Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Filling the Void

It has come to my attention that Tyra Banks, the arbiter of all that is acceptable and important in my life, is ending her daily talk show in 2010.

It doesn't matter that I have never, technically, watched her show.  I do watch The Soup, and without Tyra, Joel has roughly 15 of his 22 minutes to fill.  What are we to do?  Where will the American public go for self-promotion and congratulation masquerading as altruism?

Me.



That's right, my friends, I'm announcing that I, Deb, will be hosting the Folksy Deb Show, starting in 2010, or whenever Tyra retires.  I will step forward to lead you through the frightening void caused by Tyra's absence.

I pledge I will:

1. Make every show, regardless of topic, about me.  Example:

Guest:  ...and that's when I found out I have fourteen extra toes inside my intestine.

Deb:  Wow.  That's just like the time I found out Cool Whip wasn't real whipped cream.  I was        DEVASTATED.  (Audience nods and makes sympathetic noises.)

Guest: I had to have most of my lower intestine removed.  I can't eat solid food anymore.

Deb: Exactly.  Life just loses all meaning when you know that dollop of whipped cream on Mom's pumpkin pie is really just a pile of synthetic goo.  (Audience members now wailing into Kleenex.)

Guest: But-

Deb: No, it's okay.  I understand.  We all go through it.  Here.  (Forcibly holds guest to bosom, patting her hard enough to dislodge her glasses.)  There, there.

Guest: Ow.

2. Become increasingly shrill and defensive over every flaw.

Deb: Okay, it has come to my attention that several magazines have published pictures of me consuming an entire bucket of ice cream.  Also, there was a picture of me with no makeup and several tabloids are now calling me "Folksy Zit."  Also, there was the whole mustache thing.

Audience: (Murmuring in distress)

Deb: Today, I'm sending a message.  We're all flawed.  We all eat enough dessert product in one sitting to feed an East Asian village for a month.  (murmurs of support)  We all have pimples so large we count them as dependents on our tax returns.  (shouts of "You go, girl!")  We all have facial hair so dark and coarse it makes us frankly question our identity.  So what?

Audience: (Now shouting in support)

Deb: Well, it stops today!  You know what I say to all of you?

Audience: Say it!  Say it!

Deb: I just said it.  Stop it.

Audience:  Oh.

Deb: I'm sorry I was so harsh.

Audience: (silence)

3. Synergize.

Deb: Today on the Folksy Deb show, we have the contestants from this season of America's Next Great Novelist, the reality show that I host in which I convince beautiful and talented young women that the secret to success is looking constipated but sexy at the same time.

Audience: Yay!

Deb: And we're using the footage of this show for that show, and this is actually a challenge for them!

Audience: Yay, yay!

Deb: And this whole thing is being used for a scene in an independent film my production company is funding!

Audience: Yay, yay, wow!

Deb: And then I'm going to cut an album!

Audience: Wow, really?  You think you can sing?  Just because you have a TV show?

Deb: All right, no album.

Audience: Yay!

4. Become emotional and practice "tough love" when necessary

Guest: Deb, I know you can help me with my severe phobia of dust mites.

Deb: Listen to me.  Stop it.  You have no idea how hard my life has been.  I got a hangnail today right before taping, and did I quit?  Did I stop?  No, I'm here.  Yes, the taping was delayed for two hours while I sat in a dark room with a cold cloth over my eyes to distract me from the intense pain, but I'm here.  We're all here!  How dare you think that your fear is greater than your responsibility to this planet?  HOW DARE YOU?

Guest: Sorry.

Deb: That's okay.  Come here.  (Attempts to clutch guest to bosom)

Guest: No thanks.

Deb: You're afraid I have dust mites in my bosom, aren't you?

Guest: No, it's not that-

Deb: COME HERE!  (Chases guests off the stage)

We'll be right back...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sven wins again!




I got Sven:

1. A remote controlled helicopter.


2. A tiny device called an "Eviltron" which randomly emits scary sounds and is now stuck to our refrigerator.


3. A pair of Stewie Griffin pajama pants.


4. A life-size Taun Taun sleeping bag with light saber zipper pull and intestine-printed lining.


Sven got me:

1. A firm chair-pillow so I can be more comfortable while blogging in bed.


2. A silver and mother-of-pearl heart-shaped locket with pictures of Dexy and Princess inside, which he printed, cut, and installed himself.


Sven wins again.  My gifts to him were hilarious, his to me were thoughtful and touching.

But I guess I win, too.  I hope you all had a merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

War on Christmas

I love Christmas.  It's the most wonderful time of the year, I'm told.  However, there has been something bothering me about Christmas for most of my life, something that niggled and nagged at the back of my mind.  I assumed it was the oft-lamented "commercialization" of the holiday.  Recently, after a good deal of introspection and foot maintenance, it came to me: I actually like the commercialization of Christmas.  What I hate is the EMOTIONALIZATION of Christmas.

Holly boughs and wreaths of pine cones in October?  Sure!  I love it.  Piped in Muzak versions of "Sleigh Ride" right after the back-to-school sales have ended?  Great.

Song about the poor child who wants to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother so she can be beautiful when she dies on Christmas Eve?  Not so much.  I LOATHE this stuff.  I mean, I really do.

Some of what could be called "emotional" Christmas fare is stuff I love.  There is a book by Fannie Flag called "A Redbird Christmas" that I really love and read every year.  I own five different movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol: The Muppet Christmas Carol, Mickey's Christmas Carol, Scrooge (the musical w/Albert Finney), A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart version), and Scrooged (Bill Murray).  I watch It's A Wonderful Life with great enjoyment as often as I can during the holidays; in fact, I have been known to cook a full turkey dinner and watch Christmas movies in July, just because I wanna.

That's fine.  Here's what I don't like:

I don't like Lifetime movies about how the magic of Christmas makes an emotionally distant and abusive parent or romantic partner suddenly perfect.

I don't like ABC Family movies about how the magic of Christmas helps some sad (but staggeringly beautiful) single woman finally find true love under the mistletoe.

I don't like Folger's commercials in which the magic of Christmas combines with the aroma of coffee to ensure complete peace among extended family.

I don't like "Very Special" episodes of cheesy sitcoms, in which a character sings "O Holy Night" and the husband and wife realize they shouldn't fight because It's Christmas.

But enough of what I don't like.

I love seeing my family.

I love dressing my kids up in festive holiday wear.

I love spending too much money trying to find something to make Sven say, "Wow!"

I love baking pumpkin bread and orange cranberry bread and cookie cakes.

I love lighting the Hanukkah candles at my cousins' house.

I love hearing Princess singing "Belize Knobby Nut"* along with Jose Feliciano.

I love the lights on all of the houses, including our own.

I love watching "A Christmas Story" 4 times in a row while my turkey cooks.

I love rolling my eyes when Princess asks if she can watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer "one more time and that's all, okay?"

So I just avoid that maudlin, sentimental stuff.  Christmas comes but once a year for several weeks, and it's just wasteful and unnecessary to waste it dwelling on what I don't like.

Oh, dang, there's that Folgers commercial again....


*Feliz Navidad

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Family Newsletter

I wrote this as a joke for an online forum, but I liked it so much, I thought you would enjoy.  I would like to say that I love all of the family newsletters I receive, which in no way resemble this one at all, so please keep them coming!


