Friday, August 14, 2009

Circuitous Route

We have had too much cloud cover to see meteors. Cloudy weather seems to happen every year around now. This is the time of year that serves as what my husband refers to as a "saving throw" for the lawn. We get some rain, we get some cool weather, and we can see ahead of us the glimmer of hope that is the end of the kids' summer break. I love my kids but I like to see school start again. We take the whole of life to be an educational opportunity, but strict academics have their merits!

My class reunion is this weekend but I've got other things going on so I won't be attending. So many things have happened in the intervening years that these reunions are like a fast-forward track. Some of the worse stuff has been skipped over, some of the good stuff too. The stories of our lives need the all of the little parts knitted together to create a truly realistic view of our travels through time. A reunion doesn't do that, so I'm not as sad about attending as I may have otherwise been.

I'm starting to feel "old" though I have little reason to do so. I am still relatively young and there are still more years than behind, not that this should make any difference. What I feel eeking away with the natural color of my hair is the idea that I need to worry what others think about me, the choices I've made and the life I have now embraced as fully my own; I am not a daughter, I am a parent; I am not a girlfriend, I am both a wife and partner; I am not the bad stuff of my life; I am the person who got through the bad stuff to embrace the good things; I am not my bank account, but I am my beliefs, actions and words. Most of all, I don't need excuses to be who I am. If I am not what I want, I still have time to change it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ebb and Flow

My lastest non-fiction writing project has been a lot tougher than I thought since it was semi-biographical. I'm finding that I have little in the way of completed sections because they are too hard to revisit and therefore impossible to edit at present. It's time to put it away again. I've pulled it out a few times over the last two years or so and it will now return to its former home just a little more fleshed-out. At some point I think I will finish it but not yet.

Now my newest non-fiction project is just rolling. It's fun!! It is not so much about the mistakes I can never correct and is instead about the ones I was able to correct. There is nothing (very) embarassing for the others who have become players in this story--mostly because those players are my kids and husband and they are always willing to laugh at their own silliness and misconceptions.

I love this little family of mine. They encourage me and make everything 200% more interesting than I ever thought it would be. Even the stressful times are full of laughter and tender moments.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Grand Diabolical Plans

I am organizing an activity for my middle school aged daughter. I have, in the past, organized other events so I have some experience in this area. Usually, unlike this activity, they involve some sort of kooky vision. This is not a requirement but, no matter how sane it is, when you approach people with your idea, they are going to look at you like you've just sprouted antennae.

"So this is not something for work or some kind of court-mandated community service project?"

"No, I thought it would be fun."

My new project is organizing a robotics club for my daughter's school. It is not outside my scope of interest or ability to create and run such a club. I have organized events, done fundraising, and herded children for a purpose. In this case, the tasks are supposed to be child-led but the children will need mentors--people with even the slightest expertise in something vaguely mechanical to help them with basic skills. Although I am interested, I don't have the skill sub-set that I'm looking for in mentors. There are many people in my community, however, that do.

So the letters went out earlier this week. I am saving my phone calls for next week when I can better gauge the insanity of my plan. However, I have already received some responses. There is an order to how these things go.
1. I make the plan and put out inquiries and feelers tailored to give an idea of the project needs and my expectations. I don't want to put large burdens on my support people because it chases them away.
2. I get responses back that generally look something like this:
"I don't have a lot of time for outside projects because I'm really busy...wait, what is it exactly that you want from me?"
3. Secondary responses: "Oh, is that all? I'm sorry that I responded to your carefully crafted query in a way that expressed non-interest because I didn't read it through. Seriously, you don't want money or a 20 hour a week commitment?"

It will be fun. It may not happen this year (as the daughter with the interest starts high school the following fall) but it will happen. I just need to get people excited about it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Random Babbling

I have been searching for patterns lately and now they are everywhere, staring me in the face. I observe stories and how they play out in various forms. It's a bad habit, I suppose, but one that is necessary to the kinds of projects I do. But lately I feel a bit like a mouse in a maze that's being led to the cheese.

It seems that every time I watch television or watch a movie, it's all so cookie-cutter that I have many of the key events figured out before it's 1/3 over. We are spoonfed information. Why did that guy who is a doctor move in next door? Probably to help diagnose the disease that is about to rip through a suburban neighborhood. How funny that the little girl is obsessed with water and has dozens of half-full glasses of water around the house. It's quite convenient when the aliens that invade cannot tolerate the beverage.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I don't look people in the eye. It's a family trait, I've noticed. I thought it was a bad habit but it turns out, when I've tried to do it, the experience is simply too intense. Why is that? Is it the habit of not doing it that creates the feeling that it's too intimate? Is it something inborn--perhaps genetic or cultural--that makes this difficult? I've learned, too, to use hand and face gestures in an exaggerated way to avoid this uncomfortable situation. This makes me think it's about the wiring in my brain rather than the custom of my family.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Moving Slow

Happy Independence Day tomorrow! I am staying home for a quiet holiday in anticipation of my kids getting the creeping crud that hubby and I had earlier in the week. If it's getting boring around here, we can walk to the nearest park where there is an all-city celebration. It's a bit down the hill from us so that means we get great views of the fireworks!

It's been almost a month since my last post. For those few who ever check out this blog, you should pop over to my crafting blog, Craftastic World because I usually post there a few times a week. I'm also working on some math activities and crafts as well as some long-neglected writing projects.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Race Silliness

When I see a demographics survey that asks me what race I consider myself a member of, I always check "OTHER" and write-in: HUMAN. Those responsible for sorting through this data must assume me to be a person who feels disenfranchised and enter my information incorrectly. I only know this because I have received catalogs for products and offers for magazines for members of a particular ethnic group to which I do not belong.

For heaven's sake, there is only one race of person: HUMAN. Unless you are talking about the possibility of humanoid aliens hiding among us, there aren't any different races intermingling in society, despite the color of a person's skin. The concept being referenced here is called "ethnicity" and though it may sound like I'm arguing about semantics, it is a biological truth that you can't reproduce with members outside your race. Therefore, humans are all the same race.

This terminology carries a certain connotation. It's a completely outdated concept based on an erroneous belief that people can be divided into different strata according to their biological origins. It's irrational and ridiculous to talk about bettering "race relations" when the term itself is a reflection of this inaccurate division. Let's get it straight, people!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sesame Street

Newsweek recently published this story: How Sesame Street Changed the World. Sesame Street has been an amazing resource for families raising small children. I remember it when I was small and it was one of the programs we allowed our kids to watch on a regular basis.

Who didn't want to grow up to work for the Children's Television Workshop? Who didn't want to clock-in with Kermit and Big Bird?

I wanted to write a response to the Newsweek article, citing the impact it has had on my kids' lives but find myself overwhelmed and almost choked-up by the impact this show has had. So I will just invite you to read it for yourself.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pet Peeve

Washington's former governor, Gary Locke, is Obama's newest pick for Commerce Secretary. As a Washington resident, I think Locke is likely to be confirmed for this new post. However, the idea that the media is buzzing about a Washingtonian going to Washington brings up a pet peeve of mine.

Washington D.C. has been shortened to "Washington" in the media and in the world. As a WA state resident, I've found myself having to introduce myself as being from Washington--state. We are members of a global society and not everyone understands the distinction that Washington state is in the far northwest corner of the contiguous 48 states while D.C. is on the east side of things. I don't think that state residents should have to qualify the statement of their origins and follow that up with a diatribe about the difference. Frankly, there are more of us than there are D.C. residents. D.C. should be "D.C.," not "Washington." Maybe they could invent a whole new name for the nation's law-making center to help ease the confusion. Bernie comes to mind.

"Today the president leaves Bernie for an overseas tour of..."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bad Milk?

This is the expiration date on our milk. Hmmm...that will be interesting. I have a feeling ours will be consumed long before Feb. 30th ever comes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Closet Mathematician

When I go to bed to sleep, I have a regular pattern of movements. I start on my back, then, as I get more tired, I roll to my side. Finally, when there are just a few minutes left before I would drop off, I flop over onto my stomach. It's a predictable pattern of movement that is connected, perhaps more precisely than I'd be prepared to admit, to the degree of tiredness I am experiencing.

