Thursday, May 31, 2012

Days 4 & 5 - The Self-Mulching Tree & Un Garcon Boit.

Day 4 -

Remember when I wrote in my first blog that part of the reason I don't want to watch TV anymore is that I want to be a more interesting person? That I want to be like a character in a book?

Well, forget that. It's not possible. What I'm realizing is that no matter how much extra time I have in the day, I still need to do boring, every day things like mowing the lawn and feeding our cats. Maybe my favorite characters don't need to pee, but I do.

As you might have gathered, yesterday was mostly full of boring, necessary things. However, I'd like to point out that not watching TV actually made me get around to doing those "boring things" - things that I'd previously avoided by being "busy". Case in point, after mowing the backyard, I decided to FINALLY spread a bag of mulch under the back tree. To understand how monumental this was, let me give some back story.

Every year, I put pine bark mulch in all of our flower beds and around our many trees. Typically in the last few years, I've run out of mulch after spreading around the 20th bag, and at that point, I'm disinclined to making yet another trip to English Gardens for more. At 20 bags, I'm pretty much pooped, no matter how much soil remains uncovered. Because I tend to run out of mulch toward the end of the project, I usually start in the front yard, visible to my neighbors, and work my way around to the back. If I don't get to the very back of the yard, so be it.

Anyway, there's a tree in the back that always gets left out. It's the farthest tree from the house and has never gotten the mulch treatment. Several years ago, I promised myself it wouldn't get missed again. In fact, early on in the season, I dropped a big fat bag of mulch right at the base of the tree. And - it's been sitting there ever since. Through season after season of rain, snow and sleet. If it was the tin man, it would have long ago stopped whispering for an oil can.

So yesterday, I thought, this is the NEW me. I'm going to move this big, heavy iron loveseat and big, heavy matching end tables out from under the tree, pull all the weeds, carve out a nice ring, and put down this blasted mulch. At last! I moved all the furniture as planned and then attempted to remove the bag of mulch so I could pull the weeds under it.

Apparently it had been waiting a bit too long. It wouldn't budge. I soon realized that the tree had punched roots through the plastic and claimed the bag for its own. Three fat roots grew into it. The tree had tried to mulch itself.

The plastic wouldn't tear, and I didn't really want to split it open until I'd pulled the weeds anyway, so I took a garden saw and hacked through the roots to free it. I can only imagine my neighbors next door, the Master Gardeners (who are on the Better Homes and Gardens tour), watching me wrestle a 20 lb bag of mulch away from a tree. The mulch, by the way, was nearly dried up. Only half of it was good. The rest had turned into a big, wispy nest. Oh - and it was completely filled with ants.

After finishing my mulching job, I recovered the stone bird fountain from a mass of weeds at the very back of the property and placed it under the tree. I filled it with fresh, cold water. Then I sat and watched birds swoop in to feast on the frantic bag ants and wash them down with the water. Someone thought opening that bag of mulch was a great idea!

Day 5 -

I used my sore back as an excuse to stay inside today. That birdbath was heavy. In truth, I should have taken advantage of the cool day and worked on the back of the property. I've decided that the ideal place for my vegetable garden is way back there where the weeds and overgrown bushes need to be pulled and trimmed respectively before I can proceed. It's not fun work, but I find that ultimatums like "I can't start my garden until I clean up the entire backyard" are pretty motivational.

Instead I worked in my office all day. I'm editing a new book, and also promoting another that I just published. It's very exciting, and the more interest I hear in the published one, the more determined I am to release the other one before scheduled.

At some point, I decided I had to do something else, so I started and completed Lesson 1 of Rosetta Stone for French!


I'm finding it's very intuitive, but also that I have no idea what I've learned yet. It's all related to pictures. So, un garcon boit is, I think, "the boy drinks". And Il boit is "he drinks". But I'm not 100% positive, because Rosetta Stone doesn't actually tell you what anything is in English. It's all about immersion. You're supposed to catch on from the pictures and deduce what action is taking place. I'm a little slow at this, and I suspect I overthink it. For all I know, un garcon boit is "the boy smells his milk". But since all the pictures relating to "boit" have people holding up drinking glasses to their mouths, I'm assuming I'm on the right track with drinking.

Well, that's it for the last two days. So far, I can report that I'm not really missing TV at all. It was just a time filler. The only time I miss it is - well, right now actually. In the late evening. Because at the moment, I don't want to think anymore, but I'm not ready to sleep yet. TV filled that gap nicely.

