Collecting Stuff

I have this theory about collections.

They always seem like a great idea at the outset. They are fun and unique and a form of self-expression. And they’re a bit of immortality, too, because if you collect owls, then everyone who knows you will instantly think of you whenever they see anything that’s owl-related.

But over time, collections often take on a life of their own. They take up space. They cost a fortune. You sort of become a slave to your collection. Even if you want to stop accumulating postcards of chimpanzees, for example, people will start sending them to you. That thing you’ve chosen to chain yourself to will be all that you get for Christmas from now until the end of time.

Before you know it, you’re outnumbered. And if you move with any frequency at all, you’ll probably rue the day you started collecting those beer steins. It’s just one more damned crate to pack. Stuff.

I used to collect t-shirts from my travels, but it soon got out of hand. I have more t-shirts than I’ll ever wear. No one will want them when I’m gone. It’s senseless. So I switched over to something cheaper and smaller—refrigerator magnets. They do take up less space. But I may never see the surface of my fridge again.

So if you’re thinking of starting a collection, my advice would be “Run! Run away!” But if you can’t resist, at least choose wisely. Not only will it define you, but it will impoverish you, and bury you under a mountain of… well, let’s just say I hope you pick something light.

collections

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Spotting the International Space Station

You will often see me looking skyward. I’m fascinated by all things just out of reach. (That’s also why I love to travel.)

“The moon is a stone and the sky is full of deadly hardware, but oh God, how beautiful anyway.” -Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

In my opinion, there are very few things that are as beautiful as the night sky. That notion has become all the more precious to me now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, where that sky is often obscured by clouds. I will never take the heavens for granted again. When they’re visible, I want to be out there, looking at them.

It amazes me that so few of us have seen the third brightest object in our sky. (The sun and the moon being, of course, the first and second.) But the International Space Station moves pretty darned fast, orbiting the earth several times a day. (Explain that, you flat earthers!)

My husband saw it once just after sunset. He says it was high enough that the sun was still hitting it, even though it was dark out. (It’s 248 miles up, after all.) And then, as it headed toward the horizon and got in the earth’s shadow, it blinked out, as if someone had turned out a light. Now, how cool is that?

I must confess that I have yet to see it myself. But I keep trying. And now I have hope. Now you can head on over to the NASA website and sign up for e-mail notifications when the space station will be visible in your location. (Sadly, they don’t account for clouds.)

It is kind of exciting, getting that e-mail, setting my alarm and then rushing out to look up in hope and anticipation. That, and the idea that little ol’ me with my horrible eyesight might be able to see something that is 248 miles away from me… what a concept.

If you haven’t seen the space station yet, I encourage you to give it a try. I guarantee you it will remind you that humans can do amazing things when we set our minds to it, and actually cooperate. That’s a wonderful mindset to have in this era of division and anxiety.

International Space Station Star Trails
“My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible, due to electronic detector noise effectively snowing out the image. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, then ‘stack’ them using imaging software, thus producing the longer exposure.” -NASA/Don Pettit

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Making My Mark

It’s a strange experience, occupying a space that someone else had made her own for decades. All the furniture has been picked out, all the walls are painted, the art chosen, the plants planted. She’s not here, and yet she’s everywhere.

Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the most part, I like her taste. I would have liked her, I’m sure. But it’s time to make this place ours.

Slowly, but surely, we’re introducing change. We’re adding the new and getting rid of the old. We’re keeping the good, and getting rid of what no longer fits. We’re rearranging. We’re changing colors, here and there. We’ve had a garage sale. We’ve planted a tree.

Just recently we painted a glow-in-the-dark milky way on the ceiling. Adolescent as that may sound, I’ve had it in my last two houses, and I find it comforting to stare at as I drift off to sleep. So doing that meant a lot to me.

You don’t really think too much about marking territory unless you have dogs, but we humans do it, too. We just do it with paint and pillows and photos. It’s how you make a house a home.

Interior Design

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Freeway Space

Every career field seems to have its own nomenclature. When I was getting my degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management, I had to learn a whole host of new words and phrases. My all-time favorite was “Freeway Space.”

Freeway space is that gap between your upper and lower teeth that naturally occurs when your jaw is relaxed. When making dentures, for example, you always have to allow for freeway space. Otherwise the poor unfotunate who wears them will never be comfortable.

The funny thing about that is that I had never even realized that my teeth aren’t touching most of the time. We really don’t spend much time thinking about the spaces in between, the gaps, the absence of things. We can barely wrap our heads around the things that are present.