My brain loves looking for patterns. It's almost a hobby of mine to consider developing mathematical formulas (or at least tables of ratios) for predictable phenomena. It's so disturbingly geeky that I know most people would just think it strange of me. However, when I was a kid I used to mentally obsess (during down times such as bus rides and the time before I fell asleep) over these patterns. When I started learning algebra, I used to make up quadratic equations to solve in my head instead. It was a strange thing but I've always been rather attracted to quadratic equations in particular. Weird. Weird. Weird.

So, as I lay there approximately 85% tired (based on a scale that I developed at that moment,) I considered how I might create a formula with variables for sleeping position and percent of tiredness. The sleeping position was determined to be my angle to the bed where the vertex is on my left edge and the bed is represented by a ray whose origin is the vertex and progresses out to my right when I am on my stomach. I fell asleep before I could finish it. Apparently, it takes about 2 minutes for each 5 percent to progress. Maybe this progresses faster if I've been more physically active... (See how I think? It's crazy.)

The minor points of the formula were fun to consider. It was as I thought of the formula I could develop that I remembered why I had never considered going into math as a vocation (other than teaching it to kids). I obsess. I let things slide while I consider an academic point. Obsession might be good for my job, in that case, but not for anything else in my life. I am so attracted to numbers and patterns that I will lose myself in them given half the chance.

So I am merely a closet mathematician. I enjoy patterns and I enjoy numerical challenges. I don't claim to be particularly adept in my manipulation of numbers and mathematical concepts but I do enjoy them which is more than I can say for most people who absolutely cringe when faced with mathematical dilemmas, real or made-up on the journey into dreamland.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I attempted NaNoWriMo this year. The result was interesting. Normally I like to plot book concepts fully before rashly moving on to writing. However, I have this habit of finding little plot holes and enlarging them to the point that I determine the book infeasible and scrap it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Still Moving

We're finally moved! While the house is in a nice house in a good neighborhood, we're not sure it's precisely where we want to be. It's in town but only just so and it feels very ostentatious to be up on a hill looking down over things. I like being a little deeper in town. We're somewhat in walking distance to downtown but the distance home makes it less likely that we'll make that walk.

The residents bought a house nearby and have been slowly moving their things out of our house even though we are the contract holders. It's very irritating to be unable to put your stuff where it goes. We actually spent 4 days with half of our stuff on the lawn while the previous residents' things were securely locked in our house!

It's day 5 and we still don't have the full garage AND their ridiculously huge dining room table is in my dining room (it's too heavy to move or we'd put IT out on the lawn) while mine is in pieces leaning against the hallway wall. Their excuse for not getting their stuff the heck out: they are stressed out about their new house. They didn't give themselves enough time to complete renovations before moving in. I think money is also an issue. However, none of this is our problem. We still had possession of our old house for a full month at the time we moved. If it weren't for the fact that my husband's rheumatoid arthritis makes it less than ideal for him to do lifting beyond the absolutely necessary, we'd have hauled it all out to their lawn by now. Grr.

Normally I'm a very forgiving and understanding person but, honestly, giving me the excuse that a panic attack is preventing you from moving your stuff out of my house is ridiculous. I should be having a panic attack. My stuff is on the LAWN! One of my daughter's art works was forgotten on the lawn underneath stuff and it's now ruined thanks to this nonsense.


I just want to get my life back on track. The kids are in new schools. Sid is annoyed by this fact while Lolly is perfectly happy. Lolly is only upset that she's doing P.E. testing. I think she is worried that she's too much of a wisp because she doesn't have the strength of the average kid. I've been told (but I don't know if it is accurate) that dyspraxic children tend to lack upper body strength so perhaps this has something to do with it. In any case, these tests establish a baseline. So there is nowhere to go but up. She'll get over it.

We're expecting Sid's best friend this weekend. And next weekend. And the weekend after, etc.. She likes to get out of the house, loves spending time with Sid, and her mother extends her this freedom so I don't see any reason to refuse her arrival. They'll have the nooks and crannies of the town all figured out before long.

Friday, August 15, 2008


We're moving! I'm excited! We're only moving about 70 miles away but it's enough to start afresh. Hubby's been making the commute every day. It's not a bad drive but the worst part has certainly been the gas prices and, sometimes, the weather.

The house is about 65% packed. We dug through our house and got rid of extra stuff. I had no idea how much we had accumulated. So I got rid of the dead weight. I'm still convinced that 15% of what we're moving will be deemed "excess" when we I unpack but it's really hard to tell until I've been living in the house (and accesorizing it). I used to think I traveled light through life but now I've been hit with the revelation that this is patently untrue.

Something I wish I would have started when I began packing:
Making a database or at least a list of our possessions, categorized with serial numbers. I've heard that this can be advantageous for those who find themselves filing an insurance claim or police report in the event of a loss or catastrophe. Now that I've got more than half of our things packed, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to do it. I've considered making such a list as I unpack but I have a feeling it will go too quickly for that. I don't like to live out of boxes and with the kids starting school right away, I think its best for them to at least have their lives in order as soon as possible.

Things I've learned from packing this time:

*The liquor store has THE best free boxes. They are sturdy because they have held liquid and glass, they often have dividers, and they tend to be similarly sized. The boxes stack great because they are both sturdy and around the same size across the different brands. The dividers are great for many things. You'll end up with extra dividers but these are good to cut down and stacked between plates and other fragile items.

*You CAN use newspaper for packing material, even around objects that you don't want the printing to touch. Just get some plain packing paper, tissue paper, or paper towels and wrap the objects in a layer of it first. Then crumpled newspaper can be used to properly pad them. The objects won't have pesky newsprint stains. I suppose I'll have to be careful to unpack the newspaper and wash my hands before removing the unprinted inner layer of packing paper.

*Small boxes are BETTER than big ones. When they are packed, they are much lighter. I packed our huge collection of books (minus a micro-collection I've assembled for the time period between when I pack and unpack) into smaller boxes. This way they can be carried easily. I suspect that the truck will have less air pockets because we'll have smaller boxes going in.

*Don't fold over your boxes to close them. They are better when TAPED CLOSED. This way the flaps lay flat and the boxes are more solid when stacked. But I do offer this tip: fold over the very end of the packing tape before taping the box shut. This way you'll have a tab for pulling off the tape. I'd rather not loose track of the razor knife as I unpack.

*Write labels on all four sides and the top. Put the location of the room on four sides and the top. No matter how it is loaded into the truck, you'll know just where each box goes and how it should be treated. On top give a little info about what's inside. On the sides words like "heavy" and "fragile" help determine how the box is loaded into the truck and who can carry it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

H2O Gone Mad

They make protein water? Is this because of the low-carb diets out there? Well, even in those plans, regular consumption of plain water is considered important.

But protein water? Somehow all I can do is mentally picture meat floating around in water. However, it comes in fruit flavors. Is it just me or is there something very wrong with this concept?

I think just standard water is just fine, thanks.

Turning a Blind Eye

I refuse to watch the video or hear the audio of the manifesto of the Virginia Tech shooter. My 15 year-old was talking about how they released his stuff in the media this morning after NBC, the only network to directly receive the video ran it on the news last night. I told her she was simply not allowed to see it. She was annoyed at me for taking this choice away from her, even though she didn't want to see it. I just need to lay out my reasons for her and rant a bit.

One: It's wrong to air his video in the first place. The networks are playing a game with the public for ratings. I don't agree in suppression of the media, in general, but I also believe NBC should have truly examined the value in their offering. There was no value in releasing this and, in retrospect, it should be clear there was nothing to lose by NOT showing it. The outlets that follow on their heels release this junk are just looking for numbers. We should hear about why this sort of sad thing happened but to hear the self-righteous rantings of this young man is going too far.

