Procrastination Tips Nos. 16-20

Procrastination Tip #16
All this criticism of federal government surveillance will disappear once we realize that we now have a way to precisely retrace our steps so that we can find our missing car keys.

Procrastination Tip #17
What picture book could’ve influenced a toddler Vladimir Putin to become human?

Procrastination Tip #18
Speaking of things Russian, I successfully threw away an old garbage can using the “matryoshka doll method,” which requires a larger garbage can that I wanted to keep.

Procrastination Tip #19
I think one of my toes is growing, but I can’t be sure without going through all our old family photo albums in search of a baseline.

Procrastination Tip #20
What the world needs is a poem that rhymes “waif,” “naif,” and “giraiffe.”

Come on, what’s your favorite procrastination tip?

Is hoarding genetic?

hereditary behavior

A portion of my future estate. (Click to enlarge if you dare.)

After my parents died, my siblings and I were faced with the task of sorting through the detritus of their lives. After their eighty-plus years–more than fifty spent in the same house–this amounted to a stash that could be measured only in units commonly known as “dumpsters.” Typical of our discoveries were:

  • An three-foot bureau drawer full of unused candles,
  • A bushel of rubber stamp blanks, and
  • Hundreds of oleomargarine tubs, carefully washed, stacked, and secured in plastic bags.

These findings filled me with dread, as they reminded me of the contents of my own basement. Was I wading through my own legacy foreshadowed? Is hoarding genetic?

homeowner's inventory

The well-stocked maintenance shelves of a prudent homeowner.

Immediately I began assembling excuses. One basic goal as a homeowner is to conduct routine maintenance without having to go to the hardware store for tools and materials. You can’t do that without a healthy inventory of stuff that might eventually come in handy for repairs.

And of course, even things that I no longer need could be of value to others. Those cane-backed chairs, for example. How can I in good conscience send them to the landfill when with a few hours’ worth of skilled attention, they could be returned to full use in someone else’s dining room?

In the same way, I’m temporarily holding some things until their potential reveals itself.

shovel stock

The eclectic shovel holdings of Hippie Tom. No relation.

And let’s not forget, a good third of the contents of my basement belongs to my grown children, who use the space shamelessly as a free storage facility.

Sure, I’ve amassed a wee bit of useless junk. But I have no candles, rubber stamp blanks, or margarine containers. And I’m no Hippie Tom–now there’s a hoarder’s hoarder.

I’m just a guy who’s his parents’ son, and how can you blame me for honoring their memory as I see fit?

What’s your status–hoarder? Collector? Waste management expert?

Tribute to the junk drawer

Junk drawer, as of 4/10/13

The undisturbed contents* of my kitchen junk drawer, as of 4/10/13 (click image to enlarge).

It’s the place to drop your to-be-sorted-later pocket debris.

The place to check for anything that isn’t where you thought you left it.

The place to look one last time before blaming your spouse or children for your frustration.

The junk drawer, that holding pen for stuff that doesn’t have a home of its own, is usually in the kitchen. Of course, the longer you live in the same house, the more you need auxiliary junk drawers. Eventually every room has one, and only if you’re lucky or the victim of a natural disaster does the proliferation end there.

It’s the last refuge of disappointment and the unfailing wellspring of minor surprise.

The junk drawer, where items that were once possessions before they vanished might–after you’ve given up all hope or even any remaining need–just might reappear, allowing you to celebrate their loss of usefulness.

Are you willing to show or confess what’s in your favorite junk drawer? Do you have a different name for this essential repository?

* Contents as of 4/10/13:
1 box strike-on-box kitchen matches
1 phone charger (only one!)
1 computer cord with two male mini-jacks
1 metal shoe horn
1 department store receipt
9 loose rubber bands, assorted sizes
2 emery boards
2 dead compact fluorescent bulbs
1 ziplock bag containing assorted rubber bands
4 pizza coupons
1 Chinese restaurant delivery menu
1 pair eyeglasses, old prescription
1 wooden pencil
1 tube lip balm
1 unopened pack chewing gum
1 book paper matches
4 packets cut-flower preservative
1 ziplock bag containing 4 mini-screwdrivers
4 unidentified house keys, one with leather tag labelled “Iowa Falls & Osceola Iowa”
1 mechanical pencil
3 small binder clips
1 sandwich shop gift card of unknown value
1 bottle auto touch-up paint
1 plastic harmonica in case
1 tape measure/key chain combo
3 wrapped anise-flavored candies
1 plastic potato chip bag clip
1 pair velcro fasteners, adhesive-backed
1 unidentified car key
1 halogen mini-bulb in box
1 three-prong outlet adapter plug
1 one-point Scrabble tile (U)
1 small metal snack-bag clip
2 Allen wrenches
2 paper clips
2 bobby pins
1 picture hanger hook without nail
1 Christmas tree ornament hook
1 “child-proof” electrical outlet plug

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Procrastination Tips Nos. 11-15

Procrastination Tip #11
Suppose local TV newsreaders spoke like that to their loved ones at home: “Thanks to you, honey…these kids…won’t go hungry…tonight.”

