Friday, January 29, 2010

Juggling Books

When I first started this blog, I thought I would write a lot more about books. Somehow, channeling my inner Erma Bombeck has been loads more fun, but it gives the false impression that I’m, you know, actually funny. George and my mother can assure you I am not nearly so funny in real life.

I’m not funny. I just write that way. (Name that movie I’m paraphrasing!)

In real life, I am an unapologetic geek. I’m the weirdo in Bible study who pipes up with trivia tidbits like how as the bishops gained authority in the 8th and 9th centuries, they sapped the power of abbots and abbesses—especially the abbesses. Or how the popes saved the fish industry in Italy by declaring Fridays meat-free.

You know. That geek.

Anyway, in a past life, I was either a librarian at Alexandria (2nd century B.C.), a monk at Lindisfarne (7th century A.D.), a professor in Paris (14th century A.D.), or a Quaker rhetorician (19th century AD). Or perhaps I was all of the above. So it’s only logical that from the beginning of this life books have riveted my attention even when, perhaps, I should have been doing something else.

In school, books were my world. I knew that the secrets of life, the universe and everything lay hidden in them, and school provided the perfect excuse to juggle many books at one time. History, math, chemistry, biology, physics, novels, grammar handbooks, poetry, foreign languages…such diversity of subject matter challenged me to soak it all in, and I accepted the challenge joyfully.

This is why I know so much about classical, medieval, and Renaissance history despite the fact that most history classes are, generally speaking, mind-numbingly soporific. I can remember sitting in eighth grade history telling myself that surely there had to be something interesting about the Hittites; the text book just missed it. Maybe if I kept reading, I’d figure it out. No matter how boring the book, I shuffled through, made good grades, and never once understood why other kids had lost hope that the Hittites were anything but pointlessly boring dead people.

My faith in books stands unshaken, but my ability to multitask with them significantly declined when I had children. For the last ten years, I have rarely had two books going at once, unless, of course, I had already read them before. I reread books, having lunch with them as if they were old friends. It takes less mental energy to reread a book than it does to read it the first time, which is perfect for someone suffering from Mommy ADD.

I hoped when I started this blog that I would regain some of my powers of concentration and can happily report at least partial success. Right now, I am reading four different books, none of which I have read before. If you’re a fellow geek, you know just how cool that is.

Here they are, in case you’re curious.

The red leather-bound book is Volumes 1-2 of the 1950 edition of The Book of Knowledge, a children’s encyclopedia. Why, you might ask, is the 43-year-old geek reading an old children’s encyclopedia? To prove just how geeky I am, I guess. It’s an old book and smells of knights and Natives and oh!my!gosh! Geoffrey Chaucer! There’s a whole big entry on medieval literature, complete with anachronistic Victorian engravings and a fairy-tale retelling of Beowulf. It has articles as diverse as “The Wonder of the Train”; “The Artists of the Old Empires: Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria”; “How to Renew the Edge of Your Screwdriver”; and “Birth, Life, and Death of a Plant.” It even has a poetry section with the following poem by Amy Lowell:

Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
Sing me a song, O please!
A song of ships, and sailor men,
And parrots, and tropical trees,
Of islands lost in the Spanish Main
Which no man ever may find again,
Of fishes and corals under the waves,
And sea-horses stabled in great green caves.
Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
Sing of the things you know so well.

Do kids today even know what the Spanish Main was? I’d like to go where it used to be because it’s a heck of a lot warmer and sunnier in the Spanish Main than Ohio in January.

The Way I See It by Temple Grandin contains mini-articles about autism. Grandin has a PhD in animal behavior and her own consulting firm that works to improve the conditions of animals raised for slaughter. She also has autism and writes with the authority of one who’s lived it. The Way I See It gives advice to parents and therapists on how to help their children with autism learn and mature to be useful contributors to society rather than warehoused and written-off disabled adults. I’ve always appreciated her unique point of view and find the tidbits of advice in this book quite useful.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle tells the story of Barbara Kingsolver’s attempt to get closer to the food she eats. Another volume in the increasingly popular genre of do-something-weird-for-a-year-and-write-a-book-about-it, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle gives lots of interesting information about food: where it comes from, how it’s grown, how unnatural it is to eat asparagus in October. A bit preachy at times (I won’t stop eating asparagus in October), but an enlightening read nevertheless.

