Tuesday, January 31, 2006

So good I'm naming my next cat after it...


I'm going to live a long time, and you know why? Because I ate a lot of Velveeta growing up. That's not an easy thing to admit in these times, because Velveeta belongs to that strange group of foods that aren't really food at all. They're FOOD PRODUCTS. Here's a partial list:


Underwood Deviled Ham (Not really ham, is it?)

Vienna Sausages (Not made anywhere near Vienna and not really sausage. Just sausage-shaped)

Jello-O (I always heard it was made out of horse's hooves, but that could just be an urban myth. Still, my fingernails do feel nice and strong after I've had a bowl.)

Bologna (I read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle". Processed pig and cow knuckles aren't exactly filet mignon)

Spam (You don't even want to know)


I thought about adding Chicken McNuggets to the list since McDonald's new campaign ("NOW MADE WITH REAL CHICKEN!!") would seem to suggest that, back in the day, my kids were eating something else entirely, but you can't get McNuggets at the grocery store, so I'm not counting them.

Admitting you eat something with a shelf life that exceeds the time it takes a Croc
to decompose at the city dump is like admitting you secretly sample Gravy Train when your dog's not looking. It's shameful...and just a little sad. There's no defense for me...I mean....look at it! It's a BIG. BRICK. OF. PROCESSED CHEESE-SOMETHING. It looks like what you'd get if you microwaved an old yellow raincoat and galoshes. And it smells a little funny, too. Not exactly like a dairy product and not excacly like a piece of burning tupperware...but somewhere in-between.

But I grew up in a family of hardcore foodies who watch the cooking shows, collect recipes, read Martha Stewart like Hugh Hefner reads the Kama Sutra, and they know the floorplan to Central Market like the holdup man with a blueprint of the First National Bank. They eat Velveeta too. We're not Italian, so no one said anything when we ate it melted over our spaghetti.

I could blame my family of origin (Mr. Half and the boys won't touch it), but I choose to believe they set this example out of love. With the kinds of perservatives one finds in a single block of Velveeta, there's no telling how long I'll be around. So far, I'm really a fantastically healthy person. Plus the yellow dye's effect on my skin helps me get a head start every year on my golden tan. What's not to love?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

It used to be a great pickup line

I think I was in the 3rd or 4th grade when I found out what my astrological sign was. My youngers sister and I were briefly allowed to occupy the same airspace with the girl across the street. CP was easily three or four years older than me. She was a zaftig teenager with wild hair like Jerry Garcia's "Mountain Girl", but her feet and elbows were forever dirty.

CP had an old clawfoot bathtub in her bedroom with one side cut out and she had a red cushion and patterned pillows piled in it so it looked like a loveseat. Her older brother had painted two walls of his bedroom black and two of them dark purple, which was something I couldn't quite wrap my head around at the time. She liked to make a lot of beaded necklaces and make references to music that was only vaguely familiar to my young ears. She also revealed to me that I was an Aries.

I was grateful for this information and would have wanted to enlighten my parents with it, except that CP was also the person who had showed me and the sister how to fold all our fingers down except for the middle one and wave, after which she shooed us off to "show our parents". Any new skills learned at CP's house were, therefore, understandably suspect in our parents' book. I was momentarily crushed that Aries didn't sound as exotic or as important as CP's sign which was Aquarius. Futhermore, a Ram was just a barnyard animal as far as I was concerned and the personality traits that defined me as having been born under a fire sign meant little.

Fortunately for me, interest in the signs of the zodiac were part of the pop culture of the time, and I was brought up to speed pretty quickly. Posters, patches on our jeans, leather embossed zodiac bracelets were everywhere. In the 5th grade, I got a penpal who lived in Columbus, Ohio. Her birthday, March 21st, was three days before mine and we exhanged zodiac pens and lime green stationary (with the sign of the Ram on it) upon which we wrote numerous letters to each other. We enjoyed making constant reference to our "sign" but I still knew very little about what it meant. It was a game, in a way, and an opportunity to belong to one of 12 "clubs" that didn't require dues, or auditions or uniforms or practice.

Occasionally now I read the astrology predictions in the paper...just for entertainment purposes. Some days they're dead on, and others...not so much. I don't think that reading necessarily constitues belief. Sure, you can throw out general descriptions for anyone and probably half the time you'd be right. Still, my father and my youngest sister are definitely Virgos. My husband is the perfect Aquarius. My oldest son is a Pisces. We live in a house that is dominated by fire signs...and it shows...regardless whether you think that signs contain grains of truth or whether it's a bunch of junk. Those are things I can't explain, and the qualities that define an Aries are some I also find interesting. Independent. Competitive. Impulsive. Intolerant. Hasty. Loyal. Easily irritated by slowness. Yup! All of that is me. I wish it mentioned intellectual brilliance and a flawless body, but those are the breaks. It makes me wonder if everyone else thinks their sign is mostly right or mostly wrong.

So....what is your sign and do you think it means anything?

Friday, January 27, 2006

"Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!" taunts an infuriated Oprah

At 4:30 yesterday afternoon I came home to channel surf before starting dinner and I stumbled across James Freys' public flogging on the Oprah show...already in progress. It was pretty overwhelming what with all the columnists weighing in with their opinions and Nan A. Talese getting winged by the verbal gunfire aimed the man whose bestselling book she helped to publish. The bloodied and bowed Frey took his licks, most of which he deserved, though I doubt his book merited the veritable gang-attack of vitriolic sermonizing (led by Miss Winfrey) levied at him in such a high-profile way. Lying about having a root canal done without novocain doesn't necessarily put one in the same category as the cesspit of rapists, child abusers and wife-beaters Oprah normally goes after. Still, I venture to say that I've never seen The Big "O" this angry.

For the previously comatose few who might be unaware of the events that have Miss O's panties in a big twist, please note the following:

Frey writes memoir about drug addiction and freakout. Oprah likes book. Orders universe to read it. Oprah discovers that parts are made up. Oprah mad.


Full disclosure: I have yet to read James Frey's book," A Million Little Pieces". It's sitting on my bedside table along with about 15 other books I need to read. I had actually finished the first chapter at the beginning of December when I was advised
by Shrinking Violet to wait until the Christmas-fueled chaos
of work/holidays/kids/home improvement was over, so devastating was the story of the author's addiction. So I did.

Then Oprah orders all of her loyal subjects---er---fanatics--
I mean---viewers to read the book. "Go. Now. Buy" she said, "Do not even stop to pick your children up from school nor
pause to have your rupturing appendix removed at the hospital. I am the Great and Powerful O, and I have spoken."

It goes without saying that the book, its author and its publisher were enjoying a nice patch of sunny success...up until the moment that The Smoking Gun turned up the discrepancies between portions of the book and the real-life incidents upon which they were (or, in this case, were not) based.

It also goes without saying that Nan A. Talese (Her husband is Gay. No, really! No...he's not gay. His name is Gay. Gay Talese??? Oh...go look it up if you don't believe me!) and her cohorts should have been a little more assiduous in asking questions. Okay...a lot more. Either way, Nan believed James. Oprah's people (despite a call from Hazeldon --the drug rehab place-- disputing parts of James' story) believed Nan...who believed James. The Smoking Gun blows holes in Freys' story and everyone emerges with a whole lotta egg on their faces.

Guess who acts as though she/he has the biggest axe to grind here? The readers who plunked down money to read a memoir that wasn't all that they thought? The publisher whose reputation is now forever called into question? The author who, even after admitting that he lied, was set up to be totally butt-reamed on national television? No, friends, it's Oprah, and I'll tell you why.

