Saturday, September 24, 2011

Life on my own #12: Tangrams

The fantastic thing about living on my own is that there’s nobody around to bother me in the evenings I’m at home.

On the other hand, it’s also the most confounding aspect.

My dilemma is this: I like my alone time and my apartment provides plenty of it. Sometimes a little too much. I get stir-crazy or bored, watching a movie every night that I’m not occupied elsewhere. I must have watched about a third of the movies at the public library by now, since my own collection consists of precisely eight DVDs and about an equal number of VHS tapes.

Goodwill is a worthwhile source of VHS tapes, by the way. I found the old Indiana Jones movies, “The Pagemaster” (great animated flick for book nerds), and a number of other fine movies there during the 50-cent sale. I did not own a single VHS tape when I moved to this apartment, nor did I have to spend an arm and a leg to acquire the new movies I found on VHS since.

Back to the subject. I’ve seen the movies I bought too many times for them to be of any use in my stir-craziness. It’s gotten so bad that I don’t even want to watch any movie of an evening. Then if it’s after dark, reading is out because of the dim CFL bulb that so pitifully lights my living room. So much for energy savings. (I did venture to finish some books these last few days, a welcome return to my old habit of devouring multiple books per week. But my eyes can handle only so much reading before they start crossing, you know.)

Enter the gift card. The gift card, you see, is the heaven-sent blessing endowed to young adults whenever their older counterparts wish to reward them. I received a $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble on just such an occasion. It was the gift card perfect for me, yet it took months to decide what I would buy with the blessed gift card. Therefore, what I received in May I just now spent in September.

My decision? To buy something worthwhile; that was about all I could determine. I took my mom along for the ride and spent an hour browsing the shelves before suddenly finding the perfect book: “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. The book was a pre-class assignment for the journalism course I took in New York last summer. It was witty, wise and wonderful as far as my (alliterative) memory could recall. Best of all, I remembered thinking it would stand re-reading.

But it took up just over half my gift card. I still had $10 to squander on something else.

I went back toward the front where the store always keeps its “bargain buys” and random games. One game in particular had caught my eye earlier: a deluxe set of Tangrams.

Tangrams, in case you’re not familiar with them, are a set of miscellaneous shapes—mostly triangles, but there’s a square and a parallelogram in there too—that may be arranged to form the figures set before you in a book. The catch is that the book shows only the silhouette of the figure you’re supposed to be forming, not the shape outlines that show what piece goes where in order to get the final figure. It’s a puzzle game, an especially spatial one, and for heaven knows what reason, those spatial games hold a peculiar, irresistible attraction for me.

Hallelujah: the price was just right. I walked out of that store with a very nerdy bundle.

The book and the game came home late Wednesday night. Saturday morning, when I tired of cleaning, I opened the Tangrams. And I spent about two hours solving twenty Tangrams puzzles just that day.

Shift, shift, shift the pieces, shift the pieces right. Oops, that’s not what the book shows. Let’s try this arrangement…

Hey, it beats watching another movie!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Life on my own #11: Generosity

If I’ve learned anything since moving out of my parents’ house and into my very own apartment, it’s this: Anyone and everyone is interested in the minute details of your living arrangements, to a degree not seen in their interest in any other area of your life. I hypothesize that it’s just because everyone remembers the excitement of moving into their own space back when they were young and carefree.

So when I mentioned to friends at church (who were my parents’ age) that I had found an apartment of my own and would be moving out, I got all sorts of questions. Where? What’s it like? Is it anywhere near insert-location-where-person-used-to-live-or-work?

But above all, people asked, “is there anything you need?”

And to tell the truth, I was already pretty well off. I had my grandmother’s Revereware pots and pans and even her Corelle dinnerware and Corningware casserole dishes. My parents had given me permission to abscond with a bunch of their furniture too, either stuff I was already using (like my bed) or stuff that was taking too much room in Dad’s den. Dad didn’t even like the old file cabinet that opens from the top and it’s quite a serviceable TV stand. Except that I have to put the TV on it catty-cornered because the base is wider than the cabinet. Not that big a deal.

All that, plus a few items I’d collected during my college days, made me think I was only missing a few things… well, few in number, anyway. I realized I had no place to store my clothes, besides the closet; nowhere to sit besides this one green chair that had sat in my dad’s den for my whole life; and nowhere to plug the DVD player into, though I did, indeed, have a hand-me-down DVD player already.

