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Multi-tasking for the Multi-tasker

Okay, class. Today’s lesson is on multi-tasking. For the uninitiated, multi-tasking is the process of doing as many things as humanly possible in the same space of time: fixing dinner, cleaning dishes, feeding the dogs, writing a book, scrubbing the floor, fighting for world peace. It’s one way to maximize the limited 24-hour day.

It is a skill that has been honed throughout millennia by women in particular. Often times they receive their inaugural multi-tasking trial by fire upon the birth of their first child, whence they are called upon to perform such challenges as soothing a screaming newborn over their shoulder while picking up the burp cloth that’s inconveniently fallen on the ground with their toes while simultaneously attempting to clean up the projectile vomit said screaming child has just emitted while letting the barking dog out because the barking dog is what caused the child to scream in the first place. Oh, and cook dinner, dust the bookshelves and make the bed. While carrying a basket of laundry up from the basement.

Of course, when the husband comes home at the end of the work day and finds the new mother looking as if she just gave birth (again) and asks, “What did you do all day, honey?” implying that it looks as if she’d parked her butt in front of Oprah and didn’t even get up to go to the bathroom, a woman has to learn to cast that sphinx-like smile and just glibly tell her man, “oh, a little of this, a little of that” (either that or club him). But we know better.

Women are excellent multi-taskers. I have female physician friends who I’m sure could readily perform a C-section, bake a pie and clean the dishes, if only the operating theater were within reach of the kitchen.

Another friend of mine wins the award for multi-tasking. I saw her one time, shortly after her baby was born, on a neighborhood stroll. The baby in a jog stroller, the dog on a leash, and a book in front of her face. If that’s not an ambitious undertaking, killing three birds with one stone, nothing is.

I have found over the years that I can multi-task with just about everything. I read while brushing my teeth. Sometimes I clean my sink while blow-drying my hair. Check my e-mails, talk on the phone, feed the dogs, and clear my desk. You get the drift. I like to think of it as hyper-efficiency. My husband calls it ADD.

But I’ve found there’s one task that absolutely thwarts a person’s ability to seriously multi-task, and that is driving. Now, to a certain extent, we all multi-task when we drive. It’s an inevitable side effect of the process: checking mirrors, scanning the horizon, glancing over your shoulder before going into the passing lane. Even to the point that you might be eating a burger, licking an ice cream cone, or drinking hot coffee with one hand while driving. Who hasn’t steered with their knees occasionally?

Of course the cell phone has enabled those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel to at least partially fulfill the need to multitask. As a mother of three, I’ve spent several hours a day over the past decade or so couriering my charges to their various and many activities. At least with a cell phone I can take care of returning phone calls that are only interruptive when conducted at home, or catching up with someone I’ve neglected to contact in ages.

But I yearn for the ability to do more behind the wheel and long for the day that technology will catch up with a mother’s need to achieve while driving: how about a plug-in blow dryer so I can dry and drive at once? Or a way to fix dinner while stuck in traffic at 6 p.m.? We’ve all see those ambitious ones who boldly do the idiotic while behind the wheel: applying make-up, curling eyelashes, shaving, for God’s sake. That’s about as crazy as trying to perform a pedicure while tooling along the road. Those undertakings are obviously foolish. But really, I think the blow-drying idea is imminently do-able, provided of course that styling brushes are not required.

Having now ushered two kids through driver’s ed, where they learn to drive the way we’re supposed to drive, however, I realize that my days of ambitious achievement above and beyond the task of getting to and fro have drawn to a close: I now have a driving-age backseat drivers who are ready and willing to correct every little transgression I might possibly make while in the course of my daily driving. 

Because after all, while idly sitting at a traffic signal catching up on my reading is a useful way to spend the forty-five seconds during which I’m stuck at the light, it’s probably more incumbent upon me to pay attention to other drivers. That is, not looking at what they’re wearing or how funny they look belting out a song alone in the car, but rather whether there are last-minute light runners who might impede my forward momentum once the light does change to green. Alas, it looks as if my days of multi-tasking are now limited to off-road moments. And that’s a good thing.

Categories: News

Welcome to Guest Author Nadine Dajani

Today’s guest author is Nadine Dajani, who’s led quite an interesting life, in many exotic locales, which certainly influence her novels.  Her second novel, Cutting Loose, has drawn praise from Publishers Weekly as “engrossing.”

Please Welcome Nadine Dajani:

JG: Tell me a little about your book.
 