What do you do to relax, without having to use your brain, besides listening to music? Putting together a puzzle, playing a game, or cleaning something requires too much effort. I just want to zone out. Maybe this is why old people, who know what it was like before TV was invented, like to sit on their porches and stare at stuff? I need to go stare at something.

Au revoir!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 3 - My Quietly Noisy House & the Jehovah's Witness

This might be old hat for the typical non-TV watcher, but I've discovered today that my house is alive. Without the TV on, I'm suddenly aware of all the little sounds that were probably always a part of its rhythm, just unheard by me beneath the loud commercials that were a mainstay in our home until 3 days ago.

I truly can't remember the last time the TV was off for the entire day. This must be why today everything seemed so quiet, and yet so noisy! As I ate my breakfast, I noticed the sounds of the birds, the squirrels, the creaks and groans of an old home, and even the sound of my cat stretching over on the other side of the room. (Does his spine always crack like that?) The sound of the school bus coming down our street, a group of kids running, the neighbor's dog barking and my neighbor hushing her loudly. I'm sure these are all typical, every day sounds that were always there but were simply blended out by the constant hum of the TV. But today they seemed to take on a new meaning, highlighting something conspicuously absent, which made me feel, surprisingly, very alone in the house.

I'm alone often in the daytime and never seem to really notice it. Apparently I felt like I wasn't alone when there were voices coming from the TV. Without it, today was surprisingly lonely. Perhaps it's TV withdrawal or just an adjustment after a weekend filled with fun BBQ's and lots of people to talk to?

As a sign of my state of mind today, I actually answered the door to a Jehovah's Witness. Two of them actually. The JW and her friend were very pleasant as they introduced themselves and then dove right into it:
"Do you feel a time will come when there is justice in the world?"
This seemed like quite a heavy question to ponder before Noon.
I said I wasn't interested.

They quickly offered some literature, and instead of politely rejecting it, as is my normal reaction if I accidentally answer the door or the JWs see me through the window on the couch, I actually took it. I guess I wanted to keep my options open. You know, in case I'm really bored in a few days and they come by again to see what I thought of it. Unless I get used to the silence soon, I might even invite them in for coffee. We can discuss better starter questions.

An interesting sidenote - I canceled our AT&T Uverse subscription today. When asked why we were canceling our service, I actually told the gentleman that we had decided to give up TV. (Another sign I must have been lonely. I usually can't wait to get off the phone with customer service people.) He said his name was Al from Ohio, but Al might have been from Ohio, India. He seemed very confused by my response. He asked me a series of questions in an attempt to decipher what I was saying. In the end, I think he manually keyed the explanation into his computer. There must not be a dropdown selection for "Giving Up TV" in the TV subscription world.

Monday, May 28, 2012

It Has Begun! (Days One & Two)

Day One -

Yesterday was my birthday and the beginning of the TV-free experiment! Because I had so much planned for the day, I didn't even notice the lack of television. After all, who sits at home on their birthday and watches TV? Well....let's not go there. I'm pretty sure there have been at least a few birthdays when I might have watched a little bit of TV, especially in the evening when all the festivities have ended and all I want to do is zone out with my sugar crash.

This year's birthday was full of things to do and lots of food to eat. (I'm actually slightly worried that although I might be getting more exercise getting off the couch, I will counteract it by trying to elevate my mood with food instead of TV. I'll  have to keep an eye on that.) As is our tradition, hubs took me to a movie and lunch. The movie - Men in Black 3. Good, but not the best in the MIB franchise. Lunch - Chili's. Chicken Fajitas. Yum. Free dessert cause I had a birthday club coupon. Yum. Half the waitstaff singing as they brought me the dessert. Ugh. This should be outlawed for patrons over 18. I never know what my expression should be. Certainly not the real one, which would be an embarassed look of horror that a group of strangers is singing at me as I realize that everyone in the restaurant is annoyed that I'm interupting their meal (but trying to look polite about it).

After movie and lunch, we scooted home to tidy up the house for family to come over to celebrate birthday/Memorial day ( a day early). Brats, chips, beans, watermelon, potato salad, pasta salad - oh my. And let's not forget cheesecake for dessert. I won't forget this meal for a while! Nor will my thighs. Gift opening reveled gift certificates as requested for Lowes and Home Depot. If I'm giving up the life of a couch potato, I'd like to fill it with home projects. I can think of nothing worse than if after a year without TV, my house still looks exactly the same.

