWest Boston is different than I expected. More heavily wooded. Very narrow streets. Our rental Yukon is by far the largest vehicle we’ve seen here. It’s not well-suited to this environment. It looked a lot more at home in Utah or Nebraska or Iowa.

And the roads here don’t seem to follow any rhyme or reason I can figure.

Our first adventure was to AAA to get maps. I am, frankly, amazed we found it.

I’ve been spoiled with parallel numbered streets for the past three years. I never needed a map in Utah. If you had the address, you knew where you were.

Marlborough, Massachusetts, doesn’t seem to be organized in the same fashion. The roads aren’t straight, they aren’t parallel, and they aren’t even named the same thing a half-mile down the road as they were where you started.

And, according to a friend in Connecticut, they sometimes aren’t named at all.

The advice we got from the AAA guy:

“This heah’s 95,” he said, tracing a blue line on the map with his finger. “It runs from Providence up to heah. Heah it’s the same thing as 128. Some people call it 95. Some call it 128. The people who’ve lived heah all theah lives call it 128.”

“But you won’t evah see a sign that calls it that,” another guy behind the desk chimed in.

“Right,” the first guy said. “That’s why I’m telling you. So if someone says 128, you’ll know they mean 95. Oh, and that city just west of heah that looks like it’s called War-chester? It’s pronounced ‘Wistah’.”

That last part we knew, although we thought it was pronounced like the Ohio city Wooster (“oo” like in book, not like in cootie).

We eventually made it back to our hotel, and even stopped (intentionally) at a little beer and wine store on the way (I got a GF beer from Spain called Estrella Daura. I’m drinking it now. Quite tasty). My husband was behind the wheel of the Yukon and had corrected his route because he thought he recognized a spot where he’d almost made a mistake on the way out.

“I have an excellent sense of direction,” he proclaimed.

I got out the map.

After a remarkably long time, I finally figured out where we were, and it wasn’t where my husband thought we were. I navigated us back to our hotel after yelling at my daughter to shut up (she kept saying, “Are you going east or west or south or north? Are you turning left or right or left or right or left or right?” And I said, “For the love of all that’s holy, would you please shut up?” And she cried. And I felt bad. And I apologized once I figured out where we were and got us back on a new track).

What I’m wondering is how I’m going to find my way around without a navigator in the passenger seat. I guess I’ll do it like I’ve done it everywhere before Utah: by getting lost over and over again, and finding my way back out over and over again. And likely yelling and crying and apologizing over and over again.

At least it’s June and not Decembah.

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We’re Not in Utah Anymore

Road Rage*
This cat is likely not a Utahan. (Image by PDXdj via Flickr)

There are a number of things that I find annoying about life in Utah.

But I didn’t realize until these past couple of days in Florida that I’ve not been flipped the bird nor have I been sworn at loudly while driving the entire time I’ve lived in Utah.

The first day I drove in Florida, I got called, I think, an “Effing Effer.” Only the first part of each of those words wasn’t “Eff”.

I suppose it’s possible I’ve been cussed out by Utah drivers, too, and I just don’t hear it because there are fewer “car windows down” months of the year than in Florida. But this driver was fairly animated in his swearing, and I don’t recall seeing that kind of reaction from a Utah driver.

Another tick mark in Utah’s favor.