No email, no problem


I went over 36 hours without checking my email last week and it was kind of wonderful.

As a web developer and a blogger, I’m rather glued to my email, or it might be more accurate to say email is the glue that holds my professional life together. Without it I’d have to talk to people on the phone. How awful! Although my phone anxiety is nowhere what it used to be, in most cases I find it less stressful to type a message rather than chat it out.

I spend several hours a day in front of a computer with my email software automatically checking for new messages every 5 minutes. If you email me after I’ve dragged myself out of bed, I will probably read your message within an hour or two of you sending it. How long it will take me to reply…well, that’s too embarrassing to mention. But I did read your message even if I feel completely overwhelmed and want to crawl back into bed for the rest of my life!

Last weekend I went to Wordcamp Chicago with the ulterior motive of visiting my family while I was out there. I checked my email before I left for the airport in the afternoon. Between the flight delay, the flight itself, and the drive from the airport to my brother’s house, my laptop wasn’t in reliable wifi range until after 10pm. I had an autoresponder set up on my business email telling anyone to call me if they had an emergency, and no one had called me, so I decided not to bother checking my email that night.

When I left for Wordcamp in the morning I didn’t think about checking my email until I’d left and I hadn’t brought my laptop with me because it’s heavy. I don’t have my smartphone configured to access my email because sometimes you need to step away from the SMTP server, you know? After Wordcamp my brother and sister-in-law met me at the CTA station and took me out for pizza, so by the time we got back to their place I was tired and thought, hell, let’s go for a record! I’ve made it 24 hours without checking my email. If I go to sleep I can make it to 36 hours before the invisible strings of the wifi pull me towards my keyboard.

So that’s what I did.

It was remarkably freeing, and I hadn’t even realized I’d felt so trapped. I hate the fact that each message comes with the responsibility to do something after I read it. That something might be as simple as reading a blog post that looks interesting or taking advantage of a sale a store is offering or replying to a client about a question they have or fixing something that’s broken or figuring out how much to charge for a task I’ve never done before and oh my God I’m exhausted just writing about it. It’s not that I mind reading 60 messages that much, but I do mind having to make 60 choices after reading those emails. Whether I delete the message or reply or add a task to my calendar or sort it into a folder to deal with later, every email demands an action.

That’s what’s so wonderful about having an autoresponder telling people I was away. It freed me from the responsibility to take any action in a timely manner. I could just get to it when I got back. When I checked my messages on the road I could say, “Well, guess I’ll get back to that later,” close my laptop and walk to the lake with my family. So it might not really be that I enjoy walking away from my emails, but that I enjoy walking away from responsibilities for awhile.

I only got one phone call while I was away and it only took 75 minutes to fix the problem. As a web developer I’m always scared something horrible will happen while I’m away, like a client’s database will crash on Christmas Eve or the FBI will confiscate their web server, two things that have actually happened to clients of mine. If all I have to do while I’m away is a simple 75-minute code fix, then I feel blessed.

At the conference I also tried to avoid checking Twitter or Facebook, partly because my phone battery drains faster than it used to (don’t we all!), and partly because if I’m at a conference I like to talk face-to-face with the people in the room with me. Radical idea, I know. It’s a bit hard to achieve it at a tech conference because people are tweeting about what they’re doing and using a conference hashtag and all that, so if you’re off of Twitter you might miss some things. Like, oh, that you won the Pebble Smart Watch in the origami bird competition! Finally, all those years I spent as a child folding paper in my bedroom have amounted to something other than a shoebox full of paper creatures that I have carted from one apartment to the next.

My little paper friends

Why, no, I didn’t have many friends as a child, how did you guess? But learning how to fold a sheet of notebook paper into the shape of a dragon did help boost my popularity by about 0.05% To enter the Pebble Smart Watch giveaway I just had to follow the instructions they provided to fold a piece of paper into the shape of a crane. It’s a pretty basic form and wasn’t any trouble for me, but I think it filtered out 90% of the conference attendees from entering the giveaway, greatly improving my odds. I still didn’t think I’d win though, and I was already on my way out of town when they did the drawing. So imagine my surprise when I checked my email the next afternoon and learned I’d won. Whoops! I guess there are occasional advantages to checking your email more than once a day.

Thankfully they didn’t give my prize away to anyone else and it is in the mail on the way to my house as I type. However, you can’t win without also losing, which is why the universe decided now would be a great time for my Kindle screen to break.