Day Two -

I usually eat breakfast while staring at the TV. This is dangerous because starting off the day watching TV means that I might be setting a precedent for the day. If I get lured into a marathon or weeding out the DVR, my day might be decided for me. Today, I made my coffee and grabbed breakfast and went outside on the deck. My husband was already out there. We clinged coffee mugs and celebrated that I was out of the house before Noon. I ate my banana to the sound of chirping birds and music from hubby's laptop, and that was just fine.

Though I'm not missing TV yet, today was slightly more challenging because it's 95 degrees outside. This makes getting out and enjoying life a little difficult - or at least staying out for an extended period difficult. My friend Julie is solar powered, and I thought of her today, probably LOVING the hot weather. Me, I just feel too hot and drained. All I want to do is soak up the air-conditioning. But I'm trying to get into the whole spirit of this new life thing, so I actually did emerge from the house today!

Step 1 - Went to Lowe's and bought stuff to start a vegetable garden. I'm trying to picture myself waking up in the morning and strolling through my garden, filling a basket with my homegrown veggies and then watering my crop with the hose on mist setting, watching the rainbows in the sun. In this fantasy, I'm wearing a garden hat, smock, and my cucumbers look obscene. I'll settle for wandering out to my garden in my slippers, plucking a few edible veggies, and throwing the sprinkler on. But one can dream big.

Evidence of my gardening intentions above - a mini herb garden (to start indoors), seed packets and tomato plants. I'm contemplating all the ways to keep the local deer and bunny population fat this year! 

Step Two - Went to Home Depot and bought new pots, potting soil and house plants. I have to do this periodically to replace the plant graveyard I cultivate lovingly. While I'm watching TV, my plants are usually withering away in the windowsill. They get watered when I remember, which is not often. When I got home, I considered going outside to start potting. My husband built me a lovely potting stand last year that I hadn't used yet, and I was eager to break it in with all my new purchases. But it was damn hot outside, so I took a nap first.

Step Three - Take a nap. I have to say how wonderful this nap thing is. I have never been able to take naps during the day unless I'm sick. Even then, I'm more likely to lie in bed watching TV than I am to sleep. Today, I slept almost 2 hours. It's amazing what you can accomplish without the TV on! ;)

Step Four - Get off my butt.
When I was nice and rested, I went outside and worked on potting my plants.

The oak potting stand hubs made for me last season. It is on rollers, and there's a drawer under the slotted parts to collect loose soil. It slides out and then you can use it. Waste not, want not! Isn't he handy?

The end result, a number of living plants that I hope will get more attention than those who have died before them. I'm sure I'll have plenty of time on my hands to water them, talk to them, feed them - whatever it is that you're supposed to do to keep them living. (I'd post pictures of the old plants, but I'm pretty sure that's illegal in some countries.)

You might notice that to the right, one of the plants is aloe. In my fantasies, I'm a green thumb and I nurse family and friends back to health with secret organic remedies.

After all my planting, I was pretty dirty and hot. So I enjoyed an extra long shower and grooming session. What's the hurry? I ask myself. The answer is, there isn't. My pace seems to be much more laid back than usual. Perhaps I'm not rushing to catch the latest show on TV - or perhaps I realize I need to fill up my day with things to do so I don't get bored and become tempted to quit the challenge, so I'm dragging the simplest tasks out. Maybe my brain is enjoying the fact that it's not completely over stimulated with flashing color images and noise. Whatever the reason, I'm relaxed and looking forward to curling up with a book tonight. Tomorrow, I have a book to edit during the day - but in the evening, I'm thinking I might start researching the best place to carve out a spot for my garden. Wednesday is supposed to be 70s and overcast, perfect for digging around in the dirt again!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Couch Potato to 5k - The Healthy Part of the TV-Free Challenge

Giving up TV isn't just about not watching TV, it's about getting me off the couch.

A friend told me about Couch Potato to 5K. In 2 months, they'll have a couch potato running 3 miles. Sounds like a great adventure to me! I envy all the runners out there, though it's always caused me terrible pain to run. Let's see how it works when I do it the right way - preparing my joints and conditioning my body for the rigors of running slowly, rather than jumping into it with both feet and regretting it like crazy the next day.

If you have any interest in joining me in the Couch Potato to 5k Initiative, here's the link!

Why I'm Waiting Until May 27th!

Friends keep asking me "So how's the no TV thing going?"
My answer - "I haven't started yet."
The response - "How come?"

It's simple. I'm waiting for the season finales of my favorite shows. Were you expecting something higher level?

