Monthly Archives: September 2010

School Projects (to help or not to help?)

Mike, Liz, and Greg with Grandpa and his bolo tie

Here’s the sitch. Your child has a project due tomorrow that he/she cannot possibly do him/herself. OK, the him/her is getting old. I’ll just say “her” for the sake of convenience. You want her to be successful. You also want her to learn how to do things herself, because you can envision a time when she will someday live someplace other than under your roof . You know that she cannot successfully complete her task herself–a dilemma! Do you let her fail because she didn’t allow enough time? Didn’t ask you to buy supplies? Didn’t decide on a topic in a timely way? Some people would yell a resounding “YES!” I could never do it–I’m not tough enough.

I can remember getting up at 4 in the morning, using a flashlight, and standing on the car to help a certain kid get leaves for the leaf collection that was due that day. I can also recall trips to the pet store to buy white mice and numerous late-night trips for posterboard, glue, and construction paper. I also am guilty of typing papers, checking out books from the library, and otherwise aiding and abetting school projects. I don’t claim to have won any parenting awards. I don’t know if I did things right (although I do have 3 pretty awesome adult kids who seem to be able to take care of themselves without me!)


I scored 100% on the NY Times Religion Quiz

There’s been a lot of talk about how Mormons, Jews, and atheists scored the highest on a religion quiz, so being the competitive geek that I am, I decided I needed to try it out.

OK, there were only 6 questions–and they were super easy–but it still gives me a warm feeling in my little heart to know that I got them all right. But interestingly, I didn’t necessarly know the right answers because of my religious background. For example, I know what Ramadan is because I lived for a year in Pakistan (I hope I would have picked that up somewhere else, but you never know). I know the predominant religion in Indonesia from reading Lessons From My Father. I know more about Job from teaching The Bible as Literature than I ever learned from a Sunday School Class. And hey, the ten commandments?–I know those because I am culturally literate!

Want to test yourself to see how you do?

click here

Getting the joke

I have always been interested in what makes things funny. I had an essay published in my high school literary journal called “A Definition of Wit and Humor” and I wrote my dissertation on the linguistic structure of humor. So it’s not too surprising that I distinctly remember one of the first jokes I “got.” I must have been in kindergarten or first grade, and in those days we all had to wear dresses to school—well, all of us who were girls, that is. The boys could be blissfully happy, dirty, and active in their jeans. Wearing a dress made playing on the monkey bars a challenge, since I was just learning how to hang by my knees, do somersaults that flipped me over and down the slide, jump out of swings, and other stuff that was not so easy to do in a little dress –especially if I wanted to achieve the biggest goal of all—not letting the boys achieve what seemed to be their biggest goal—seeing my underpants.

Like most little girls of the day, I had been assiduously taught to keep my legs together when I sat. I can remember having contests with my friends to see who could sit on a chair and keep their legs tight against each other the longest. It hurt! My mother once taught my Sunday School class when I was about four, and, while holding a picture of Jesus, stopped the story of feeding the 5,000 to tell me to put my legs together and to comment, “Barbara, all the boys are looking up your dress!”

So it was particularly amazing to me that my very same mother told me the joke in question:

Once there was a little girl named Suzie whose mother warned her over and over again about not playing on the monkey bars, because the boys wanted to see her underwear. One day Suzie came home to say that a boy had given her a quarter to hang by her knees. “Oh, Suzie, don’t you know he was just trying to see your underpants?” her mother said. “I know,” the little girl said proudly, “But I fooled him—I didn’t wear any.”

You can imagine the effect this joke had on me! It was titillating. It was thrilling. I didn’t know it then, but it was a joke that could illustrate every humor theory I would later study–from incongruity, to hostility, to linguistic script opposition to Freudian sexual humor. And it had to be a socially acceptable joke, because my very own mother had shared it with me, actually giggling as she did so!

I now realize that at least part of what I liked about that joke was that Suzie took control. She was not a silent, passive participant in a ridiculous system that restricted little girls. She wanted to hang by her knees, and by golly she did—and got a quarter out of it, to boot.