Two: The shooter was clearly mentally ill and his rantings are the creation of a mind that sees conspiracy everywhere and the world like a riding bull trying to buck him no matter what he did. There will be those disenfranchised individuals who will consider his manifesto as some kind of valid statement about the status of their own lives.

Three: No matter what you say about his mental health, it's what he wanted and you just can't give that to him or people like him. He took time between shootings to mail off this package, it was clearly as important that his video be aired as it was that he take down as many people as possible in the process.

Four: I'm your mother and I said so. Yeah, I'm pulling out that old trick.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sketchy Details

For Easter, my kids got an assortment of candy (including the obligatory chocolate bunnies), silly toys, slipper socks, sketch books, and a large supply of ordinary mechanical pencils each. Sketch books fill-up fast around here. At 6:30 a.m., my 15 year old decided to depict her Easter morning in her new sketch book. With some modifications, it could be considered a reasonably accurate depiction of last Christmas morning too.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Recycling Easter

My 10 year-old daughter made these little lava lamps for her blog so I decided to "borrow" them for mine. I like how the little blobs of wax bubble up and then break off to float to the top. Very clever, kiddo!
Easter is tomorrow. We are going against tradition and having a BBQ dinner instead of the standard ham, etc.. My husband usually threatens to order pizza on major holidays because he doesn't believe the time and hassle is necessarily worth the effect of an enormous meal. However, just ask him what he thinks of me buying the dozens of cookies and sweet treats I traditionally make during the various holidays.

One of the traditions of Easter I remember as a child is getting a new basket every year--the kind with the long, flimsy handle. These were the kind that usually fall apart and have very little use outside holding the holiday haul. Every few years when my parents would have a yard sale, the baskets would come out and sell for something like a dime.

When I had kids, the bunny brought them holiday standards. When they were tiny they got those plastic toy wagons, beach pails and the like. One year, however, the bunny brought my kids some really nice sturdy wooden baskets. They were pink and purple and not necessarily baskets that would find everyday use. However, they were sturdy and very
So, the following year, we shredded some recyclable papers, put this filling in the baskets and set them out for the bunny to fill. They have been reusing these for years, much like a Christmas stocking. The fact that we aren't contributing to landfills is a bonus.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Primrose Path

I'll admit it. I've never seen American Idol. I don't watch reality TV either. I did watch the first season of survivor because I erroneously believed that it would be educational. People learning to survive and live in harmony with nature -- what could be wrong with that? Yikes.

I logged on today and my Yahoo homepage had articles about American Idol, asking me if I was shocked. Nothing shocks me anymore. Yesterday it was an article about how Brittany Spears left rehab and wants privacy. I don't care about Brittany, ok? I don't care about celebrities in general. I don't care who is making a fool of themselves in public. I don't care what overpaid star does in his/her private time. But you just can't dodge this junk.

I've done marketing research on various products and services and I know that people make financial choices that mirror that of the stars. These people don't want to think their own thoughts or make choices based on principle. They want to believe in a fantasy lifestyle because that is what helps them sleep at night. Is some star adopting a baby from a foreign country? Then they want that too. These are life-altering decisions and they are based on emulating people who aren't public figures because of their contribution to the betterment of mankind but because of how they look in tight jeans.

I can see that I have ranted. Even the primrose path is looking battered.

Now I'm looking for a new homepage. I liked Yahoo because it allowed me to see big news stories and do a comprehensive search from their main page. But most of those stories aren't news. They are fluff or trash. What I want in a home page is categorized news, a major search engine on that page, and a customizable weather section. Maybe I should start exploring RSS feeds from my favorite places. I'd like real news though. I don't mean just the hard stuff. I like public interest stories but not the garbage that tells us what to think and newsflashes that equate to using basic common sense.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Pis Have It

Today is Pi Day. I am one of those crazy math people who will embrace just about anything mathematical. I just can't help it.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Stephen Hawking is going on a Zero Gravity flight to experience weightlessness. I want to go too! Sure, sure, it would be great to step on the scales during that flight. ("I've experienced 100% weight loss!") But, truly, I'm thinking it would be an absolute blast to try out the experience shared only by astronauts, Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon. The Zero Gravity company who does these little jaunts is letting the other seats on Hawking's flight be occupied by the winners of charity auctions. So, I'm doomed.

I don't like charity auctions. I do like charities and I like them helping people, sure. But I prefer charity raffles. Most people can manage to afford a chance at something really spectacular but not everyone can afford to one-up someone with both the desire and the means to get it. When I do non-profit works, I always give a preference toward raffles for the really good stuff. It gives people the chance to dream instead of scoff at their position in life. If someone has the means, I suppose they could pull a Veruca Salt and likely get their way. In such cases, the winner is still always the charity.

So I guess I won't be making that flight with Hawking. This is quite alright, of course, because I couldn't find one of his books that I had checked out from the library for quite some time once. I'll consider this a penance for keeping it long past the due date.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sick Day

Lolly is home sick watching the Scorpion episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. I forgot John Rhys-Davies was playing Leonardo Da Vinci in those episodes. When I pointed out that the actor playing Da Vinci also plays Gimli in The Lord of the Rings movies, she was delighted. What a geek! A chip off the old blockheads!

We're eating ramen noodles for lunch. When you're sick, the stuff can taste like a gourmet feast.

When I first heard about the recent peanut butter recall of a brand-name product, I was smug. "Ha! See, brand names don't mean something is better or safer!" I worked in a grocery store at one time and knew that the brand-name manufacturers also packaged under other labels. I knew this and I still smirked.

Yesterday I made a batch of peanut butter cookies and reminded myself of this smug attitude. I didn't bake them all so I had the dough stashed in my fridge. Today when I got out the dough to finish baking, I heard more news about the recall. Great Value brand was also recalled. Darn it, that's the brand they sell at Wal-Mart! I looked on my jar and, sure enough, it was the very same. It had the product code indicated in the recall.

I texted Sid to let me know how she was doing. When I took out the supposedly unopened jar of peanut butter from the cupboard, I noticed it had been opened. She probably opened it herself in the last day or two (ignoring the TWO already opened ones in the cupboard). I know this because I recognize her finger swipe in the otherwise untouched surface inside. Leave it to her, she who rejects peanut butter as a sandwich filling, to eat a raw finger full from a jar of the recalled stuff. I'm just glad that her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis isn't being treated like her dad's RA, with immuno-suppressants. She's ok though. Apparently, there wasn't anything actually wrong with it though. Lucky her.

Eww...the dead borg are disgusting. Sorry. I just forgot this episode was kind of gross. Yay! The Voyager crew are safely escaping despite the premonitions of a frighteningly psychic crew member (this is her swan song episode anyway).

Lots to do. Got to run. Janeway rules!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bamboo Blabbing

The house I grew up in had quite a large patch of bamboo. It surrounded the large covered deck. It was probably planted as a privacy screen at some point before my parents bought the house. But it grew so fast that we could practically watch it grow. It became a burden because it had to be cut often. I remember my parents trying unsuccessfully to destroy it.

Of course, today, that bamboo would be embraced. Its many uses outweigh it as a burden. I'm considering planting a small amount in my yard. People eat bamboo shoots, make it into paper, and use it in construction. I knew it was used as a new sustainable flooring product but only recently found out it's being made into sheets similar to plywood. It's called plyboo.

I know one of its uses is as firewood. I wonder how long it has to dry before being burned. How much would a family have to grew to use as firewood to heat a home during the winter? Can it be made into pellets for pellet stoves? So many questions.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


When I was a kid I hated spelling. Despite this, I managed to win an award for it. In first grade, the teacher offered an enticement to do well in the subject. Every year she awarded a trophy to the person with the best marks in spelling during the year. The winner, she told us, would have to have perfect marks in spelling all year. Then she showed us the trophy. It sparkled in the morning sun. I was taken in by the glint and glamor and studied my words every single week.

Since I am neither a naturally good speller nor particularly dedicated to scheduling myself, I often wonder who that six year-old was. I had learned that studying the words a few times during the week was all it took. The words didn’t really stay in my brain longer than the test though. After my first grade year, I slacked off a bit, allowing myself to miss words now and again.