BECAUSE OPRAH HAD TO APOLOGIZE AND SAY SHE WAS WRONG ON HER OWN SHOW.

Something tells me that Oprah doesn't enjoy being wrong in front of millions of people. Maybe it was the executioner's hood that tipped me off or the hot death flames of accusation shooting out of her eyeholes. Perhaps it was just because she had ironed her hair straight for this very serious occasion rather than ordering up the whimsical curls she sports for Tom Cruise-azy or Jamie Foxx. That her manner was stiff and unyielding was to be expected, given how embarrassing this situation was for all concerned. However, her righteous indignation was, I think, overplayed, and she came off looking...well...self-involved. Petulant and dare I say it? Homicidal.

Oprah Winfrey has built a profitable empire from a show that eviscerates deadbeat fathers and props up tired, old Whitney Houston one week and then amazes everyone by giving away lavender Pashminas or cars to audience members. One week she's all about kids dying in Africa and the next week she wants to tell every American woman that they've been buying the wrong kind of bra. No matter what the topic, she brings her own brand of irritating gravitas to the fore and, after a while, I suppose it's inevitable that someone like her would start believing her own press. One imagines Oprah addressing her mirror every morning in a Bob Fossey/Gloria Swanson-kind of way saying, "Oh, yesss! I am rather wonderful, aren't I?" I doubt that her talking mirror has the guts to argue with her.

Does Oprah have a right to be pissed at James Frey? Sure she does! Her complete infatuation with a book that isn't all what it seemed to be calls into question Oprah's peerless discernment where literary excellence is concerned as well as the publisher's culpability. Plus, she's going to have to have the whole Oprah's Book Club list retyped, not to mention thinking of another depressing-assed book to take its place. But you know...it occurred to me that Oprah's taken on convicted murderers, mano a mano. She's visited prison and interviewed men who have committed heinously violent crimes against children without needing a bunch of people to sit around her like a choir of syncophantic parrots to strengthen her case. Maybe it's because she doesn't normally apologize to sex offenders and Thursday's show was a painful and unfamiliar exercise in self-flagellation.

The extra chairs set out for the peanut gallery of blamers who were there to bolster Oprah's case were totally unnecessary. On hand was the Washington Posts's Richard Cohen whose role seemed to be as much that of kiss-ass to Miss Winfrey as it was a finger-pointer at Frey. I ask you, can this woman EVER have a show in which someone doesn't thank her, stroke her ego, break down crying upon entering her airspace, or credit her with the invention of the polio vaccine? Having all of those people telling how grateful the publishing industry should be for her interference was really all about balancing her own impulsive role in this drama. Be right about something else so that folks won't know how dumb you look about Frey's book. Bottom line: It's always gotta be about The Oprah. And it makes me weary, people. Very weary.

You know...if she's this upset over endorsing the truth of a book that isn't so true, imagine how pissed she'll be when she finds out that there aren't really any weapons of mass destruction. That's one confrontation for which I'd be willing to invest in TiVo.










Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Not Just No, but HAY-ULL No!

Can I just say right now that I've never watched American Idol? Sure, a glimpse here and there while channel surfing or re-runs of Kelly Clarkson's winning performance, but I've never deliberately sat down with the specific intent of watching.

You see, I lived through the era of The Gong Show, and though the talent that shakes down--eventually--is really good, wiretap sources indicate that viewers gotta suffer through a lot of appallingly awful caterwauling to get to the chewy center of that Tootsie Roll Pop, if you know what I mean.

Still, the other day I was reading a blog that featured an audio sample of the dude who besmirched Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff". It was like a hideous carwreck and yet I could not look away. My sister confirmed her own confusion over enjoying something that was so stupendously bad, but I guess if you categorize it--or anything else for that matter-- as an experiment in human anthropology, you can give yourself permission to press on. And so I did.

Admittedly, there is some talent to be had in San Francisco. The girl whose mother gave her voice lessons as well as the guy named "Sway" who sang a ballad, the title of which escapes me at the moment. I saw about 7 seconds from the girl who sang the Dixie Chicks' "Sin Wagon", which is one hella ferocious tune to pull off if you're an amateur...and having to sing it a cappella at that. But I didn't come for the talent. I came for the Freak Show.

There's only one thing worse than someone with no talent and that is the person with no talent who THINKS he or she is the next Luther Vandross or Gladys Knight. These individuals are just so sincerely awful that they transcend the normal parameters of bad performances typically categorized as sounding like "cats in heat" or "a donkey call".

The guy who liked wolves was a sad case. He looked like someone's chemistry lab partner and he was truly convinced that he sounded like Clay Aiken. Ditto for the really big guy who sang Gladys Knight's "Neither One of Us Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye". The expressions of nausea that were so clear on the faces of the judges seemed not to register with them. Neither did the words "stop"....or "please"...or even "shoot me now". The guy singing the songs by Stevie Wonder just kept throwing out one after another in the desperate hope that Paula, Simon and Randy would see his genius and give him a green light. Even after earning a veritable hat trick of "NOs" from the judges, each performer seemed genuinely shocked...really.....just....speechless that they hadn't been whisked off to sign a recording contract THAT. VERY. INSTANT.

And the chick who thought she was a poet and who had only recently discovered that she was also (gasp!) a singer? A big blue flower in her big ol' head of hair and some eyeshadow from Mr. Spock's "Star Trek" line of cosmetics and she was convinced that she was all that and a Jello-O Pudding Pack. Can somebody tell me what was up with her nails? Why does any woman of any color think that she got it goin' on with nails that are so long and curved that her hands resemble the paws of a giant Sun Bear? Why? Why?

It should be against the law to be this delusional, and arrests definitely should have been made tonight. Don't these people have family or friends who would tip them off against purchasing a plane ticket to this arena of public humiliation...this seventh circle of Hell? What about a neighbor? A pet chimp who speaks ASL? It's cruel, I tell you! Cruel...and yet...I must laugh a little into my sleeve. **ahem** Confidence is one thing. Misplaced confidence is something else entirely and it does nothing to disguise the stink waves of BAD emanating from anyone who calls himself "Mr. All Terrain".

And who among these sad sacks doesn't own a mirror or a tape recorder? LOOK IN ANY SHINY/REFLECTIVE HOUSEHOLD SURFACE...A TOASTER, IF YOU HAVE ONE, WOULD BE A GOOD START. But the voices are the worst. I mean, we all think we sound better than we do. That's the mistake one makes regarding how you think your voice sounds inside your own head. I have to listen to my recorded voice all the time when I transcribe interview tapes for articles I'm writing and, let me tell you, I am OFFENDED by the hideous nature of the sound of my voice. The nasal twang I've tried hard to straighten out...it's like trying to straighten out barbed wire. I liken it to the smell of cauliflower boiling in a school cafeteria. It's that unpleasant! In the words of the Grinch's narrator, "Stink. Stank. Stunk". But do you see me begging---no---DARING a panel of judges to snatch away my dream? No, internet, you don't.

As for those poor misguided souls on tonight's stage whose odious and inelegant efforts reminded me of a public swimming pool and the painful bellyflop that comes right after the ill- fated last words, "HEY!!! WATCH ME DO THIS!!!" ---I say, "Get another dream...preferably one that is based in reality". True, "American Idol" wouldn't be nearly as interesting without these dolts, but at least it would give my ears a chance to stop bleeding.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Stop Me Before I Kill Another Bag of These

I'm not completely certain if this post is a product endorsement or just a cry for help. Maybe a little of both. Lately, I'm completely out of control with regard to these little Quaker "Quakes" Rice Cakes. I think I may need an intervention of some kind, but how could anyone justify keeping me away from something that's so clearly good for me?

