Get Back Inside the Box

elephant_boxThe children in my family have a long-standing gift-opening tradition. After excitedly ripping away the paper on the giant something-or-other our parents painstakingly tracked down, funded and gift-wrapped just for us, we marvel at our new possession for the requisite seventeen seconds – then we set it aside and climb inside the giant box it came in.

Our family albums house decades of evidence that no Barbie Dream House nor Big Wheel nor Strawberry Shortcake Kitchenette were any match for the wondrous potential of cardboard and non-biodegradable Styrofoam. Larger boxes transformed into lemonade stands, forts, and rocket ships. Smaller boxes became doll furniture and homemade board games. I once turned a shoe box into a old-school version of Match.com – put a dollar into one slot and pull the name of your true love out of another (thanks to my gullible third grade classmates I made thirty-six dollars of seed money to fund my cardboard lemonade stand startup.) Being inside the box was the most imaginative place to be.

With that history in mind, the time-honored challenge of “think outside the box!” has never sat right with me. From professors to colleagues to magazine editors-in-chief, this clichéd advice is offered at every turn. In their minds, “the box” is the armpit of human inspiration, some black hole where creativity goes to die. I disagree; and the proof of “inside the box” excellence is abundant:

Jack: For generations, this ghoulish feetless creature has been surprising children over and over with his terrifyingly delightful routine. They know what’s on the verge when they hear that last strained “do do do do do” and the box begins to creaks ever-so-slightly – poised to pop that freaky little devil. But do they stop? Do they get bored? Nope – they squeal in glee and Mr. In-the-Box does an encore.

Pandora: While she certainly wasn’t gifted with the virtues of willpower or restraint, Pandora can surely attest to the beauty of leaving well enough alone. She should have a chat with those dummies on Big Brother.

FedEx: Much like the wonder inspired by that wrapped birthday gift, the power of the FedEx box is immense. Just ask any freshman in college or Tom Hanks in Castaway. And in both cases, sometimes leaving all that wonder in the box – unopened – is better than whatever happens to be inside. (This advice from a once-freshman who, anticipating homemade cookies, instead received a copy of her will. Thanks Grandma.)

Elementary School Teachers: If every Valentine’s Day, grade school children across the land were given a glue stick and some glitter and told “think outside the box,” it would be anarchy. Providing the foundation of Mom’s Nine West shoebox doesn’t limit creativity – it focuses it.

Milton Bradley: I like to imagine that once upon a yesteryear, Mr. Bradley and the Parker Brothers signed a treaty decreeing all family leisure games take the form of board-in-box. Connect Four nearly started an unnecessary revolution.

Street Performers: Ever see a mime inside an imaginary sphere?

Crayola: If you want to color your sky “blue,” there’s a box for that. If you want to color your sky “sky blue,” there’s a box for that. If you want to color your sky “cerulean,” there’s a box for that too. The true visionaries just get a bigger box. Don’t get me started on coloring outside the lines.

While I realize that without outside-the-box thinking we wouldn’t have the Pyramids of Giza or or The Eiffel Tower or Jell-O Jigglers, I believe that facing obstacles, challenges, constraints and limitations unleashes incredible innovation. So I vote we keep the box. Besides, it makes everything so much easier to wrap.

Help me make my case: what’s the coolest thing you ever made from a box?

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Amateur Wine Snobbery: Tasting Room Edition

wine snob amateurI’ve recently taken up wine tasting as a hobby. And like any hobby from scrapbooking to spelunking, this one is consuming a great deal of my time and money. In fact, I’m enjoying it so much it’s starting to get in the way of my wine drinking.

Wine drinking is something I’ve taken much pride in since 2007 – the year I made it my New Year’s resolution to acquire a taste for expired grape juice. I graduated quickly from MD 20/20 to Franzia to Two Buck Chuck, and within a year my go-to happy hour sip was a stem of red. I ordered wine in breweries, I brought wine to tail gates, I challenged pub owners to find that random bottle of cab in the back room. I fancied myself an expert, a connoisseur – a bona fide wine drinker.

And so I went merrily drinking along for years. Then one day, the illusion was shattered by a friend who subtly suggested that preferring an eight-dollar bottle of Ménage a Trois to Franzia does not a wine snob make <insert dramatic life-altering pause here>.