Finally, a volume of children’s literature caught my attention at Christmas so I bought it for Nick. The Percy Jackson series taps into my lifelong love affair with stories of the Greek and Roman gods. Unlike the Harry Potter series, these books are definitely for children, written in the first person from young Percy Jackson’s point of view. Percy has ADHD, dyslexia, and impulse-control issues. He’s also the half-blood son of Poseidon and a mortal woman who is tasked with saving the Olympian gods from total destruction. I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie, which comes out in February.

When I finish the Percy Jackson series, I’m going to dive into Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I read parts of this Roman classic in graduate school but never the whole thing. There’s something appealing about reading stories of transformation when I’m trying to transform myself. Of course, I’d rather not transform into a tree or have my liver plucked out daily by a giant eagle, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

It feels good to get back to normal (for me) with books. What is normal for you? Do you juggle multiple books or focus on one at a time? What are you reading right now? Chick lit? A book on raising designer chickens for fun and profit? The Bible? A how-to book on belly dancing? A children’s encyclopedia? Please share!

While you're thinking, I'll just go check the edges on my screwdrivers to see if they need tending. Who knew screwdriver edges were an encyclopedia-worthy topic? You learn something new every day....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Crushing the Dream

Actual conversation at our dinner table tonight...

Jack: I want to go see the dragons.

George: [looks at me, confused]

Me: He means the Dayton Dragons. We pass the stadium on the way home from Children’s Hospital.

George: Oh! Jack, you want to go see a baseball game?

Jack: No. I want to see the dragons.

George: The Dragons are a baseball team. There aren’t any dragons, buddy.

Jack: [very quiet] Oh.

The disappointment was palpable, and utterly, horribly funny. Nick, George, and I dissolved in uncontrollable laughter. Jack asked, "What's so funny?" Which only made us laugh harder. When I said, "We love you soooo much!" and gave him a hug, he said, "Thanks, Mommy." No hurt feelings for our insensitivity. Whew.

The week's essay is coming. Ironically, it seems since I decided to make my theme for 2010 WRITE, I'm ten times slower cranking out words. Go figure.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gratitude Journal #30

Today, I am grateful for

*the headline that reads "Rescuers Pull Haitian Man from Rubble"; bless the man's family and the Greek rescuers who didn't give up, despite the fact that official rescue efforts have been called off. Eleven days under a desk and meters of rubble! I'm going to try really hard this week not to whine about anything.

*the progress Jack has made recently. If you're interested, you can read the details on my Questioning Autism blog.

*this Bible verse, sent to me by my friend Lally: "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." (Romans 15:7)

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Words, Words, Words Seen on T-Shirts

"Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense

"I before E except after C...Weird"

"Get the facts first and you can distort them later"

"Non est mea culpa"

"I smile because I have no idea what is going on"

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Strange Adventures with the USAF: Drunk and Disappointed

For previous Adventures with the USAF, click here and here.

As I’ve already mentioned, alcohol is a big part of Air Force life, particularly among lieutenants and young captains who enjoy getting stupid in their off-duty hours. By the time most folks reach the rank of senior captain, they no longer enjoy the after-effects of being stupid and prefer to be designated drivers for the younger guys and gals who are still stupid. It’s sort of strange how killing brain cells eventually makes you smarter, but I quit trying to figure it out years ago. Very little in Air Force life makes sense, and you’ll go crazy trying to make it come out all logical.

Back in 1988, George was a butter-bar second lieutenant intent on killing plenty of brain cells every Friday night. I could see why. The stress of Undergraduate Navigator Training (UNT) and Electronic Warfare (E-Dub) Training was intense. He needed to have fun, cut loose, and do something his mother didn’t approve of. Youth craves freedom, rebellion, and a serious buzz. These young men and women were signing over their freedom and perhaps their very lives to their country and the mindless machine that is the bureaucracy of the Department of Defense. They were no longer Americans with names, just numbers to be slotted into the machine in whatever way the uncaring pencil-pushers saw fit. George was about to learn this first hand.