Broken Kindle

Oh poor sweet Kindle! It’s like the cyclops screensaver slurped up your digital ink. I’ve already ordered a new one and this time I will be much more careful about transporting it when I travel. But the nice thing about traveling is being away, which applies just as much to your email as it does to your location.

How I learned to love a big purse


I used to dislike big purses. When you have a large bag I think there is a temptation to fill it up, just like when you have a full plate of food there is a temptation to eat it all whether you really need to or not. I’ve also heard stories of women developing back problems or a larger bicep on their “purse arm” because of the weight of all that stuff crammed in their bag.

Just owning a purse at all was a compromise for me. Why do women need to carry so much crap around when men don’t? It seemed sexist in some way, like women were literally weighing themselves down in a way men don’t. But I finally broke down and got a handbag in my early twenties when I got a job. At first I walked into the office every day carefully balancing my wallet on top of my CD cases on top of my headphones until it finally occurred to me one day, hey, wouldn’t it be great if I had some sort of bag to carry all this stuff in? Like, I don’t know, A PURSE. So I caved and crocheted myself a hobo bag and decided the convenience was worth any girlish stereotypes it invoked. (Crochet isn’t exactly considered a manly art form.) However, I vowed that I would only get a bag big enough for what I needed, not a huge purse that looked like it would require to me to win an Olympic medal in weightlifting to carry it around.

After years of resistance, I tricked myself into purchasing a big purse last year when I was doing Headache on the Hill which is an event where headache sufferers and headache doctors run around Capitol Hill talking to their Congress-people about what they can do to help us. The key here is the phrase “running around.” You walk a lot. A LOT. Several miles in fact. It helps your lobbying efforts if you don’t show up in sneakers. (We can’t all be Wendy Davis.) But I didn’t want to walk 3 miles in heels either. I needed a bag that I could stuff one pair of shoes in while I was wearing the other, but all I had were cheap looking canvas bags. So I went to Kohl’s and got a big, black, quilted bag that was large enough to hold my sneakers, never intending to use it after I got back from DC.

Too late! It turns out I was totally wrong. I fell in love with my big purse before I knew it! If anything it’s men who are being sexist dopes by refusing to carry around a bag with the stuff they need. Women have outsmarted them! There is tremendous power to be leveraged when you’re the one who has chapstick and gum when someone else has dry lips and a parched mouth.

First off, it’s sooooo much easier to find things in a big purse, assuming that you don’t fill it to capacity. When I used a small bag I was always digging around in the cramped quarters trying to find an item. Everything was stacked on top of each other. Now that I have a big bag, it’s easy to find things because there’s so much space to move things around in.

I also never realized how incredibly convenient it would be to be able to stuff random objects in my bag instead of carrying them separately. It’s AMAZING what I can fit in this purse:

Footlong sandwich in my purse

A foot-long Subway sandwich!

Bottle of wine in my purse

A bottle of wine!

I can stuff all my mail in my purse even if it contains catalogs and magazines. I can put an umbrella in there if I think there’s a chance it might rain later. I could probably fit a cat in there if there was ever cause to do so, though I doubt the cat would stay in there for long. Everyone knows cats prefer boxes.

The bag has several compartments which are larger than the compartments of my other smaller purses, so I’m able to keep things like my cell phone in a separate pocket making it easier to find. The bag I have has a side pocket that allows me to access it without even taking the bag off my arm, which is even more convenient.

Anyway, this is me proclaiming that I was wrong. Big purses are awesome. If used responsibly they will not cause back pain. They will only cause awesomeness.

I was almost killed on the highway this week

Skid marks

I was almost killed on the highway this week.

I was driving in the right-hand lane of I-40/I-85 doing the speed limit in attempt to avoid the crazy, madcap maneuvers that transpire constantly on this four-lane highway. Suddenly the driver of a white sedan two lanes over seemed to realize he was about to miss his exit, so he swerved across several lanes of traffic on a direct collision course for me. Why go to the next exit and turn around when you could endanger the lives of everyone on the road instead, right? I jerked the steering wheel to the right, slammed on my brakes, and somehow managed to barely end up on the exit ramp he’d been aiming for, though I’d traveled way outside the painted lines. I didn’t check, but I’m fairly certain I left skid marks on the road.

How did we avoid a collision? I do not know. If I’d been fiddling with my MP3 player at the time, we probably would have crashed. Thankfully I was paying attention to the road and my body reacted without much thinking. The only two thoughts I remember having while I swerved were “Don’t overcorrect!” because people in accidents often swerve too far to avoid a crash and end up causing another one, and “Dear God, I hope there’s not a concrete divider at the corner of this exit ramp.” Thankfully there was not.