-Deb


Dear Family and Friends,

First of all, I must ask that anyone receiving this letter not copy it and give it to others.  There are certain people who we do not wish to know our family's business, but because certain people get offended when I talk about the lawsuit, I'll leave it at that.

Despite last January's "unpleasantness," this has been a good year for us.  Alexis Star, our goldfish, was recently accepted into an accelerated obedience course at Pet-o-Rama.  Who knew, when we took her in because she was swimming on her back, that she was so gifted?  They are keeping her for a week, then we will go back to get her.  They promise she will be a whole new fish!  She might even lose some weight, which was good, because she was eating like 10 times a day, like a certain person who I cannot name but should get her due in court next March.

Our six children (Dakota, Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, and Delaware) continue to do very well at their academic pursuits.  Dakota made it to level 28 of World of Blood last night!  Kentucky continues to do well in her music therapy class, and recently wowed our church talent show with her original song, "When I Kill Them I'll Be Free."  Children are such a joy, I keep telling Stewart that we should have another before we get too old, but he has taken a second job as a long-haul truck driver.  Between that and being a trans-continental pilot, it seems we never see each other.  It makes you think about how strange life can be: if you want to see someone, they're too busy, but if you never want to see someone again, there she is, everywhere you go, like a certain person I'm not allowed to talk about.  I don't care what she told you, I was in Wal-Mart first.  I know my rights, even if there is a "restraining order."

You'll all be happy to know that my medical issues have gotten much better this year.  Because of some complaints about last year's letter, I'll limit the details, but I'll say this: it finally drained.  What a relief!  Like not seeing a certain person who shall remain nameless but you all know who I'm talking about.  If you want more details, e-mail me, but don't share my e-mail address with anyone, for obvious reasons.

I have been doing our usual holiday decorations this year.  I started putting lights up in September, since the homeowner's association lost their lawsuit over last year's display.  I hope the next one goes as well!  My "Winter Wonderland" yard display has been a big hit again this year.  I don't know why everyone's nativity scenes don't include Shrek, the donkey goes right along with the story!  Fortunately, my last neighbor moved two weeks ago, so there's plenty of parking if any of you want to stop by!  Just don't bring along you-know-who.

Of course, no family newsletter would be complete without a mention of Samuel Gompers, our kitty.  After an attack of anxiety last summer when Kentucky went off her meds for a little while, Gompers has been on Valium, which has helped him enormously.  He stopped using the litter box, but I know it's just his need for self-expression.  After the you-know-what is over, I should be able to spend more time with him.  I'm sure he just misses his mommy!

I can't wait to hear from all of you.  Several of your letters were returned to me last year unopened, so I can only assume you guys have moved and forgot to tell me where.  I'll be tracking you down, though!  Have a happy holiday season!

Me

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Gift Guide

It's that time again, when I have to buckle down and make the most important decision I make twice a year: what to get Sven for Christmas.

He is impossible to shop for.  He doesn't care for gadgets, so I'm out there.  If he does find a gadget he likes, it becomes welded to him for at least a decade (thank you iPod touch!).  He hates it when I (or anyone else, for that matter) buy him clothes.  He has hobbies: he fishes, and then cooks what he catches.  But I can only give him so many bags of wood chips, and I hate to give a gift card.

So, here it is: Deb's Gift Guide for the Dude You Can't Shop For.  Here is a comprehensive (not at all) list (in the sense there is more than one item) of terrific (if we're being very loose with the language) ideas (things I am clinging to as my last hope) for last-minute (less than two weeks left) gifts (whew).

1. A ribald t-shirt.  Nothing says "I love you" like a t-shirt emblazoned with a stormtrooper sitting on a toilet.  Thanks to my recent subscription to the "I Love Movies" podcast, I have a code to get 20% off my order at Donkey T's (put "MOVIES" in the coupon code box).  (Warning: ribaldry contained therein.)

2. Specialty food items.  Nothing says "I love you, Grandpa," like a Hickory Farms Sampler.  For the hubs, though, I have to kick it up a notch.  I need to get him something he either needs to wrestle to a draw or set on fire before eating it.  Two words: ostrich meat.  Imagine the conversations he can have!
  
     Sven: So, have you had ostrich?

     Hezekiah: No, can't say that I have.
  
     Sven: It's all right.
  
     Hezekiah: Yeah?
  
     Sven: Yeah.
  
       Silence.

You're welcome.

3. A ridiculous toy that he will admire in the abstract but never actually use and/or give to the children.  I admit this is the route I usually go.  Last year's present, an interactive voice-activated R2D2 robot, has been in a box in our dining room since last January.  (The year before, I gave him a son, which has been somewhat more successful.)  This year, I am frankly out of ideas for useless toys.

     A GPS?  Maybe, but I just don't think there is room in the drawer with the PDA, pocket-sized digital camera, electronic organizer, and, I believe, a slide-rule.

He already has an iPod.

I now share with you the coolest online shopping site ever: I Want One of Those.  This site has grown up toys for every taste and budget level.  It's a British site, but don't despair: most of these gifts are available in the U.S.  It's great for getting ideas.

I've got a few right now...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reflections on Being an Artist

It's difficult, this life.  Being the conduit for the vision is a responsibility that, while I do not wish to be hyperbolic, is the most important and life-altering responsibility that anyone who ever lived anywhere will have.

Particularly my vision.  Why do I do it?  Because I must.  I must communicate my vision to the world, no matter the personal cost.  Those who work with me, those who bring the vision to life, are mere vessels in my hands.

The critics won't understand, of course.  They'll say things like, "You've done it again!" and "It was adorable!" and "I liked the rapping reindeer!" but they won't get it: the sweat, the blood, the agony spent during torturous sleepless nights.*

My production of "Is Santa Smarter?" may have very well set the world of the fifth-grade part-time musical theater on fire.

Trendsetter?

Groundbreaker?

Perhaps.  But these words, no matter how true, are ultimately unimportant.

Above all, I am the shaper of the vision.  When I tell that actor, "Honey, you have to speak into the microphone," I am imparting the wisdom of the muses.

"Don't wave at your parents while you're saying your part," I say.  That's direction.  That's vision.

"We need to all step to the right first," I command.  Authority.  Having the vision means not being afraid to say it outright.  I don't sugar-coat; I can't.

Not everyone can do it.  I know this.  I am blessed.  When I arrive at work this morning, my classroom still redolent with the scent of last night's Subway sandwiches, I know that stinky, pickley air will be truly rarified.  I will receive the adulations due me.

I'm expecting a mention on the morning announcements.

*Well, I might have slept, but not well.  Okay, well, but not long enough.  Okay, long enough.  But I occasionally dreamed about the production, which in my version starred Rob Pattinson as Santa Claus and Taylor Lautner as himself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guilt

Guilt is, above all else, a great motivator.  If you figure out how to make someone else feel guilty, you have almost limitless power.  Mothers have known this for years, through the following techniques:

1. The trembling sigh.  As in, "Dear, you know I understand you can't come home for Christmas this year, of course what you do is important.  Don't give it another thought.  (Trembling, tear filled sigh.)"

2. The "but, you know:"  As in, "Sweetie, it's fine.  Go and do what you need to do."  Beat.  "But, you know, this may be your grandfather's last Arbor Day, and your Cousin Fitz goes to trial next week.  That's all I'm going to say."