And who wouldn't love these? They're light. compact and they come in great flavors. It takes ten of them to equal 70 calories. A handful can keep me away from the cookie jar in a major way and they've replaced potato chips at lunch and a bowl of Captain Crunch as my late night snack. It's like the best tasting styrofoam --er--rice cake on the market today.

My biggest foe here, if truth be told, is portion control. I went through this with Snack Wells, so hear me out. If you can have what you want (a cookie, perhaps) and it only racks up half the calories of the brand you'd normally eat, then doesn't it make sense that you can have twice as much? Yes, of course it defeats the purpose! I'm not an idiot. I'm a woman struggling with an
inability to say "enough" and a serious attraction to food that contains carbohydrates and makes noise when I bite into it.

Today on the way home from buying a table that I'm going to paint, I stopped at a completely foreign Kroger. And by foreign I mean I had never shopped there before. It's way on the other side of town. I don't enjoy stepping into an unfamiliar grocery store lest the stank of its appalling feng shui (or lack thereof) catapult me into a psychotic episode. Why did I stop? Because I had to scope out their supply of rice cakes. I scored about four bags and made it home without opening one of them.

So what's my point? Well, if you care at all, my sudden and overwhelming urge for constant intake of Quakes is wreaking havoc in rice paddies all over parts of Asia. Specifically in China where little farmers in conical hats are working overtime while ankle deep in muddy water to harvest enough product so that it can eventually be fashioned into my latest and most favorite food craze.

So tell me about a snack that is so good you have trouble keeping a lid on it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

How I Spent My Sunday Night

It's not the most amazing thing in the world to be from this part of the country and make a simple declarative statement indicating you spent a day at the Southwestern Exposition, Livestock Show & Rodeo. Announce it in a crowded room and no one will even pause long enough to give you a funny look. This is, after all, Fort Worth, Texas. "Cowtown"...for those of you who promise to say it with affection. We are a large metropolitan city with a university, a few smaller colleges and some peerless/ world class art museums , but many folks in these parts still wear cowboys hats and boots as part of their daily dress. Here, it's not a Halloween costume...it's just tradition. But for me...not so much. I mean...I have been to the rodeo before...many times over the course of my life. But see, I'm a bit of a genetic mix. My mother's family members are pretty much all from here. All of my male cousins wear cowboy hats and boots because, with the exception of one, they really are cowboys. They raise horses, mostly. You see these guys at a wedding or a funeral, the footwear and headgear don't change a speck.

My father's side of the family, however, isn't from around here. My dad was born in Vermont , and--until I was well into junior high--he used to say "worsh" the clothes. His father, my grandfather, was born in Germany and came here as a teenager. My grandmother was born a year after her parents, brothers and sister came here from Russia...speaking Polish which they dropped as soon as they got here.

We, meaning me and my sisters, are a mixed bag. None of us really ride horses as a rule, though we have done it once or twice. We feel kinda silly in cowboy hats and we don't know squat about livestock. Hell, we never even owned an animal while growing up. ( I don't count my brief and tragic ownership of Fred Mertz, the gerbil I rescued from 7th grade science lab nor our cranky parakeet, Aggie, whose capacity for unconditional love was extended ONLY to our father.) All three of us graduated from our father's university, that oft-ridiculed Texas school of engineers and farmers. And though we each came to own a pair of boots, learn to kicker dance and think of beer as a food group, we emerged with our respective graduating classes as fully-formed city slickers.


Slicker or not, when it's time to hit the rodeo, you'd best look the part. "When in Rome..." and all that. So that was the conundrum I found myself in early Sunday afternoon as I went tearing through one of the closest area stores that offered Western clothing in order to find something that trod the delicate line between tourist/poseur and a 4H-Club graduate. The line between what looks natural and what looks like you are trying too hard. The shirt was an easy pick and I already had the boots, but (ladies, this is for you) shopping for a pair of roper jeans is a special kind of hell that should be avoided at all costs.

Roper jeans, even when they fit right, seem to have a "lift and separate" feature that makes you feel as though you're wearing a thong two sizes too small. If you normally speak in an alto range, you will be a soprano for the duration of the evening in pants like these. The customary relaxed fit that I favor in a pant is simply not possible unless you get something far larger than you usually wear, the swollen result of which is your uncanny resemblance to the bovine critters you'll be gawking at later on.

And then there is the "rise". Dear God in Heaven...spare me from the rise. (For the guys...rise is where and how low the waistband of your pants rests) At least the categorization methods make some sense, once you've got your geography down and you can calculate just exactly how much of your pregnancy-traumatized abdomen you'd like to have hanging out above the zipper. Calgary, being the regular rise, was my pick. Tulsa, was low rise, Jackson was lower, and Houston was so low that it required a bikini wax before wearing was even advisable. I tip my hat to the wisdom of the Canadian fashionistas whose insight provided me with a way to dress the part of a cowgirl without inadvertently mooning everyone when I bend over to flick some dirt off of my boots. I found my pants...eventually...but not before breaking a sweat while doing it. How those girls, many of whom are big enough in the "saddle region" to merit my cousins' favorite insult--"heifer"--, are able ride horses in these pants all day, I will never know.

The evening turned out great. Will Rogers Coliseum holds a lot of childhood memories for me and it always smells of corn dogs, Belgian waffles, popcorn, arena dirt and...most importantly...of horses. It's a smell that is comforting--which is odd given that I'm allergic to horses. However, dope me up with enough Claritin to keep a buffalo awake for 72 hours and I'm good to go. We ate dinner in little corner of the coliseum that was frequented by its legendary namesake. I had calf fries for the first time and we drank beer and bet quarters on the cowboys and cowgirls that performed in their featured events. (My barrel-racer won!)

The most surprising part, though, came near the beginning of the show. I'm bugged about how big I think my ass must look in these jeans and I'm suddenly remembering how the rodeo announcer, who's been here forever, has a bad political spin to his spiel that leans just a little too far to the right for my taste. The riders come out with the flags of the U. S. and Texas and the lights go out so I'm fumbling for a place to set my beer so I can sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" without looking like a total hick, which I am not--despite my dreadful accent that I denied until I heard my voice on a tape recorder. But before we start singing, the aforementioned announcer says in a sincere and booming voice , "It's a beautiful day in Texas and we give thanks for the rain"....and I remember suddenly what a miracle yesterday's little storm truly was in a drought-plagued place like this. Dying cattle, fires everywhere, foundations cracking in homes and dust on every surface. I realize I'm in the presence of people whose very survival depends upon the rain for crops and animals. All I had to worry about was whether or not the Scotchguard would keep the suede on my boots looking good. Not a bad trade-off. It just goes to show you that you're never too old for perspective to kick you in the ass. And if you're wearing the right pants, it only hurts a little bit.

Jethro Bodine Could Spell Better Than This!


If my confidence in planes, the airport system in general, and the authorities charged with the responsibility to make everything go smoothly weren't already in a sad state of affairs, imagine my dismay when I spotted this sign at baggage claim. It's a damned good thing that this brilliant bit of instruction wasn't brought to my attention until AFTER the plane carrying my oldest son (and his classmates from a school D.C. trip) had landed safely at the D/FW Airport.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

3 Things

1) Take this Mensa Test. Getting 19 right indicates genius. That can't be right, because I got 21. Persiflage got 22.

2) Put yourself on my Frappr Map. Please.

3) Tell me what's needed at Sky House: More shelves or fewer books?