Parts of my life make sense, but that DVD player isn’t one of those parts.

There were so many people asking me if I needed anything, I began casually mentioning one or two of the items I was lacking. You’re so kind, I’ve got just about everything except a can opener, maybe a pack of lightbulbs, and oh yeah, a dresser. Nothing much.

No joke—friends of mine really did give me a dresser, one of those long kinds with the mirror attached. But it started with my uncle’s wonder-find at the thrift store: a KitchenAid stand mixer that he couldn’t pass up for the price. He and my grandpa made graduation the excuse to give it to me.

Then an aunt donated five old fold-up wooden chairs to the Sarah Needs To Furnish Her Home foundation. The foundation received another boost when one of my new co-workers surprised me with a beautiful set of bath towels snuggled into a coordinating urn. She had already found out my favorite color by watching that every single shirt I work to work that week was… hey now, that’s for her to know and you to find out!

I thought I was already lucky, but it didn’t stop there. The uncle responsible for the KitchenAid later gave me a full-size bookcase and some sort of tall table-like object that I use as a microwave stand. Oh yes, and two area rugs. Another aunt donated a set of kitchen knives and later a set of steak knives, good quality, along with the wooden blocks to store them in.

Then there was the surprise housewarming shower the ladies’ Bible study threw for me. They conspired with Mom to bring me a car load of goodies for my kitchen, and amazingly enough they duplicated just one item I already had—a cutting board. And who doesn’t need another cutting board?

OK, maybe a single gal living without a roommate doesn’t need another cutting board. New topic please.

So I got oodles of canned food and Ziploc baggies from that shower, and even some of my favorite toothpaste. You know the kind that tastes like cinnamon and is all red? That kind. Nope, doesn’t have a name, it’s just “the kind that tastes like cinnamon and is all red.” All the stores carry it.

The generosity hasn’t quite yet abated. One woman recently asked me if I needed a crock pot. She had like four of them and wanted to pawn them off on someone less inundated with them. Why yes, I’m very happy to relieve you of such a burden.

I’m extremely grateful for the generosity of my friends. Sometimes I start to think I’m taking advantage of their bounty, but then I decide that, someday, I’m going to be able to help them out when they need it. That’s what friends are for, right? So I receive in the season of gifts, with as much grace and gladness as I’m capable of, and a time will come when it’s the season to give back. It’s been a lesson in receiving graciously, I guess.

Thanks, friends. You’ve been very good to me, and I can only hope to show you, in the future, how grateful I am for your kindness.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life on my own #10: School files

I learned a secret in kindergarten that I’ve never forgotten. Without water, there would be no zoos.

It’s the honest truth. A short paper I wrote when I was, like, five said that without water there would be dead people around; there wouldn’t be any trees or grass; there wouldn’t be any zoos; and, last, that there wouldn’t be any animals, either. I suppose that without grass, trees or zoos, the animals wouldn’t have had any place to live, and that’s why they went last.

That paper turned up in the middle of my last cleaning project. Apparently when you move out you’re actually supposed to take all your stuff with you, so I came home last week with two totes full of old school papers that I had to go through. Until I did, the boxes sat in the middle of the living room, obstructing the view of the TV and banishing all hope of watching a movie.

As you can imagine, this cleaning project didn’t get put off long.

I sat down two nights later to sift through the folders full of certificates, crafts and sundry reports. I don’t think I realized how many random books I had no recollection of reading. The book reports were proof.

I saved the best of the things, including the “life without water” essay. (Does five numbered sentences count as an essay? I mean, it’s almost like five paragraphs… really short ones.) But I threw away upwards of ninety percent, I suppose. I have no idea what made me keep math homework for this long.

A couple gems turned up in the sorting. I found a few postcards from my field trips one year, and another year’s papers included a summary of an interview I did with a woman who has since passed away. I kept those.

Two file boxes of college notes called to me, too, for a culling. My rule of thumb here was that if I remembered actually learning something in the class, then it might be worth it to keep the notes. If I remembered learning something related to one of my majors, then it was more likely I’d keep the notes. However, if what I remembered learning was covered by some random book from the library—those notes were surely the reason for the invention of the circular file.

I ended up with one tote moderately full of all 17 years of schooling plus a few extra notebooks (mostly because they contained bits of poetry I didn’t want to lose). Maybe that’s too much, but I’m my dad’s daughter and I can’t give up the pack-rat tendencies I inherited.