The goal for most folks in UNT was a fighter cockpit. There were three “tracks” for UNT graduates: fighter, tanker/transport/bomber, and electronic warfare. A random, highly variable number of slots for each track came down to each class. The fighter slots went to the top students: the hot shots with dreams of being like Tom Cruise in Top Gun—only Air Force, not Navy.

Electronic warfare was next in prestige, mainly because if you went through E-Dub training, you still had a shot at a fighter.

Most slots, however, were for navigators in heavy aircraft: the bombers, tankers, and transport planes. These planes were not nearly as sexy as the fighters. Some, in fact, were downright ugly, like the B-52, which was called the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F-er). Air Force aviators say the B-52 is so ugly that doesn't actually take off, it just scares the ground away. Watch one take off and you'll see just what they mean.

UNT students filled out a dream sheet with their top choices ranked in order of preference. My grandfather, who flew in WWII, warned George that the Air Force looked at your dream sheet and then gave you whatever was furthest from your dreams. Not much had changed by 1988. I doubt it ever will.

George wanted the back seat of an F-15E Strike Eagle, though he would have settled for any fighter in the inventory. George’s UNT class had over 40 students. Five fighter slots came down. He ranked seventh in his class, which meant he didn’t get one of them. He went to Electronic Warfare instead.

Disappointment #1.

At one point in UNT, George should have gone to the flight doctor and been made DNIF…Duty Not Including Flying. He was sick and shouldn’t have flown one of his check rides. But all Air Force aviators avoid the flight docs like the plague (which some of them are, as we found out later). So George toughed it out and stayed with his class. Had he washed back to the next class and finished well, he would likely have been assigned to a fighter because 12 fighter slots came down for that class.

I believe we can call this salt in the wound. Disappointment #2.

By the time that UNT class graduated, however, George was already well into E-Dub training, the classified equivalent of memorizing the Sacramento phonebook. There are lots of numbers and frequencies and, well, electronic stuff to learn, and all of it is classified. The E-Dub training building had no windows. I of course never saw the inside, and during this training, George was able to use the line, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” which caused me to pull a muscle in my eye from rolling it so hard. Obviously, study materials could not be brought home, so the guys spent roughly 100 hours every day in a windowless building memorizing very important crap.

George was motivated to do well, however, because he could still get a fighter. When the assignments came down the week before assignment night, only one fighter came through, and George was second or third in his class. To reward him for his good performance, he was assigned to be the very first navigator student to receive a slot in the sexy and still relatively new B-1 bomber, which until then had only been given to experienced aviators from the B-52 to reward them for hard time served in the BUFF.

Going to the sleek B-1 wouldn’t have been so bad, but the B-1 slot got TAKEN AWAY by the pencil pushers at the last minute and given to some B-52 electronic warfare officer, so George got that guy's sloppy seconds…the B-52. My husband, who worked so hard and did such a stellar job throughout his training, received the WORST E-Dub assignment available.

Disappointment #3. Are you noticing the trend here?

B-52s are old and slow, and the electronic warfare officer on the crew has very little to keep him occupied during 10-hour training missions. The other crew members—pilot, copilot, two navigators, and (at the time) a gunner—referred to the E-Dub as self-loading baggage. On those long missions, George would eventually find that, after reading the stock of magazines packed in his flight bag and eating his boxed lunch, he could take a nap by wrapping himself around the base of his ejection seat with the hot air vent blowing on him. Then, he could wake up, do his half-hour of actual work for the day, and go back to sleep until just before landing. Oh, the exciting life of an Air Force aviator!

Disappointment #3 led me to the one and only time in my life I got drunk. It goes without saying that George got drunk, too, and I stayed sober for him, walking the dark and empty streets of Rancho Cordova as he processed his disappointment and threw up on the curb. But when I was in the apartment the next afternoon, alone, my sister called. She was experiencing some serious disappointment in her own life at that moment, and we were commiserating. She brought up the idea of getting drunk together via long distance telephone, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

As one of George’s later instructors might have said, in his delightful southern drawl, “It was a good idea that shouldn’t have seen the light of day.”

It turns out, I am not a fun drunk. I go straight from pleasantly buzzed to hugging the toilet very, very quickly. By the time George got home, he found me lying on the bathroom floor. I mumbled something like, “You always wanted to see me drunk!” He took good care of me, made sure I drank plenty of water, and helped me to bed. Bless him.