With silent indignation, I knew I had to take action. I agreed to venture to Santa Barbara in an effort to up my snob quotient with my very first swish-and-spit session. On that fateful trip I learned two very important things about myself. First, I like buttery Chardonnays and second, I am mad-crazy-in-love with wine tasting.

One Napa weekend, a trip through Italy, two wine clubs and countless tasting room visits later, I still only hold amateur wine-snob status; but I’ve learned a few things. Here are my Wine Snobbery 101 tips should you prefer to bypass the embarrassing Franzia years and really look the part at your next tasting:

1) Remain poised. This is neither pub crawl nor mini-pink-spoon-sampling at Baskin Robbins. Well maybe it is, but don’t behave like it.

2) Brush up on the lingo. “Notes of black cherry” is snobby, “bright and fruit forward” is snobbier, and “earthy and expressive with a long finish” is snobbiest. “This tastes like Christmas” is not any of those things.

3) Swirl, sniff, repeat. Even dogs know it’s proper etiquette to do a little sniff test first. Two good inhales should fool ‘em.

4) Eat before you taste. The crackers on the table are not akin to peanuts at a bar.

5) Pour something out once in awhile. There are roughly three ounces of cuvée between wine snob and bachelorette party entourage.

6) Talk about wine. By day’s end you should have discussed the name of the wine bar you plan to open, to which country you’ll move to start a vineyard, and the good old days when silly, naïve you thought Ménage a Trois was good wine.

7) Inquire about the Port. Sommeliers get absolutely giddy over their Port, Riesling, and other sweet wines. Your interest might even secure you an extra pour.

8) Tasting the sweet wines does not make you a sissy. It just makes you a snob. And if anyone tries to offer you a Hershey Kiss to accompany that Port turn your nose right up at them. You brought your own dark chocolate truffles.

9) No rinsing! All your work will be for naught if you dare pour water in that wine glass.

10) Join the club. But play the field first. The best advice I ever received was never join a wine club at your first or last winery of the day – you’re either too eager or too tipsy.

While one day I aspire to become that full-fledged wine snob that partakes in only library wines and demands a new glass with each pour, I’m not sure I’m ready for all the spitting. So for now, I’ll maintain my amateur status – just in case they bring wine tasting to the Olympics.

Are you a current or aspiring wine snob? Additional tips welcome!

Related posts: Wine Math, Marathon Training for Winos, Lazies and People Who Hate to Run, Taste Acquired

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The Dos and Don’ts of Foolin’

elephant_fool aprilThe scene is Christmas Day 1991. Snow falls in the Chicago suburbs as an eleven year old girl in red snowman socks (that she still owns) wakes up at 7AM and runs to the tree to scope out the loot. With the ninja-like observational skills developed over her previous Christmas mornings, she immediately spots the biggest present in the bunch and – as she suspected – her name is on it. An evil genius grin spreads across her face as she patiently waits for her parents to wake up so she can finally open her new Sony 7-CD changer boombox with cassette player and remote control. And then she cried.

To this day, the tiny Color Me Badd CD that was inside that unreasonably giant gift box makes me so proud of my parents. When they finally brought my enormous boombox out of hiding, I was all the more surprised – and felt a little like a baby. Lesson learned.

Due to their priceless teachings, I now pride myself on elusive gift wrappings, undetectable surprise parties, and practical jokes of any kind. I’m also confident that I’m too good at fooling to ever be fooled. So in honor of April Fool’s Day, I’d like to pass along a few keys to the perfect hoax, so you can learn from my successes and mistakes:

1. Do keep your cohorts to a minimum: Don’t brag about a surprise party to someone who isn’t invited and don’t ask your friend’s parents if you can teepee their house. Trust me.

2. Do go big: I once hid an 8-foot pool table from my live-in boyfriend for over a week, although this may say more about him then it does about me.

3. Do stay quiet: My greatest prank went on for five years because I never told a soul and was only discovered at all due to a small clerical error. I don’t plan to describe it here because I’m doing it again right now, but there is something magical about the payoff a years-long prank. I now abide by the “five year rule.” (Two years to go and I can reveal!)

4. Do think outside the box: If you can look under a Christmas tree and identify a calendar, DVD or book you are doing it wrong. This is why man created refrigerator boxes.

5. Do document the evidence: When they don’t believe it was you who wrapped every piece of their workspace in tinfoil last April Fool’s Day, it will be much better if there’s a picture to prove it. (See, Eric I told you it was me.)