As I continued down the ramp I could see the white sedan in my rearview mirror. I seriously considered giving him the finger as I drove on, but didn’t because I was so shaken up. If I had it to do over again I would definitely give this asshole the finger. He’d nearly ended the story of me and I am not ready for the credits to start rolling yet.

The funniest part? This all transpired at the Efland exit. Effing Efland indeed!

The second funniest part? I was on my way to a biofeedback appointment where I was supposed to learn how to control my breath and heart rate so I can be zen and chill out. As you might have guessed, nearly dying on the expressway is not good for your resting heart rate.

This incident was the second scariest thing to ever happen to me on the highway. The only thing scarier was the time I was driving in the snow and someone sped past on my left, throwing so much snow on my windshield that I could see absolutely nothing as I was travelling 60 mph around a curve. The second it took for my intermittent windshield wipers to clear the windshield was probably the longest second of my life. At least during my most recent incident I could see what was happening and had the chance to determine my fate.

I don’t know how the physics would have played out if we’d collided, so I don’t know if I would have been killed or seriously injured or just left with a case of whiplash. I’m really glad I did not find out. But the whole incident made me realize how ridiculous it is that we drive around in metal projectiles at inhumanly fast speeds and like to pretend that we’re assured we’ll get where we’re going without getting dead. In this case I did absolutely nothing wrong. I wasn’t even going 5-10 over the speed limit like I normally do when I drive in town! My life could have come to an end because some asshole couldn’t be bothered to check his blind spot.

After the near accident I started to wonder what would have happened if I had been killed. Who would tell my family? Would someone feed the cat in a timely manner? How long would it take for my clients to find out? Would they ask my family for their deposits back since the dead girl obviously wouldn’t be able to finish their web sites? What was the last thing I blogged about? The last thing I tweeted? Would anyone be able to get into my various online accounts to close up matters? Where would the funeral be? How many people would come? Would I be buried or cremated? Did I leave anything embarrassing in my apartment? On my hard drive?

They say the most dangerous part of flying is driving to the airport, and when you’re driving on I-40 I believe this is especially true. I have heard more stories about crazy shit happening on I-40 than I have about any other highway in any town I’ve lived in. Granted, this might be because we have social media now and I’m much more likely to hear about other people’s horror stories on Facebook than I was when I lived elsewhere.

The ironic thing is that I used to be much more aggressive on the expressway than I am now, mostly because I used to drive on the expressway all the time to get to work. I knew exactly what lane to be in to avoid the slower traffic and when I should start moving toward the right lane. When I was in college I would sometimes drive 80 mph down I-64 as I traveled between Lexington and Louisville, feeling like I was flying when I soared down the bridge across the Kentucky river. If I could talk to my college-aged self I would say, “SLOW THE HELL DOWN!!!!” Good God, girl, don’t you know you’re driving a missile? I am a much more cautious driver now that I only travel on the highway once or twice a month, and when I do it’s usually only for 3-5 miles each way.

On the way back from my appointment I saw a set of black skid marks at another exit and it made me wonder like I never had before about what had happened to cause those skid marks and if the driver had been as terrified as I had been. Every skid mark tells a story. If you ever visit Efland you’ll drive past mine.

This is why you should read the description carefully

Beer stein on ebay

After I wrote about the Fuldamobil a few months ago, I ended up searching for “Fulda” on ebay because of some chatter in the comments. That’s where I discovered this Fulda beer stein for sale. Although I’m not much of a beer drinker, I thought it was too cool to pass up. The week after I entered my winning bid, a small package appeared in my mailbox. I opened it to discover this:

Beer Stein, actual size

Yes, dear readers, my Fulda beer stein was approximately two and a half inches tall (which I would have realized if I’d read the description more carefully). I suppose I should have realized something was up when the seller offered free shipping. I couldn’t help laughing at myself over this, particularly because I’d listened to a story on This American Life less than two months earlier where the exact same thing happened. A couple who were shopping for furniture for their new house were ecstatic to win a bid on a dining room table, only to realize when it arrived that they’d bought a piece of dollhouse furniture. You can listen to the story here. You’d think that I would have looked at the listing more carefully after hearing that story, but the thought never entered my mind that a beer stein would be anything but normal size.