3. The nothing-at-all.  As in, they don't say anything or do anything, but you just know they're cooking up something, so you give in because you are afraid of what that card may be.

4. The labor time/diaper change accusation.  As in, "I spent 78 hours in labor giving birth to you and you can't even take three days off of work to see your second cousin graduate from veterinary school?"

Fortunately, my own mother uses guilt only when absolutely necessary and openly acknowledges it, so it's above board.  My own Momz is a master of the trembling sigh.

Momz: It's okay.  I understand.  (Trembling sigh.)

Deb: Did you just play the Trembling Sigh?

Momz: Did it work?

Deb: Darn.  I'll see you at 6.  I'll bring the potato salad.

Momz: Bring Sven's, it's better.

Deb: Oh.  I understand.  (Trembling sigh.)

Momz: Well played.

So this kind of cordiality shows that guilt can, if applied appropriately, be a useful and hilarious tool for family negotiations.

However, some people use guilt in truly toxic, harmful ways, as well as guilt's obnoxious bullying older brother, shame.  Guilt and shame are two things our society seems to be trying to eradicate entirely, at least in an emotional sense.  What people seem to forget is that guilt and shame, when appropriate, are good things.

You SHOULD feel guilty if you do something awful.





You SHOULD feel shame in some circumstances.





And some people just need a healthy dose of both on a daily basis.



But, what do I know?  I'm just a blogger, trying to get by.  Go on.  Have your fun.  Don't worry about me.  I'll be fine.


(Trembling sigh.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Perspective

I recently posted that I now have to wear glasses all the time.  I find this mortifying.  My eyes, if I may be so bold as to mention it, are really my best feature.  (I assure you, the competition for that title is stiff.  My nose hasn't spoken to my upper lip in three years, and my ears still boycott holiday meals.)  But, my eyes win the contest, so I do my best to "play them up" through subtle use of makeup and expression:



It would be difficult to draw attention to my daintily pointed ears in such a fashion.

Now, with glasses, I feel like a librarian: dowdy, frumpy, and old:



It turns out, Sven thinks I look like a librarian, too.  Only Sven has a slightly different interpretation of the word:



Who knew?  In any case, I feel a little better about the glasses.  Once this pinkeye clears up (I know, how could I be more sexy, right?) I'll put on some makeup and take a picture of my new glasses.  My hopes, frankly, aren't high, but who cares?

The way I look in Sven's eyes is better than any mirror.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Glasses

I went to the eye doctor yesterday.  The verdict: glasses.  All the time.  Not just for reading and driving, like before: all the time.

Of course, to be fair, I haven't worn my glasses for reading or driving for a long time.  Years, really.  I'm pretty sure the last time I went to the eye doctor was 1998.  I always had good vision, but as a teenager, it was discovered that I have a lazy eye.



Glasses, the doctor explained, would correct my lazy left eye, which had become nearsighted.  My right eye, as if to compensate, was farsighted.  I was given glasses, which I wore, usually.  I eventually when to contacts, which was cool because I could just wear the left one.  When I ran out of contacts, I ordered more, but I just sort of let it go.

I don't like wearing glasses.  Here are the actual un-retouched photos of me with and without glasses:


Without:



With:


But I'm wearing them.  After years without them, my lazy eye has become shiftless.  It now sits on the porch drinking beer while my hard-working right eye does all the work.  Finally, in a fit of despair, my right eye developed a horrible case of pinkeye (technical term: conjunction junction) just to get me into an eye doctor.  My left eye, protesting, has been to an AA meeting and employment counseling.  Righty is relieved and thinks it may work out.

But I look like a nerd.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Most Fascinating?

Every year, Barbara Walters, arbiter of all that is important and worthy of attention, caps off the year by announcing who we all found Most Fascinating.  It's a good thing, too; without Barbara, I might not have known who I was interested in this year.

Boldly and bravely carrying on her 84th year of these interviews (I believe she began them on a morse-code telegraph show), Barbara has again hit the nail on the head of the coffin by choosing a truly eclectic (meaning: "type of eel") group of real, honest-to-goodness CELEBRITIES this year.  (I can only tell you 9; Barbara saves #10 for a surprise, just in case not enough viewers tune in to see how thick the Vaseline will be smeared on her camera lens this year.)

I am a bit surprised at some of her choices, though.  No-brainers Kate Gosselin and Glenn Beck get no complaints from me; it is my hope that Kate leaves the interview carrying Beck's dodecoduplets (since Kate can get pregnant just by wishing) because those children would be a perfect storm of television mayhem.

She's also interviewing Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert.  I hope an entire legion of babies erupts from this interview: gay, extravagantly dressed, gender-ambiguous babies.

Others on the list include celebrities so fascinating I have already forgotten who they are.

Here's the one that gets my head a-scratchin': included on the list are Michael Jackson's three children: Prince, Paris, and Blanket.  (There are three of them, but they share one slot.  They can, they're little.)  I'm sure Barbara means this sincerely and is not being exploitative at all, but does she not understand anything at all about Michael Jackson?  That fame, perhaps, was not the healthiest life path for him?  And, maybe, these kids don't need to be put into the spotlight anymore than they are already?  That they might have a chance to be, if not normal, healthy and functioning adults?

No, Barbara understands that these kids are doomed to a life before the lens, whether they like it or not.  She's probably doing them a favor.  Why pretend?  We find them "fascinating," don't we?

Okay, snark over.  I find this repugnant.  Barbara Walters should be even more ashamed of herself than she hopefully already is.  (Snark not over, I lied.)  These kids didn't ask for celebrity.  They just lost their dad, who, despite everything we know about him and everything else we suppose about him, was clearly the center of their lives.  These kids don't need to be profiled on prime time network television, they need a counselor.  And a teacher.  And people who love them enough to tell them they can't have another cookie.  I don't find them fascinating.  I find them unspeakably sad.

Oh, I despair.  It's time for another moist towel and a bowl of peeled grapes.  Whatever can I do to escape this endless exploitation of people's lives for fun and profit?

I wonder what's on E!...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Compatibility: The Cold War

I know I am supposed to be concerned about climate change.  I am.  Deeply.  I am, to be precise, concerned about the climate change that occurs in my bedroom whenever the temperature outside dips below 60.

Sven drives me crazy every year with his insistence that the house be warm in the winter.  Really.  I don't understand it.  Why, if you are comfortable at 72 degrees in the summer, must you have the house at 74 or 75 degrees in the winter?  Why isn't 72 still comfortable?  THIS MAKES NO SENSE TO ME AT ALL.  Still, it is a truth: in the summer, we have the thermostat set to 72 or 73 at night, and we are fine.  In the winter (which in Texas can last as long as 7 non-consecutive weeks) the thermostat can go no lower than 74.

74 is inhumane.  It is miserable.  I cannot exist at 74 degrees indoors.  Outdoors, okay.  I'll give you that, 74 is pretty comfortable when you're outside.  Indoors, I become a sweating, grumpy, belabored musk ox at 74.

For the first several years of our marriage, I got my way sometimes.  Sven would pile on the blankets and sleep in the "chill" but insist that I turn on the heat before he got out of bed.  Now, he has the perfect excuse to keep the house at interrogation-tactic level:

The children.