Getting drunk didn’t help…a lesson I learned the first time through and haven’t felt the need to repeat. Our disappointment at George’s assignment was acute, but we made the best of it and met a lot of really great people, which I considered to be the best perk of living the military life. After a few years at Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan serving hard time as self-loading baggage in the B-52, he got his B-1.

But he never gave up on his dream to fly fighters, which—as you can probably predict at this point—simply led to further disappointment and drunkenness. But let’s save those adventures for another day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gratitude Journal #29

Today, I am grateful for Martin Luther King, Jr., and all who have fought for freedom with dignity and discipline; who have shown that content of character is more important than color, creed, or wealth; who have worked toward a worldwide symphony of brotherhood, of peace, of justice.

Today, I am grateful for this speech, a tour de force of rhetorical skill exercised with dignity and discipline. It's tragic that so many ears that listen are deaf to its truth and beauty.

Please take the time to listen...and hear. We really can't hear it enough because the symphony of brotherhood still isn't harmonious, even if it is sounding much better.

I Have a Dream

What are you grateful for?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Lots of People

Here is the initial list of Words for 2010. It’s not too late to add your word; just leave it in a comment on this post.









What a great list! If your word isn’t on here, please accept my apologies. Leave another comment, and I’ll add it.

To help us get started with our words, I've chosen both an inspirational quotation and a motivational quotation today:

"I dwell in possibility…." Emily Dickinson

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Haiti

My prayers are with everyone in Haiti and those all over the world who are trying to get in touch with loved ones there.

I've seen several reports of scams in the relief effort, but please don't let that get in the way of giving what you can to reputable charities like Doctors without Borders and Red Cross.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Weekly Giggle #10

George sent this link to me. It was very mean of him to do so, but sadly, it's probably true, and I laughed anyway.


Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, it's just funny.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gratitude Journal #28

Today, I am grateful for

*husbands who take cool photos of ice crystals on trees (will post when he remembers to send me one from his computer)

*bruises rather than broken bones on a seven-year-old who has decided he is really a monkey

*a repaired car


What are you grateful for today?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Robert Heinlein

Here's one of my favorite quotations about writing:

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." Robert Heinlein

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Word for 2010

Last year’s word was Fearless, and in many ways, it worked for me, especially in the area of stamping. If you’re at all curious about that or want to know how a word can change your life, you can read all about Fearless here.

My word for 2010 is Write. As in,

*Write my book.

*Write notes in cards and mail them to family and friends.

*Write my blogs.

*Write on scrapbook pages.

*Write because I want to write, because it’s fun, because I feel compelled to write from inside myself and not because I have to please somebody else.

What is your word for the year? If you need ideas, check out Ali Edward's post here. Once you choose a word, please share it in the comments because you just never know when your word might resonate with someone else and help them bring focus to 2010. I'll compile a list of everyone's words and post it next week.

Happy choosing!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lucky Zen State

I am in a Zen state as I reheat leftovers for dinner. We sit down, and the following conversation occurs:

Jack: I want to pee on the floor.

Nick [laughs hysterically]: He wants to pee on the floor!

George: I think he said he wants to be on the floor. What did you say, Jack?

Jack [slight impish grin]: I said, I want to pee on the floor.

Me: You would be in big trouble if you did.

George [teasing]: Yeah, we’ll treat you like a dog. We’ll rub your nose in it and throw you outside. [both boys laugh hysterically]

Me [Zen state compromised]: Let’s not talk about pee at the table.

At the end of the meal, my Zen state has been recovered by George’s brilliant chicken and dumplings. Hoover is begging, so I blow on his face. Dogs hate that, but in his beggarly intensity, Hoover barely reacts.

George: That was mean! Why did you do that to the dog?

Me [still Zen]: Because he’s an obnoxious beggar. [Look at dog, who is totally fixated on the table and more energized and alert than usual]. Are you going to jump on the bed all by yourself tonight, Hoover?

George: He looks like he could. He’s all full of piss and vinegar.

Nick [laughs hysterically]: That’s funny! Piss and vinegar! Piss and vinegar! Ha, ha.

Me: Do not repeat that, Nick.

George: Why not? It’s not bad.

Me: It’s not appropriate for school.

Nick: Piss and vinegar! Ha, ha. That’s funny!