Then came the fourth grade. Our teacher, instead of selecting her best spellers for the all-school bee, as had been tradition, had a mock spelling bee right there in class. I stood there as round after round of students were asked to sit down. I seemed to get only simple words. Instead of being astonished by my good luck as I were asked to spell words that were easy (like, literally, easy), I was terrified. I had to put in my best effort. I mean, the teacher wasn’t going to believe I couldn’t spell flower. But the list of standing students dwindled down to two and I was one of them.

I could picture myself on stage in front of the school making a mockery of the whole spelling competition. “Who does this girl think she is, spelling with the best and the brightest?” I could hear the judges saying when they heard my pathetic attempts at successful (or was it sucessful or succesful?) I had to throw it. There was no other way out.

“Your word is fudge.”

(But I KNOW that one)



“Fudge, f…u… (should I or shouldn’t I)….d-g….e, fuge.”

“I’m so sorry.” She was, I could tell.

The last kid watched me bungle it. It was obvious he knew that I had messed it up on purpose. He was, of course, incredulous that anyone could do that. So he spelled fudge correctly, seeming to exude the sweet and comforting concept behind the word with every letter. Now THAT was a spelling champion. I don’t know who was more happy about his victory, him or me. From that day on, I vowed that public spelling was behind me.

My youngest daughter is in the gifted program at her school. As such she has the task of learning difficult spelling words. She brought her spelling home last week as homework.

“What’s prostrate mean?”

“Oh that, I use that word every day. You should know that.”

“Mom, I need to do this for school.” Bam, completely ignored, shut-out.

My husband, the man I married for his vocabulary ability alone, gave a hand. “You don’t mean prostate, do you.”

“No!!” She knew it was a slight.

She knew what prostate meant?

He gave her a working sentence to illustrate the meaning of prostrate and she made up her own sentence for her homework.

A few days later, I was at the school popping popcorn for the PTA and ran into one of the teachers. She had a little gem about my daughter. I braced myself to hear it. The kids were giving each other the spelling test, she told me. The girl with the word list had mispronounced the word prostrate, substituting the word prostate. The kids didn't react to this, they just wrote out the word. Lolly was the only one overtaken by a fit of the giggles.

“Nobody understands my humor.”

“I do.”


“I like your humor.”

“The kids at school all think its dumb.”

My husband says they just don’t get it yet. It’s like telling the tallest girl in the class that being tall is just temporary. Though she knows that the other kids will catch-up, the tallest girl still thinks that her height is the worst thing in the world. She imagines herself growing at break-neck speed, her only option in adult life being the circus.

Lolly is like the tall girl but without the growth spurt. She’s the kid who, when adults make a comment that's some kind of disguised insult--sarcasm, understands what they meant and knows to feel insulted. While she may seem a bit socially awkward, somewhere in her head, she really knows what's going on. We tell her that the kids in her class will "get" her humor eventually. But, to Lolly, it’s the circus for her.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Me, Waving Outloud

Hi Mom and Dad (who, I'm sure, is or will be reading this outloud). Yes, I have a blog on the web. It's been here for about two years now.

What's that? You would have liked to know that you could read my stuff at some time before now? Yeah, I know but I wouldn't have wanted to disappoint you by not posting for months at a time. For, example, count the number of posts in 2006. It wasn't pretty.

I decided that, before releasing knowledge of a web presence to you, my only fans, I would want to make certain I would post regularly. Since you know my phone number, I knew you'd bother me about it and then I'd feel guilty about not posting. But don't you feel good now? I mean, now you've got all of this to read through and it will keep you modestly entertained for a while.

Also, I need to apologize. Dad, I know you didn't eat cardboard as a kid. You may be confused by this apology now but you won't be if you read my blog. And, Mom, I know you wouldn't be shocked by my fictional phone call from the Almighty. I remember you talking to God a lot when I was a kid. Usually the conversation started with "God, please...." and ended with " straighten out that rotten son/daughter of mine, but certainly not the oldest twin. She's THE BEST."

The kids are good (despite mild illness), the dog is shedding and, no, I don't know what I'm fixing for dinner but we'll probably throw something together that's not phlegm-inducing.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


And, lo, the four horsement were sighted, the seventh seal was broken and David Lee Roth rejoined Van Halen.

Friday, February 2, 2007

What Would Dumbledore Do?

We'll miss Harry Potter when the series ends.

Proprietary Technology: The New Barbie Doll

I had several Barbie dolls as a child. I fondly remember receiving Malibu Barbie, a "remote control" Barbie car, and a Barbie pool as gifts. There was the shaving Ken doll too – a heat activated color changing plastic coating allowed his beard to appear or disappear depending on the temperature of the water used on his foam razor. However, no matter how many clothes she had, my Barbie's wardrobe seemed too limited. The cost of a nice Barbie outfit was nearly as much as a new doll. And every doll came with a new outfit. Essentially, it seemed, the doll was free.

You could try to sort of make other doll clothes fit your Barbie but they never worked. It was also insane to try an sew Barbie clothes yourself. The fabric would fray itself into oblivion. So you were forced into paying ridiculous prices for outfits to make playing with your Barbie fun.

This was my first lesson in proprietary technology—the concept that technology and components aren’t necessarily compatible across the board, forcing consumers to spend more money for brand new, specially designed components. While tiny Barbie outfits and molded plastic dolls could hardly be considered technology, the consumer appeal of accessorizing the latest gadget or gizmo is equivalent to expanding the wardrobe of a Barbie.

My 15 year-old daughter received a new cell phone for Christmas. We have various reasons for allowing her to carry a phone. She began with a prepaid phone — no great loss if it went missing. Then we stepped her up to an extension of our own phone plan. Since she had been so responsible with that phone and since her 6 month old MP3 player was malfunctioning, we decided to get her a new phone. We were renewing our contract anyway and got it for a very nice price. The new phone functions as a phone and MP3 player. It’s sleek and beautiful.

Lucky me, I got her old phone. It was actually better than mine. Until the kids are grown up and moved away, I’m going to be getting their technology hand-me-downs.

This new phone came with little earbuds that she didn’t like. We figured she’d use the really nice headphones she bought with her own money a few weeks beforehand. However, the funny little flat plug on the earbuds looked strangely alien to us. We soon discovered that the headphone jack will only fit headphones that are Bluetooth compatible. It was like we had mistakenly bought her a transvestite Ken to go with an existing Barbie wardrobe. There's no way Ken would fit into Barbie's size 2s.

The fantastic phone now only really acts as a secondary MP3 player to her. Instead, she uses her computer to play music, tethered to it with her beloved headphones. At least the phone is sleek and beautiful. It is so beautiful that she has to be extra cautious and keep it safely stashed just in case someone’s admiration of her phone extends into criminal aspirations.

Nobody said it was easy to have the latest thing. It’s just that nobody ever said it was this hard.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Random Thoughts

I'm still plotting my story between working on bits of other projects. However, last night as I was fitfully trying to drift off to sleep I had a brilliant idea pop into my head. I do keep paper and pen next to my bed in case I wake up with inspiration or a really interesting dream I don't want to forget. However, my idea was so amazingly brilliant that there was simply no way it could slip from my mind's grasp.

Yeah, right.

It's all a bit of a foggy blur. The only part of my stroke of genius I can now remember is how great I thought it was. I'm trying not to be too upset though. It may have been one of those ideas that only seemed good because I was drowsy and my mind hadn't reflected on how it would sound outside of my head.

It's Thursday and that means it's almost Friday which means Saturday will come soon. I've slated myself a deadline of Saturday for all major plot points to be completed (at least as much as they will be before I decide I need to tidy up the story a bit and scrap half of it).

I dreamed about a wonderful movie last week. Unlike last night's inspiration, I actually have notes about the movie. It starred Catherine Zeta Jones and Julianne Moore. It was brilliant casting, if I don't mind bragging. I never really considered writing movie scripts before. No! I've got to finish something I've started -- or at least the plotting. I need to finish the book I'm working on first.