 

6. Do get creative: Toilet-papering your prom date’s house is for Juniors. The big leaguers pull out the light up snowmen, string hundreds of balloons across the driveway, hang yoyos from every tree in the yard fill your car with packing peanuts. At least I assume they do.

7. Don’t plan: It’s hard to get someone else’s wheels spinning if you have no idea what you’re doing yourself. Just go for it and see what happens.

8. Don’t care: When your friend tells the whole world someone took her Rome snow globe and left a creepy magazine-lettered ransom note in its place? This is of absolutely no interest to you. Coworker mentions someone keeps swapping the carrots in her lunch with chocolate chip cookies? Change the subject.

9. Don’t lie or deny: Foolin’ is one thing but nobody likes a liar. Besides, a well-timed “I’m flattered you think I could pull off such an epic prank” or “do you really think I’d spend three hours and thirty-two minutes of my precious life wrapping tin foil around each individual key on your keyboard?” is much more fun for everyone.

10. Don’t brag: It’s hard to pull off a repeat performance once you get a reputation.

It’s interesting that I get to attribute my sneaky side to Mom and Dad, but to this day they are the only ones who have ever truly surprised me. I’m making plans to return the favor and taking ideas.

What’s the best prank you ever a part of?

Posted in Commentary, Family, Friends, Holidays, Humor, Life Lessons, Work | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Movie Clichés Get a Bad Rep

elephant_movie clicheAlthough Mom, Dad and school played a role in developing my aptitude for learning, I attribute much of my worldly wisdom to movie-going. Thanks to the big screen, I’m well-equipped to deliver a baby from the backseat of a car stuck in traffic and I know exactly which wire to cut should I ever be used as a human explosive device in a bank robbery. I can read you your Miranda rights, cauterize an open wound with gun powder, and scale an elevator shaft with no fear of said elevator ever succumbing to gravity. More practically, I also know how to order a beer in Spanish.

I know these things not because I watched Speed thirty-two times in the spring of 1995, but because these scenes play over and over again in movies through the ages. And while some clichés – like those of the call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house variety – get a little tired, I like to think that most of them are just learning experiences. The more times we watch, the more adept at life we will be.

Here are some of the most important things you can learn from favorite clichés:

How to identify the bad guy: Be wary of men with European accents and facial hair. If you miss him the first time around you’ll get another chance – he’ll be the one narrating your demise as a grunting henchman straps the alarm clock to your new vest.

How to threaten legal action: Throw out a few menacing phrases like “lawyer up,” “turn state’s evidence,” or “mounting a case.” If that fails, just “file an injunction.”

How to find a sad loved one: If the sadness comes post-funeral, look for the nearest swing set. If you’ve finally come to your senses after a breakup, look for your scorned lover in a taxi on their way out of town or sitting in the “O” on the Hollywood sign.

How to survive anything: Align with a snarky yet intelligent youngster.

How to make a desert island home: First wait out the inevitable rainstorm, then round the bend to the field of perfectly-sized bamboo. Fight the urge to add the wrap-around veranda to your abode – you’ll be glad you have the leftovers when it’s time to build your raft.

How to turn a team of misfits into state champions: Start the big game with an elaborate synchronized dance number. It will serve the dual purpose of distracting the opposing team and inspiring the quiet second-stringer to make the winning play.

How to reinvigorate your marriage: Admit you work for the CIA.

How to conjure stuff: Read aloud from a dusty book found under a floorboard in your basement. Most effective when accompanied by spotty candlelight and children chanting in Latin.

How to find the perfect outfit: Gather your best friends and a bottle of champagne, crank up the volume on your favorite girl-power song, and rummage through the closet/dressing room/wedding boutique. Whatever you’re wearing when the song ends is the one.

While not every movie cliché is a valuable learning experience (I’m not convinced a little eraser dust will help me bypass the lasers guarding the Mona Lisa), there’s something to be said about having a mental guidebook drilled into your head to help you through potential obstacles. Knowing that nine out of ten helicopter pilots are corrupt, a standard issue briefcase holds exactly one hundred thousand dollars, and that it’s really easy to get in touch with the President’s secretary is information that may come in handy someday.

What have you learned from movie clichés?