Procrastination Tip #12
Vampires. Werewolves. Zombies. Who’ll be the next horde to threaten the world with annihilation? (Did we forget to mention X and Y? And why is the list alphabetically back-loaded anyway?)

Procrastination Tip #13
Procrastination Tip #9 might not be true. It might be made up.

Procrastination Tip #14
Stretch a rubber band from your index finger to your little finger across the back of your hand behind your knuckles. See how long it takes to get it off using only that one hand, touching no other surfaces.

Procrastination Tip #15
Imagine the view of South Dakota from Geo. Washington’s left nostril. Can you see Old Abe a-tall?

Come on, what’s your favorite procrastination tip?

From toddler to teenager in three seconds flat

I'm com-ming.

Man at work.

Grandson O was vocal from the start. What we used to call a chatterbox. Although his babble had the familiar rhythm and intonation of speech, the vocabulary was all his own.

O was in no hurry to speechify regular English. There was no need for language reciprocity for most of his first two years, as if his world were fine as is. Although we adults must’ve seemed a bit dimwitted to him, the accommodations and service we provided were good enough not to require correcting.

Then at about 20 months something changed. Almost overnight O became a tour guide through the land of language acquisition. Each day he produced new words, then began stringing them together in twos and threes. And in the process, he reminded us that communication resides in more than words and their juxtaposition. There’s also meaning in attitude.

The other day, O’s mother called him to dinner. Once. Twice.

Unfortunately O was busy and not to be interrupted. After the third directive, he apparently realized that somebody needed to cool it. So without pausing in his play, O replied, “I’m com-ming.”

Which–as his tone made clear–he had no intention of doing.

The reluctant acknowledgment. The insincere commitment. The casual dismissal.The unassailable conviction that his schedule took precedence over all others–the attitude behind his response was a revelation and a revolution.

From toddler to teenager in three seconds flat. Waiting for the calendar to catch up is going to be fun.

Procrastination Tips Nos. 6-10

Procrastination Tip #6
A pencil-sharpener app would be awesome.

Procrastination Tip #7
Is wool hair or fur?

Procrastination Tip #8
Arrange the fingers of one hand so that each of them simultaneously touches the other four. Don’t let anyone see you doing this.

Procrastination Tip #9
Seven of 10 people can think of more English words that contain “uu” than contain “aa” than contain “ii.”

Procrastination Tip #10
Suppose “the young man from Nantucket” were a haiku instead of a limerick.

Come on, what’s your favorite procrastination tip?

Faithful to the book

When two-year-old O finds a tricycle in his grandparents’ garage, he first puts on Grammy’s helmet before trying to ride.

Each time we play Driving the Car, O fastens his imaginary seatbelt.

O and his book

Photo © 2012 Cassandra May.

Between bouts of activity, O is likely to sit down with a book.

O is a modern child, growing up in a fully electronic household. His parents’ primary sources of news and information are Internet devices. O has long known how to unlock a phone or an iPad, and he loves, loves, loves pushing buttons. But just as O associates helmets with bicycles and seatbelts with cars, he connects books with relaxation.

O expects someone to read a book to him before his afternoon nap and again at bedtime. In between, he’ll ask for storytime whenever he’s in the mood. Sometimes he wants to be read to, sometimes he wants to explore pages on his own. In any case, books have become the linguistic equivalent of comfort food for him.

Because of the positive associations his parents set up, O doesn’t question the value of books any more than he questions the value of bicycle helmets or a seatbelts. All of them provide refuge from the uncertainties of a busy, stressful world. Because of the connections he’s making today, he’ll always travel safely, and he’ll always want to curl up with a book.


Superstition by the numbers

Balls that didn't make it.

The marks of balls that didn’t make it out of Fenway Park. Not humid enough?

A hallmark of human endeavor is conventional wisdom. Sports seem to be particularly rife with self-appointed wise men and their decrees. And the overlap of the baseball and football seasons is particularly fertile ground for pundits to plow.