In this case, though, it makes perfect sense. We wouldn’t want our teeth to be constantly grinding, grinding, grinding on each other. (For that, I simply have to go to sleep. Thank goodness for night guards!) All that friction, and we’d be toothless in no time.

But mostly, I just like the idea of freeway space. It sounds like such a laid back place to be. Free. The way. Spacey. Give me my freeway space.

I once had a Tai Chi instructor who would say, at the end of class, “Don’t forget to put a love bubble around your car.” It was his way of telling us to drive carefully. It used to make me inwardly snicker. As much as I love cheese, that concept was just a bit too cheesy for me.

But if he had said, “Give yourself some freeway space,” I’d have said, “Dude. Yeah. I will. Thanks.”

And my jaw would have instantly relaxed.

freeway

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When Luxuries Become Necessities

I don’t own a clothes dryer, and I don’t particularly miss having one. It’s really not that inconvenient to hang things on a rack to dry. It takes about as long as it would to load the dryer. And I save on electricity and repair bills and space.

I also don’t own a hair dryer. Haven’t had one of those in decades. I’ve yet to be arrested by the fashion police. It takes a lot less time to get ready, and there’s less to pack when I travel.

I also don’t have a TV or an I-phone or a couch. Less stuff to lug from pillar to post. Fewer bills. Less to break down. I keep my kitchen gadgets to a minimum and I don’t collect stuff if I can help it.

I see it all the time. People get a nifty new little thingamajig, and it starts off as a luxury or a convenience or a time-saving device, and it quickly turns into this master/slave relationship, with the thing as the master. When you get something, you become responsible for it, and you also learn to depend upon it. People lose their doohickeys and they freak right out. How on earth are they going to survive without their whatchamacallit?

Stuff just weighs you down, dude. Simplify. You’ll be amazed how liberated you feel.

Having said that, get between me and my laptop or my washing machine and you’ll pull back a bloody stump.

stuff

[Image credit: simpleIjustdo.com]

Our Compact World

I was looking at my new camera case just now. It practically fits in the palm of my hand. When I think of the 7 pound photographic albatross with its 6 inch telephoto lens that I used to lug around on every vacation, I get a sympathy neck ache. When I think of the hundreds of dollars I’d spend developing photos, most of which were not worth saving, I get a wallet ache. When I look at the boxes and boxes of albums I still lug around, I sigh. Someday I’ll scan them. I swear I will.

While packing for this recent move I came across all sorts of remnants of our super-sized world. Record albums. (And I don’t even own a record player anymore.) A rotary phone. Big glasses. DVDs and their players. My first cell phone, which was the size of your average brick. The only thing that doesn’t seem to be following this trend toward the miniscule is my waistline. People who excavate our nation’s landfills will think we descended from giants.

Everything is smaller now, and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon. With our rampant overpopulation and our seemingly endless desire to produce more garbage, we need all the space we can get.

big cell phone

[Image credit: webdesignerdepot.com]

Laika, First Creature to Orbit the Earth

When I was a little girl I learned about Laika, the dog the Russians put into space on this date in 1957, seven years before I was born. All I really heard about her was that she died up there, and I imagined her little doggy skeleton, still in the spaceship, going round and round the earth for all eternity. It really upset me. It still upsets me.

Little did I know there was even more to be upset about. For starters, those scientists never intended that she would survive. And her training was horrendous. To get her used to the idea of the confines of the capsule, they put her into smaller and smaller cages for as much as 20 days. Due to the stress she stopped urinating and defecating, and she became increasingly sick. She was also placed in centrifuges and in machines that mimicked the sound of the launch.

But all that “training” didn’t fully prepare her for the reality of it, apparently, because during the flight her heartbeat more than doubled and her respiration increased to 4 times its normal rate.

I often wonder about the type of scientists who were capable of such cruelty. They clearly became attached to her. They said she was quiet and charming. One of the scientists took her home to play with his children just before the launch. He wanted to do something nice for her, because he knew she was going to die. And someone kissed her just before closing the door of the craft. And yet they still sent her to her doom.

They kissed her, after putting her in a harness in a capsule so small she couldn’t turn around, attaching her surgically to cables, and fitting her with a urine bag.

For many years it was said that she died of oxygen deprivation about 6 days after launch. And the Russians tried to claim that they euthanized her with poison food. But in 2002 the truth came out. She barely lasted 6 hours. The temperature in the capsule went up to 104 degrees, and she died from the heat.

But the young me needn’t have worried about her skeleton. A little over 5 months after launch, Sputnik 2 burned up during its re-entry into the atmosphere.

Poor Laika. Rest in peace.

laika