Thursday, January 19, 2006

Laura Ingalls Wilder Carried the Lunch Pail...I Carried a Lunchbox













When I started First Grade in the year 19.... uh...and something... I wore a dress with black patent leather shoes and white socks to Mrs. Castleberry's class, and I carried the fabulous Barbie lunchbox you see top left. It was made out of shiny black plastic, but it had the same design as the one here. I spent many lunchtime hours looking at every detail of Barbie's dresses and imagined my own Barbie waiting for me at home in her little plastic casket--er--carrying case. I hauled my lunch in that box until it was fairly ragged. By then, I was ready for something more...you know... hip and groovy.

So my mom bought me a Monkees lunchbox (as well as one for the middle sister who was only a year behind me in school). I had a serious jones for the Monkees. I watched their show every week. I cut their images out of the back panels of cereal boxes. I listened to their music. I wrote about them in my diary.

The next (and last) lunchbox I carried, before permanently graduating to the brown paper bag, was a plain one in a color I can only describe as "ballet pink". By then I was growing weary of the limitations of the lunch inside a box.

But it's the Monkee's lunchbox I've thought about the most over the years. It made me happy to open it so that the lid folded down like a little airline tray so that I could set out my lunch in an orderly fashion while the back stood up like a tiny cupboard in front of me. Up and down the cafeteria tables you could see everyone else who brought their lunch eating in a similar fashion. Lunchboxes bearing the images of Deputy Dawg, Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. Kids ate from kits that advertised Army men or television shows like Rat Patrol, Combat, Time Tunnel, Batman, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Flipper.

The lunch itself was, however, the most important part. My mother knew the limits of my palate and packed only the things I liked...which must have caused her endless frustration. I literally would have eaten the same thing every day had I not eventually learned to like something other than lunchmeat or jelly.

My comfort food lunch was: a bologna sandwich on white bread with mustard. Fritos. Homemade chocolate chip cookies (or Oreos) and a thermos of Nestle's Strawberry Quick. Sure, I would accept egg salad or ham and cheese. Occasionally, Lays were substituted for the Fritos, though we were a dedicated Frito family and I proudly sported a yellow Frito Bandito eraser on my school pencil for longer than I care to disclose, even though his erasing skills were somewhat questionable.

Blindfold an adult and give him/her a test of smell recognition and First Place would most likely go to an elementary school cafeteria. Five years, 20 years, 40 years down the road...they always smell the same. The smell from the inside of a kid's plastic lunchbox, however, takes a very close second. You can scrub out the inside with soap and water, air it out in the sun and buy your lunch for a week to give it a rest, but the inside of a kid's lunchbox will still smell like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, if that's what's been inside it more often than not.

Back in the day, it wasn't unusual to have one's thermos undergo a system malfunction and the contents within spill all over the inside of your lunch --thus creating a dairy-based funk that was difficult to get rid of. It lingered for weeks. Those were sad days, and the only thing worse than no milk at lunch was when you unwittingly dropped your lunchbox while getting out of the car. This caused the fragile silver/glass lining of the thermos to shatter on command. Unscrewing the lid of the thermos and witnessing the silvery shards of liner pouring into the cup was like having a disco ball throw up in your Strawberry Quick. In short, a tragedy of humanity.

Which leads me to the point of my post. How did you carry your lunch to school? And when the bell rang to go to the cafeteria, what was inside that made your heart soar?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Homecoming Court Dropout

I think you could probably sum up my public education years with one simple word: Unremarkable. It wasn't great and it wasn't horrible. Not a lot happened to me between the years of kindergarten and 12th grade that you wouldn't find in a Disney PG-13 movie.

I wasn't a brain, nor was I stupid. I didn't fit into any particular group of kids, because I didn't DO enough of any one thing to place me with specific cliques. Not the athletes or the brainiacs. Not the beauty queens or the freaks. Not the serious musicians or the artists or the drama students. I was a reader and a ferocious journaler. I did have friends and I belonged to a few school clubs and I wasn't the last kid picked for whatever you'd pick a kid for, so don't cry for me, Argentina. I would later place into an advanced composition class that would save my life in more ways than one and help me to see writing as a great magnetic force for good in my life. (But that's another post)

One group that stood out was the ruling class of popular girls who all took dance at MP's Dance Studio.

Some of the most vivid memories I have of junior high were the after-lunch recesses where all of the girls who took dance hogged the sidewalk while the rest of us stood by and watched them go over their dance routines. They held out their arms just so and did the Time Step and called out the names of the other moves while they were doing them. And then they critiqued each other's performances (always tactfully) and then did them again. Sometimes we--the little people-- were even asked to watch them and clap if they were good...or spot an error...though how we would have known the difference is beyond me.

They pursued perfection with a determined single-mindedness as though preparing for a command performance at Radio City Music Hall. Either that or they were just a bunch of show-offs for those of us whose parents weren't enough inside the information loop to sign their daughters up for dancing school. I still can't hear the words "step-ball-change" without throwing up a little in my mouth. You know the car commercial that says, in life, you're either a passenger or a driver? I was a passenger. But it gave me a great opportunity to observe people, a skill that has been a huge benefit for me.

Cut to my sophomore year in high school. I'm a skinny girl with an unremarkable face I haven't quite grown into and braces that won't be off for several months. One day in homeroom we're asked to nominate three girls from each homeroom for the homecoming court. There's a guy there who nominates me. He was new to the school, so that explains his momentary lapse of reason. At first, I'm flattered. Nothing like that has ever happened to me...and (plot spoiler!) it won't ever happen again. I knew all the usual suspects who would end up on the ballot, and as the names begin to form a long and frightening list in my head, the reality of what was going to happen hit me. It's not that I ever expected to win...no...absolutely not. People like me don't get that kind of recognition in our youth. (You know...the dancing thing and all) I just knew that others would see my name on the ballot and wonder what in HELL it was doing there. It wasn't the losing part (which I had IN THE BAG, ladies and gentleman), it was the act of losing so publicly. And doing so would have sunk my fragile self-esteem into the ground like a spike being driven by a dead-blow hammer.

So I had my name taken off the ballot. I'm not sorry I did it. I've never been sorry. I'd rather know for sure where I am in life than to fruitlessly dream about a place I can never go.

So exactly what does this have to do with the BlogHer conference in the San Francisco Bay Area this summer? More than you'd think. It's a fear thing. It's very easy to hide behind this blog and the moniker I use. I can say what I want...or Wordgirl can, anyway. But slap a nametag on my chest and shove me into a room with my real face and a bunch of women who have been co-conspirators in the blog game much longer than me? Risk coming face to face with people I read but who have NO EARTHLY IDEA who I am or why I'm there?(Though I'm sure they're all lovely people) No....let's not and say we did. Mmmm-kay?

But I'm willing to start small. Some of the Texas bloggers are making noises about getting together. Sarcastic Journalist, Debbie Does Life and Shrinking Violet are definitely on the short list. And you know...I feel that's something I could do. No ballots, no crowns or popularity contests. Throw in a margarita machine and I can almost guarantee it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Best Advice


Sometimes advice comes from the places you'd least expect. Tonight I heard a little bit of wisdom that was attributed to a humble-yet-strong woman of legendary talent. No matter what your struggle is, I think this says it as well as anything:

"Hunker down and press on"--June Carter Cash

A Meme By Any Other Name Still Requires Thought








Jane over at Coffee and Varnish tagged everyone with this meme. I upped the ante by increasing the number of required answers from four to five due to my quirky need for things in groups of five. Sue me. Besides, I'm experiencing a very low-energy day today. My biorhythms have done a gigantic faceplant and I'm incapable of anything even remotely original. When in doubt, meme.