ND: It’s a friendship tale that unfolds backwards… and spans a few continents! When Ranya, the pampered, sheltered daughter of wealthy Middle-Eastern parents finds out that the Prince Charming she’d shelved her virginity for would rather bed Paolo the decorator-cum-underwear-model than her, she decides to leave humiliation behind and flees towards the comfort of Harrods and Harvey Nic’s across the pond. Except her parents don’t let her have her way this time, and demand she come home or else find a way to fend for herself. Luckily an accidental run-in with a hot young Miami mogul and a less lucky encounter with an unfriendly childhood acquaintance, Zahra, see Ranya accepting a job working for Rio, a Latina editor of a Miami fashion magazine with a serious chip on her shoulder. The different ethnic backgrounds and temperaments of this unlikely trio – not to mention their romantic designs over a couple of seriously eligible bachelors – is what sets off the fireworks. Think of this book as Girls of Riyadh meets The Dirty Girls Social Club. 
 
JG: What got you writing in the genre in which you write?
 
ND: I fell in love with the voices of chick lit authors early on, and the versatility of the genre. I know that for marketing reasons publishers started slapping pastel colored covers on anything that was lighthearted in tone and directed at women. And though I never took issue with the covers, it did annoy me that all chick lit writers, the good, the bad, and the ugly, were looked down upon as inferior in the same way. I think that much of chick lit leans towards mainstream fiction, which is just a way of saying “topical” or “of general interest” and that’s why I love writing in this genre – the freedom to cover whatever topics I want, even potential downers like racism and immigration, with a light, funny tone.
 
JG: Favorite thing about being a writer?
 
ND: I love “research”. The first scene in Cutting Loose is inspired by an actual (unfortunate) event that transpired while I was visiting a friend in London and was having lunch on the rooftop terrace at Harvey Nichols. Every morning when my friend would leave for work and I’d hit the London shops, she would say: aren’t you supposed to be writing??
And I would say: I am! Promise! I’m researching!
Now that she’s read Cutting Loose and recognized her city in the pages, she has conceded that I was in fact “researching” : )
I love that writing is essentially an excuse to learn about things that have always interested you, or at least to be open enough about the world around you that you see every chance encounter, every unexpected interesting locale or event as potential fodder for creativity.
 
JG: Least favorite thing about being a writer?
ND: The discipline. I have to admit that it’s a struggle for me to get words on the page every single day, though I really wish I was one of those writers who could sit down and be creative every morning between the hours of 5 and 8 am and then go off and start the rest of their day. I also hate this newfound addiction to Amazon rankings… 
 
JG: What is the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since becoming a published author?
 
ND: I live in the Cayman Islands, which is a small enough pond that you can easily feel like a big fish if you tried. I love that after a spread in the local paper when my first book came out, everyone – from the girl who usually books my airline tickets, to barristas at my favorite coffee shop to a stranger who’d actually read my book and recognized me from my author photo – they now smile and ask me how the writing is going when they see me. Being published in fiction also opened the door for my travel writing – a huge dream that fell right into my lap after Fashionably Late was released. 
 
JG: What’s your favorite type of pie?
 
ND: Apple, hands down. There’s something about the baked-apples-and-cinnamon combo that gets me no matter what shape it’s presented in. And pumpkin isn’t exactly popular in the Middle East, so I’ve yet to taste pumpkin pie… I guess apple wins by default anyway.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon to Palestinian parents, Nadine spent the first nine years of her life in Saudi Arabia before settling in Montreal. While Nadine could definitely think of better ways of spending a year than devoting it to mastering the French language, the experience (and all that duty-free terminal shopping) would turn Nadine onto the wonders of world travel and the quirky, unexpected (and usually hilarious) ways cultures meshed (or stubbornly refused to). As an adult she moved to the Cayman Islands to pursue a career in, what else – offshore banking. And while Nadine has yet to see her “golden parachute” she did get to reap the rewards of Caribbean relocation by island-hopping to nearby Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras and Miami whenever the travel bug bites.

Nadine’s travel articles have been published in Atmosphere magazine. Cutting Loose is her second novel.  

Categories: News

My Three Dog Night

Every night, just before the stroke of midnight, I hear what sounds like a dog being brutally murdered just beyond the confines of my bedroom window. The first time I heard the noise, I bolted from my slumber, peered outside into the charcoal-darkness, only to see nothing. The sound appeared to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. I was afraid to go outdoors on my own to investigate. I have a vivid imagination by day, a macabre one by night. Could these noises have been perpetrated as a decoy of sorts by a murderer, intent on breaking into my house and bludgeoning my family to death?