But I still wonder. Does anyone really go back and look at their class notes from college?

Most people just doodled, after all. A lot of good that’s going to do you. “Um, I think this doodle means that the novel is an example of Bildungsroman… or that the professor was boring that day.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life on my own #9: Wal-Mart vs. Wal-Mart

My first time visiting the new Wal-Mart in town—or rather, my first time in the new town visiting Wal-Mart (see? word order makes difference!)—I literally stopped in my tracks to get my bearings.

My equilibrium was shaken and I reeled. My vision clouded for a moment. I felt as if I had walked through some sort of space-time continuum.

The store was backwards!

In the store I’m used to, the left-hand door opens into the housewares/“stuff” part of Wal-Mart, and the right-hand door takes you to the food. I walked in the left-hand door here, and I found myself in what I mistook to be Kroger. The food was there, starting with the produce, on the left-hand side of the store.

But the signs said Wal-Mart. I had not, in fact, found a magic door to take me halfway across town. Though that would have been fun. I could have made some serious money giving space-time-continuum tours.

Then I wondered if I had walked into a magic mirror where the things you saw mirrored became real. Maybe the doors to Wal-Mart were actually the front of the mirror—what woman hasn’t glanced in the door’s glass to make sure her hair was okay? I theorized the doors were the mirror and I had walked through to the back of the mirror, where all the things that you normally would see were flipped and vivified. That would certainly have explained the backwards layout.

Except the signs weren’t backwards—I could read them without trouble. Nope, not a magic mirror either. There goes the second get-rich-quick scheme.

I went on with my grocery shopping as if I were in my old familiar Wal-Mart, except I kept expecting to walk into another mirror any moment and find myself back in the comfortable layout. No mirror materialized. I got my carrots, broccoli and bananas without much trouble, thanks to all the signs pointing to them, then went exploring in the other side of the store.

I should have brought a machete for the jungle I found. The “stuff” part of the store was completely topsy-turvy. I think I walked by the fish tanks before figuring out I wasn’t where I needed to be. Either that or the cat food. I neither have a cat nor want a fish. I walked past the school supply aisle, also an unnecessary detour, before finding the checkout lanes and breathing a sigh of relief.

I emerged unscathed from the jungle of the mirrored Wal-Mart. But in the future, you won’t catch me there without a map. Those stores are big enough to get lost in.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life on my own #8: Gardening

You know, growing up I hated gardening. Mostly because it was one of those Saturday morning things that my dad drafted me to help with. Seriously, there are so many other things an 11-year-old could be doing with her time—like reading, or playing a computer game, or eating a snack, or sleeping… simply a plethora of excitement there. At any rate my ideal weekend did not include pulling green things from brown stuff. I didn’t even know what green things I was supposed to be pulling. What’s the difference when none of them have flowers?

So I could use my youthful strength to get rid of whatever plants my dad told me to pull, but I never had the slightest notion why I should pull them, or how to identify the unwanted plants in case I had to do it by myself someday. Other than dandelions—those I know about. Everything else looks about like a flower to me. I call them by their colors and by the relative size of their bloom, often tagging on an endearing adjective as well. “Oh look at that cute little pink flower!” Except if it’s a daffodil or rose, I guess. I know those flowers too.

As you can see, my gardening expertise is limited to identifying daffodils, roses and dandelions. I’m on my way to a Ph.D. in horticulture!

When I was growing up, our house had all those flowers surrounding it, and more which I, of course, am incapable of naming. The porch attached to my new apartment was flanked by precisely two plants: grass and weeds. I know the non-grassy plants are weeds because the leaves (petals?) look like dandelion leaves. All told, the plants are short, ugly and not very colorful. My poor porch looks barren without some sort of landscaping around it. There weren’t even any bushes around my part of the apartments.

I resolved to overcome my early deficiency in gardening education and plant something. I wasn’t too particular about what I would plant: My three requirements were that the flowering plants be pretty, perennial and almost impossible to kill. (I have little faith in the greenness of my thumb.) A friend of mine donated about a dozen iris bulbs to the Sarah’s Apartment Looks Ugly foundation, bulbs taken out of her own fabulous garden when she was splitting the irises. My experienced gardener-friend told me how far down to plant them and what to do with the leaves after I got the bulbs in the ground, so all I had to do was track down a trowel.