It's for the children.  The children can't be cold.  The children kick off their covers.

Sure.  The children.  I knew he'd get me with that someday.

I miss the days Sven and I were in college.  We lived in a dilapidated house his grandfather built in the 1500's or something, which had no central air or heat.  Since we were in Beaumont, Texas, we weren't as concerned about heat, so we installed window unit air conditioners.

Then came the coldest winter in Beaumont history.  And old, hardwood floors.  And a barely-insulated house on a pier-and-beam foundation, which made the floors so cold you could feel the wind blowing up through your toes as you ran.

Those were the days.

Come to think of it, that's probably why Sven likes such a hot house in the winter.  Even though we have a nice house now, with carpet and everything, he likes knowing that he can be toasty warm anytime he wants.

I guess he's earned it.

Snarl.

Monday, November 30, 2009

New Discovery

I was working on a lesson about Franz Schubert for my 5th graders when I came across this video on YouTube.  The singer is named Bibiana Nwobilo, she was born in Nigeria but raised in Austria, and she is amazing.  I think we will be seeing a lot of this performer in the future.  Check out her website (http://www.bibiana-nwobilo.com) for some more videos.  Sublime!


Book Review: Stephen King

I just read Stephen King's latest, Under the Dome.

It was awful.

I say this as a confirmed Stephen King fan.  I have been a huge fan of King since the 8th grade, when I read Pet Sematary for the first time.  I went on to devour everything he wrote: novels, short stories, novellas, even screenplays.  I currently own at least one copy of pretty much everything he has ever written.

I am not one of those annoying SNL-style King "purists" who proclaim that everything he has written since 1982 is trash, but there is a definite difference in styles when one considers the different phases of what has been a very long career.  Personally, I think the difference is editing.

His early work was (mostly) stellar: Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining, the Stand...these are all masterpieces.  They are also all short.  In the "uncut revision" of The Stand, King confirms that the publishers were much more controlling in terms of editing in those days.  Some semi-stinkers (Christine) and stinkers (Cujo) followed, but beginning in the late '80's and early '90's, King's novels began to routinely run 1,200 pages.  I am estimating, but based on my own recent excursion into noveling, I would guess that puts him in the 400,000 word range, more or less.

In 1999, King was in a serious accident, in which he was struck by a van while walking.  Since then, his work has been markedly different in the opinion of most critics.  He was already losing relevance, however, and most people, including devoted King fans, disliked his newer work.

I loved Bag of Bones (1998, I think).  Other than that, most of his work has been fairly meh.  Last year, for my birthday, Sven got me a copy of Duma Key, which most people hated, but I thought wasn't bad.  It was definitely scary...it kept me up a couple of nights, for sure.

Which brings me to Under the Dome.  It is dreadful.  You know a book is awful when, on page 852, you think, "Finally, we're getting somewhere."  This book is 852 pages of setup for a plot that takes about 200 pages to tell.  In other books, King's penchant for delving into the minutiae of characters not only peripheral, but completely outside the scope of the story, is charming (for example, the chapter of the "uncut revision" of The Stand in which King details just a few incidental deaths that occurred after the flu epidemic had passed).  In this book, it just feels like rambling.  We get character after character after character, and I was bored.

The crazy thing about the book is that there is no setup at all.  He doesn't introduce anything, or anyone, at all: out of nowhere, an invisible dome has settled over a town in Maine.  The book opens with the dome settling in place (with some very grisly, King-like consequences) and the story should just take off.  It doesn't.  I kind of got a picture in my head of King thinking, "What if..." and getting going, which has worked before, but it falls flat here.

One of King's strengths is writing villains, and in this the book excels.  The town of Chester's Mill is "under the dome" for only a few days, but it is enough time for a small-town Hitler to create a climate of hate and terror.  The villain of the piece is truly a bad guy.  There is nothing supernatural about him.  He's just a jerk who, when presented with an opportunity, will do or say anything to keep his power.

Another of King's strengths is making the implausible seem plausible.  It is at this that Under the Dome failed spectacularly for me.  Spoiler: highlight to see, don't read it if you want to read the book: about halfway through, someone decides the dome is the work of aliens, then they figure out it is actually alien children playing with them the way human children play with anthills, so to get rid of the dome, they have to beg the children and convince them that humanity/earth is "real." The idea of the dome is intriguing, I suppose, but the real story is the human one: what happens to these people when they are isolated from, yet completely visible to, the outside world?  The pseudo-sci-fi purpose of the dome just muddied the water for me.  I honestly would have preferred no explanation.

I will say I loved some of the characters, though in a King book, an abundance of characters also means an abundance of death.  Lots of death under the dome.  Suicides, of course, but accidental deaths, deaths from illness, and of course murders also occupy these pages.  It is tiring investing so much in a book without a satisfactory payoff.

The payoff I wanted was twofold: a happy ending for some of the characters I was rooting for, and comeuppance for those I wasn't.  I was only partially satisfied.  To avoid another spoiler, I will just say that the ending was far to abrupt for everything that went into the beginning.  If I were Mr. King's editor, I would have lopped off about 100,000 words from the beginning and added about 50,000 to the end.

That being said, I cannot wait for Mr. King's next book, whatever it is.  I hope I will love it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Which Deb Ponders a Religious Issue

(Seriously.)

It's referred to, in LDS-land, as "struggling with your testimony."  Catholics poetically call it "the long dark night of the soul."  Others may call it "a dry spell."  It is when your faith in God is tested, when you seem to receive no answer to prayer, when you struggle to keep going forward even though you suddenly question your faith.

I don't know a single religious person of any denomination who has not gone through this.  Some never return to their faith, but those who make it through generally are stronger and more confident in their faith afterwards.  I have never given much thought to why this happens, other than temptation and human weakness.  An author/blogger online acquaintance of mine suggested in her blog that, perhaps, God allows us to enter this spiritual abyss deliberately by taking a step back from us, forcing us to continually reevaluate our commitment to our faith.

It was an interesting thought.

I've always known that there is no such thing as an "unanswered" prayer, if "unanswered" means "ignored."  Sometimes God's answer is "No," that's all.  However, now I'm wondering if sometimes the un-answer isn't "No."  Maybe sometimes the answer is, "Sure, but you have to do it yourself."

Of course, this came to me as I was having a discussion with Princess:

"Mommy, where is my Snow White doll?"
"I don't know, honey."
"Mommy, you need to find it!"
"Have you looked for it?"
"No, I don't know where it is!"
"Look for it, and if you can't find it, come back to me and I'll help you."

Of course, I know where the Snow White doll is.  As a matter of fact, I was looking at the Snow White doll throughout that entire conversation.  But Princess is old enough now to do things for herself.  The conversation above did not end with Princess looking for her doll.  She sat on the floor and cried, then banged her fists on the floor, then pitifully asked for my help again.  Steeling myself to be a good parent No Matter What, I did not help her.  She went off and did something else, but when she came across Snow White a few minutes later, she was so excited!  "I found it!  I found it all by myself, Mommy!"

How hard must it be for God not to just give us everything we want?  How much must He love us to stay out of it and let us do it ourselves?  And how much joy and relief is there when we finally accomplish our goal?

