Monthly Archives: January 2015

Skimming theSkimm

theskimmI have an admission to make.  I’m not proud of it nor do I recommend it for my children. 

I hate hearing, reading and often even knowing about sad and unsettling world events or just plain bad news. Especially if I can do nothing to alter or change it. Or protect myself, and those I treasure, from being affected by it.

When I am in a group and someone alludes to something they just read about in the Wall Street Journal or saw on the front page of the New York Times, I smile and nod along with the most erudite smile I can muster.  But really, and I am openly admitting, I don’t want to know what they are discussing.

Now I’m not talking about grand sweeping events, life and world-altering events, such as the recent Paris shootings or our own 9/11. I’m talking about mothers that lock their babies in a cage in a closet or men that stalk and rape college girls in bars at 2 AM. Or that global warming is sending polar bears on ice cap chips to search for people food, as in people as food, in Alaska. Just yesterday, my sister told me she heard on the news that TSA has found plastic guns that are being broken down and passed through security and can be reassembled once in flight.

Really?!  Do I really want to know that?  As a white-knuckled flyer, I read the same paragraph on the contents page of People magazine for at least the first fifteen minutes of a flight, definitely through all of take off and until I hear that first “ding” from the pilot announcing 10,000 feet.  That dribble in People is my distraction mantra until the beverage cart arrives. This happens at 20,000 feet, by the way, when the flight attendants tie on their aprons and start skipping down the aisle. I tell myself, if the pilot is letting them free to bang around the plane untethered we are hopefully in some smooth air for a bit.

But I don’t want to picture some crazy man behind them in the bathroom (by the pilots no less) assembling six rounds before we have even reached cruising altitude or worse, before the flight attendants have handed me my miniature monogrammed napkin and a drink.

No, you see, I have an unnaturally vivid imagination. So when I hear something horrible, it doesn’t float in one ear and out the other and move on to the next thought.  Not me.  Thoughts of horrible things sit and fester in my head and are imagined and reimagined in ridiculous detail.  What was the baby wearing?  Did he/she plea? What were the college girl’s last thoughts?

I accidentally heard, only because my husband left CNN on after he left the room, that there was a terrible black ice pile up on the East Coast and it showed hundreds of cars not piled up back to back accordion-style but scrambled like eggs across six lanes of highway. They said one man was killed getting out of his car in the midst of all that.  I have thought and thought about that man.  He had survived the crash.  He was safe (enough) in his car but then he got out.  Was he going to help someone else? A hero?  Or was he angry at the man or woman who scrambled into him? Did he call his wife? Did he have kids?

Ok, so I have made my point and probably lost a few readers.  But I have also found my news aversion solution.

And it is theSkimm.

theSkimm is a daily email newsletter that is transmitted to subscribers weekday mornings at about 6 a.m., Eastern Time. Although its readers are 70% women, it was introduced to me by my son.  Go figure.  I guess he is in touch with his feminine side or just loves the writing and humor, like I do.

Anyway, this daily dash of the news, usually no more than three or four paragraphs or sections, delivers events and sports of the day along with a short explanation of the context and import in a “just us talkin'” voice that manages neither to patronize news junkies or alienate uninformed readers. Most of all, it is witty and hip and current and exactly on target.  Sort of like South Park, it lays it all out there–conservatives, liberals, all ethnicities together– and throws a potshot or two at anyone and everyone, with equal abandon, so no one can be offended.  Not even men. (i.e. son)

I love it for many reasons. I see it as an answer to my prayers for a news source that isn’t doused in bias.  It takes almost no time to read and quickly brings me up to speed on what I need to know about the world in order to be a minimally informed citizen of this democracy. And, best of all, it makes me chuckle at even the worst news story because of its clever verbiage and analogies.

And more importantly, it has one click links of explanation to any and all commonly used “newsisms” and acronyms such as what I.S.I.L. actually stands for (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and who and what a pundit is. (A person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media.)

But don’t get me wrong. theSkimm is not News 101.  It is graduate degree news presented in a succinct, relevant manner. Examples from today’s Skimm reflecting on Obama’s State of the Union:

Climate Change…as in Obama knows some scientists. And they’re telling him last year was the hottest year on record and that needs to change. He spent a lot of time on this.

