Sunday, February 26, 2023

On Robot Recipes and Baby Storytimes

This week some writers I know were quietly freaking out about the new AI Chapgpt.

Apparently, you can ask it to write books. Oh my God, my writer friends say. What if the robots put us all out of business? As I am not presently in the business, I have been watching this conversation with some amusement. Okay, sure, someone's going to ask AI to write a book, and some publishing company is going to publish it, and some people will fork over the twenty-something bucks for it, 

but some people buy pet rocks.  

Meanwhile, my computer-programmer son asked AI to write him a recipe for a stir fry that featured "local vegetables and ground lamb." The AI generated all of the ingredients and the steps. At the end of the recipe, it added: "Enjoy!" The meal was delicious, my son said. We live in a strange new world. 

But I forgot all of that the other day. I was busy. The library's weekly Baby Storytime needed a sub, and I’d volunteered. Another co-worker partnered up with me and it was a good thing too. I really had no idea what I was doing. Read a story? Sing a song? I wasn't exactly sure what Baby Storytime entailed.

Turned out it was a Whole Big Thing. Props. Bins of toys. An iPad loaded with music we were meant to play. A PowerPoint so parents could sing along. But these parents were pros. Many of them come every week. They know the rhyme tunes and the fingerplay gestures. We all had a blast, and I didn't think it could get any more fun, but then, my co-worker brought out the bubble machine. 

The library has a bubble machine? How did I not know this? In only a few seconds bubbles shot out all over the room. 

I'd been sitting on the floor throughout the story-time, and I stayed there, watching the toddlers dance after the bubbles, the babies crawling around or still plunked on their parents' laps. I was having weird flashbacks to library story-times when my own kids were little. The weird part is that many of the parents in the room are the age of my kids now.

But here's a fun fact: no matter how much time has passed, you never forget the words to the "Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round" and "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands." 

For a moment, this strange new world is familiar again. I clap my hands.   

AI chatgpt-created Stir Fry with Lamb and Vegetables

Bubbles at Baby Storytime

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The dog has a new toy

and it's too much for her. Any kind of special, over-the-top, bone-like toy tends to put her over the edge. It's exciting at first, and she trots around with it clamped in her mouth, looking for a place to plop down and take her time with it, savor it. But that quickly turns to panic. The toy is TOO good. It must be protected!

Next step is the hiding. Outside to bury it? Or, in the case of crappy weather, inside? Which leads to more frantic decisions. Under a blanket? Under the couch cushion? Inside the couch cushion?  

The last time she had a fancy toy like this she wore some of the skin of her nose off during all of that manic nudging and covering. I don't know why we thought this time would be any different. 

But we are people of hope. And love for our dog... And impulse buys.

Speaking of, I have to confess I haven't been doing very well on my Purposeful Purchasing promise. Only seven weeks into it, and I've bought books (these were signed at an author event and I really really wanted them!) and a new pair of jeans (total boredom impulse buy, but I sorta needed them). 

On Valentine's Day I bought a box of chocolate covered strawberries. But I can slip that in the food category, right? And a plant (a gift). Other gifts: Comfort Soups for friends recovering from surgery and a dear friend mourning the loss of a loved one. 

Also: a new furnace. And a dinner out with friends. Tickets to an author event. An airline ticket to visit a faraway and much missed friend. A new dog toy.

I was going to say, forget that stupid resolution. I obviously have trouble with spending. But then I went back and read what I'd actually agreed to and realized that except for the new jeans, I haven't broken any of my own rules. Old Me of Seven Weeks Ago made exceptions for gifts. And furnaces. And food. And even dog toys.  

But that really was an impulse buy and a dumb one, knowing what we know about our dog. There we were though, in the pet store, buying her special easy-on-her-digestive-issues million-dollar dogfood, and everywhere you looked there were all of those fancy toys and forever-lasting bones and colorful balls and teeth-cleaning chewy-sticks. 