The sound–a howling, yelping, please-don’t-beat-me pack-animal kind of sound reserved for great distress–persisted for about ten minutes. On that first night, even my own dogs awoke, howling relentlessly, joining a chorus of other dogs in the nocturnal bark that had ensued throughout my neighborhood. When the clamor finally subsided, I retreated to sleep, taking comfort that my own watchful canines were guarding us from intruders.

Since that night, I have grown to expect to be aroused from my comfortable sleep by the beaten-dog sound, and every night, without fail, I hear it. While it is a sound of pain, I now recognize it as simply the very vocal wail of a hound, left outside by his owners, either oblivious or unconcerned about their pet’s disturbing nightly cacophony.

I’ve thought about getting in the car and driving around to follow the noise until I can find the offender, except it’s impossible in the vast night air to determine from which direction the sound is issuing. Plus, it’s warm and cozy in my bed, despite the rude awakening. Why add a brusque slap of cold air to my already adrenaline-charged body.

Fact is, barking dogs can be a problem. I know: I own such an offender.  We call her the bark-a-holic. And because of her, I’ve got a little more tolerance for such offenders.

Bridget, an Australian cattle dog/Alaskan Husky mix, was an impulse buy. She charmed her way into our lives a few months after the death of our 10-year old Labrador, whose allergy-addled body had cost us a fortune in veterinary bills. We had vowed a lengthy period of dog abstinence, both to recover finances and to heal the heavy hearts of our children who had been gravely saddened by her death. We weren’t ready for another dog when we encountered a rescue league volunteer showing off an adorable puppy from an abandoned litter. With sapphire eyes that sparkled and pigtail ears with which my kids became instantly enamored, the dog plied her charms. How could we have done anything other than impulsively bring home the docile pooch? Plus, we were saving her from dog pound death, we were certain.

A trip to the vet, a diagnosis of parasites and a treatment of medicine, and our passive pup became a dominant tyrant, intent on ruling our roost, listening to nothing but the voices in her head and the call of the wild, something with which she’d clearly become accustomed after wandering alone along the back country roads for however long she did on her own.

No amount of dog training would undo what nature had already established within her, much to our dismay. Thus we had to learn how to outwit the dog. Bridget loves the night air. I suspect in a past life she was a vampire or something, because she prefers nothing better than to prowl in the dark, and to warn off any invaders from her terrain with her lusty bark. I have a feeling sinking her teeth into something might provide a good deal of satisfaction to top off her evening foray.

At first, we’d let Bridget go outside in the evening. We learned soon enough that as easy as it was to let the dog out, it was equally impossible to lure her back in. No amount of kindness, reprimands, or Scooby Snacks would induce her to come inside. Instead, she remained on the periphery of our yard, barking with unyielding fury at the unseen deer, foxes, maybe even coyotes in the woods behind our house. We therefore learned after a few nights of such futile attempts simply not to let her out after dusk. But she was wise to our ways. Soon we realized that we couldn’t let her go outside within a couple hours of dusk, like some werewolf that became dangerous upon sunset. Our contented afternoon dog would realize as the sun was descending that she’d better make herself scarce or she’d be trapped indoors all night.

In the meantime, we had an out of control dog that barked. And barked and barked and barked. We live in the country. Well, sort of. In a neighborhood, but in the country. Close enough to engender the ire of neighbors if your dog keeps them awake at night. And so it was that our neighbors began to loathe us.

“And bark and bark and bark–” I overheard my neighbor relaying to another neighbor at a Christmas party that first year.

I looked over at her. “You’re talking about Bridget?” I asked, half hoping that by putting that possibility out there, it would not be the case.

“In fact, I am,” she said. I didn’t sense much warmth in the answer. Exasperation? Perhaps. Who could blame her?

Oh, God, I needed to do something. We were new in town. The last thing we could afford to do was tick off the neighbors because of a nuisance pet.

 Each time we devised a plan to keep Bridget housebound, Bridget would devise a plan to the contrary. In fact, she grew bolder and began breeching the electric fence. So well before the sun went down, she’s steel herself up, get a running start, and yelp her way through the power zap (we’d already resorted to the “stubborn dog collar” to preclude such episodes, but no such luck). By now, Bridget had an interesting yet imposing look about her. Gone were the frisky puppy pigtail ears, and in their stead, tall, pointing, imposing dog ears. And rather than the sparkly ocean-deep blue eyes, they’d morphed into pie-eyes:  a cold hit-man shade of ice-blue in one, and part ice-blue, part brown in the other. Her tail curled up in a statement of power, and overall her appearance was one of “I can kick your butt so get outta my way.”