It's quite straight-forward actually. I thought of this "no TV thing" almost 6 weeks ago. But by then, I was well into my favorite shows - namely, Survivor, The Celebrity Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. If I'm going to go cold turkey, I want to go cold turkey at the right time. I will be compromising my chances for success if I ditch the TV right when I'll be jonesing most for results shows and mirror ball trophies. Knowing this about myself 6 weeks or so ago, I looked up the TV schedules for all my shows and determined when everything was ending. If you want to get scientific about it, I pinpointed my optimum chance for success based on TV watching trends and the corresponding end dates for each. By avoiding any new shows that I'd be tempted to get into (I've resisted America's Got Talent, even though I've always loved Howard Stern, & Duets with Kelly Clarkson, though that looks tempting, too) and concluding old stand-bys, I figure it will be easier to adjust to the transition.

Aside from all that, I also wanted to put some activities on the books in advance. My husband got me Rosetta Stone for French, I've arranged to volunteer at two different community organizations this summer, and I've been lining up projects to do, books to read, and crafts to craft. Quitting TV apparently takes a little advanced planning. Loading up on things to do is a big part of my grand scheme!

Last reason I picked May 27th - that's my 35th birthday. I'm looking at this 1-yr, TV-free adventure as a birthday gift to myself. One that will last a year, and perhaps a lifetime. It will also be an easy date to remember. It's been 3 days without TV. It's been 3 weeks without TV. Has it really been 3 months already?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My TV-Free Rules

There's no one standing over my shoulder on this little experiment. This isn't Survivor. I'm pretty sure I won't get voted off the island if I don't do it right. So the rules may change as I go, depending on whether I'm meeting my primary goal, which is to introduce more variety to my life and fill up the time I normally spend on the couch watching the TV with other more fulfilling activities. My goal is not to eliminate entertainment from my life.

So here are my rules:

No Cable TV in my home. I'm canceling service, so it won't be an option.

No Netflix (watch instantly). If I watch Netflix, I'll get into watching all the shows I've never watched before and not reach my primary goal. Further, it's a gateway drug. Pretty soon I'll crave my usual shows. The next thing you know, I'll be calling up our provider and buying the biggest TV package I can find.

Movies in Moderation- Going to the movies or watching DVDs are acceptable in moderation. It's important to note that my husband and I don't currently go to the movies very often, and rarely watch our DVDs. (Sometimes, I'm not even certain why we have a DVD collection. All the movies we own we've seen before.) But, as long as it's a social activity - like dinner and a movie - I think it's okay. I wasn't counting movie trips and DVDs as part of the 30 hours a week I waste watching the TV. However, if I begin to substitute all my TV watching time with DVD's and movie tickets, then I'll have to eliminate this option, too. I'm not nixing TV so that I can find a new obsession.

No Internet Videos - I don't watch anything online now, so I see no reason to start. (Although a few years back, I did spend an entire weekend on Hulu catching up on The Office, so I know how dangerous it can be!)

Youtube in Moderation - If friends send me clips, or I'm reading the internet news and they refer to a video, I'll watch it. I'm not trying to cut myself off from the world. But if I find myself watching hours of youtube, I'll have to reconsider. I'm trying to find new ways to use my free time, not a new medium to do the same exact thing.

Additional "Rules"

I'm not going to get huffy if the TV is on at my parents' house or the homes of other family and friends. I won't be joining any Idol Watching parties - but if I'm visiting and they are watching TV, I'm not going to ask them to turn it off. Not only is that rude, but I'm not allergic to TV. I'm simply trying to eliminate all the time I spend at home in front of the TV. And I admit right now, I may go to my mom's house and watch some of the Summer Olympics with her. I'm not a robot.

Also, it's acceptable to go to a friend's house or a bar to watch a sports event. We don't do that often now, but again, if it's part of a social thing, it's acceptable. I'm not going to say no to a Superbowl watching party because I don't watch TV anymore. It's a special event and we see friends we don't often see during the year. If we start going to bars every night to fill the hole in our lives left by our DVR, I will have to refine this rule. Honestly, I'd rather take the money we're saving on cable and pay to GO to a sporting event. Or instead of watching the Tigers play baseball, find a softball league to play on myself!

As a final note on this topic, I want to interject that I don't think your TV watching is a bad thing. I don't view others as mindless couch potatoes. I just know what it does for me, which is prevent me from doing other things that might help me to grow as a person. I'm not in the business of judging - and one of my rules is not to mock others with this blog. You might be able to moderate your TV viewing. Simply put, I cannot.