Other posts about movies: Movie Theater Casting Call, Phonephobia, Traveling Abroad for Dummies

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A Lesson in ‘Crastination

elephant_procrastinationAt the tender of age of five, I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room as my mother completed the elaborate registration form that would result in me getting a lollipop. I glanced over her shoulder to make sure she was doing it right and immediately noticed a glaring error – next to “Gender” she had written the letter “F.” Now, I was still at the age where “good grade” equated to scratch-and-sniff smiley-faced monkey sticker, but I knew that “F” was bad. I was so devastated I lost my appetite for that lollipop.

So years later when Mom checked on the status of my room-cleaning and found me sitting in the middle of the floor color-coding my scrunchies and called me a “procrastinator,” I said “thank you” with the same naiveté that was apparently my birthright. I liked being a pro. I was making progress. Apparently if “gender” couldn’t be my thing than “crastination” could be.

From then on, the simplest of chores became a gargantuan exercise in procrastination. Shoveling the snow required I first create an ice-skating rink for my Barbies, and unloading the dishwasher equated to baking brownies whilst scrubbing everything in the kitchen to a shine so distracting Mom might never notice the untouched dishes. I wasn’t just a procrastinator, I was an ubercrastinator – expending thrice the energy on new tasks to avoid the one I was supposed to be doing. Although I began to understand that procrastination wasn’t the positive quality I imagined it was, I like to think Mom appreciated that I never ‘crastinated half-assed.

So in the spirit of the pro I have become, I am postponing today’s workout to bring you a list of tips, tricks and rules-of-thumb to free the ubercrastinator within:

1)      Don’t be picky on what you choose to procrastinate. Anything that’s easier to not do than to do is worthy of procrastination.

2)      Correlate the length of your deadline to the length of your procrastination. You already know that Christmas this year will be on the same day it was last year. No need to use this knowledge to get ahead.

3)      If accomplishing the task you’re procrastinating will pay dividends in money,
happiness or candy, rethink your priorities.

4)      Have a mental list of things you could be doing instead of the thing you don’t want to be doing. Deciding which cereals make good ice cream toppings and rearranging furniture are two of my favorites.

5)      The scope of your procrastination should outweigh the simplicity of your to-do list item at least threefold. Visiting two hardware stores to buy new tools to disassemble your dashboard so you can “fix” your check engine light to avoid taking your car to the dealer is an acceptable use of this rule.

6)      Develop your own mental “what if” coefficient to determine how long you can procrastinate a task before consequences become too dire. I like to set my scale from “don’t-wanna-hear-another-lecture-about-flossing” to “teeth-already-fell-out.”

7)      When you’re feeling confident, try out precrastination. This is a cocktail of elaborate preparation mixed with procrastination. Precrastination is when, on January 2, you purchase, address, stamp and organize by month, the sixteen birthday cards you need for your family that year and then never send them; or when you pay your car registration two months in advance but adhere the renewal sticker six months late. It bears so striking a semblance to overachieving you may fool a few regular run-of-the-mill ‘crastinators.

8)      Trust your future self. You will eventually be older, wiser and better equipped to manage the task at hand. Let that guy get his passport renewed.

9)      Stay strong. You’re going to be tempted to do the thing that needs to be done. You’re going to imagine the magnificent post-accomplishment glow in which you will bask once you do the thing that needs to be done. You’re going to wonder what other things you could have accomplished in your life if you were to always do the thing that needs to be done. Having this lovely daydream is one of the things you can do instead of the thing that needs to be done.

10)  If all else fails, resort to recrastination. This is when you’ve procrastinated on a task so long you’ve accepted defeat and mentally checked it off your to-do list, only to later decide to go back to putting it off.

It’s fascinating what we’ll put ourselves through to avoid doing a thing because not doing the thing – or doing any other thing – is more appealing than doing the thing that has to be done. And now I’m going to postpone my workout a little more because How I Met Your Mother is about to be deleted from my DVR. No “F” for me in procrastination, Mom!

How skilled have you become in procrastination?

Posted in Humor, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Adverbiably

adverbsWith the proliferation of abbreviations, emoticons and emojis masquerading as words in our emails and text messages, we somehow seem to be wordier than ever when it comes to our conversational tactics. In particular, we have been plagued by the adverb.

Stephen King said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” and I completely agree with him. I’ve been suspicious of adverbs since I was a wee lass and was led to believe the laborious task of rowing a boat could actually be done “merrily merrily merrily merrily.”

While a good “laughed heartily” or “smiled sheepishly” paints a succinct mental picture and is an appropriate use of the infamous verb-modifier; we’ve begun sprinkling redundant versions of these verbal flourishes in our everyday sentences like chocolate chips in cookies.

