Monday, August 31, 2009

Gratitude Journal #12

Today, I am grateful for friends, especially those who don't hold it against you when your life gets busy and you neglect them.

Today, I am grateful for rubbermaid and sterilite storage containers because organizing my basement would be a pain in the butt without them. Oh, wait. Organizing my basement is a pain in the butt. It would be a bigger pain in the butt without them.

Today, I am grateful for the mocha that woke me up enough to type this.

Today, I am grateful for my readers who won't hold this groggy Monday post against me.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Words, Words, Words from Katherine Mansfield

"When we begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves." Katherine Mansfield

This week, I failed to achieve my grand plans for the first week my boys were back at school. Today, I'm laughing that off, getting a mocha at Barnes and Noble, and celebrating being alive. What are you laughing off today?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Jack-Speak

A brief introduction to the Jack lexicon.... Thomas refers to Thomas the Tank Engine. Blue Fish Museum refers to the Newport Aquarium. Ben 10 refers to a Cartoon Network show. Also, our family must spell the word walk because the dog knows the word and immediately starts freaking out when he hears it. For background on Jack's language issues and autism, see this post.

Jack [daily, months before his birthday]: For my birthday, I want a Thomas cake and lots of presents and a big Pokeball and a Thomas bed and to go to the Blue Fish Museum.

Jack [very serious]: Mommy, you are not going to turn into a snake. Okay?
Me: Okay.
Jack: Promise?
Me: Yes.

Jack [looking at the newspaper]: Why don’t those people have color?

Jack [daily, months before his birthday]: Mommy, am I going to the Blue Fish Museum for my birthday?
Me: Yes, Jack.
Jack [joyous]: Thank you, Mommy. I love you so much!

George went into the bathroom to check on Jack, who was in the tub. Jack had his pitcher ready to pour rinse-water over his head.
George: Would you like me to pour that on your noggin?
Jack: No. [Pause.] I’d like to be alone with my bath now. Go watch your movie, and I’ll be there in a minute. Okay?
George: Okay.

Jack [daily, weeks before his birthday]: For my birthday, I want a Thomas cake and lots of presents and a big Pokeball and a Thomas bed and to go to the Blue Fish Museum.

Jack [pitiful voice]: Mom, it’s not dark outside.
Me [perky voice]: No, it’s light out. It’s morning.
Jack [more pitiful voice]: I don’t WANT it to be light outside.
Nick [helpfully professorial]: It’s summer, Jack. The sun comes up earlier.
Jack: Noooooo!

Jack [daily, weeks before his birthday]: Mommy, am I going to the Blue Fish Museum for my birthday?
Me: Yes, Jack.
Jack [joyous]: Thank you, Mommy. I love you so much!

Jack [in trouble and forced by the Evil Mom Lady to go to bed 15 minutes early]: I don’t want to go to bed. I want to LIVE!!!!!

Family out on a walk around the neighborhood.
Jack: I’m taking these pine cones home.
George: No, you’re not.
Jack [rebellious]: Yes, I AM!!
Me and George [incredulous]: WHAT?
Jack [cute, sing-song voice]: Never mind.

Jack: Are you pouring your wine?
Me: Yes.
Jack: Mommy, do little boys drink wine?
Me: No. But you can smell it if you’d like.
Jack: Um, sure. [sniffs wine] Mmm. That smells good.
Me [incredulous]: Really?
Jack [very matter-of-fact]: Yes. I smell strawberries.
George [picking up his own glass and sniffing]: I get strawberries, too. Very impressive.

Jack: Mommy, do you promise you won’t turn into a snake and eat me.
Me: I promise, Jack.
Jack: Do things want to eat me?
Me: No, nothing here wants to eat you. Why?
Jack: Because I don’t want you to turn into a snake.

At Kroger a week before his birthday, Jack sees a Ben 10 cake and enters a frenzy of joy.
Jack: Mommy, I want a Ben 10 cake for my birthday!
Me: Don’t you want a Thomas cake like always? You love Thomas.
Jack: No, I definitely want a Ben 10 cake. It’s unusual for me.

George: Boys, we are taking Hoover for a W-A-L-K in ten minutes. Get your shoes on.
Jack: I don’t want to go!
George: This isn’t a choice. We’re going. Period.
Jack [angry]: I don’t like any periods. I hate periods!
Me: I hate periods, too! But we’re going on a W-A-L-K anyway.