Our dog, who never gets on furniture except Cassidy's bed when she's been invited, was found asleep on the couch this morning. I have no idea what inspired her migration from the floor.


It's the first of February. J.K. Rowling announced the release date of the final book in the Harry Potter series as July 21. That will be the 10th anniversary of the first book's publication. It's like the end of an era. I kind of wish it were pushed off a bit further into the year. I like the idea of kids hanging onto their imaginings of Harry's fate just a bit longer. She's a great writer, don't get me wrong, and her story has made kids around the world into readers. I guess I just like the idea of Harry's world being an imaginary place that kids visit. I hate the idea of seeing the loose ends tied up. Half of the fun in the Potter books was the debate and discussion over what was really going on and what would happen next.

Maybe I should have more faith in her. If anyone knows what kids' imaginations need, it's the author of the most compelling book series ever.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Itching to Stitch

I worked on some sewing projects over the weekend. Among them was sewing a new wallet for my husband. I'm so proud of the new wallet! I made this wallet tutorial detailing the correct procedure for reproducing this wallet. It took me longer to put the tutorial together than it did for me to sew the thing, even though I ripped out most of my stitches after noticing a vital mistake. Now I'll be able to follow my own directions for a new one when he needs it. I was thinking of making some wallets, purses, totes, etc. to sell at the farmer's market in the spring. We'll see if I manage.

Learning to sew has been interesting and fun. Its been really nice to see that this is a skill for which I seem to have a knack. I like trying to figure out how to make things according to my mental picture of them. Sometimes I can find the patterns that are very close to the end product I'm imagining. Usually though, I have to either alter a regular pattern or create my own.

Last winter my kids picked out purple leopard skin fabric to make into a dog coat. This was important because our dog is the color of dirty snow and blends in a bit too well.

This year for Christmas, I made my niece and nephew on my husband's side each a custom stocking. Both were inspired by stockings I've seen on the web. However, I forgot to take pictures of them. Luckily, my sister-in-law snapped some photos for me. Here they are, Ballerina Stocking and Monster Stocking:

Now Lolly wants a monster stocking. I should have known. She can use the sewing machine but it's usually put away so it doesn't occur to her that she could use it if she asked. (Out of site, out of mind, I guess.) But get out the machine and her eyes light up, a maniacal grin spreads across her face and the fabric scraps pull themselves deeper into their storage bins. She has 50million little projects milling around in her head. I'm almost afraid of setting her loose on the world with the capacity to sew.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Lolly was upset this morning. She was doing a good job at covering it up but I can see she's nearing her upsetment quota -- that mental state at which she can no longer ignore a lingering social problem. Yesterday, a "gang" of 4th grade girls decided they were both the fashion police and the naming authority. The head gang member approached Lolly with some things to discuss.

Lolly doesn't care what she wears. I let her wear whatever she wants as long as it is sufficiently modest, isn't completely full of holes and it's clean. She even ENJOYS thrift store clothes. Except for the time she tried to get me to buy her a wetsuit, it's been fantastic finding her unique things at secondhand stores. She's an unconventional kid and she doesn't follow the laws of fashion because it's just silly to look like everyone else.

I enjoy modest veto authority throughout the year but I try not to push my opinion unless there's a need. If it's simply not my taste, that's not an issue. I do, however, require her to wear a reasonably matching modern-ish outfit whenever it's the first week or school or she's visiting a doctor for the first time. I want her to look presentable for teachers and doctors. Before she or I open our mouths, I want the first impression to be that this is a child who conforms to expectations. A good first impression is always important, even if it’s completely inaccurate. After that, Lolly's quirkiness is more acceptable.

As a girl who isn't into the current definition of "fashion," it didn't bother Lolly when the head of this clique of girls was chatting her up about her enormous blue boots. But when the girl asked Lolly's name, she wanted to know why her mother would name her Lolly. That annoyed her. (I secretly giggled when she told me the story--this has got to be one of the 40 girls in the school named Emily or Ashley.) She said she was ignoring the girl but I could feel it. She could ignore her, but not for much longer. Then she would say something. Let's just say that some of Lolly's comebacks take a while for kids to understand.

Actually, her mother didn't name her Lolly. Her parents named her Lauren. Lauren's mother, who was under the influence of various pain management medications after having Lauren agreed when her husband suggested "Lolly" as a nickname for their newborn. It really stuck.

She'll get over this conversation about her name. She'll continue to ignore this little girl's comments and we'll continue to campaign on the part of greater ignorance. But one day, probably when she's about 14, she'll dramatically declare that her name is Lauren,not Lolly. "Oh, so you want to be a walking cliche?" we'll, say, "That's fine."

And we'll endure several years of attempting to correct ourselves when we address her.

This is somewhat similar to Cassidy's naming dilema. Being our first, we had lots of time to read through baby name books. We selected her name because it was Irish and meant "clever." We knew it was traditionally a boy's name but didn't care because we’d never heard it used before. We thought that she would probably never meet another Cassidy in her life. Then Kathy Lee Gifford had a daughter and, let me say, that ended the whole unique name revolution for our eldest.

There were Kassidys and Cassidies around every corner. We've never called her "Cass." She was nearly out of grade school before her permanent nickname took hold. CaSIDidy became Sid. Most people don't call her Sid though, which is just fine. She was annoyed at her new nickname, initially. But it fit a need that was there. Now she accepts and even likes it. Maybe it's because you can't shout out the name Sid with the same dramatic flare as when you emphasize the different syllables in Cassidy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Easiest Listening

I can't carry a tune. This has been a real dilemma for me in life. Everyone needs a method of expressing themselves artistically. Music can make people feel a range of emotions from inspired and introspective to despondent and depressed. My music is a different story. It doesn't create emotions, per se, but something vaguely similar to mortal pain.

I play no instrument except the one or two songs I've memorized from my electric keyboard's lesson files. I cannot sing, having such a limited range that it's in negative figures. I have, however, learned the fine art that is lip synching. As a kid being short meant that I was always in the front row in choir and nobody was directly in front of me to hear the lack of sound actually emerging from my body.

I can hear unique tunes in my head and imagine them played outloud but I can't get them outside of my head, for the world to hear. It's like those artistic things I envision but have no artistic skill to accomplish. Sometimes I feel frustrated by my complete inability to express myself artistically. I can see or hear things in my head but I can't get them out. It's likely that they only retain their intriguing qualities in my mind and that, once out, I would be disappointed at the physical representations of my introspection. Maybe there's a loose wire in there and perhaps my lack of skill is saving me from myself.

Somehow my kids have managed to have their wiring intact--or at least the artistic expression portion of their wiring. The jury's still out on the rest of the circuitry. They seem to be sufficiently skilled at drawing, writing and playing music to accomplish the expression they desire. Both of them have somehow managed to become first chair in their preferred instruments (though I don't know about Sid this year). This is, of course, beyond my comprehension because it obviously doesn't reflect their devotion to practice. It would be nice if their chair status had been more reflective of their will to practice. That can be a very effective motivator.

Lolly took lessons from a percussion instructor last year. This was partially motivated by some suggestions made by the Davis program instructor who helped her with her mild dyspraxia. Since then she's started playing trumpet in her music class at school. Her percussion instructor had pegged Lolly pretty well, which is something I can't say about most of her life's instructors. She's kinda "unique" in her approach to life but he continued to get her on track undaunted. He taught her a little piano and we found out she could memorize songs very quickly.

Sid plays the trombone. This is her 5th year playing it. Her first instructor said that trombone was a good fit because she had long enough arms to have sufficient reach for all of the notes and she had full enough lips to work the aperature. Now she's in Jazz band at her high school. Last year, she pulled off a stint in the pit for marching band. This had her playing bells, the xylophone and keyboard. Since she can't march (juvenile arthritis) it was the only way she could participate in marching band.