Five jobs I've had:

*
8th grade English teacher

*book reviewer (I still do this)
*cash control at a water park
*souvenir shop cashier at Six Flags Over Texas
*information desk at my college dorm (This was a great little job. The south side of campus had, at the time, four dorms called The Commons. They had their own dining hall and mailboxes. The Commons Desk gave out information, kept exterior doors to the dorms locked at night/unlocked during the day, sold laundry tickets and made change. Mainly, though, we socialized. It was a huge gathering spot for people and it was easy to make a few bucks, study when the crowds were scarce, and keep up with what everyone else was doing.)


Five movies I'd watch over and over: (torture to pick only a few)


* "The Shawshank Redemption"
* "Laura" (
Gene Tierney/Dana Andrews/Vincent Price) '40s film noir
* "Rear Window" or "North by Northwest" (
Hitchcock)
* "Pulp Fiction"
* "Sunset Boulevard"

Five places I've lived: (Proof of my boring life)

* Alexandria, Virginia
* Fort Worth, Texas
* Denton, Texas
* College Station, Texas
* Arlington, Texas


Five shows I love to watch:

*The Office
*Boston Legal
*ER
*Grey's Anatomy
*re-runs "Seinfeld"


Five places I've been on vacation:

*Isla Mujeres in the Yucatan
*Santa Fe, Red River and Taos, New Mexico
*New York
*London, England
* One week every summer for 10 summers at Surfside Beach on the Texas Coast


Five websites I visit daily:

*Google.com (
anything you want to know)
*Half the Sky (
how else am I going to write anything?)
*Dooce (
the Mothership of all bloggers)
*Go Fug Yourself (
for my minimum daily requirement of Snark)
*Shrinking Violet (
What will she say next?)


Five of my favorite foods: (snack foods...not meals)

* Yogurt
*cashews
*Graham crackers and milk
*Wiejske Wyroby Polish dill pickles
* Hostess chocolate cupcakes


Five places I'd rather be right now:

* On the beach (
with a better body than I have now) with a book
* The Strand Bookstore in NYC...holed up with a book
* Jack Straw's Castle (London), sitting in front of a fire with a book and a pint...do you sense a pattern here?
* Yoga
*Unconscious


Five bloggers I'm tagging: Anyone who reads this.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

One More Reason


One more reason why friends should not read what you write until you're sure you know what you're doing:

I was-- as a kid--(and still am) greatly influenced by the things I read, and I read all the time. In my youth, my "literary" heroes were Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes. In middle school I discovered the novels of Victoria Holt and spent a good amount of time daydreaming about the windswept coasts of Cornwall and crumbling mansions with secret passageways.

I was certain that I could, at the very least, write a short story. A story about a young woman in Victorian times who walked around a darkened house and down stairwells so that her long skirts trailed behind her. A woman with a secret.

It became necessary for my main character to relay her secret to someone else. Perhaps it was someone standing out in the woods just beyond the house. Maybe it was someone in the house next door. I've long since forgotten. Either way, I devised a plan for my character to stand at a window and send a signal by candlelight...using Morse Code.

No, I did not ride the short bus to school, nor was I dropped on my head shortly after I was born. I just didn't think things through and, as I said, my head was full of a mixture of impressions gleaned from differing books with differing plots. I didn't have an editor. I think I knew that Morse Code was a series of dots and dashes that you could hear and translate, but I never stopped to figure out how one might go about using it with candlelight. And, of couse, you can't.

That fact was made abundantly clear after my (then) best friend and one of my sisters were given my story for their inspection. They made a great show of pantomiming my character hurridly and repeatedly lighting a candle and then blowing it out over and over in a frenzied attempt to create the dots and dashes necessary to spell out ,"Someone is trying to kill me".
One faulty maneuver could have resulted in a spelling error that revealed the less critical message indicating, "Someone is trying to bill me." Annoying? Yes, but not thought to be life-threatening.

And many years later, when the planets line up and we're all get together, the old friend drag out that story and begin to pantomime someone lighting a candle and blowing it out. Some things people just won't let you forget. I just hope she doesn't do it at the reception when I win my Pulitzer.

Friday, January 13, 2006

YOU MUST BE SO PROUD...


All of our sons love going to the movies, and the two in high school go with their friends quite a bit. They will not, however, go to ANY movie if they can only scare up ONE OTHER GUY to go with them. And why won't they do this, you might ask? Because they're certain that other people will think it's a date.

**silence except for the chirping of crickets**

That's right. My children who have been born into an open and affirming family and who were raised in a church that does the same, don't want people to think they're gay. They don't have a problem with gay-ness, philosophically speaking. My best friend from high school is gay and so is a member of my extended family. The kids admire and love both of these men without judgement or prejudice. Interestingly enough, their fear of "that kind" of speculation from their peers doesn't prevent them from "pantsing" another guy in the locker room or each other at inopportune moments at home. No ma'am! Pulling another guys pants down around his ankles while he's getting his cleats out of his locker doesn't look suspicious at all. But watching a movie about terrorists while sitting within 2 feet of another male is just wrong.

So, needless to say, I was mildly shocked when my son, the baseball player, announced this morning that he and a friend were going to embark on a money-making venture/dare that involved a movie. "Some guys on the team are going to pay me and another guy twenty bucks apiece to see "Brokeback Mountain" together...AND... we have to share popcorn." Mercifully for them, they would be allowed one seat between them. My son's first job...no lawn mowing or working at the hardware store for this guy! Just getting paid to watch a movie and prove a point at the same time. I begin to strategize about how I'll caption this moment when I start working on his scrapbook

So, let me get this straight:

Two guys going to the movies= Not Good
Two guys going to a movie about two gay cowboys + $$= You've got yourself a deal

There's a word for people like this....I just hoped I'd never hear it applied to one of my kids.




Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wanted: A Big Welcome for Sarcastic Baby


We're hosting an online baby shower for the Sarcastic Journalist and Little Jizzy. Your presence is requested! The word on the street is that SJ never had a baby shower with Miss E. because
of " a series of unfortunate events".

SJ is registered at Amazon.com, BabyCenter.com and Target.
If for some reason you don't get a direct link, everything is listed under Sarcastic Journalist.
A gift card to Target or Wal-Mart would be wonderful or even just a card with your good wishes. Take part in the one-of-a-kind event and Debbie will post pictures of SJ with her goodies.

Please mail to:

Sarcastic Journalist
P.O.Box 130366
The Woodlands, TX 77393

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's Not Perfect...But It's Home



Yesterday I was reading a post by a blogger whose site I normally like and she spoke most regretfully of having to travel from another (and apparently better) part of Texas to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She used the word "repellent" to describe her destination and made reference to the phenomenon of "big hair" and how the females here were "wack" about their coifs. She was fairly certain she was deserving of her readers' pity.

To add insult to injury, the comments of her readers weren't terribly kind, either. Someone even went as far as to repeat some crapulous heresay about unnamed business leaders in Dallas who "toasted" the Kennedy assassination at a gathering of their own kind on that tragic day in 1963 and another used the term "bushleaguers" in referencing lawyers from this area. Of course, I could take comfort in the words of one pinhead who said that the only thing good about his/her years in Fort Worth were the honky-tonks. Clearly those were the words of a closet drunk, so I don't take much stock in that last bit of nonsense.

Still...it pissed me off....A LOT.

I'll be the first to admit that this state has its share of problems and that some of them are in the city where I live. Actually, it's not the best time in the world to say you hail from ANYWHERE in the Lone Star State and that includes the provenance of this particular blogger. But I'm willing to admit to a few things that make this part of the state a less than ideal place to be.