Needless to say, the neighbors were unimpressed, yet duly intimidated. Bridget had gotten her way. The first time we’d attached the stubborn dog collar on Bridget’s neck, we felt terrible. To powerfully zap the dog seemed downright cruel. And when she broke through the perimeter and got zapped, emitting an ear-piercing shrill that was immediately replicated by our talking parrot, it seemed all the crueler.

But soon enough, I was called upon to do greater battle than just the nine-volt neck zapper. On a cold February night, I hosted a party. My husband was out of town. I had the kids upstairs with a babysitter, and had a hundred plus women for a ladies’ night out bash that went off seamlessly, but for the incessant barking of Bridget in the mudroom. Frustrated by her intrusive behavior, I closed her into the dog crate for the duration of the evening, covering it with a sheet to seal her fate that night.

When the party had ended, I guiltily freed Bridget from jail. She was happy to see me, glad for the attention, and boy, she must have had to pee. I had a lot of clean up to do, and as I was carrying a bag of trash outside, Bridget dashed out the back door.

Now, earlier that day, my next-door neighbor had mentioned she couldn’t come to the party because she had to get up at four in the morning to catch a flight out of Dulles. So the fact that my dog decided to start barking at invisible boogeymen in my back yard at 1:30 a.m. would not hold me in good stead with my sleep-deprived neighbor.

I begged, cajoled then cried for the dog to come in. I ran down our expansive and steep backyard hill to try to catch her, but she has the speed and gait of a cheetah, and I that of a lumbering elephant, especially half asleep and after a couple of glasses of wine. I was gasping and wheezing as I chased the dog up and down the hill, her always ten strides ahead of me.

My first brilliant idea came straight from the cartoons of my youth: to lure the dog with the cat. I found one of our cats asleep on the sofa and took her outside, dangling her in front of Bridget’s line of vision. Normally, the dog–who herself is designed like a cat poised to spring into action–would take the bait. But she was making me suffer retribution for having missed out on the party fun, and wouldn’t budgee.

My next idea wasn’t very effective either. Desperate for something that could be launched at her to stop her in her tracks, I called the all-night emergency vet.

“I was wondering, if I spray that high-powered wasp spray at a dog’s eyes just to temporarily stop her, could I do permanent damage?” I foolishly asked.

“Uh, ma’am,” said the suspicious voice on the other end. “Can I please have your name and address?”

Not wanting animal welfare services to come after me, I hung up and put on my thinking cap. Surely I could outwit a dog!

With tears of frustration and exhaustion streaming down my cheeks, I sat on my deck, overlooking my dauntingly steep and wide backyard, desperate to catch that beast but–without a lasso and several years worth of rope training–unable to do so. And then it dawned on me as I stared blankly at my gas grill…

I quickly turned on the grill to warm it up (though warming it up was irrelevant, really). I went to the freezer and pulled out a package of Nathan’s famous all-beef wieners. And I slapped one on the grill. At two in the morning, there I stood atop the deck, my gas grill emitting the tempting aroma of a summer barbeque in the dead of winter, me hoping desperately that my obstinate barking dog would be lured by the aroma. Wise and mistrusting, Bridget reluctantly approached the grill, but never close enough for me to latch onto her collar. She wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Each time I approached her, she backed off.

Finally, she bolted back down the hill. But I wasn’t done. I grabbed the hot dog from the grill, and slowly meandered down the pathway, approaching the dog. “Here Bridgey-widgey,” I cooed, really wanting to say, “Come here you wretched spawn of Satan.”

I waggled the hot dog in front of her, and finally she made the false move. I snatched her collar, tossed the hot dog into the woods (I was damned if I was going to reward her hour-long display of bad dogsmanship!) and marched her sorry butt back up the long hill and into the house. I’m pretty sure the victorious refrain from Peter and the Wolf was playing in my head.

The other day one of my neighbors asked if I’d heard the mournful wail of the midnight hound.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve learned to deal with it, though.”

After having experienced my own cold night with a hot dog or two, a little hound dog wasn’t going to stir me from my warm winter slumber.

Categories: sleep