Lolly's music teacher approved of her choice of trumpet which Lolly was desperate to play. I don't think Lolly would have played trombone even if it were the only choice available to her. Thank goodness. I'm not saying she's a clutz or is totally and blissfully unaware of the world around her but I could somehow imagine her accidentally launching the slide into the air and into the head of some kid in front of her.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Bucket and a Brush

I am determined to paint my dining room today. I'm in my painting clothes. I have the paint. We picked a deep red. The adjoining rooms are an herby green and a golden yellow. I may paint over that green but I'll decide once the red is up.

We use that low-odor paint so it's not a big deal to paint even though it's about 4 degrees outside and we can't open windows -- just run the ventilation fans. The only one who notices the smell is the dog. It must be tough to be a dog. She gets blamed for every odd smell but she's the only one who knows what's truly going on in the smell department. Since she can't talk, she's got to take all of the blame. On the occasion of my painting, however, she's the only one who is really bothered and she can't complain.

My father would have a cardiac event at the thought of having his house done up in these colors. In their house, my Apple-a-Day red would have to be called Nitroglycerin Red. I think my mother might like it but they've always picked safe colors. There was the time in the late 80's when they went with a really pale mauve which turned out to be pink. I don't remember actually pointing this out to them, wanting to see them live on the wild side for once. However, in their next house (their current one), they went with a white. I think it was either antique or off.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More Irony

I'm procrastinating again.

Embrace Your Inner Geek!

I'm in the middle of beginning to write a book. I've been in the middle of beginning to write books before but I may just complete this one. It's YA sci-fi/fantasy. This is the genre that I tend to read since I find these kinds of books laying around the house, their pages being bookmarked with a spoon, throw pillow, or whatever was on-hand when the kids were done reading. I pick them up and peek through them. So I decided to write with my kids' taste in mind. This one has a feeling of possibility. I've been having fun with the details but I'm still also working on plotting. I'm one of those people who likes to plan everything out in advance. I find that, through planning, I build the sense that a story is realistically spontaneous. Yeah, Alanis, that actually is ironic.

On one of my tangents of wandering around the web for inspiration in building my story's background, I found this interesting book: A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science by Michael C. Schneider. I wonder if my library has it. I try to check there first. We have lots of books and I try to keep their population down (and a few trees intact) by buying only the ones I'm totally enamored by (unless they are yard sale bargains). It wasn't exactly what I needed for my story but the inner geek in me says this looks like a fantastic read.

My family often follows our inner geek now. It began after last year's Family Art Night at Lolly's school where we did a number of activities including family crests. Since I organized the event, I made an example using our family. It had books, art tools, computers, etc.. Once I was done and saw how truly geeky it seemed, I decided to add a motto: Embrace Your Inner Geek! At the end of the evening, it was the one thing I neglected to take down. It was on the wall of the school for a few months before I realized it and took it down, our geekiness laying naked before the world.

Cleaning the Cosmic House

Last year we failed at having a "new" year. We found ourselves in transition mode all year, and not feeling particularly cheery about it. This is not to say that I actually believe that there is such a thing as a "bad" year, bad day, or bad millennium. I discourage my kids from chalking-up a series of seemingly crummy events to a "bad day."

"A day, an hour, a minute -- they're what you make of them, not part of a cosmic conspiracy." I tell my kids as I grit my teeth because I know what they mean when they complain about a bad day.

Instead, I have to assume that bad and good things seem to hang out in groups and descend upon people in clusters because of the expectations of people, not the nature of time. I've read the classicThe Magic of Believing and its modern, scientific equivalent The Luck Factor. These both talk about the nature of luck and the power of the expectations of people. Though I'm convinced in the power of positive thinking, I still have trouble being one of those super-cheery-look-on-the-bright-side types but I'm working on it.

Our traditional way of dealing with the celebration of a New Year is to make everything seem fresh and new. While I still stand-by what I say about labeling time periods as "bad," I believe that when you start on a new road, its length seems to resemble its beginning. As such, for a new year to begin I like to make everything fresh and newish. I root through closets and cupboards and take out stuff that we don't need and try to sort-of organize things. The time between Christmas and New Years is perfect for this because 1) I have slave labor since the kids are out of school and 2) having just received new stuff for Christmas makes it the perfect time to get rid of old stuff.

Last year our house was set upon by a barrage of illnesses resulting in a lackluster holiday. My youngest stayed up well past midnight because she was ill. Nobody went and did anything. We TiVo'ed the ball drop in Times Square, the traditional New Years bread was not broken and we just let things stay as they were -- kind of messy. And we regretted it.

My husband, who was on various medications to maintain his health because of previously aggressive arthritis turned yellow early in the year. The general malaise and nausea accompanying it were a concern. A blood test and ultrasound later revealed that one of his medications was inhibiting his liver's full function giving a similar effect to gallstones. It all turned out okay but he was yellow for a while. Then there was the eye inflammation which was later attributed to his arthritis. However, his opthamologist (now affectionately remembered as the Eye Nazi) decided she needed to see him at least monthly. Then she prodded him about every aspect of his life, however unrelated. She was, in general, rude and didn't seem to think it was connected to his arthritis. After doing a phone referral with another opthamologist/rheumatologist, she had Jason on another medication which drastically lowered his white cell count and did nothing for the inflammation. When Jason was finally fed-up with all of this, he stopped taking the medication and ignored his appointments with the Eye Nazi and it all seemed to right itself on its own.

There was so much more than happened last year. But it needs to be put behind us. We did our traditional New Years celebration. We cleaned house, organized, and planned a proper celebration. We broke the New Years bread (and I am happy to report that I got the penny). We had champagne and sparkling cider.

Just so you know, new year bread is a round loaf of bread baked for this occasion. I don't have a traditional recipe. This year, I used the one on the yeast package.
1. Bread symbolizes sustenance for the new year.
2. It is round to represent eternity (because the circle has no beginning or end)
3. It contains herbs to represent the spice of life.
4. It contains garlic to ward off evil (corny, I know).
5. A shiny penny (I prefer old ones cleaned with vinegar) is placed inside the loaf prior to baking to symbolize abundance. The person receiving this penny in their slice will experience particular abundance.

The loaf is prepared and the penny is placed vertically near the bottom to make it easier to divide the bread without revealing its position. It's baked. Then we determine the number of guests and score the top like slicing a pie so its divided between everyone there -- no leftovers. We present the bread and explain what it contains and what each thing symbolizes. It's sent around the table and each person tears off a piece. Once everyone has a piece, it's time to dig. Nobody gets to eat it until we know the whereabouts of the penny. When the penny is found, that person gets to gloat in their penny victory. Then we eat the bread.

Ok, I've rambled a great deal. I just want to post and state that I plan to be better about not letting life get me down this year. I also plan to post more. Or, as my friend, Dot, has said, I'll resolve the opposite of my intention (since we all break New Year's resolutions anyway). I resolve to refrain from posting. Lets see how that works for me.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Three New Diets for 2006

This year, like the last several, my New Years resolution has been to lose weight and eat healthier. In keeping with tradition, this lasted part of the first day and has since been ignored. Now that I'm getting back on the bandwagon, I've been researching weight loss methods and am forced to conclude that they are all inadequate. So I've developed three new plans which are sure to revolutionize weight loss as we know it.

The Induced Coma Diet
In this radical diet plan the body is put into a medically-induced coma while a watered-down glucose drip helps maintain hydration. This eliminates the element of willpower involved in most diets. At least the depravation of calories is hard to notice when one is in a comatose state. For those who just can't bring themselves to eat another carrot stick or spend another minute on the treadmill, this is the ultamite weight-loss plan.

There are risks, of course. Problems reviving someone from a coma must be considered. You shouldn't worry about this, however, because this plan results in guaranteed weight loss. In the end, you may not be conscious, but you will look good.

The Flu Diet
Every year the Center for Disease Control examines the strains of flu going around to determine which is the most likely to strike the population that year. Is it going to be the Austro-Asian Fevoid Flu or the Euro-Atlantic Grossiod Flu? The process is long and difficult and, in the end, millions of people get their flu shots hoping to stave off this sometimes devestating illness. This year, I'm rethinking this plan. Every time I get the flu, the resulting listlessness and vomiting make it nearly impossible for me to want to eat, let alone hold down food. Once I regain my ability to eat I'm excited by the culinary delights offered by a can of broth. I usually lose several pounds, all without excercise.