Cuba…as in Obama didn’t think 50 years of an icy relationship was working for anyone. So, soon Cuba will be open to more Americans. And he reminded everyone that he did that. Insert his happy dance.

It was founded two years ago by Danielle Weisberg, now 27, and Carly Zakin, 28. When it recently celebrated its two-year anniversary, it had more than 500,000 subscribers and a daily open rate of more than 45%. The average media and publishing email campaign has an open rate of 23%, according to MailChimp, an email newsletter service. Women (plus my son) dominate theSkimm readership, most of whom fall into the ‘Millennial” demographic of people 18 to 33 years old.

So as an avid reader and being nearly twice that target age, it can mean a couple of things. I may just like a little humor mixed in with my news. Or perhaps although I have the time to read an entire newspaper cover to cover, I prefer my news in short quipped sentences. Millennial-like. Text-like. No gory details.

Just like my imagination can take it.

Check it out–it’s free, no strings attached.


Moving things around

firplace for blogRather than a New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to have a New Year’s new perspective.  Or perhaps I should say a slight shift in perspective because I have long ago learned that dramatic shifts in anything–my weight, my make up, haircuts, weather, plans, change in a breakfast menu–are things I am nearly incapable of accepting with any pretense of ease. So on this rainy/snowy/sloshy day, barely edging off my familiar track in any direction seems to be a sufficient challenge.

My desire for a new viewpoint started as I began taking down the Christmas decorations.  I know we all experience a similar let down at how empty and bland the house feels without the warm glow of twinkling lights and the lush smell of evergreen, candle or real. And I have always tried to reason with myself that this bland, empty house is exactly the same house I was living in mid-November.  The furniture that now seems dated and dull is the same I thought was perfectly comfy and actually pretty in August.

My first impulse this time of year, is to go out and buy something fresh and new to perk up the tattered old rooms I have rambled around in for twenty some years now. There are all those tempting post-holiday sales just calling my name.

But as I sat on my couch looking at my bare mantle, I thought of something a dear friend and decorator told me once.  Don’t add, take away.  Let your house breathe for a bit. And after her words floated through my mind, I thought of my daughter’s college roommate, Nan, who writes a great blog about moving stuff around. A sort of recycling attitude toward generations of family chests of drawers, pillows, rugs and treasures. Full of all the creativity that is Nan.

So I started my in-house renovation by closing my very old, very baby grand piano.  The dusty, sad thing has not had its ivories tinkled since sweet, hopeful piano teacher, Mr. Welty, finally gave up on my hopeless little Beethovens. They all, of course, now wish they could play.

One thump and the unused piano hood shut like an auto mechanic finishing his job. And suddenly the whole room looked different.  There was a smooth brown surface where exposed wires and a support pole had been. The room immediately looked twice as big. I moved the dusty hymnals and reading lamp and put two beautiful new photographs of my grandsons on its top.  I grabbed books from the family room bookshelves and stacked them on the mantle, moved a vase to the front door table and filled it with Costco roses, put a comfy throw by the fireplace that had been in the family room. Flipped a pillow from one chair to another.

Rather than bore you with every detail, this “moving things around” took on a life of its own and so did my house. Empty corners had new warmth with a moved chair and a basket of toys.  Family pictures I had walked past in one room looked just taken in another. All the daily mental snapshots I had kept of how my perfectly tidy house should look were erased and I had a whole new perspective on my familiar surroundings.

In my office, I moved the dictionary and thesaurus from one side of the computer to the other. (I know.  I use Google but I just have to have them to pretend I still open them.) I switched the computer’s direction to face another window.  Brave new world there. My head was spinning with so much change in two hours.

I did add one new Amazon purchase I made before Christmas that perfected the “warmth” of my humble abode. It’s an electric fireplace made by Dimplex and I am telling you it is so realistic the dying embers even glow when it is turned off. (By a remote, no less.) It’s about the size of an average end table and fits in any corner of a bedroom, dorm room, great-grandma’s old folks home or my sunroom where it is now nestled between two chairs. The above picture does not do it justice but I couldn’t get a better one before the sun went down. It’s an outstanding bang for your buck. And even with drafty 100-year-old windows surrounding it, it gives off great heat.