We bought the toy and three minutes after giving it to our dog, and seeing her panic, we took it away. 

A lesson in something. Making rules versus breaking them. Taking a chance versus facing reality. The entire cycle of hope and love. Forgiveness too. For the dog and her not so funny fears. 

And for us, for forgetting before remembering again. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

One day it is spring

a balmy 74 degrees that breaks records in our area. The next day it's winter again. The weather doesn't know what to do with itself. 

When I walk the dog, I wear a sweatshirt and have to shrug out of it before we've made it halfway around the block. In the morning it's back to a coat and hat, a scarf knotted around my neck. I don't know what the dog makes of this. 

The gray sky. The sun. The snow clump in the shady part of the yard. The flowers poking up. But I am having trouble getting my bearings. In therapy I have a breakthrough. 

This is something I haven't talked about with many people--the kind of therapy I'm doing--but it's a big part of my life lately, so I'll mention it. It's called EMDR. Which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basically, it's a way to manage traumatic memories that are still impacting your life. 

When I first heard about it, I was skeptical, but I was curious too, and open to trying something that might alleviate symptoms. Six weeks into it, and I am finding it weirdly helpful. I only wish I hadn't waited so long. 

For one moment during a session I have an alarming feeling of dizziness. Caught between the past and the present. It's breathtaking. But then the therapist leads me in a grounding exercise (Another handy trick I wish I'd known about years ago), and I am back where I started, but somehow seeing myself for the first time. 

Later, I walk out into the oddly warm day. I bundle up against the cold. The dog scampers happily ahead of me, tail twitching, ears perked up, no matter the weather. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

All week I was reading a book about the secret life of groceries

which a friend had recommended, but I'd put off picking up because I wasn't sure I wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with my groceries. I suspected it might not be great. 

And I was right. I don't know what to do with this information. I have to eat, which means I have to shop for my food. I know the case can be made that I can grow my own food, and I do, sorta, but I can't grow everything, and it's not like I want to raise chickens in my front yard. (Note to my friend who keeps joking about sending me chickens. Please don't.) 

Some backstory: my front yard has a grub infestation. I discovered the problem last fall, when in the process of cleaning up leaves, I raked up large chunks of the lawn. Turns out grubs had eaten the grass roots and now entire sections easily roll up like an old carpet. Pesticides seem to be the go-to solution, but as a rule I don't spray anything in our yard. After some further research, I learned that chickens eat grubs...  but I don't have chickens.

And I don't want them (I REALLY DON'T, DEB!) But a potential fun small business idea (courtesy of my engineering-brained son who lives on a farm): 

"Rent-a-Chicken," where you rent out your chickens to people who have grub infestations. How it works is you set up a fence around the grubby area and let loose your chickens to do their thing for a few days. Come back with your truck to collect the chickens, and on to their next grubby destination! 

But back to The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr. The story is equal parts fascinating and terrible-- whatever Capitalism has to do to give consumers what they want at the moment they want it, and as cheaply as possible, which regardless of how you want to spin it, involves horrific treatment of the people laboring at the bottom of the supply chain. 

The book isn't all dark though. There are chapters on the man behind Trader Joes and one marketing woman's quest to get a coleslaw-like relish on the market and what it's like to work at the fish counter at Whole Foods. Also, what happens on the nights the workers break apart the ice and clean out what's been collecting under that counter. 

Yeah. Probably you don't want to know this. But I hope you will read the book all the same. In the fall when I first discovered the grub infested grass, I had a brief moment of horror, followed by another moment of Let's Pretend I Just Didn't See What I Just Saw. I tamped the dead clumps of lawn back down and decided I'd worry about it later. 

But here I am approaching Later, and I still don't know what to do about the dead lawn. I don't know what to do about the complicated feelings I have about my groceries either. Be grateful, for one, that I have an abundance of food, that someone--many some-ones--did what they had to do to get it to my grocery store. 

And maybe it's time to start looking into renting some chickens?