Take a good listen next time you have a chat with a friend or colleague (or with me) and you might notice a few of these unnecessary adverbs sucking all the good air out of the room:

Totally: Since the mid-80s this word has been bouncing around our vocabularies like a bad side-ponytail.

Definitely: The grown-up version of “totally.”

Currently: You can have done something in the past, or you can plan to do something in the future, but if you’re doing it “currently” you’re really just doing it.

Personally: In case there was a question as to whose opinion you were stating when you were stating your opinion.

Frankly/honestly/truly: Unless you’re Rhett Butler you can’t get away with this without raising red flags on all your sentences that don’t start with “frankly.”

Obviously: Either what you’re saying is obvious, negating the need for the preamble, or what you’re saying is not obvious and you’re insulting me. Obviously, neither of these options is ideal.

Actually: While best used to convey a surprising statement, we most often employ this word to drive false excitement about something not terribly interesting: “actually <dramatic pause> this green smoothie tastes like peanut butter.” It can also be used as a preface to correcting an incorrect statement: “actually <brace yourself ‘cuz you’re about to get schooled> Friends lasted ten seasons.” Either way, stop it.

While adverbs aren’t necessarily improper grammar, they are extremely superfluous, entirely redundant, and fairly lazy. Ok, so perhaps they won’t actually pave your way to hell, but the world might be a more concise place if we could keep our adverbs in check.

Do you ever find yourself speaking adverbiably?

Disclaimer: Nine adverbs were harmed in the writing of this post.

Posted in Friends, Humor, Uncategorized, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 49 Comments

Clothestrophobia

clothesShortly after college I moved West from the Chicago suburbs to Arizona – not because of the infamous wind chill, not because I was finally fed up with defrosting my car door with a hair dryer – but because I have clothestrophobia.

Clothestrophobia is the fear of being smothered to death by your own clothes. It’s the feeling that every stitch of clothing touching you is encasing you in an inescapable spider web of poisonous thread. Remember that scene in Sex and the City when Carrie frantically rips off the wedding dress because it’s suffocating her? It’s kind of like that without the deep-rooted personal issues. Or to be slightly less dramatic, it’s the discomfort of wearing layers.

Ever since I was a mere babe I’d crawl like the wind from my pants-wielding mother until she gave up the fight and put me in a non-confining dress. The fewer cuffs, hems, waist bands, straps and yards of fabric touching me the better.

I thought I was the only weirdo with this condition, but it recently came to my attention that a few of my friends are also inflicted with who-wears-a-scarf-in-the-summer disorder so I’m feeling more comfortable bringing my suffering to light.

Here are some symptoms to look out for in case you, or someone you know, may be suffering from clothestrophobia:

Fidgeting: Look for random adjusting, shifting, tugging, untucking and retucking, smoothing and other forms of fiddling.

Fabric-conservation: Clothestrophobics will wear as few items of clothing as possible with as little fabric as appropriate for the occasion whilst remaining fashion conscious (we will not resort to mumus).

Sock aversion: Anyone wearing sandals in January is likely trying to avoid the frustrating slip, chafe or seam of a sock – the world’s most unnecessary garment. Utter the word “pantyhose” in their presence at your own risk.

The no-coat look: The most obvious symptom is the inappropriate lack of jacket. Look for the tell-tale coat-slung-over-chair or the even more stealth coat-over-arm tactic.

Room temperature denial: To coax out a closeted clothestrophobic, casually ask, “is it cold in here?” Then watch the goose bumps rise on their bare arms as they confidently say “no” between subtly-chattering teeth.

Beach confidence: No need for an “outfit” to get from home to the beach. Clothestrophobics will simply wear their swimsuits and bare feet and leave the fashionable cover up and floppy hat to you normal people.

Fall blahs: Come October when the rest of the world is happily slipping their scarves over their jackets over their cardigans over their button-downs over their camis, clothestrophobics will start staying inside more often to avoid tugging their sleeves down to match their other sleeves which need to be rolled to be in line with their other sleeves.

Untucked beds: Perfectly flat sheets and flawlessly unfolded blankets with loose edges please.

Skimpy Halloween costumes: And all this time you judged.

In the last ten years of living in Arizona and California my condition has improved. My toes are free to roam, I can wear dresses all year round, and no one seems to blink an eye when I carry my coat in February.

So which are you – the layer-lover or the clothestrophobic?

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