Breakfast nook warm and cozy, family room stocked with books and toys ready to rumble with my grandbabies, I settled into my living room couch with a glass of wine and a throw tossed across my lap. I breathed a self-satisfied sigh at my day’s work of redecorating without spending a single dollar.

About then, my visiting LA daughter walked in the front door and I could hear the faint hiss of a leak in my bubble.

“Just looking at the living room,” I said.

“Yeah, without Christmas, it looks so bare, right?”

I wonder if HomeGoods is still open.




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key for blogYes, tis the season for that dreaded word that pops in our heads, uninvited, as we slip off the ribbon of a well-thought out gift.


Pops in there right before “smile and be gracious” and right after “regift.” Sometimes this season, with the hustle and bustle and list making and checking off frenzie, has us in such knots that we settle for our gift giving. Out of obligation or frustration, we buy or give something that is “good enough” when a loving, heart-felt note or a “sorry still looking” would have been more honest, meaningful–and perhaps better.

As a wise old sage, mother, grandmother, wife, friend, I have gained a new perspective on gift giving this year.

I’ve realized what we should be doing is not just exchanging gifts but sharing our hearts. Taking the time, to stop and say “I love you” with something tangible that late in deep, dark February or on the July 4th or a hot day in August, the receiver will remember our thoughts of them, and smile.

In Merriam-Webster style, a gift  is “a thing given willingly to someone without expected payment; a present.”

Christian tradition for this holiday has the custom of giving and receiving presents to remind us of the presents given to the Messiah by the Wise Men: frankincense, gold and myrrh. Similarly, in Jewish tradition, as Hanukkah often falls at the same time of year, there is also the tradition of giving gelt, or money, to children and young adults as Hanukkah gifts. Probably because of the Christian dominance of spending, wrapping, sale-peddling on every street corner, at every store in every mall and all over Amazon, the gelt tradition has evolved to Christmas-like gift giving on the eight days of candle lighting.

In both traditions, I have a strong suspicion that many of the religious implications for exchanging presents has gotten buried in piles of torn wrapping paper and under mounds of lists of what we want, ask for and think we deserve.

Long before Judeo-Christian religions took over the helm of gift-giving, Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, around 40 AD, “A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.”

A gift is simply that. A present to another from its giver. Often it is nothing you expected, wanted or perhaps even considered.  Just something someone who loves and cares about you thought about and chose. It is not your money hard spent but theirs, and if it is not anything you dreamed of or would have picked in 100 years, there is no harm/no foul in actually keeping it.  Just to remind you that that someone took the time to buy you a present.

The irony of my thoughts here is I am the queen of returns.  I have said I would and could return anything but my children. (Sorry, Marshall.) I’ve returned new cars, worn shoes, stale cereal, whistling tea kettles that didn’t; had a B+ essay changed to an A, had new roofs torn off and redone and on and on.

But this year,  I received a gift that stopped me in my tracks.  It’s the lock, pictured above. My husband chose it and gave it to me. It is about the size of a flip phone, weighs close to five pounds and the longer I look at it, it may be my favorite gift this year. When I opened it, I will admit I was sort of  looking for the sweet note tucked in the corner in his nearly illegible handwritten scribbling professing “the key to my heart” or “forever yours” but after nearly 40 years of marriage, I knew better. And come to find out the real intention was better. When I peered at him quizzacally, in the midst of ribbons unraveling and excited cries from my grandbabies to “Look at this, Ya Ya,” he said, “I saw it and just thought it was cool.”

And it is. And I love it. It’s a gift.  No uterior motive.  No exchange policy. No months of requests or hints on my part. Simply a completely unexpected present with no special message or intent.  He just thought of me.

And gave me a gift.

And all those cynics out there that think it attaches to my ball and chain, y’all hush up.  I like how I feel about this lock and I am going to ride that feeling as long as I can.