Like any good parent, He wants us to be self-reliant.  He wants us to make it on our own.  He's rooting for us to succeed.  It's nice to know.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Playing Games

My children are very good at games.  They are so good, they make them up themselves.

Princess' favorite game is something I have dubbed Negotiation.  The rules are simple: if you end up doing anything other than what you originally intended, Princess wins.  She is an extremely skilled negotiator, particularly with her daddy:

Sven: Princess, I'll be right back, I have to go get supper.
Princess: No, Daddy, don't leave me!  I love you! (Theatrical, fake tears)
Sven: Oh, honey! (Takes her on his lap and hugs her, missing the devil horns and tail she has sprouted.)
Princess: I just wanted to play one game of hide-and-seek before you go! (wails)
Sven: Baby, I have to go!
Princess: Oh, Daddy! (Faces him, lips trembling, as one fat tear slides down her cheek.)
Sven: All right, one game.
Princess: You count, I'll hide!

Unfortunately for Princess, Mommy has become a very skilled player at Negotiation:

Mommy: Princess, I'll be right back.
Princess: No, Mommy, don't leave me!  I love you!
Mommy: I love you too.  (Closes door.)

Princess: Mommy, I want a cookie.
Mommy: Can you say please?
Princess: Please may I have a cookie?
Mommy: Did you eat your supper?
Princess: (stuffs chicken in her mouth) Yeff.
Mommy: All right, you may have one cookie. (Hands her the cookie.)
Princess: How about two cookies?
Mommy: How about no cookies?
Princess: Yes ma'am.  Thank you for the cookie.
Mommy: You're welcome.

Dexy, unfortunately, excels at a game which, in its very design, exploits our main weaknesses as parents: my insomnia and Sven's back pain.  I call Dexy's game Take the Bed.  In this game, Dexy will, with varying amounts of fuss, go to sleep in his own bed.  2-4 hours later he will wake up, walk down a completely dark hallway into our completely dark room, and pull on my hand until I put him in the bed with us.  He almost always wins, because even if Sven isn't in bed yet, he doesn't want to heft the sleeping Dexy and take him to his low-to-the-ground toddler bed, risking injury to his already stiff back.

"Deb," you wise ones out there must be saying, shaking your heads, "you should stop this at once.  When he comes to your room, get out of bed, take him back to his bed, and put him in there.  Close the door.  Repeat as needed."  (This is what our doctor said.)  I know.  Here's the problem: if I am asleep, once I wake up, I'm done for.  I cannot go back to sleep, usually, for at least 2 hours.  If I wake up just enough to pull Dexy into bed with me, I'm fine.  But if I wake up, walk Dexy down the hall, put him back in bed, sit with him for a few minutes, leave, then repeat the process, I'm doomed.  Okay if Dexy comes to my bed at 4:00 a.m.; I usually get up at 5:00.  Not okay if he comes to my bed at midnight and I just got to sleep.  Especially not okay if he comes to my bed at midnight and it's the fourth night of bad sleep in a row.  (Note to self: do a post about the weird way you start to see sleep after you can't sleep for a while.)

So Dexy is the undisputed winner in Take the Bed.  But Mommy is the champion of Do You Want to Watch Spongebob?, so maybe I can get a nap.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Au Revoir, JK8. And by that, I mean, buh-bye.

Last night I was watching TLC.  I should explain, before you must begin breathing into a paper bag, that the batteries on our remote control are dying, so I was stuck on The Learning Channel while I attempted to pound one more channel change out of the clicker.  (What do you mean, "get up and change the channel?" Are you insane?  This isn't 1872, or whenever people had to change the channel for themselves.)

As you all know, I would never, ever voluntarily watch a television network with "learning" in the title.  I don't watch TV to learn.  Nor, for that matter, do I read, surf the internet, or watch movies "to learn."  I am a professional educator.  I don't learn on my off time.

So, while I pounded the remote control on the floor as a mildly interested Sven looked on, it came on: the poignant music (almost as poignant as that awful Sarah McClachlan ASPCA or YMCA or NAMBLA commercial showing all of the dogs that will die unless YOU DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!  Every time that commercial comes on, I have to change the channel before Princess starts weeping and saying, "Why are people so bad to the doggies, Mommy?  Where is that doggy's mommy? The poor kitty looks so sad, Mommy!" and then we are both weeping in each other's arms as Ms. McClachlan informs us what we can do to save these animals, but I'm not paying attention because my 3-year-old is having an emotional breakdown and my almost-2-year-old has taken the opportunity to find a six-month-old chicken nugget under the couch and is attempting to eat it.  But I digest.)

Anyway, the voice-over dude came on as the slomo montage played, showing the kids, a pre-earring John, and a pre-shrew-from-hell Kate as he said, "Watch how it all ends...the final John and Kate Plus Eight."  Sven said, still mild, "Wow, the final one."

How wonderful!  No more John and Kate!  Except, we all know this is not the end of John and Kate.  John is suing TLC because he's too famous to get a real job.  Really.  Apparently, the idea that no one would hire John because he has been documented as a passive-aggressive, dumb, commitment-phobic philanderer has not occurred to him!  No, they aren't hiring him (and I'm sure he has applied everywhere) because he's too famous.  I hope Corey Feldman hasn't heard about this, because think of how many of us he could sue.  ("You used to have my poster on your wall but now you think I'm an idiot!")  I could personally be financially liable for the upkeep and maintenance of at least four New Kids on the Block.

I propose a countersuit: we should all commit to a class-action suit against TLC, for inflicting John & Kate on global society.  Because if I'm blogging about it, and I have never personally watched the show, it's in the air like a virus.  We must stop others from attempting to emulate TLC's success with John & Kate.

I saw it this morning on Good Morning America: "The Octomom, One Year Later."  I turned off the television.  I hope it sent a strong message.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Conversion



"There are two types of people in this world. Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. My ex-wife loves him."

- What About Bob

I have resisted. I have stood firm. I refused to jump on the bandwagon. When I learned friends of mine had succumbed to the saccharine music and squinty eyes of the evil one, I shook my head sadly and mentally crossed their name off of my future intellectual-only gatherings. I firmly believed, in my heart, that this was the great divide of our time:



Behold! Taylor Swift. Beware, my friends. I am one of you no longer, for I have succumbed. I now am forced to admit the truth: I kind of don't completely despise Taylor Swift. I would go so far as to say I no longer long to puncture my eardrums with my cuticle scraper when I hear her voice. In fact, you could even say that the thought of being on the same planet as her no longer fills my heart with a dread previously reserved for discovering a scorpion in my shoe.

She's not so bad.

Taylor Swift engaged in a stealthy, calculated strategy to bring me to her side:

1. She began writing songs and singing them and recording them and became famous. Initially, I was unimpressed with Taylor Swift because her voice sounds like she's singing through an oscillating fan and her songs are lame and predictable. (But she wrote them when she was 15, so it's okay for them to be lame and predictable.) But, hey...some of them are catchy. I found myself nodding involuntarily when I heard one once.

2. She made "country" music that was close enough to pop music to "cross over" to VH1, where I receive most of my current music education. Again, at one point during the video for "Love Story," I may have, without cognition, tapped a toe.