Jack [twenty times the day before his birthday]: Mommy, am I going to the Blue Fish Museum for my birthday?
Me: Yes, Jack.
Jack [joyous]: Thank you, Mommy. I love you so much!

Jack [on the morning of his birthday]: Mommy, am I going to the Blue Fish Museum for my birthday?
Me: Yes, Jack.
Jack [joyous]: Thank you, Mommy. I love you so much!

Jack [from the back seat of the car on the way to the Blue Fish Museum]: Mommy, where are we going?
Me: The Blue Fish Museum.
Jack [astounded]: Really, Mommy? Oh, thank you. I love you so much! I am so HAPPY!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gratitude Journal #11

Today, I am grateful that seven years ago, I brought this adorable little boy into the world (with a little help from all the nice people in the operating room who never once complained that it was three freakin' o'clock in the morning, but that's another story). Jack has changed our lives in ways we could never have anticipated, and he has blessed us with his blithe spirit and beautiful smile.

I love you, Jack.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Words, Words, Words from Bill Nye, the Science Guy

"The more you find out about the world, the more opportunities there are to laugh at it." Bill Nye

What are you laughing at today? Government officials under investigation for money laundering dancing with the stars? The media frenzy over the First Lady's shorts? What?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fun @ the World Wide Web

This week’s essay should have been about food. George has been harassing me for months to write a foodie essay, which will really be a mock foodie essay because I’m no more a food snob than I am a wine snob. As I just finished reading Julie and Julia, the time is ripe for questioning food.

Food is a big subject, though, and hard to narrow down to something digestible in less than five minutes without sophisticated powers of editorial discernment. I currently have no powers of editorial discernment, sophisticated or otherwise, because it’s August. August breeds angst in the hearts of mothers everywhere. August is the month of “to do” lists that go on for pages, the month of endlessly annoying bickering that turns mommy brains to mush. By August, mothers have been pecked nearly to death by chickens and are only kept upright and moving by the certain knowledge that school will start soon and their little darlings will peck elsewhere for hours every day and their wounds will have a chance to heal.

My August angst has sent me running to the World Wide Web for entertainment and distraction. Of course, before we had high-speed Internet service, I didn’t get the fascination. Now, however, I understand why the Internet has the television industry running scared. How many times have you channel surfed for, like, whole minutes of your life on cable’s two-thousand channels and found NOTHING worth watching? All that effort for nothing, nada, the big zero. But a few clicks on Google, and the world is your oyster in seconds. You can ALWAYS find something worth the effort on the Internet.

Best of all, you can always find proof that you’re not the craziest thing in the universe.

Take, for instance, Lowering the Bar, a blog by lawyer Kevin Underhill that reports nutty legal cases. Yesterday, I opened it from my Google Reader (oh, how I love Google Reader!) and found this article reporting that Tom DeLay will be on Dancing with the Stars. Underhill writes, “Yes, it is sometimes impossible to tell the difference between real news and what one might find on The Onion, and this is one of those times.” I can’t decide if DeLay’s dancing celebrity is a sign of the coming apocalypse or proof that God really, truly wants us to be happy even in the face of governmental corruption. I’m leaning toward the happy because it’s a better salve for my chicken-inflicted wounds, but now I can’t watch Dancing with the Stars because the possibility that DeLay might be any good would ruin the fun completely.

Another blog that provided two whole minutes of maniacally weepy laughter yesterday was Craftastrophe: Because Handmade Isn’t Always Pretty, which reports deeply disturbing crafts like this, or this, or this. (I'm only linking here because I can't stand the thought that images of cockroaches on a plate, rat salt and pepper shakers, and Barbie heads ever appear on my blog.) But yesterday’s “Egg-Cellent” entry was just funny. It reminds me of my friend Martha, a nurse who once wore earrings made of condoms to the Officer’s Club. One side of each package was clear, so the orange condom provided a sunny backdrop for a hand-painted tropical scene complete with beach and palm tree.

Just spend a moment reflecting on the idea of condom earrings worn at an Officer’s Club.

You’re welcome.

Next up for fun is Yesterday, I found this captioned kitty picture and felt such kinship with the cat that I touched my face to see if I’d grown whiskers or something.

This one could also appear on Craftastrophe.