If Texas is a big RED dress worn by a Republican society matron, then it's held together at the waist by the Bible Belt and D/FW is pretty close to its buckle. People here say 'aint, and--yes-- it sounds awful. Many people here voted for Proposition 2, I'm sorry to say. Mr. Half and I voted against it. We weren't alone, but we lost anyway, and that sucks the big pudding, people. There are women with big, stiff hair--but they're mostly of a certain generation who lunch at the Neiman's tearoom and carry proper handbags and use walkers to get around. They're harmless. It's not the easiest place to be different, I'll grant you that, but if you have even a speck of the maverick spirit that feeds the pioneer mythology of this region, you'll probably wind up happy anyway.

Yes, there are locals (in this very city!) who totally buy the idea that everything is bigger and better in Texas, and I'm sure that gets grating after a bit, but folks here can't claim to live in the first state to guarantee women the right to vote or even gays and lesbians the right to marry, and the Good Old (White)Boy system still trips us up on occasion, so people brag about what they can. Whatever. Still, it's not all cow punching, horse-riding, shit-kicking here. It's not all puckered-assed society matrons and NASCAR and Larry the Cable Guy. Really. I swear!

But I'm not going to counter all those blogger/comments with a big Power Point presentation that extols all the virtues of Dallas/Fort Worth, although there are plenty. I wasn't even born here, so I think I have some ability to be neutral. Instead, I'll just say this:

For better or for worse, some of those people of whom you speak so disparagingly are my neighbors. They're my co-workers and people who sit with me on the PTA. They're the friends who bring casseroles when loved ones die or bring my kids home from school when I've got the flu. They're also family.

I might not always think well of this place and I even occasion to speak my mind about it, but it chaps my butt when outsiders start whaling on everyone here with their sweeping generalizations and judgemental attitudes. Tolerance is a two-way street and while our team corners the market on preaching it, it never hurts to practice while your jaws are flapping.

I know firsthand how tough it is up here. It was touch-and -go during the election when our patriotism was questioned more than once (and our yard signs stolen four times...but that's another post), but the same people who think I might be headed down the wrong political path (and I'm more positive than ever that I'm NOT)...or worse yet...headed straight to Hell...are the same folks who laugh at my jokes and love my husband and kids and buy my art and give me a shoulder when I need one. Yes, indeedy! Around these parts, the same people who will strongly hint over dinner that you might be a Socialist will still hug your neck and send you home with half a leftover pie all wrapped up nice and neat. Can you top that?

Sure...it would be great if we could all sit around the ashram eating our sprouts and going into a simultaneous yogic "Down Dog" (I'm down with all of that, y'all! I love my yoga.) and be on the same wavelength and all, but the REAL character building doesn't start until your community welcomes EVERYONE, and that includes those who make it harder for you to be who you really are...but who love you anyway. And when that community's attacked by some asshat with only half an idea about you or the place where you happen to live....well....someone needs to get schooled.

I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Would It Kill You To Write Once In A While?


Dang! I was so busy trying to find pants that would fit a 6'1"/145 pound man-child for his upcoming week-long AP US History trip to the City of Broken Promises (Washington D.C), that I totally I missed National Delurking Day yesterday. So tough nuts! I'm calling out all of you who lurk and say nothing. EVER! I'm not mentioning names, but I've got a few ideas. It's not that I'm ungrateful for what I've got. Far from it. I've been on the receiving end of some great commenting lately. To say otherwise would just be wrong. But, like everyone else, I'm awfully curious about those out there who read and leave. It's like a drive-by with no gunfire. And I like gunfire.

So...let me know, okay? It's not...you know...like...a marriage proposal or anything. No one's asking you to move in or even provide semi- regular feedback and a place on your blogroll. Just let me know that you come by occasionally and stare through the window. I'll keep a spare tootbrush for you in the medicine cabinet. Just in case. Now I gotta go watch James Spader in "Boston Legal".

Monday, January 09, 2006

News You Can Use

"Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed"--Erica Jong

"...Or is it just information that gives us temporary power with the capacity to make others temporarily uncomfortable?"--Wordgirl

Not that I'm advocating a cavalier attitude toward malicious innuendo. No sir...not me! I'm just saying that there's a difference between gossip and useful information. Between unsubstantiated whisperings and an eyewitness report. One is often mistaken for the other.

Does a secret die with you or is there one other person upon whom you usually unload your burden? Do you feel a sudden rush when delivering bad news about a third party? What is that about? Is there a difference between wondering aloud about Tom Cruise's sanity (and...hey...who HASN'T wondered about that?) and confiding to your spouse about a friend's upcoming divorce? For the record...anyone who asks me not to tell anyone (including Mr. Half) will get his/her wish 99% of the time.

My theory is that information is power...no matter how terrible it is, and for one brief moment, you/we have the capacity to change the life of the person to whom you/we reveal this data, and that's a heady moment when you/we realize that fact. I don't think it makes us bad people...or even all that untrustworthy. It just makes us humans who struggle to maintain the balance between keeping a confidence and helping someone else understand what's going on.

I can keep a secret, people. Really, I can. I'm keeping some right now. Many are about me and more than a few are about others. Those will die with me because I can keep my mouth shut...or quite possibly...because I've forgotten them. (Sorry!) But I'll confess that I know the difference between information that MUST NOT LEAVE THE ROOM EVER!!! and something I can tell Mr. Half. What's more...I've found that blogging has helped me to keep confidential what needs to be confidential because all the stuff that doesn't really matter ends up spilling over into this website. In other words, the stuff that doesn't matter has helped me to hold sacred the stuff that does matter. This has been a public service announcement....eh....whatever.

For the record, the human who knows the most about me on the planet is, in fact, Mr. Half. He also knows a great deal about the other people in my life and he's really wonderful about not spilling his guts after two or three beers. Second place goes to my sisters. Each one knows stuff about me that the other doesn't, but mostly they both know what matters. Vital info may very well be in their possession, but I trust them implicitly and so should you.

So...who do you trust with your secrets...or the secrets of others? If you could only tell one other person something that no one else could know...who would it be?

You Say Potato...

Marty Feldman: "Dr. Frankenstein?"
Gene Wilder: "FRONKensteen"
Feldman: "You're putting me on."
Wilder: "No. It's pronounced Fronk-in-steen"
Feldman: "Do you also say Fro-drick?"
Wilder: "No- Fredrick"
Feldman: "Why isn't it Fro-drick Fronk-in-steen?"
Wilder: "It isn't. It's Fredrick Fronk-in-steen"

Feldman: "I see."
Wilder: " You must be Egore"
Feldman: "No, it's pronounced EYE-gore"
Wilder: "They told me it was Egore"
Feldman: "Well they were wrong then, werent' they?!"


This a great scene from one of my favorite movies, Young Frankenstein, and it serves to illustrate one of my biggest pet peeves: People who refuse to pronounce words and names correctly.

I'm not talking about the regional differences in pronunciation like "tom-AY-to" versus "tom-AH-to" or even the way children or people new to the language get things wrong. It's about those regular folks who just find it easier to say things the way they want to and not the way they're supposed to be said. Because I was born with a last name that is German in origin and it took 13 letters to spell it, I suppose I'm particularly sensitive about getting a name right. I was raised with the seemingly outdated notion that it is a great disrespect to pronounce someone's name incorrectly...especially after one has been repeatedly coached on how to say it. A few years ago I was reading a novel called "The Shipping News" by E. Annie Proulx. I bought that book for several friends and talked of it often, but was vexed by an inability to figure out how to pronounce the name Proulx. A woman I know wound up on a flight sitting next to Proulx's publisher who informed her that the right way to say her name was "proo". What a relief!