3. She was humiliated by Kanye West. As Katy Perry so aptly tweeted, "It's like u stepped on a kitten."

4. She hosted SNL. This was the final straw that broke the bull on the horns of the pot I was watching but it never boiled. I cannot resist an unexpectedly successful SNL host, no matter what. If Kim Kardashian hosted SNL and was hilarious, I would become her biggest fan. If Rush Limbaugh hosted SNL... no, I can't go there. But I will say that the only reason I ever FOR A MOMENT considered voting for John McCain was because he was an awesome SNL host.

This season of SNL has been dreadful. Really, really awful. Then, the magical talented young skinny rich probably fresh-smelling Taylor Swift shows up, and knocks it out of the park. There was not a single dud in the whole night. Some were better than others, but nearly every sketch got at least a chuckle out of me, and she was in just about everything. Check out her monlogue:


And then this one, a public service announcement:


But this is the one that was closest to my heart:


Resistance was futile.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writing

I love to write. I love to read. I love to talk about books I have read. I love to talk about things I have written. Fascinating. To me.

I saw some of Stephenie Meyer's interview with Oprah the other day, and she made some statements about her writing that I found interesting.

When asked about possible sequels to the Twilight Series, or whether or not she would ever finish Midnight Sun, she responded, each time, by saying that, in order to write something, she needs to feel "alone" with it, as though no one else will ever read it, as if it will never be published.

I'm not going to criticize her process, though I will point out it seems self-defeating, but I'm not the one who is an international phenomenon, so I guess she's onto something.

It got me thinking, though, about my own process. My participation this month in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month: 50,000 words in 30 days) has brought me into online contact with many amateur writers like myself. A a result, I am gaining awareness of my own process.

1. I do not plan anything. When I begin something, I have a vague main character, some very nebulous secondary characters, and some idea of what the central conflict or theme will be. That's it. I start it and go from there.

I don't outline, or do character sketches, or research anything in advance. I often actively avoid plots requiring me to do so; my awful NaNoWriMo novel (really, it's terrible) required me to craft a 6-generation genealogy that I constantly had to refer back to. (Why did I give that one character 10 daughters? Why?) The few times I have tried to plan, my characters quite unreasonably decided that wouldn't work and took off on their own anyway, meaning I had just wasted a couple of days on work that would be wasted.

The pro? It makes writing really just pure fun. As I'm writing, I have no idea what's going to happen next, either. The con? It makes it really hard to find a good ending. If you don't know from the beginning where the story will end, it can be hard to recognize an ending if you find it.

2. I tend to edit as I go. This is a terrible thing. Part of the reason I did NaNoWriMo was that the whole point is to just write like blazes, as quickly as you can, then go back and edit it later. I did it, but now I'm finished halfway through the month. Maybe I can do another one?

Anyway, when I was writing my vampire novel, I got stuck editing, re-writing, and re-imagining the first 20,000 words or so. I probably stalled out there for months. Then, when I finally moved on, I was somewhat obsessive about going back and making sure everything was working. Editing, by its very nature, isn't the creative exercise writing is, so it really puts the brakes on my imagination.

NaNoWriMo has really gotten me focused on writing, but even then I was jumping back and forth.

I've already begun a new one, that will not, to my current knowledge, be supernatural in any way. I've also got ideas for prequels and sequels to the vampire one, and I think this NaNoWriMo can be saved if I re-work it a bit, expand some of the plot.

If anyone knows of an extremely rich, possibly insane person who would like to sponsor an amateur writer so she can quit her job and write full-time with no guarantee of ever being published, I know you'll let me know.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why I Will Never Be in an Infomercial

This morning, I was watching an infomercial. It followed the well-loved and oft-used format of the following:

Avuncular smiling man, possibly bow-tied, holds product and talks about it 99% of the time.

Young and pretty woman follows him around, saying things like, "Wow!" and "That's amazing!"

Occasional young and pretty women demonstrate how they are completely incompetent at housekeeping because they use paper towels.

Yes, it was for one of those steam-cleaner things, the Steam Weasel or something like that. The big selling point here seemed to be that it used something containing microfiber, which made the steam even more steamy, or something.

Anyway, it occurred to me that I could never be in an infomercial. If I were playing the role of Adoring Female, it would go like this:

Avuncular Man: Deb, what would you say if I told you I could clean this filthy window faster with the Steam Weasel than you can with those chemical-based immoral Nazi-inspired household cleaners?

Deb: I would say you're huffing glue.

Avuncular Man: Okay...well, I'll prove it to you!

Deb: I don't need any proof that you're huffing glue.

Avuncular Man: No, I mean proof that my Steam Weasel is better than those ammonia-based free-loading communist-supporting earth-destroying chemicals.

Deb: You mean Windex?

Avuncular Man: Okay, are you ready? (Hands Deb a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex)

Deb: Whatever, I guess.

Avuncular Man: And...GO! (Wielding his Steam Weasel like a Ghostbuster's Proton Pack, he begins to scrub the window with something that looks like a giant piece of sponge cake.) Look at that! Look at the patented Microfiber Chambers just suck up that dirt! Isn't that amazing?

Deb: Okay. (Squirts on Windex and wipes it off with a paper towel.) I'm done.

Avuncular Man: But look, Deb! I finished faster than you, and my side is cleaner!

Deb: Well, first of all, you've had that monstrosity turned on and warmed up for the last six hours of filming, so it was all ready to go. If I was using that at home, it would have taken me 30 minutes to find the extension cord, then another 30 minutes before I remembered that the Microfiber Whatever was still in the washing machine from the last time I used it, then 10 minutes while I ate a bag of chips, then 5 minutes to put the darned thing away and just use the Windex.

Avuncular Man: Ha, ha! (Wipes sheen of sweat from his brow.) But you can't deny my side is cleaner! I've cleaned and sanitized, using Deep Steam Technology!

Deb: Okay, you win. When you have your annual French-Kiss the Window party, no one will get meningitis.

Avuncular Man: Okay, let's move to the kitchen!

Deb: Let's not. I think Law and Order is on another channel. I know I've seen it before, but I can never remember the verdicts. And since it's a Jerry Orbach, I know it's going to be good.

Avuncular Man: But wait! If you order today, the Steam Weasel can be yours for only 3 payments of $33!

Deb: Can't you just say it's $99?

Avuncular Man: And we'll throw in these two additional cleaning tools, the brush attachments, and a Cheryl Tiegs calendar from 1982! It's an additional $75 value, and you will get it for free!

Deb: Okay, who says it's a $75 value? It only works on your product, it's not like I can sell it for $75 on the street. And, seriously? Two giant sponges and a couple of industrial strength toothbrushes? $75? I will grant you the calendar is cool.

Avuncular Man: Please leave. Just go.

Deb: Was it something I said?

Fin.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Halloween 2009


Dexy was a pirate:

Princess was a fairy:



Together, they were Cap'n Blackheart and The Unnamed Sprite:


I was a vampire:


It was dark, so you can't see how much I sparkled.

Sven's costume requires some explanation; it also required him to speak a line. The following is a quote from "Writing is Easy!" by Steve Martin, included in his collection Pure Drivel, Hyperion Books, 1998. On page 8, we are treated to the following passage:

Creating Memorable Characters

Nothing will make your writing soar more than a memorable character. If there is a memorable character, the reader will keep going back to the book, picking it up, turning it over in his hands, hefting it, and tossing it into the air. Here is an example of the jazzy uplift that vivid characters can offer:

Some guys were standing around when in came this guy.