Whenever I need verification that nothing in the universe makes sense, I visit the Engrish blog, where people post pictures of poorly translated English. Last week, I found this wonderful billboard that, well, explains everything.

Or not.

After this little trip around the World Wide Web, I'm feeling quite normal and well-adjusted and ready to tackle back-to-school clothes shopping with a fourth grader who would prefer to wear his holey, stained, rotting-off-his-body kindergarten olympics t-shirt every blessed day of his life. Let it go, son! For the love of God, let it go!

Pray for me. Please.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gratitude Journal #10

Today, I am grateful for wonder. Years ago, while riding in the car, an enthusiastic Nick said, "I wonder what it's like to be a wolf, or a cloud, or . . . tape!" He's got enough imagination for ten kids, so he was the perfect tutor for Jack, whose autism inhibits his imagination. Our little Jack is quite the literal child who won't let me call him "honey" without telling me, "Mom, I'm not honey; I'm a boy." This weekend, however, Nick's good influence showed when a very curious Jack said, "Mommy, I wonder what it's like to be a dog."


What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Words, Words, Words from Madeleine L'Engle

"When I look at the galaxies on a clear night--when I look at the brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, then instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged.... I rejoice that I am a part of it." Madeleine L'Engle

My friend Debra brought this quotation to my attention several years ago. Before bed Wednesday night, George and I sat in the chairs on our deck watching for Perseid meteors. We were too early, really, since the main show was after midnight, but the few we saw in our light-polluted neighborhood were spectacular. Brilliance of creation, indeed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Apocalyptic Horses and Grammar Nazis

As I drove home from my sister’s place in Maryland, I thought a lot about grammar. Ten hours is a long time to reflect on something as geeky as grammar, I know. Long car rides send my reflective brain to strange places.

GrammarLand was not, however, the strangest place my brain went on the drive. I spent an interesting half-hour contemplating the fiberglass animals I saw on the back of a low flatbed trailer. The first animal I noticed in this unlikely menagerie on I-68 was a rather smallish bison. Having seen many real and scary-looking bison in Yellowstone, I know how big an adult can grow, which is about as big as the super cab pickup hauling these weird animal statues.

Accompanying the miniature brown bison were two painted, life-size horses…one in the same brown as the bison and the other sort of reddish. Then I noticed two totally white, unpainted horses, which of course made me think of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Were the colors right? I thought they were all white, but perhaps I was mistaken, especially because the Book of Revelation gives me the heebie-jeebies and thus rarely enters my mind unless four fiberglass horses appear out of nowhere on I-68.

Perhaps these four really were the biblical harbingers of doom, sans riders, of course. Their fiberglass legs looked spindly. What would happen if they snapped and fiberglass horse parts went flying all over I-68? I felt an irrational urge to pass the trailer just to be on the safe side.

As I accelerated past the trailer, I noticed a small unpainted fiberglass pig tucked beside the bison. Pig butts are funny enough to push all thought of the Apocalypse from my mind. When I finished chuckling, I started thinking about nonrestrictive modifiers and passive voice again.

You might think nonrestrictive modifiers and passive voice are far less interesting than fiberglass pig butts, but you’d be wrong. A recent thread in the General Stamping Forum at SplitcoastStampers reminded me that grammar is a highly controversial subject which flares tempers and turns some people into elitist, arrogant grammar Nazis preserving the purity of the rules they learned in seventh-grade English.

Problem is, some of those lessons are WRONG. Sorry about the all-caps yelling, but nothing provokes my ire like people who slavishly follow rules, even when some of those rules don’t exist.

I used to be one of these arrogant Nazis from GrammarLand. At the experienced age of seventeen, I informed a hapless park ranger of a misspelling on a park sign: “picnicing” should have been “picnicking.” He looked at me as if I were an alien from another planet, which was my first clue that my obsession with grammar and spelling probably exceeded the bounds of normalcy.

Eventually, I went to graduate school and taught the dreaded Freshman Composition. During my first few nerve-racking weeks teaching, a student asked me why I added commas to a sentence in her paper. I couldn’t remember the exact rule, which made me panic for a few seconds. I knew the commas belonged around that particular clause, but saying “because I said so” would have been pedagogical suicide. Instead, I said, “Let me show you how to look this up in your grammar handbook.” I did, and that was how my student learned (and I relearned) the rule on commas around nonrestrictive modifiers.