That said, I actually like this mini-stein. It’s rather cute. I’ve put it on the bookshelf next to my desk and get a kick out of seeing it every day. If the stein had been actual size I probably would have shoved it in my kitchen cabinet and only pulled it out once or twice a year. I think I’ll actually get more enjoyment out of it this way. Or perhaps I’m just rationalizing and telling myself things worked out for the best as all humans are prone to do no matter what stupid things happen to them.

The stein does go well with the other Fulda memorabilia I’ve collected over the years like:

Fulda cathedral
A wax rendering of the cathedral in Fulda, Germany, which also features the city’s coat of arms.

Fulda pin
A pin featuring the logo of the Fulda tire company.

I also had a patch with the Fulda tire logo on it that I attached to my carry-on suitcase, but unfortunately it fell off somewhere in transit. I still miss that patch :( If anyone ever sees an ebay listing for that, let me know. I would buy it again even if it’s a strange size.

Reasons for Regain #3: I mastered the 5K to Couch plan


Many of you are probably familiar with the Couch to 5K plan. It’s a workout plan that helps you go from spending most of your time on the couch to completing a 5K, usually within 8 weeks. I instead mastered the 5K to Couch plan in which you start out being able to run a 5K and slowly become less and less active until you’re spending most of your time on the couch.

When completing the 5K to Couch plan it’s important that you drop off your activity gradually over a long period of time. If you’ve gained momentum by exercising regularly, stopping all at once is like slamming on the brakes and being thrown full force against your seat belt. It’s pretty hard to ignore. There were a few times during my weight-loss years when I’d have to take several days off from exercising because of an injury or illness, and it drove me nuts. I really wanted to get out there and continue my successful routine, but my body was not having it. Once I recovered, I would get back on the trail or the treadmill as soon as I could. If you’re going to stop exercising regularly it’s much more effective to press the brake slowly so you ease to a stop without hardly realizing it.

Obviously I never intended to undertake the 5K to Couch plan. So what set me on that path? A few things:

Overdoing it

In 2008 I ran a half-marathon, and although I am incredibly proud to have run those 13.1 miles (ok, I might have walked 1 or 2 of them), it was WAY TOO MUCH RUNNING. Near the end of the program I had to run 45 minutes straight in the evening. I had to run 10 miles at 8am on a Saturday morning with my running group. It was kind of awful. I learned that I am not a long-distance runner. The longest race I would consider running after that experience is a 10K, which is about 6 miles.

Once the half-marathon was over my running dropped off because I was so sick of it. Something I’d previously enjoyed for its meditative properties became work I wanted to avoid. I love chocolate cake, but if I had to eat an entire chocolate cake everyday it would become sickening after awhile. The same goes with running.

Using injury as an excuse

A few years ago I developed tendonitis in my right foot. It took awhile for me to get it diagnosed as tendonitis because I kept waiting for it to heal on its own, and then it took me awhile to get a doctor’s appointment because I’d moved and wasn’t established at any medical practice. The tendonitis made it painful to walk, so I stopped walking unless I had to.

What I should have done was to find some activity to supplement walking, which had now become painful. What I actually did was nothing. I do recall riding my bike a few times, but it was a pain to carry it down from my second-floor apartment, which is a completely lame excuse, but evidently not lame enough for me to use on myself! It’s important that you find exercise you enjoy, otherwise you’re less likely to do it. Walking and running have always been my favorite thing, and I never managed to find anything I liked as much as that.

Comparing my current self to my past self

Once the tendonitis healed I did start walking again, but I was frustrated by the fact that I got exhausted sooner and could not go as far as I could previously. When you’ve previously been able to run 3 miles without breaks it seems pretty pathetic when you’re breathing heavily after walking just a mile. It’s like you’re a bird with a broken wing, frustrated that you have to walk when you used to be able to fly. I kept comparing my current self to my past self, which made me feel discouraged. I should have just gotten over it and focused on the positive aspects of the experience. I was out there! I was walking again! I could become more fit even if I never became as fit as I once was. Instead I was just hard on myself for the fact that I couldn’t have run a 5K anymore if I tried.

So, those are the big reasons I ended up doing the 5K to Couch plan. There might have been others, but those are the ones I’ve been able to identify upon self-reflection. So where do I go from here? Well, I suppose I could do the Couch to 5K plan, but a doctor told me I should not run because of problems with my knees. So if I were to do that it would be the walking version, not the jogging version. I’m considering doing the Up and Moving program that my friend Shauna recently launched on her Up and Running web site that runs online running courses for women.

I think the key is to do it slowly, just like it started, but to be consistent. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Keep reading: 

Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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