Mom and Dad loaned me a threesome of trowel, fork-thing and bent-fork-thing. (I’m as familiar with gardening implements as with flowers.) The fork-thing was marvelous for turning up the ground and getting rid of the myriad pebbles hidden in the earth. I never figured out what to do with the bent-fork-think so I just let it lay there in the grass until I finished planting the irises. Those irises, spaced according to a random distance spawned out of my mind’s ignorance, finally made a pleasant filler for the back row of my budding garden.

Well, pleasant in my mind’s eye. Right now they look like a bunch of six-inch-tall, cut-off flower petals. The present effect is like that of a row of straw brooms, sans handles, planted upside-down in the dirt.

Someday I will add more flowers, daffodils if I can find some in my parents’ yard that they’ll be willing to part with. And I think I’ll line the side of the porch with mint. It grows like a weed so it has to be about as impossible to kill. Very important, you understand. My parents have already offered me half their mint, since it’s overrunning their front lawn. We’ve yet to uproot any for transplant to my fledgling garden.

I told my editor about my newfound gardening urges. Now she says she has several daylilies and things that she needs to get rid of, and will give them to me in a plastic bag. She once kept them in a plastic bag for three weeks before planting and they still grew. They’re impossible to kill, she says.

I certainly hope so. I’d hate to be responsible for the death of so many living things.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Life on my own #7: iPod

I hear crickets and trains outside my apartment every night. If I were the kid in August Rush, I would say I could hear their symphonies flowing through space in complete union with nature’s rhythms. But I’m not, so I just say they remind me of camping.

And though it is rather musical, there are some nights when it’s… just… too much. I need a little man-made sound (ok, other than the trains) to get me through the dishwashing and other chores. I have relied on the radio and its meager offerings, or on my poor overheating laptop’s iTunes, to get me through the almost-silent nights. (If it were winter, I could say they were Silent Nights, but that’s a phrase reserved for Christmastime.)

That is, I’ve relied on such 1990’s technology… until now.

I purchased a prettiful dandy old iPhone from my old college roommate about two weeks ago. It’s marvelous and wonderful and splendiferous even though it doesn’t make calls. What it does do is get wi-fi Internet whenever I’m in range of a wireless signal, and it will play music even if it’s not on the Internet.

Oh, yeah. Also it’s my first mp3 device. Can you believe I made it 21 and a half years without getting a pair of white wired implants in my head?

But these odd things called apps… I’ve never had a music player that would do anything besides tell the time. This little iPod might as well sprout rockets and fly, it’s just that cool. And it’s all because of the apps.

My cousin told me about an app that turns your iPod into a lightsaber. Yep, just like in Star Wars, and you can even change the color of the blade. Blade? That thing of light probably is called a blade… or maybe a beam. Anyway, I got that one and we had fun waving and jerking this little device around and listening to it make those odd “PYEW!” noises. Actually the app sounded a little more like a laser gun than a lightsaber, but no biggie.

Watching grown relatives giggle like giddy children while waving a small rectangular object was worth downloading that app.

Another app that I will probably never actually need is the Free Graphing Calculator. Well, if I ever get around to taking that statistics class I might need it. I never took stats in college, but sometimes I feel like a journalist should know a fair amount about statistics. All I remember is whatever I learned in the middle of high school—you know, the means, medians, modes and “man, I wish I were outside….”

I imagine walking into a stats class and getting blank stares from all the other students. “You don’t have to be here? What are you, some kind of freak?” Why yes, thank you for noticing. Now I’ll take this chair behind you and laugh at your doodles of the prof dressed as a Klingon. I will even laugh at the most convenient times, say, after the prof has just recited a formula filled with constants and variables and who knows what else. I’m sure our professor will understand my amusement.

Of course I also downloaded the nerdy apps—an English dictionary, a Spanish-English dictionary, the Lite version of Sporcle and the Atlantic Monthly mobile magazine, to name a few. As I write, I’m also reading an article about equine job coaches. Apparently horses are so instinctual they can actually teach you a thing or two about leadership on the job. Information brought to you by yours truly, thanks to a little iPhone app. No extra charge (the app was free too).

But while enjoying all these apps, I realized after a time that I hadn’t actually used the thing for its original purpose… playing music to my ears. Not to worry: I’ve been frequently plugged in since that realization.

Have you ever tried laying out a newspaper page while listening, unbeknownst to your co-workers, to random Spanish pop music? Oh no, I’d never do that. Not in a million years. It was just a question.