I once worked with a guy who used the word "pacifically" when he meant "specifically". I guess you could say that he was just getting one word confused with another, but I don't think there is such a word as "pacifically". Either way, it drove me to absolute distraction because he sounded like an idiot when he spoke.

I have a good friend who, during the course of any conversation, will mangle at least two words, one of them being the name of an author, title of a book or movie, or someone we know . Using the word correctly in front of him hasn't caused him to question how he says it, or at the very least, grab a dictionary to question how I'm saying it.

Another woman I know who fancies herself an authority on everything is a big fan of the writer Cynthia Ozick. For a long time she was on a huge Ozick kick and was never without some volume of the writer's work. During the time she was reading The Puttermesser Papers , she loved to catch me outside the carpool line to talk about the book which she referred to as The PusserMEISTER Papers. She did this for several weeks and, so dedicated was she to her own idea of how to say the name of the book, that any other pronunciation never registered with her. Interestingly enough, this woman is also a former speech pathologist.

A close family friend says "suss-ess" instead of "success". And-- yes--that bugs me as well. Sure, there are better ways to spend my time than worrying about how other people talk. But, what are you supposed to do when someone starts talking to you about the actor Ralph Fiennes (who has gone on every talk show and explained how his name is pronounced "Rafe Fines") and insists on calling him Ralph Feens? Do I say nothing? Do I mispronounce it, too, so that my friend doesn't feel embarrassed? Or do I become the Pronunciation Nazi?

I know I'm not alone in this. Head over to The Sneeze and check out his post, "The Revenge of Franklinstein". It started out as an entry about how people get words confused. His friend's dad likes to watch "Steinfeld"...and so forth. It's worth the read and so are the comments. All 647 of them. What mispronunciations rub you the wrong way? Operators are standing by.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Other Side of Chaos


The extreme end of yesterday's picture. Paints, beads, spray sealer, brushes, embroidery floss, Beverly Cleary books, notebooks for art camp, old Nancy Drews, map pencils, polymer clay, photos, wire, art books, buttons, letters, back issues of "Cloth, Paper, Scissors" and "Home Companion", poster of George Harrison & address books...to name a few things. Plus the rocker that used to sit in the nursery. I've logged a lot of hours in that chair.

School starts Monday. I love my kids, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't ready to hear that bell ring once again. Do you hear it, people? It's the sound of freedom!

Uh...sorry kids. If you're reading this....Mom's just kidding.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Random and Useless, Part II


1. One of my favorite movies is Barry Levinson's "Diner". I like everything about it. The setting, the diverse characters, the actors who play them, and the dialogue. This is mostly a movie about guys, and though I do think women are the better communicators in real life (and they do it more frequently), I wish that we participated in the kind of banter that is evident here. Sometimes talking is just talking and not about feelings. I would like to have another male cat and name him Modell, after Paul Reiser's character.

2. The picture at left is of one end of my office. If you took a CAT-SCAN of my brain, the inside would probably a lot look like this, too.

3. I hate coffee. It smells okay, but it tastes nasty. In college, I stayed awake by ingesting massive amounts of Dr. Pepper, chocolate and No-Doz. One semester, during finals , I studied by pulling three all-nighters during test week. By the day of the last final, I was wired and brain dead. I took my final ( I think I scored a 20 on it) and then fell over a trashcan in A&M's Memorial Student Center. I haven't had a No-Doz since.

4. One of the first ideas for this blog's title was "Lather, Rinse & Repeat". In my real life shampooing escapades, I don't "repeat" all that often.

5. At my kindergarten graduation, all the boys were supposed to bow to the priest upon receiving a diploma. All the girls were supposed to curtsy. Personally, I think the curtsy requires a little more coordination than bowing, but that's another post. One by one, I watched the girls in my class do this thing that seemed increasingly confusing to me. When it was my turn, I took my diploma, turned on my heel and went back to my seat. I ended up being the only girl in the class who didn't perform that stupid gesture. For years I banked on the notion that I was an early feminist who refused to do such a ridiculous thing before a mere male. In reality, I had just forgotten how.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It's a Bumpy Road

.
A couple of months back a student at the high school that my older sons attend got into trouble for information he published on his Xanga website. Now, I got my information very late in the game and third hand, so I don't know all of the details.

What I do know was that he was "stalking" a kid with his website. He published pics that he took with a camera phone, wrote about how much he was in love with this guy, revealed this student's locker number and combination. Stuff that was definitely not cool. Because he was a transfer student (and because the schools are now hot on the trail of any kid's behavior that might result in another Columbine), he was kicked out of our school and sent back to the one in his district. His Xanga was shut down and our school immediately began to look into all of his website links for similarly "risky" behavior. Terms like "Big Brother" were quickly resurrected by kids who had previously done nothing but bitch about being forced to read Orwell's "1984" and statements regarding "personal freedoms" were bandied about.

Of course there was a general adolescent hue and cry over the unfairness of adults monitoring "private" online diaries and reading things that were not intended for the judging eyes of parents, teachers and school administration. The parents, (us included), just laughed. A private diary, we told them, is something between two cardboard covers that you hide under your mattress. It is not something that circles the globe in a matter of seconds so that Middle Eastern camel herders taking a coffee break at Akbar's Internet Cafe can read that your most recent mall expedition with Tiffany and Brittani resulted in some new thong underwear.

There are, however, things in this world that should be private. Phone conversations, for one. Two Amish farmers ought to be able to call each other and talk about explosions from gas buildup in the grain silo without being branded as potential terrorists by overzealous government wiretappers. Aunt Bertha should be able to make you queasy with a gruesome and protracted discussion of her recent hysterectomy without "W" getting an earful at the expense of the Constitution, a copy of which is rumored to be used for rifle range target practice on a well-known ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Having a blog hasn't changed my view about the kids who put their private thoughts out there for EVERY SENTIENT BEING on the planet to see and then get bent out of shape when a clueless parent in the next room stumbles across their admission of shoplifting and the hammer comes down. No pity there. And it hasn't changed the fact that I believe that if a guy wants to go on Maury Povitch and propose to his girlfriend, he can't control who watches. If he decides to do it via long-distance telephone, he should be able to do that without hearing Dick Cheney's heavy breathing on the other end.

But there's something else. I've been reading blogs since late in the summer, and though I'd been threatening to set one up for most of that time, I didn't have the guts to do so until the week of Thanksgiving. It wasn't about seeing my name in print. I've been seeing my name in newspapers and one or two magazines since 1991. Besides...I don't use my real name here anyway. It's about fashioning a space for myself that doesn't require an editor's permission and whose mode of expression isn't limited by the term "family newspaper" .

Like many bloggers (I don't presume to speak for most or all of you), the vast majority of my audience consisted (initially) of people who have no earthly idea who I am. And I was very happy with that. There's a purity in that which is deeply satisfying. People should be drawn by what you say and how you say it...not who they think you might be. That's the whole point of blogging, I think. At least it is for me. It's not really a device for letting Luther and Edna back home know how well your prize pig did at the 4H competition, though I guess one could certainly utilize a blog for such an enterprise.

What I've learned about other people--as well as myself--is this: Bloggers are just people who want the same two things that everyone else wants. 1) We want to be fully known for who we are even when we're impossible to love and 2) We don't want to be judged. That's why I limited the number of friends and family who should know about this site. It's also why I've saved my strongest and most biting commentary for when I'm replying to the posts of other bloggers. That's not to say that I won't get up in someone's face eventually, but--up until now--I was still grooving pretty heavily on posting about pop culture and whether or not macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.