My Next Blog - Why I'm waiting until May 27th.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My "Mid-life" Crisis

Hi, My Name is Jennifer, and I'm a Couch Potato.

This might sound like an AA meeting intro - and it should. Because I'm a straight up addict. I'm addicted to TV.

Interestingly enough, TV addiction doesn't seem like an addiction that people get too worried about. It's not like I just admitted that I'm addicted to heroin, meth, or even shopping or sex. And yet, it affects me like a "mainstream" addiction. It began with experiencing pleasure, and later, as a way of coping with stress. I've engaged in using it more and more frequently until it has become a ritual, a significant part of my daily life. Negative consequences occur, and yet I continue to seek the pleasure of it over and over again.

Let's back up and I'll put my addiction into context. On my DVR (digital video recorder), I have 20 hours a week of scheduled recordings at any given time, depending on the season. And I manage to watch all of the content I record every single week. This does not even account for channel surfing, movies on the premium channels, and random shows I watch if I happen to catch them.

I regularly record and watch the following:

BlueBloods (1 hour per wk)
Hell's Kitchen (1-2 hours per wk)
Ramsey Kitchen Nightmares (1 hour per wk)
Top Chef (1-2 hours per wk)
Dancing With the Stars (2-4 hours per wk)
Celebrity Apprentice (2 hours per wk)
Survivor (1 hour per wk)
American Idol (2-3 hours per wk)
The X Factor (2-3 hours per wk)
The Voice (1-2 hours per wk)
Harry's Law (1 hour per wk)
Real Time (1 hour per wk)
Saturday Night Live (1 1/.2 hr per wk)

I also watch:
The 5 or 6 o'Clock news
Dateline NBC
Anything on National Geographic Channel
Deadliest Catch
American Chopper
American Pickers
Law & Order (any version)
Judge Judy/Divorce Court/Judge Alex (basically any court shows)
The View
Dr. Oz (and Oprah when it was on)

I estimate that I watch at least 30 hours of TV a week. With this kind of boob tube schedule, it must sound like I never get anything done, right? Nope - I've figured it all out. I've got a laptop. So, even when I'm not working in my home office (which has a TV), I can work from the couch. In fact, the TV goes on in the morning and is rarely turned off until it's time for bed. I may not be watching it the entire time - but I need the background noise. When I'm reading (I read 2-3 books a week), writing (I'm an author, freelance writer, and screenwriter), or editing/publishing (which I do for a living as a small business owner), the TV is on. Sometimes I think I can't think without it on.

We are a household of 2 adults. We have 4 televisions. The living room, workout room, home office and bedroom each feature a TV. Our furniture arrangements in each room are quite obviously TV-style feng shui.

Has it always been this way? Yep. I can associate any period of my life with what I watched on TV. As a little kid - Fraggle Rock, The Muppets, You Can't Do That on Television, The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Family Ties, Three's Company. Later - anything on MTV, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place. In college, I even scheduled my classes so I could eat, catch a nap, and then watch my soaps (All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital).

So what's changed? Why, after all these years of steady and satisfying addiction, am I suddenly questioning how often I watch television? Well, I recently saw The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at the movies. During the movie, I thought to myself, Wow, this chick is badass. She's so self-reliant, so cool. She's mysterious and "international". Multi-faceted, complex. I need to write a character like her! And then I came home and curled up on the couch in my usual spot. As I flipped through the stations mindlessly, I vaguely thought Lisbeth probably never spends an entire Saturday sucked into an American Pickers marathon. And that was my epiphany.

Maybe it's a mid-life crisis. I realize I'm not the person I want to be at this stage in my life. Isn't that what a midlife crisis is? Wanting to change while there's still time? When it comes down to it, I simply don't want to be a fat, mindless couch potato. I don't want to waste my life watching people living. I want to discover what I could do with the extra $150 a month that I currently shell out for HD TV and an extra 30 hours a week. Could I learn a new language? Could I volunteer more? Could I get more exercise? Could I learn to be alone with my own thoughts?

We'll find out. Because I'm canceling my cable TV. I hope to make it for a full year. I'm already starting to plan what I'll do to occupy my time, and I'm truly looking forward to discovering my own potential.

I hope you'll join me as I blog about this experience over the next year. Who knows? Maybe after a year, I'll swear off TV forever. Or maybe I'll cave after a single, boring week. Whatever happens, I'm excited to challenge myself and share it with you!

Sunday, May 27th (my 35th birthday) - The TV goes dark.

My Next Blog Topic: The Official TV-Free Experiment Rules