You are now on your way to creating a memorable character. You have set him up as being a guy, and with that come all of the reader's ideas of what a guy is. Soon you will liven your character by using an adjective:

But this guy was no ordinary guy; he was a red guy.

This character, the red guy, has now popped into the reader's imagination. He is a full-blown person, with hopes and dreams, just like the reader. Especially if the reader is a red guy. Now you might want to give the character a trait. You can inform the reader of the character trait in one of two ways. First, simply say what that trait is - for example, "but this red guy was different from most red guys, this red guy liked frappes." The other is rooted in action - have the red guy walk up to a bar and order a frappe, as in:

"What'll you have, red guy?"
"I'll have a frappe."

Here, then, is Sven's costume:


"I'll have a frappe."

A fun time was had by all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Real Glee

I am in love with the television show "Glee." It is an over-the-top look at high school politics, focused on the efforts of dreamy teacher Mr. Scheuster to revive his old high school show choir. Imagine High School Musical through the lens of 90210 and you have some idea, though Glee has far more humor (and way more talent) than either of those.

For me, the show has become very personal, as I empathize (so much!) with the kids, but also with the teachers. Because it's such a fine line, doing what is best for your program, but also doing what is best for the individual children who make up that program. As a choral director, I was always first and foremost a teacher.

In an online discussion about Glee, I referenced a dilemma Mr. Scheuster had: the popular kid, who everyone liked, challenged the unlikeable but extremely talented diva for a solo. This is, in my experience, a very common thing: I can't tell you how many times I have passed over a kid I love for one I really don't like because the talent is undeniable.

In response, another poster told me that her experience as a choral singer (never as a director) was that all choral directors have little "pets" that get all of the solos, regardless of talent. That "everyone" talked about how "terrible" the top chorus was, because it was full of "pets" the director had chosen just because "she liked them." (Hmmm...I wonder if she actually took a survey of "everyone" or if "everyone" consisted of her parents and friends...)

My response to that (which I did not post) was that I have been accused many times of having "pets." My accusers are generally the ones who didn't get the solo, or have been told they cannot go on the trip because they didn't meet the requirements, or what have you. It's so subjective, isn't it? What appears to a student to be inexplicable favoritism is often the result of agony on the part of the teacher, as the teacher struggles to be truly "fair."

I was reminded of a situation I had years ago, as a fairly new teacher, and thought I would share it with you. It is one of the most difficult experiences I have ever had as a teacher. It all really happened:

I was directing a 6th grade production of a play. For the sake of anonymity, let's say it was "Annie." I held auditions, and two girls signed up to try out for Miss Hannigan.

Maybelle Pantorum, candidate number 1, was eminently qualified for the role. She was a natural actress, and had taken acting lessons since she was three years old. I know this because Maybelle told me so, every day, during the week leading up to auditions. Mrs. Pantorum, Maybelle's esteemed mother, worked at the school, and stopped me numerous times in the hallway to share this information with me as well. (I should note that Maybelle chose me she decided to try out for Miss Hannigan because "no one else wanted it," so that meant she would "automatically get it.")

Shayla Violet, candidate number 2, never spoke a word in class, ever. She never sang, either. She came from an extremely poor family. She once came to school with her head shaved because her brothers had caught lice, so her mother just shaved everybody's head. She signed up after Maybelle, but with a decidedly different attitude. She knew she wouldn't get the part, but she wanted to try.

In the audition, Maybelle's performance was very stylized, with hand gestures and emphasis on carefully selected words. She was dreadful.

Shayla nailed it. She just nailed it. Based on talent alone, this was a no-brainer. Shyla got the part.

Then it started. Maybelle demanded to know why she didn't get the part. She asked me before class, after class, during class. I told her all of the things you say, "You did a great job, but I decided I wanted Shayla." "I just wanted something different, you'll get a chance next time." Finally, she cornered me and said, "I want to know why you gave that (slur) the part instead of me."

I said, "Because she was better than you." (I'm sorry, but it had been days of her harassing me, and her insult of Shayla was too much to bear.)

Enter Mrs. Pantorum.

"How DARE YOU tell my daughter she isn't any good!"

"Ma'am, I didn't tell her-"

"After all the money we have spent on lessons and coaches, who all tell us Maybelle is THE MOST TALENTED child they have EVER SEEN, one of them says she will be in the MOVIES, we have an AUDITION, how dare you-"

"Ma'am," I interrupted (yes, I interrupted!), "I never said Maybelle didn't do well. She did fine."

"I understand," Mrs. Pantorum said, now opting for the quiet-patient tone, "that you feel you have to give those people opportunities, but don't think you're doing her a favor, in the real world she'll be against real talents like my Maybelle-"

And I lost it. In my own, quiet way, I lost it.

"Ma'am," I said, "I did not give the part to Shayla to 'give' her anything. She was better. Maybelle was fine, but Shayla was better. If you want her to be an actress in the 'real world', you should teach her how to take rejection, because she's going to get a lot of it." (I know! I can't believe I said it, either!)

The story had two endings, one good, one bad. Each ending took place after Mrs. Pantorum went to the principal and demanded I be fired, and he had a sincere and hearty laugh with me over the incident. (The first time someone demanded I be fired!)

Good ending: A few months later, Maybelle went to try out for cheerleader. Mrs. Pantorum came to all of the "closed practices" (and stayed, despite being asked to leave), criticized the sponsors, openly talked about how much would change once "her Maybelle" was on the squad, etc.

Maybelle did not make cheerleader. Mrs. Pantorum was openly told it was due to Mrs. Pantorum's inability to follow the rules. The sponsor said, "I wouldn't mind working with your daughter, but I'll never work with you." The result of that statement was a firing: Mrs. Pantorum was asked to leave and not return to school except by special permission of the principal.

Bad ending: A few days after my conversation with Mrs. Pantorum, Shayla disappeared. She was always in trouble with someone; she never did anything, but her brothers were notorious troublemakers and Shayla got a lot of fallout. Maybe her parents home schooled her; maybe they moved. I called, but got no answer.

Maybelle ended up playing the role after all. She did fine.

But I have always known Shayla would have been better.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What would you do?

Something that fascinates me about the interweb is how many opinions I encounter. Although I am fairly diverse in my acquaintences, blogging and participation on a discussion board brings me into (online) contact with people from all over the world.

This hit home to me as I was participating in a rather spirited online debate over a Dear Abby letter. The debate was over certain aspects of parenting, to nutshell it for you, the question was whether or not one parent should have "veto" power over the other if the other parent was doing something the first parent felt was dangerous or inappropriate.

Several respondents, about half, said, "No." Several actually said it wasn't "the other parent's business" what was done with the child by the other parent.

This terrified me. One of the things I count on as a parent is veto power, both mine and Sven's. Because neither of us ever is completely right, but what doesn't make my alarms go off usually gets Sven, and vice versa. So, while I might think, "Sure, let the kids watch that," Sven is the one saying, "Wait, should they watch that?" And when Sven wants to take them somewhere, I'm the one that says, "Hold on, do you think they can handle that?" We always defer to each other, giving the one with the objection the veto, because it shouldn't always be about compromise. It should be about what's best for the family, the kids, and the marriage.