True story: I did invite a drive-by commenter on another site to come by my site for a discussion on the merits (or not) of homeschooling after she openly attacked another blogger regarding a post. I called her on it and the discussion quickly went south. She was openly hostile with me (and others with college degrees) who might question someone who attempted to teach without one and even though the woman displayed an eighth grader's facility with the English language and couldn't spell the word "crap" if it was rubbed on her, she insisted that she and those of her ilk were better prepared to teach her litter of seven children than someone like me. But I digress.

Color me naive, but I thought I could compartmentalize my blog life away from my real life. I've read with real sympathy how families quit speaking with one another after they felt they were mis-respresented on a loved one's blog. But what are your choices? You can edit yourself to make everyone happy or you can tell absolutely no one that you have this really great thing in your life. Or you can do what I did. You can tell some and not others. Let me tell you...that idea blows big chunks,too, as I've recently learned. But it's all out there now and I don't have the right to feel invaded as the audience that reads grows to include those who "knew me when".

Besides...I still have a few secrets that I won't put out there for everyone to read. I'm smarter than that. And as long as I don't tell them to someone during the course of a phone call, I'm probably okay. Oh...and my parents still can't know.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

We're all winners....NOT!

Everyone else is posting these, so I thought I would too since I'm a giant copycat. The morbidly curious should waste no time in checking out these sites for mention of their own blog nomination. Those with an excess of 2 cents to share, a counter nomination to offer or to simply challenge someone to a duel at twenty paces should do so ASAP.

Best of Blogs...http://www.thebestofblogs.com/
2006 Bloggies...http://2006.bloggies.com/

Five Weird Things About Me: A Meme

Mignon is tagging everyone with this meme. It's better than most.

1. The tragedy that is my calendar (left). I'm a huge paper hog. I should just record whatever info is on a scrap of paper and then toss it, but I don't. I have loose papers, envelopes and sticky notes, stuck in my daytimer. Maybe it's because I'm forced to remember everything for everyone here (okay...Mr. Half keeps an awesome calendar) and it has fragmented my brain. My office is the same. Loose phone numbers, e-mail addresses, cryptic notes that no longer make sense. I'm a lost cause here.


2. If I am reading something really good, I start to panic if I don't have a backup book. That's a book I can segue to quickly without being stuck with nothing to read. I have to hit the bookstore and troll around until I find something. My secret fear is being bored with nothing to read.

3. I'm a little superstitious about numbers. If I go to the store to buy apples, I have to buy at least 5. Why? Because there are 5 people in our family and something makes me feel uneasy about not having one apple to represent each person in the house. It's like I'm afraid that, if something happens to one of them, I'll later blame the fact that I only bought 4 apples. 3 is okay, since that's how many kids we have. It's a little crazy, but it's not as though I'm licking light switches or tapping my teeth 20 times before I eat.

4. I'm less patient when women cry than I am when men do. Don't ask me why. I rarely let my kids see me cry and I think it's because I'm afraid they'll think I'm weak. Mr. Half can cry while reading a sad story in the paper and I find it very endearing. I get a little put out when women do...though it's okay for the really tragic stuff.

5. Rooms without lamplight depress me. Rooms that utilize only overhead lights are extremely upsetting . I need lamplight in the corners to "soften" things up a little, and I feel as though I can't breathe right without it. Classrooms, offices, whatever. We went to a party recently and there wasn't one single room in the house that wasn't functioning off of a two-bulb overhead ceiling light and I absolutely HATED IT. It looks institutional

BONUS: I can tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Marbles: Still have all of yours???


Five things I used to know but whose place in my brain was taken over by the cells necessary to remember the lyrics to the theme from "The Beverly Hillbillies" and the names of all of Elizabeth Taylor's husbands. (Plus repeated exposure to noxious teenage b.o. and lack of sleep haven't helped, either)

1. The difference between an Ostrogoth and a Visigoth.

2. How to count to 1000 in German and Spanish.

3. How to figure tax in my head.

4. The plot of "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

5. The phone number I had in my first apartment.


There are more, but I don't think I have the strength to see them all listed today.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A New Year's Grab Bag


Jerome David (J.D) Salinger is 87 today. Yippee.

** Note to J.D: So you think you're still the smokin' hot stuff, do ya? Think the photographers are still waiting in the bushes outside the A&P or wherever you go to get your Polydent, prune juice and bananas? Well forget it, bucko! The crowds went home a few years ago after you reneged on the last-chance deal to re-publish that old novella that wasn't all it was hyped to be when it came out the first time. You've totally overplayed that whole 'mysterious recluse' thing for over three decades and now you're just OLD. Old and--presumably--alone.

There was a time, my friend, when you had but to let a handwritten grocery list slip from your fingers on a public street and a dozen fans would humiliate themselves to grab it as a souvenir. People were going through your TRASH...just to see the crumpled clues to your most recent project. Hey!! I even gave my youngest son the first name of Holden. No one was immune!

Of course, you're not entirely forgotten. Sure...people still talk about Catcher in the Rye or Nine Stories and there's always a little buzz about what you've been doing for the last forty years up there in your secluded New England house. Diehard fans insist that your studio is filled to the rafters with spiral notebooks that chronicle the continued antics of the fabulous Glass family, most of whom must certainly be card-carrying members of AARP by now. Or dead. Maybe that's the case, but I don't think so.

You know what I think? I think you overbid your whole Marlene Dietrich "I want to be alone" crap and now that's exactly what you are. I think you spend your days drinking Ensure and watching reruns of "Murder, She Wrote". I don't think you've written anything, yet you still want to star in the role of hostile recluse who just can't get a moment to himself.
You're gutless! You wouldn't have had to write another stinking word your whole life...just go out on the interview circuit and speak with the literarily-crazed fans who live to recite whole sections of Zooey's dialog back to you. Hell, look at Norman Mailer. He hasn't done anything nearly as good as your early stuff. He's always been a hack, but he's trailing his toasted carcass all over the country talking and writing and talking ABOUT writing. But, you! You wanted to go a different route. You wanted to test our loyalty and play the indifferent genius at the same time. And this is where it got you.

When you die what will the authorities find, if not scads of unpublished brilliance? I'll tell you what they'll find: Cats. Lots and lots of stinky, hungry cats and they'll all have little collars with tags on them that tell the tragic truth of how they're all named Franny and Seymour and Buddy. In the end you'll be surrounded by the reminders of the only good things you did, simply because you weren't brave enough to try anything else.
That'll get the public talking again. I smell a New Yorker piece on this very subject.

So, listen. Don't worry too much about people harrassing you anymore. The only thing stalking you these days wears a dark hooded robe and carries a big scythe. So when you ride your Rascal down the dirt lane to the mailbox...that rustling in the tall grass isn't a photographer from People magazine. It's just a squirrel."**

It's smoky here. Dry. Lots of fires everywhere...and I don't mean in people's fireplaces. It's 77 degrees here as I write this and dry grass everywhere is resulting in grass fires. Last night was a new low in New Year's Eve celebrations. The oldest son went to a party. The middle son camped in front of one television to watch hockey and the youngest sat in the back with us and tried to watch a really dense Hitchcock movie called, "Under Capricorn" that we didn't finish. I made beads and we ate some great kebabs (shrimp, beef, venison, pineapple) and rice. At midnight we walked into the street and had champagne with neighbors. And then we went to bed. Wow...I'm underwhelmed. I think we're all getting a little cabin fever and there's still a week left before the kids go back to school. My resolution for 2006 is to try to live IN THE MOMENT as much as I can. I spend too much time dwelling on the past (which I can't change) or the future (which is cloudy). That...and I am going to get back into running. No, really. I'm serious.

Hope your celebration was, unlike ours, at least enough to increase your pulse rate. Otherwise, what's the point?