Recently in Everyday Category

The Ask

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Last week I spent the afternoon wandering around the Great Pyramids in Giza. Several years ago, I got to see them on a visit to Cairo, and we rode camels out to them, which meant that we came in the back way. It also meant that we had already committed to some kind of alternative transportation (that is, besides walking).

This time, we walked up to the pyramids on foot. That meant that we were fair game for all of the purveyors of transportation: the camel and horse and horse-drawn-cart sellers who--it seems--go on as far as the eye can see, all the way to the base of the pyramids, which rise shockingly from the desert and by themselves justify the trouble.

They do justify the trouble, too. Because they are so hard to believe, and yet there they are, both larger and smaller than you expect them to be. They've been there for century upon century, and standing there staring at them (while you tell yet another man on a camel that you'd really prefer to walk) it's hard to avoid thinking about all of the people who have stood there in the same spot, thinking the same kinds of thoughts.

I'm really grateful for spaces that take us back into the past, that remind us that history is long and slow and our lives are short and the years flash by like sand in the wind. But I'm grateful, too, that the earth is rich with beauty--amazing, astonishing beauty--that doesn't require you to learn how to say "halas" to a man on a camel.


Today I'm just amazed at all of the ways we get to create and share beautiful things with each other. Considering what a gift that is--what a rare honor--it's too bad we don't do it more.

Book reports


So I finally broke down and downloaded the sampler of the first Twilight book, just to see what all the fuss is about.

So far, I'm not terribly impressed by the writing, though I have been enjoying that the book is set in the PacNW, and that the character has spent the first 10 pages or so complaining about all of the things I love about my distant but still beloved home. I imagine, though, that if I bought the whole book and read it cover-to-cover, I'd discover that Stephenie Meyer is a hell of a storyteller. That's got to be true on some level, or the book wouldn't have grown into such a huge phenomenon.

The truth is, in the first several pages, the writing isn't impressing me, but it's not turning me off, either. It's not perfect, but it doesn't have to be. It's possible to be a great storyteller and an average writer. Actually, that's the point I'm trying to make: work hard on telling great stories first. Beautifully crafted, sparkling writing without a good story is constructed decoration.

In other book news, I've read all five books from the Temeraire series twice in the last month and a half, and I enjoyed them as much the second time as I did the first. Naomi Novik is both a great storyteller and an exemplary writer. It's kind of a weird mix of fantasy and historical (revisionist) fiction. A bit geeked out, for sure (which is definitely a plus, from my perspective) but absolutely delightful.

The first book is called His Majesty's Dragon, and as an added bonus, you can download free copies of it for the Kindle (iPhone app or device) or for any other e-reader you use. You can also get your hands on a free PDF of the whole book, but that's a bit more difficult to wrangle.

Be warned, however, that this is incredibly shrewd marketing, akin to a drug dealer giving you the first hit for free. You'll likely end up buying the other four books in rapid succession.


Zoe and the ambulance


Zoe is really into finding things recently. Somewhere along the way she picked up the phrase, "you found it!" which she uses for all sorts of things. If she asks for a glass of water and it takes me a minute to get it to her, she'll say, "you found it!" when I get it to her. She uses it when she finds toys, or when we're looking for Amy at the grocery store. It's adorable.

Another of Zoe's favorite things these days is recognizing emergency vehicles when we are out driving. This is probably because they are so distinct from the rest of the cars and trucks on the road. (She also loves "bid tucks," which she also names by color: "Da. Dada. Da. Da. Da. Bid Tuck. Red bid tuck.")

She also knows them by sound. Once in a while, when she's hanging out with her mom, she'll say "a-ance" (ambulance) because she hears the siren. Amy, who has a hard time hearing low pitches, especially at distance, often cannot hear them at first, though they usually come in range quickly. Or she stops what she's doing and listens, and she hears the siren.

Today she said it, and Amy (as usual) didn't hear anything. But she listened hard, and still didn't hear anything. "I don't hear anything, Zoe," she said.

About 10 minutes later, both of them heard a siren, and Zoe looked up at Amy and said, "you found it!"

She's getting it!

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The infinite task of getting organized


I'm reading Getting Things Done again, hoping to myself silently that this time around I'll get the system up and running and keep to my guns long enough to reap the benefits of an "organized life." (Whatever that means.)

It's not that I don't believe in GTD—really, I think it's the best organizational system in the world. I've had more than a few sips of that Kool-Aid, but like everything else in my life, believing is one thing and performing is another.

Cool nights and huge houses


It's beautiful outside tonight--the kind of crisp coldness that I associated with Autumn in Portland when the leaves are changing Summer is gently slipping away. It doesn't get cool like this a whole lot in South Florida, so we're trying to enjoy it as much as we can. I wore a sweater yesterday!

We had dinner with some friends in a huge mansion that one of them is housesitting this week. It was a gigantic house, surrounded on three sides by canals. There is so much money down here, it's hard to describe. Sometimes we drive through the canals, passing by mansion after mansion and yacht after yacht, and I wonder where it all started. Where does all that money come from?

I'm still at the Streaming Media West conference, on a break and preparing to make the trip to Mountain View to visit Lars and Anne. Just now, I'm sitting at a table in the middle of the convention center, very close to the wireless node that is providing Internet access to a pretty sizeable chunk of geeks, nerds, and geeky nerds in suits (the business types).

It's day two, the sessions weren't particularly exciting today, and I'm a bit worn down. So I just threw on my headphones and put on Frou Frou. Amazing! Suddenly everything is much better. Honestly, I could sit here for hours watching streaming media types walk back and forth from session to session without getting bored. That says something about the music, doesn't it? It helps me focus, and it makes everything more beautiful.

And that is beautiful.

Being the pack leader

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We're housesitting a chihuahua for a couple of dear friends this month. Tiny is a bundle of energy, which often gets redirected in some very negative ways. She jumps up, bites gently to get attention, barks and growls a bit, and her mother told me she chewed up the carpet a couple of weeks ago.

In other words, she's got some issues.

I'm no expert on dogs, so I went online to see what I could find. A lot of the advice I saw talked about the "pack mentality" of dogs, and especially about how important it is to be the "alpha dog" in your house.

And a lot of the sites referred to a guy called "The Dog Whisperer." His name is Cesar Millan, and he has the uncanny ability to come into a house where a dog is misbhaving and somehow, with what looks like no effort at all, bring the dog under control.

He's so good, he's got a show on the National Geographic channel. Unfortunately, it's not part of my cable package. But National Geographic has posted about thirty short clips from the show (click through the "view more clips" link . . . you'll find them). I watched about twenty of them last night, and I was transfixed.

For Millan, the idea of "pack mentality" goes to a new level. He uses phrases like, "calm/assertive" and "calm/submissive" to refer to the way owners and dogs should act, respectively. He "bites" dogs gently, "touches" them instead of hitting them, and never raises his voice. He holds himself in a way that tells the dog that he's in charge, and he doesn't back down (even though it's assertive, not aggressive) for any reason whatsoever.

Last night, I tried some of the techniques I learned from watching the short clips. And this morning, Tiny was a model of good behavior, following me around the house, laying down when I asked her to, and even waiting patiently for the nanny to come through the door, without barking once, even though Bella (our chichi) was barking and charging the door like crazy.

I'm so amazed by how well it worked, I've got this yen to travel to L.A. to study with this guy. That won't happen, but I plan on getting his book.

Now, if I can just figure out how this whole "alpha dog" thing applies to human relationships . . .

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