In this diet plan, we allow the CDC to solve the weight problems of faced by our increasingly obese nation. The problem is, once you come down with a strain of the flu, it's unlikely you can be striken again. However, the CDC must have thousands of different flu viruses stored in their big freezers. By creating an arsenal of various flu strains to which dieters can be exposed, we virtually eliminate the possibility of immunity to the devestating effects and create the possibility of amazing weight loss. So forget the flu shot and bring on the Martian flu!

The Online Gaming Diet
This year most of us in my family have become hopelessly addicted to the game World of Warcraft. While I can avoid turning it on and spend days without even playing, once I do play, I get totally sucked in.

"Hello? What do you mean pick the kids up from school? I just dropped them off!"
"But it's 5:00 and, by law, we have to send the kids home from school before their bedtime."
"O.K., I'll be there just as soon as I kill off the Horde infiltrators..."

As long as I'm gaming, I forget eating and sleeping. Somehow they become less important than the triumph of good over evil. "They're just pixels" I tell the kids when their computer time is over but I don't mean it, not really. Online games are compelling and can easily replace eating. This is the basic principle behind the Online Gaming Diet.

When you are examining your life, looking for ways to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle, consider an addiction to online gaming. It's a logical choice. It's hard to change long-standing eating habits so start an entirely new habit to replace eating altogether. Once you've lost the weight, you can break the habit. There's probably a 12-step program out there somewhere. It's got to be easier than changing your diet and exercise habits, doesn't it?

Friday, January 6, 2006

My Kingdom for a Mug

I received this mug as a Christmas gift. It is the perfect mug, one worthy of a thorough examination. First of all, it holds 16oz when full. This is not precisely to the rim -- no! The measurement is accurate given a standard gap of space between the top of the liquid and the rim. The color is quite nice as well. It's not one of those smack-you-in-the-face bright sunshiny yellows. This is, for lack of a better phrase, a "mellow yellow."

The shape is probably the most compelling quality of my new mug. Perhaps "compelling" seems like a strong word considering that I'm talking about a small piece of very utilitarian pottery but I've come to really appreciate this mug and I'm certain others would feel the same if only they would simply EMBRACE THE MUG.

Back to the shape. The egg shape creates a sense of stately elegance while imparting an important practical value. This somewhat mutated spherical shape takes advantage of the well-known concept of maximum volume to surface area ratio which is a quality of spheres. Heat transfer from the contents to the air is enhanced by greater surface area. A square mug would make the coffee cool faster. But not this mug. Even the rim, which is narrower than the widest portion of the mug, contributes to this slower heat loss.

The rim is quite an interesting feature in and of itself. The rounded surface inside the mug, created by the narrow rim, means that gravity is working in the coffee's favor, keeping it in the mug and allowing a slower release of it as it is tipped or simply knocked around. Because of this, coffee is less likely to spill should I walk around and slosh my coffee or tea. I can bow to my clutsy nature and know that I'm protected. I can even be a little over enthusiastic about drinking my morning coffee (and who wouldn't be) because the rim protects me from simply dumping coffee all over me.

Alas, there is one characteristic which renders this object slightly less than perfect. Nothing is totally perfect, truly, and this mug is no exception. It's the handle. I have very small hands -- even my 9 year-old's hands rival mine for size. I can only slide three fingers through it, leaving the runty pinky finger to fend for itself. A mug handle that extends from the bottom to the top would accommodate larger hands. Most mugs have very small handles, like mine. I don't blame the mug though, I blame society. By looking the other way as mugs with inferior sized handles are manufactured, society has all but given its stamp of approval to small-handled mugs. It could simply be a matter of tradition overriding modern thinking. I still prefer my mug to any other, however, come coffee, come tea, come hot buttered rum!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

No Room at the Chilis

Trying to go out of a nice dinner with my husband during the holiday season can be challenging. Friday night we decided to try a restaurant in the mall. Being one of those "trendy" places, it obviously attracted several other people, their shopping bags and small amounts of their household and personal possessions. Just sneaking around large groups of confused people to get our name in to the hostess was a chore.

There was no room yet, we'd have to wait and why don't we peruse this menu so ordering our relaxing meal wouldn't take so long after they kick out some diners, their shopping, their laptop computers, and their collections of thimbles from around the world.

Normally I would be the first to argue that, no matter what your definition of Christmas, the holidays or whatever, it shouldn't have anything to do with dropping at least a grand on gifts and fun seasonal activities. This time of year, my line of reasoning would have determined, wasn't supposed to be about the commercialization of anything red and green, gold and silver.

However, as I sat near the cold entry to the restaurant with the bitter wind blowing past me every time more customers arrived to add their names to the queue, I realized that this could very well have been the meaning of Christmas all along -- cheerfully taking turns and knowing the answer to "what do you mean I'm not the center of the universe?" As the story goes, with no room at the Inn, Mary and Joseph, were forced to move along and take what they could get and, like my father who ate cardboard every meal as a kid, be grateful for it. Okay, so we didn't exactly give birth to the Christ child in the parking lot of Burger King. We simply waited for a meal because everybody and their dog was out Christmas shopping.

Hundreds of years of struggle and determination to get gifts and fake snow and tinsel trees all perfectly prepared for a single day of reveling had created the environment in which a fair bit of commercialization could grip the American psyche in mid-to-late December. This, in turn, created an atmosphere of panic, indulgence to counteract the panic and significant amounts of prayer that everything would come out correctly and swiftly. All of this culminated in crowded malls and restaurants, scarcity of politeness and product -- just so we could all remember that the defining moments in life aren't platinum-plated but are, instead, whatever you make of them.

Monday, December 5, 2005


This is Layla, the dog we adopted last May. She's a big sweetie. We don't know why anyone gave her up because she's fairly well trained, doesn't chew, doesn't dig-up the lawn, and won't sit on the furniture. She doesn't attack the mailman or deliverymen and would be more likely to pursue them in search for some affection. "PLEASE pet me!" Why would anyone want to give this dog up?

Fur. The groomer believes her to be a mix of two breeds: English Shedder and Boredom Collie.

We changed our floors from carpet to hardwood last summer. So the fur coalesces into clumps and glides around, seeking refuge under the furniture where it is dutifully swept-up by my 14 year-old who declares "Dust Puppy!"

She has talent too! We thought about making her a showbiz dog but we're not sure if there's a market for dogs whose talent is to lay in the most well-trafficked spot of the house at any given time. In the mornings, when people are shuffling through our hall, there she is, in the middle of the action. In the evening, when we're preparing dinner, there she is again, ready and able to make you stub your toe on the dishwasher in an attempt to avoid stepping on her. This has got to be some sort of marketable skill. Not only does she lay there, but she does so with the most bored look on her face, a look that suggests that you must abandon your homework, housework, or computer gaming to engage her in her favorite activity of belly rubbing.

Layla's name is similar to the name of my daughter, Lolly. Layla had trouble, at first, not answering to Lolly's name. Sometimes she wouldn't even respond to her own name, but call out "Lolly?" and she'd come. However, Lolly has used this nickname (her real name is Lauren) since she was 5 days old and it's too late for us to change it.

It was obvious that Layla had been trained at some point because she could do tricks like Shake, Fetch, Roll Over, etc.. But I can see that anyone who expected her to be militantly adherent to commands would be disappointed. When given a command she often just sits there sort of passively receptive to the fact that you've just gotten her attention and given her a command. Then she'll give us the "Oh, do you mean me?" look. Eventually, she'll do her trick but she's likely to be delayed when distracted by outside stimuli like stray electrons.

Mostly, we were excited because our youngest expressed no fear toward her and that's kind of rare for Lolly. She's been a little nervous around animals for several years, since unfortunate incidents with a neighbor pets like the black lab that knocked her down when she was 4 and the cat whose bite resulted in an infection when she was 5. The biggest compliment paid to Layla was when a friend's daughter said that, like Lolly. she's usually "at least a little afraid of all dogs" but Layla was the first dog that didn't scare her at all.