Me: My Zen state is rapidly deteriorating.

George: You live in a house with three boys. Four if you count the dog. You’re lucky to have any Zen moments at all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


New Year’s Resolutions are such odd things. We feel compelled to make promises to ourselves that we pretty much know we won’t keep, but every year, come January 1st, we have the best intentions. We hope for change in ourselves but rarely manage it. Sometimes, though, we do succeed, even spectacularly. I wonder what makes the difference between the successful resolution and the more common unsuccessful one.

Eighteen months ago, I decided to quit drinking Coca-Cola. My husband had heard this particular resolution before and rolled his eyes at me when I declared my intention. This time, I stuck to it. I haven’t had a coke in all this time, despite my continued mouth-watering Pavlovian response to the sound of a can of soda being opened anywhere around me. Or even on television. Or even just when I imagine the sound in my brain.

But if someone popped a cold one in front of me right now, despite my salivating response, I would just say no.

I wish I knew why I’ve stuck with this one. My reasoning included such logical self-talk as

a) soda weakens your bones and you don’t want to develop osteoporosis like your grandmother,
b) you’re gaining weight and soda is empty calories,
c) soda rots your teeth,
d) you’ve got stomach acid issues and pouring five cans of acid down your throat every day is sort of stupid.

The only thing my emotions were telling me was that the sugary, bubbly, caramelly soda made me happy. I wasn’t scared of osteoporosis (too far in the future) or stomach acid (pop antacid tablets after each can) or tooth rot (I rarely get cavities). I didn’t like the weight gain, exactly, but I still wasn’t fat. I’d been telling myself all those logical reasons to quit for years. For some reason, my brain’s logic circuits finally won.

When I thought about this year’s resolutions, I came up with several:

1) Write more.
2) Exercise more.
3) Scrapbook more.
4) Eat less and better.

I thought I was doing a good thing by being rather vague. Wouldn’t those goals be easier to achieve? Alas, no. Reading an article in Parade Magazine Sunday morning, I learned that resolutions should be specific and realistic, and must engage both logic and emotion. You should also adapt your environment to promote success. This advice is based on the latest and greatest brain research by distinguished neuroscientists, psychologists, and medical doctors. Who am I to argue with smart people like them?

My 2010 resolutions meet only one of the experts’ criteria: the goals are all realistic. I can write more, exercise more, scrap more, and eat less. All definitely do-able. But how, exactly, am I going to do them? How can I make the goals specific? How can I modify my environment to ensure success?

Trying to answer these questions made my brain hurt. I just deleted six paragraphs of blather about making these goals more specific.

You’re welcome.

Instead, I’m going to do what everyone else does: make resolutions, try my best to achieve them, and surely fail at most of them. But if I can quit drinking coke, I think I can at least make some progress.

Care to share your own resolutions? I’d love to read your hopes for change in 2010. Also, if you’re interested in the Word of the Year project, think about what word you would like to be your theme for 2010. (If you have no idea what the Word of the Year project is, click
HERE.) You might think my word is RESOLUTE, and perhaps it should be. But it’s not. You’ll just have to wait for the anti-climactic announcement later this week. I think only my friend Karen D will understand it, anyway.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Gratitude Journal #27

Today, I am grateful for

*reality shows that are all about the love of something and not at all about humiliation or bickering (Throwdown with Bobby Flay, for instance)

*appropriate medical care (for my uncle, who had a heart attack a week ago) and friends who pray

*the joy I hear in my mother's voice when we talk on the phone now; her word for 2010 is BEGIN...and she's off to a good start

*little boys who are so cheerful in the morning that I have to smile BEFORE I get my first cup of coffee

What are you grateful for?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Paul McCartney

Today, when I turned on my computer, I was greeted with a headline that said something to the effect that 2009 was such a bad year that Americans lacked optimism moving into 2010.

Shouldn't optimism kick in when things are bad? Isn't that when it's most useful? Isn't optimism a lot harder when all people hear is that they lack optimism? Doesn't that become a self-fulfilling prophesy?

Just askin'.

2009 was what it was...a hard year for many. 2010 hasn't had a chance yet, but the media is already dragging it down. Let's let 2009 be. There will be an answer. Let it be.

Now, doesn't that help? Just a bit?