That night, I read the entire grammar handbook to refresh my memory. The experience taught me the power of internalizing rules so completely that you forget them. Each rule I reviewed seemed like an old friend. “Hello, Nonrestrictive Clause That Takes Commas. Good to see you again! How have you been?” But really, these rules had been with me all along, hanging out in my unconscious mind working their magic and earning me good grades.

Grammar rules serve a noble purpose: they allow people to communicate as clearly as possible in a highly imperfect world. Communication under the best circumstances is fraught with peril. It’s so easy to be misunderstood…and so painful.

Some so-called rules, however, are not rules at all. They start as recommendations arising from common stylistic errors. For instance, many of my students believed with near-religious fanaticism that they should never, ever, under any circumstances start a sentence with and or but. When I corrected this misunderstanding, many students simply refused to believe me.

I felt deep kinship with the high school biology teacher whose ultra-conservative Christian student refused to believe that men and women have the same number of ribs.

Strunk and White’s superbly succinct book, The Elements of Style, includes a section titled “Avoid a succession of loose sentences,” which discusses the overuse of and, but, and other words that weaken the rhetorical effectiveness of writing. Beginning writers often resort to wordy, sloppy writing simply because the teacher assigns a word-count to their papers. The more useless words a student sprinkles around the paper, the more quickly he or she reaches that magic number of words to complete the assignment.

Reading wordy, pointless essays forces tortured seventh-grade English teachers to make broad, sweeping, self-defensive declarations like “Never start a sentence with and or but.” Students prefer clear and absolute rules like this to Strunk and White’s “avoid a succession of loose sentences.” What is a “loose sentence” anyway? It sounds vaguely dirty, doesn’t it?

Interestingly, Strunk and White generally object to the use of however at the beginning of a sentence. They state, “Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is ‘nevertheless.’ The word usually serves better when not in the first position.” Notice that they qualify their injunction with the word usually.

Almost any rule can be broken if breaking it makes rhetorical sense. Would you correct the grammar, usage, and spelling Mark Twain deploys in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Perish the thought! Twain skillfully uses vernacular to develop characters and lend realism to the setting and atmosphere of his novel.

Sort of like this blog.

See what I mean? I used a sentence fragment to emphasize the transition in topic. If this were a scholarly essay, I might have written, “Twain’s use of language to reinforce verisimilitude and offset pretentious delivery of the novel’s main message sets a precedent for twenty-first century web log authors whose rhetorical situation requires them to minimize the division between writer and audience, to bring writer and audience together metaphorically as friends chatting over cups of tea, much as Huck converses informally with his audience.”

I bet you prefer the fragment.

Language Nazis (like my young and silly self) have either lost or not yet learned perspective, and they inflate grammar and spelling errors to assume apocalyptic importance. They accost park rangers, send indignant emails to bloggers who dare misspell a word, and post unintentionally ironic comments on internet forums promoting rules that don’t exist.

Errors appear in even the most accomplished and meticulous writer’s work. Bloggers are rarely meticulous. If I spent as much time proof-reading and style-checking each blog post as I spent on my academic writing, I’d only be able to post once a month. Instead, I sit at my laptop and type like I talk, only funnier because I can go back and change things and reword and exaggerate for comic effect. This means I bend, break, and ignore many rules that I followed fanatically when I wrote my geeky master’s thesis. If I wrote my blog like I wrote my geeky master’s thesis, it’s unlikely you would read it. I wouldn’t.

The geek in me, however, couldn’t let go of the four possibly apocalyptic fiberglass horses on the flatbed. After a bit of research, I’m relieved to report that they were not a sign of the end of times. The Book of Revelation states that only one of the apocalyptic horses is white. The others are black, red, and pale (whatever that means). Not a bison-brown one in the lot.

What a relief.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gratitude Journal #9

Today, I am grateful for eight hours of fabulously refreshing sleep. I never get eight hours and usually consider myself lucky to get six. I'm also grateful for the trip that knocked me out last night. Visiting my sister always results in sleep deprivation. Actual conversation when I got home last night:

George: So how late did you and your sister stay up talking?

Me: Well, one night it was 1:30 or 2:00.

George [aghast]: WHAT did you talk about?!?

Me: I don't know. Stuff.

George: I don't have enough to say to stay up that late talking.