Black Friday

We visited family over the Thanksgiving holiday, a.k.a. "Digestive Thursday." My parents' house was full of Turkey, Gravy, and Mashed Potatoes. There was plenty of food too. I managed to drag my husband out to shop on Black Friday, ignoring the celebration of Buy Nothing Day entirely. The lure prices slashed so greatly is just too hard to ignore.

Shopping in the town where I spent my high school years is always a frightening prospect. Being from a relatively small town, this sort of venture into the unknown folds of society can have a full range of scary results. We looked disheveled. Two days of eating and drinking and standing in line for the bathroom will do that to you. We parked the car and both sat there briefly to scare-up the courage to go inside. "Please," I voiced a small prayer aloud, "don't let us see anyone we know."

We haven't really stayed in contact with many of our acquaintances from the "old days." It's not that continuing to live in the same town where we grew up is any indicator that these people are mentally challenged. We knew plenty of nice people there but we rarely ran into them since we moved away. Most of them have since moved on themselves.

As we wandered the aisles of Shopko looking for the bargains that had disappeared into the carts of the 6am shoppers, I felt slightly relieved. It was almost like shopping happily anonymous in the big city near where we live. Everywhere I was greeted by the faces of strangers, precisely as I had hoped.

Then, as we were in the checkout line my husband began shouting out behind me. "John!" I whirled around, trying to remember which John it could be. It was John, my husband's former Big Brother from the Big Brothers and Sisters program. John was waving with a dubious look on his face. It had truly been years since we'd seen him and he didn't recognize Jason on first glance. Was it the impending baldness?

I have, in the past, vowed to myself that I would never be shocked by developments that could be blamed on the passage of time. I swore that I wouldn't gasp "I can't believe it's you, after all these years!" when greeting a friend who looked like the time between visits had taken a great toll. I was determined never to utter "Has it been THAT long?" after learning of the birth of an acquaintance's dozen children who are all roughly the age I was when I last saw their mother or father.

Poor John who was already at a disadvantage because he had managed to lose his wife and children in the mall was confronted with this stranger who seemed to know his name a little too well. When Jason had finally coaxed him over and recognition spread across his face, he still seemed confused. It's sort of that deer-in-the-headlights phenomenon that happens when men, forced to shop, find themselves alone in a store with nobody to steer them down aisles.

We discovered that the young children and infant twins were all in upper grades and that the oldest was now a college freshman. Finally, John and Jason seemed to get into the groove of bouncing life's developments back and forth like a game of ping pong. These news flashes never seem as big out of the condensed fast-forward version of our lives that we swap with others in the middle of a public place. Half of the time, I'm shocked by the real changes that my own life has seen when described in this format.

Jason introduced our 9 year-old daughter whom John had never met and described what has been going on over the past decade. It was a welcome reunion, even given our casual meets pajamas state at the time.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Math Rant

I recently read that Dr Norman Wildberger has updated the arcane rules of trigonometry and eliminated sines, cosines and tangents from the trigonometric toolkit. Cool! I mean, I always liked trigonometry but looking at it from another perspective is always refreshing. Yes, I'm a total nerd.

When I was a kid learning this stuff seemed weird and officious. Half of the time I thought the teachers were nuts when they explained how numbers could be used, as though they were trying to convince us to buy Amway. When I was excited to "discover" something about them, something which we would be later taught in some methodical fashion, the teachers would often wonder what I was talking about. This sounds very computationally elite and snobby of me but sometimes I think I understood the nature of numbers better than they did because I didn't have the good sense to be terrified of math.

I thought I would probably stop taking math after high school. It seemed to be more of memorization than anything. It was boring and nobody ever bothered to explain the connections. When I was older, the larger concepts began to unfold more sensibly. I finally saw the grander picture. Why don't more high school teachers encourage kids to think in terms of math? Probably the better question is, why does it have to be such a terrifying experience in grade school?

I think there should be mathematics specialists in elementary schools to make sure kids develop a comfort with numbers and their various uses. Many elementary-level teachers aren't very math savvy. I nearly completed a teaching degree at one point, with the goal of teaching middle school math. For a number of reasons I didn't complete it. While on this path, I took various courses on elementary math instruction and can tell you that a good percentage of my fellow students were on their 2nd time in the classes (after receiving failing grades initially.) Many of these future teachers admitted being terrified of taking these classes because they "always hated math." And they went on to teach. It may be a case of the chicken and the egg.

We've somehow raised generations of math phobics. However, the generation before them is just as queasy about math and so on and so on. As a result, subsequent generations of teachers are often very single-minded in their approach to mathematics education, relying on memorization of formulas and even confusing the use of manipulatives. Too many kids are learning rote methods of computation. If a kid has a question that is not directly dealt with in the teacher's manual, it may not be addressed and a curious child will become a hardened one. They don't get the play with the numbers and see what they can do. No monkey bars with 4, no tag with 7, nothing.

Kids need to learn that it's ok to take their numbers out to play, that there is more than one way to divide or multiply. It freaks people out when I can calculate sales tax AND add it to the price of an item with a single calculation. I use the calculator function of my cell phone to do it in line for the cash register so I can have exact change. If the line is long, I'll just work it out in my head. It's fun and slightly cruel to imply that I knew the total because I am psychic.

Hey, this soapbox is kind of high and I'm a little lightheaded. Time to get off.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sock it to 'Em!

Sept 21st is International Peace Day. It's just one day but peace is important enough to dedicate just one day in a year toward attaining it. This is .274% of a year. That's not much. If you assume everyone sleeps 8 hours a day and, if you further assume that everyone can refrain from violence during sleep (harder for some than others,) this is only .1827% of our lives in which we have to mindfully consider peace. If we can't manage .1827% of our lives without violence in the world, we should maybe consider de-evolution. (There's a Star Trek:NG episode featuring this, you know.) Hey, Miss Beauty Pageant, this is World Peace -- exactly what you've been looking for!

As a parent, I know that you can't simply say "stop it" and expect ancient habits to die. Have you ever tried to get a two-year old to stop sucking on her thumb? Neither have I because I let my kids have pacifiers which I had to break them of by convincing them that their pacifiers were plotting against them. Usually, however, you have to replace an inappropriate action with an appropriate one.

"Taking your sister's toy is NOT nice! Hugging your sister is NICE. No, don't hug so hard. She's turning blue! Go find your pacifier!" But you get what I mean.

Eventually, the kids learn to amuse themselves by making stuff out of anything they can find including your precious 18th century antique spittoon. For example, my daughters have discovered the joy of turning those massive bags of single socks that linger in the laundry room into puppets which they use to give voice to their thoughts and fears so they can feel better about themselves without "borrowing" each other's stuff.

So, in a world where violence, war, and destruction are so common, we'd need a diversionary tactic. Ideally, this would be the precise opposite of the action we are trying to prevent. Like the "hug your sister tactic," I'm thinking "International Hug Your Enemy Day" is not going to go over big, however. So I propose sock puppets.

On this day, people around the world should dig-out a mismatched hole-filled sock and spend the day decorating it. For those who would point out that many people in the world don't have socks let alone leftover socks I say: I can take apart my clothes dryer and find enough to fill-in the gap. Once, when we had to repair our dryer, we discovered not only a huge pile of socks but currency from three different countries!

It is paradoxical that we can aid in the pursuit of world peace and violence reduction through socks since one of each pair of socks is an emotionally unstable clone trying to "off" the other one to gain early retirement. Oh, you know it happens. Do you think we simply misplace one of each pair? Certainly not! If we repurpose these "socks of violence" we may just teach them tolerance and peace. They may learn to discover joy in warming the feet of mankind. They may simply give-up on violence against their brethren and work in harmony with their partners. In this way, they can act as models to the rest of the world, changing aggression to harmony, one pair of feet at a time.

In any case, if the people of the world, like my children, are engaged in alternative acceptable activities like making sock puppets they won't be able to put peanut butter on the dog.