So, what would you do? Here's the situation (not exactly, but parallel):

A mother is in the habit of waking up her son by tickling him. Every morning, she goes into his room and tickles him awake. Dad is concerned about this, since the son is 12 and entering puberty, so he tells Mom that she might want to find another way to wake the kid up, something that respects his privacy more.

Mom thinks Dad is being silly, insists that the boy loves it, why should she change it? Dad insists it's inappropriate and makes him uncomfortable, and he wants Mom to stop. Advice?

What would you do?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Acceptable Risk

I was watching something the other night, I don't even remember what, and I heard this old line:

"I don't want to take the chance that this will ruin our friendship."

Whatever I was watching was one of those will-they-or-won't they, best-friends-until-they-realize-it's-something-more things. I began thinking about how often I've heard that line on various sitcoms, and it occurred to me that this hackneyed old phrase says a lot about our society:

In our society, emotional risk is to be feared. Nothing else.

Things have changed since the olden days of media, in which married couples could not be thought to share a bed, or the man had to keep his foot on the floor if they happened to be (gasp!) on the same bed at the same time. I don't know when it happened, I was too young to remember, but once the taboo was stripped away from sexuality on TV, portraying willful, rampant promiscuity has become "normal." Even in "prime time," beloved characters whimsically navigate a life of empty, meaningless sex:

Sam on Cheers.

Blanche on The Golden Girls.

Joey on Friends. Well, to be fair, everyone on friends, but Joey the most.

The cast of Seinfeld.

Sex and the City.

What all of these shows have in common is the shift to portraying emotional involvement as the big taboo. People jump into bed on the first date with no qualms, but spend hours at coffee houses and bars endlessly analyzing whether or not they should go to dinner with their current flame's parents, worried that will send "the wrong message."

Another thing these shows have in common is the essential emptiness and unhappiness in these people's lives. They are not happy, regardless of what superficial hilarity they display. The sinister part is, you have to look pretty closely to see that unhappiness, it is not something the writers want to portray, but it comes through if you're looking for it.

I don't think the only way to be happy is to get married and have babies and live in the suburbs. Not at all. But I do think that a quick route to unhappiness is to cheapen yourself and your sexuality until sex becomes your version of "How do you do."

I wonder how a sitcom about an adult, responsible, employed, intelligent, beautiful woman who is not promiscuous would go over? Or an adult, responsible, employed, intelligent, handsome, celibate man, who simply hasn't found the right woman yet?

You're right, it's too "out there." But I like taking risks.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009


I must announce a possible shortage of "Folksy Musin's" in the weeks to come, for I am embarking upon a quest.

A quest that will take 30 days, from November 1 to November 30.

It is the quest of the NaNoWriMo. No, not a Japanese restaurant. It is National Novel Writer's Month, and I, my friends, am a novelist.

At least, I finished a novel.

The goal for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words in 30 days. I have written over 5,000 so far.

But I don't like it. I don't like what I've written, and I'm not sure where I'm going. So, I have a choice, this early in the month: keep going, or start over.

I don't know what to do. I can keep plugging away at my clunker, and hope that something happens, or I can start over and hope that something happens, saving my clunker for future consideration.

My current story (AKA "clunker") is the story of a young woman who survives the 1900 Galveston Hurricane...as a vampire. She returns to the island a few years later and becomes involved in the Prohibition-era organized crime that took over the island until the 1950's. I don't know what happens after that.

If I let this one go, or put it on hold, I don't know what I'll do. I have an idea for a totally non-supernatural, regular story about a woman who runs into her high-school crush when they are in their 30's (she has grown and moved on, he hasn't, but she's the one who is miserable); I was also toying with a fictional account of Melusine von Schulenberg, mistress of George I (that one even has a title, it would be called "Maypole").

So, let me hear from you, my friends. What should I do?

(Today's post was going to be, "Has anyone seen my camera," but my mom has it. Thanks, Mom!)


Monday, November 2, 2009

Serious Hair



I was at a meeting once, years ago, with other choir directors. A band director meeting was scheduled to begin right after ours, and the band directors began coming into the room as we were chatting after our meeting. Upon sighting Sven, one of my colleagues leaned toward me and murmured, "Now that is serious hair."

Sven's hair is a huge part of our lives. Thick and lustrous, slightly wavy, and greying in that gentle, Orry-and-George way, Sven's hair is his crowning glory.

(Orry and George are the main characters in North and South, the landmark 1980's miniseries starring Patrick Swayze and James Read. Their characters age 20+ years over the course of the story, said aging indicated by grey, then white streaks at the temples only. And George grows a beard.)

When we first began dating, Sven meticulously styled his hair into a majestic style I dubbed "The Swoop." Observe:




Yes, that is us, in 1994. We had just started dating. Note that his hair is far more serious than mine.

Sven continued the swoop until he learned that most people cannot cut his hair. He has strange loops and whorls and cowlicks that cause his hair to poke up if certain strands are cut too short, so his current method of hairstyling is as follows:

1. Cut his hair far too short.
2. Complain about how short his hair is and how bad it looks.
3. Grow his hair out.
4. Complain about how long his hair is.
5. Continue to allow his hair to grow, while complaining about how long his hair is.
6. Grow a beard.
7. Complain about the beard for a while.
8. Shave the beard.
9. Go back to step 1.

It's a six-month to one-year process. Yes, it takes a lot of work, but Sven's hair's well-being is worth it.






Thursday, October 29, 2009

Daily Battle

Every morning in the Folksy house, there is a battle.

It is the battle for Mommy.

Sven is not a morning person. He cannot be pried out of bed, generally speaking, for at least 30 minutes after he awakens on a workday. On the weekends, that figure jumps to around 2 hours. Early on, I adopted the practice of reading, watching TV, or working on my computer while Sven lazes around.

Then came the children. Gone are my quiet mornings. Now my computer is taken over by children watching Spongebob and my body is taken over by grasping hands and damp bottoms. As someone who relishes personal space, this can be hard for me.

My first solution: get up earlier. I now get up at 5:05 every morning, just so I can have some "me time."

Result: fail. Dexy now gets up at 5:07, walks into my room, points at his diaper, points at the open door, and stumbles back down the hall to await my service. When I get to his room, he imperiously commands, "Light, Mommy!" and generally takes charge of the entire operation. "Powder! Shorts! Socks! No shirt! No! Okay." He chooses the music that we listen to while we change his diaper (he prefers up-tempo alternative for the merely damp, while the choice of a contemplative ballad betokens a situation decidedly more serious), then chooses what he will watch on the computer.

Then Princess gets up. The war has begun.

"I want to sit with Mommy! Move, Dex!"

"Want Mommy! No, Princess! Owie!"

"Mommy, Dexy said I hit him but I didn't!" (Hits Dexy.)

It is finally enough to awaken the daddy. At last, I think, I will have some help.

"No, you two," Sven rumbles, moving them aside. "Mommy is mine." For the next 30 minutes, Sven holds on to me while the children, giggling madly, worm their way in between us. I finally can take no more and hie to the bathroom for 10 minutes of peace.

But, even while it is driving me crazy, I love it. I love every slightly sticky second of it. Because I am Mommy. I know it won't last forever, but for now, I love being everybody's favorite toy.