Me: That's because you're not a girl.

I'm also grateful George isn't a girl; if he were, I would never have slept at all last night because he would have wanted more than the short version of my trip. Sometimes, however, I need to stay up until 2:00 in the morning talking about everything and nothing with my sister. It keeps my planets properly aligned.

I just love being a girl.

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Words, Words, Words from Louis Armstrong

I see trees of green, red roses too;
I see them bloom, for me and you,
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white;
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night,
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces, of people going by;
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’, “How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’, “I love you.”

I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow;
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know,
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Oh, yeah.


Technically, these words were probably written by Bob Thiele, George David Weiss, and George Douglas, but Mr. Armstrong gave them to the wonderful world. If your life has been strange and unfortunate enough that you have never heard him sing this song (which also means you've never watched Sleepless in Seattle, and I pity you), check out this YouTube link. It'll be the best two minutes and nineteen seconds of your day. I promise.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PDA and Chit Chat

At home, George and I are a sickeningly affectionate couple. We hug, kiss, and call each other pet names like Honey-Bunny and Sweetie-Woogums. I rub his cute bald head, and he massages my shoulders. I know, I know. It’s disgusting, but I’m convinced that this is one secret to the longevity of our marriage. That, and we’re both too stubborn to quit.

Despite this lovey-dovey life in the privacy of our own home, George’s twenty years of service in the United States Air Force eliminated virtually all public display of affection (or PDA) from our relationship beginning with Navigator Training in 1988. Suddenly, he wouldn’t even hold hands with me in public while in uniform. In civvies, he would only hold hands.

Early on, I tested this restriction to amuse myself. While in public, I would reach out to hug him or throw an arm over his shoulder. He’d dance fearfully away from me while whispering "No PDA!" and then he'd glance around to see if anyone witnessed this egregious violation of military discipline. Eventually, I got bored and acquiesced to the military code of “No Touchy!”

A few times in his career, however, our private affection leaked out in public. Just a week or so after my c-section in August, 2002, George and I were invited to attend a 34th Bomb Squadron dinner party for two of the Doolittle Raiders: Richard Cole and Thomas Griffin. No way would a little ten-inch abdominal incision and massive doses of Percocet keep me from meeting two genuine American war heroes.

During dinner, George was extraordinarily attentive to my comfort. At one point, he asked me quietly, “Are you doing okay, sweetie?”

Across the table sat the flight surgeon and his wife, who overheard George’s question. Astonished, she asked me, “Did he just call you ‘sweetie’?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Wow!” she said. Then, after a sideways glance at her husband, she added, “You are so lucky.”

Why, yes. Yes, I am.

But the injunction against PDA is so deeply ingrained in me, despite George’s retirement from the Air Force almost two years ago, that I simply don’t touch him in public other than to hold hands if we happen to be side by side.

Last weekend, I took Hoover for a walk, and as I turned up our cul-de-sac to return home, I saw George and the boys in swimsuits heading toward me. When George and I met up, he said, “We’re meeting Debra and Parker at the pool. They invited Nick, but Debra has to work and can’t watch Jack, and I thought it would be mean to not let him go, too. Are you going to join us?”

“Sure. Let me take Hoover home and grab a magazine. Do you have the house key?”

“I left it unlocked.”

“Okay, see you in a bit.”

Nick, accustomed to seeing his parents’ daily private displays of affection, was disconcerted after witnessing our brief and oh-so-polite public encounter. He confronted George:

“How come you guys didn’t hug? I was expecting something more loving than just…chit chat.”

Sorry to disappoint you, Nick. For future reference, never underestimate the value of chit chat. You can be happily married without PDA, but you can’t be married at all without chit chat.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Gratitude Journal #8

Today, I am grateful for old books, new pens, clean sheets of paper, and The Condensed Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which comes with its own magnifying glass so I can look up things like the origin of the word blithe and discover it's an Old English word first found in the poem Elene and other works by Caedmon in a manuscript written around 1000 AD. I knew I liked the seventh-century monk, but seriously, he deserves his sainthood for this one word alone. I've not read Elene yet but will look it up today in a modern English translation because, sadly, my Old English is a bit rusty.

What are you grateful for today?

Edited: Turns out Caedmon didn't write Elene at all. It was written by the Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf, about whom very little is known. Sorry for the error above!