Conventional wisdom, of course, goes largely unchallenged and eventually becomes “law.” It also gives life to superstition. Consider these examples:

* By this point in 2012, you’ve surely heard that no NFL football team that started with a 2-4 (or 1-5 or 0-6) record has ever played in that year’s Super Bowl. This factually correct statement is always delivered predictively, as if such numbers were a curse, rather than the marks of mediocre teams unlikely to finish in contention.

* Every year that the New York Yankees earn a spot in the MLB playoffs, we hear that their mere presence should strike fear into the opposition because the Yankees have a (current) record 27 championship trophies on the shelf. This factually correct statement is also delivered predictively, as if the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had influence over the flight of the ball.

Superstition is part of sports’ charm to some degree. However, superstition makes us less likely to question factually incorrect pronouncements. For instance, how many times have you heard the conventional wisdom that humidity gives baseball pitchers an advantage “because the ball doesn’t travel as far,” ignoring the fact that water vapor is less dense than the other stuff that air is made of.

Unfortunately there’s little that can be done to remove conventional wisdom and superstition from sports. It does pay, though, to roll your eyes when you hear it and check the facts when pundits have their say.

What’s your favorite example of conventional wisdom or superstition in sports?

What’s your child’s storytime preference–paper or glass?

Perhaps you heard about the recent report that parents and children both prefer books on paper to e-books when reading together. I suspect that if you’re above a certain age, you found this news to be an encouraging reaffirmation of your values, otherwise known as curmudgeon-hood.

Conventional (read “elderly”) wisdom has it that paper is a more “warm and nurturing” medium than an electronic device. I agree, at least for the time being.

The key phrase above is “reading together.” What is warm and nurturing about reading together is the physical contact between parent and child. At present paper books lend themselves to better contact because they give readers a qualitatively different physical experience–a distinctly three-dimensional experience. Think of what’s involved in turning a paper page:

The Poky Little Puppy

1. Grasp the right-hand page, usually at the corner, by separating the top sheet from those underneath.

2. Life the page and carry it to the left;

3. Drop the page and smoothe it.

Can a child do this easily? Some can, some can’t, especially the very young. (That’s why “board books” were invented.)

Poky on screen

Now compare that with what’s involved in “turning” an electronic “page:”

1. Swipe the screen or press a button. That’s it.

Can a child do this easily? Probably. So in terms of ease of use, the electronic book wins “hands down.” But in terms of physical interaction, paper provides the reader with sensations on more than one level.

Electronic pages feel the same to your touch whether they’re displaying War and Peace or The Poky Little Puppy. In tactile variety, paper is the clear winner. Different paper books have different size pages, using paper of different weights and degrees of opacity. And who has not noticed and enjoyed a “new book smell?” As a result, a paper page turns with more fanfare and tactile feedback than an electronic page. So much so that learning the skill of paper-turning can give a young child a sense of accomplishment, an added positive association.

Of course, the relative advantages of the two media will likely change as technology improves. Already e-books provide color, a major shortcoming of early devices, and full-blown Search features. But I’d say the jury is still out on the hyperlinks that e-books make possible. Although they have the potential to enrich text, hyperlinks can also distract viewers with games and activities of dubious value. As a result, e-books are just as likely to detract from a good story as to make it better.

The complex positive associations that many of today’s parents have with the books of their youth prejudice them in favor of paper. The above study also found that 60% of parents prefer that their children read from paper rather than glass.

But who knows? Twenty years from now when today’s children, who are more familiar and comfortable with technology of all kinds, become parents, they might prefer e-books. And then the definition of “warm and nurturing” will change, despite what the old folks think.

Until then, though, let your child be your active reading partner. Together enjoy the feeling of lifting each page to see what that precocious puppy is going to do next.

Paper or glass? What’s your preference for your own reading? For reading with your child?

Procrastination Tips Nos. 1-5

Procrastination Tip #1
Convection currents in the air above hot coffee cause cream scum floating on the surface to ripple and flex. Stare as long as you want, the patterns formed will never repeat.

Procrastination Tip #2
Everything hung on the walls within sight is slightly crooked. Attempts at telekinetic correction will only make the degree of crookedness more pronounced.

Procrastination Tip #3
Thread count–it’s considered a quality-of-life measure in some circles.

Procrastination Tip #4
Seventeen of 46 Triple-A baseball teams are named after animals, 18 if you consider a baseball “bat” to be an animal. Most of the animal mascots are depicted as ferocious and/or stern in their team logos, even the parakeet.

Procrastination Tip #5
What is the Botswana-Pula-to-US-Dollar exchange rate right this minute?!

Come on, what’s your favorite procrastination tip?