The end of summer

I was determined to do something fun this weekend–my idea of fun being something that was not doing laundry, going to the office, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn. I almost didn’t go, because I was so tired after having to do all the aforementioned things (plus grocery shopping) and I gor myself into one of my little snits, but I decided I HAD to do something different and get out of my self-induced rut. I had my heart set on doing something a little bit corny (no pun intended). For several years I have wanted to go to a corn maze (sometimes called “maize”–cute, eh?) Anyway, the idea is that you get 20 acres or so of corn and plant it, and then you hire somebody to make a maze design and come with a tractor and gps that will cut down the young stalks in the shape that you want. This is what my maze looked like:

There’s something delicious about feeling lost. Sometimes I like to try to deliberately get lost. Unfortunately, sometimes I don’t have to try. This is what the maze looked like inside:

Kind of spooky, don’t you think? Before I moved to the midwest, I didn’t realize that most corn grown in the US is dried on the stalk and then used to feed cattle (or I suppose make high fructose corn syrup). Not super appetizing. Either they don’t grow feed corn in Utah, or I had just never noticed.

I got lost for a long lovely time and then found my way out. Then I picked my very first pumpkin. All in all, a very satisfying end of summer.

Stressed is desserts spelled backwards

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Although ostensibly this blog is at least partly about Scrabble, I haven’t written much about my beloved game–the very best game ever invented. I love it. I played three games last night in Indy. I lost just one, and had some nice bingos–DENTINES, SMIRKIER, and GESTING, for example (for the uninitiated, bingos are words when you use all 7 letters on your rack and get a 50 point bonus–the very best way to win Scrabble games). GESTING is actually a phony (it is not a “real”* word, but didn’t get challenged off the board), but it still netted me 92 points

One of the things that happens when you play Scrabble is that you begin to anagram everything, like license plates, for example. You look at a word and think about all the words that you can make out of that word. You know that ironically the words cheaters and teachers have identical letters. You know that you can take the word “retina” and add to it any letter in the sentence “THE RED PUPIL PREFERS MUCH WINKING” and you will have a bingo (like adding E makes trainee, adding P makes painter or repaint, and adding L makes latrine). You know that MOISTER anagrams into trisome, mortise, and erotism, and you’re kind of embarrassed that this kind of knowledge is always floating around in your brain distracting you from, say, saving the environment.

At any rate, is it any wonder that my brain looked at a sign in Vienna Cafe and saw “desserts” and immediately realized it could also be “stressed?” And then realized that this is so profound? So I share it with you, along with a photo of the actual sign; a photo of my friend, Hannah, who was with me at Vienna, and who is beautiful and talented and a procrastinator, like me; and some of my Scrabble buddies who were at Arby’s last night.

*For me, a “real” word is anything that is included in The Word List

Cutting Paul’s Hair (AKA Barbara the Barber)

Why is he giving me the evil eye?

I started cutting Paul’s hair when we were so poor that the money we saved could go toward groceries (like real milk instead of powdered milk, or orange juice instead of Tang.) Those were also the days when Paul changed the oil in the car himself, and we regularly put in a gallon or two of gas at a time, because we didn’t have money for more.

Paul likes the way I cut his hair. I did it for more than 30 years. Then I went on strike a few years ago and refused to do it, and he found a really cheap barber downtown. The strange thing is, that the real barber went to school to learn how to cut hair, and he did a really horrible job! This fits into my theory, that in general, things turn out better if you do them yourself (like painting, tiling, etc. but not brain surgery, of course). Every time Paul would return from the barber I was so annoyed with how bad his hair looked–this guy liked to shave him from the back of his neck to halfway up his head. It just looked SO BAD. So being the nice person that I am, I finally relented and went back to cutting it myself, at least until the barber downtown dies (which shouldn’t be long–he’s ancient) and then Paul can try again with someone else.

This photo is actually very scary because he looks so much like his dad. Not that I don’t like his dad. I’m just not married to him–or am I?

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens….

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Do you ever have a perfect moment, and you want it to last forever? I had such a moment yesterday, a moment when I thought, “I want to remember this particular time forever.” I think this fairly regularly, but then I don’t write tmy thoughts down, and I have a hard time reconstrucing them when I need to (i.e. bad days). So I’m going to start writing them down, beginning with today.

My perfect moment was yesterday about 11:30 am, after I had finished mowing the lawn, watering, and pulling out or digging up a bunch of pesky weeds (some of which were almost trees!) The weather was the perfect temperature, I was sitting in beautiful silence in the back yard, and I was sipping a very cold Diet Coke (I know, I know, I gave them up for several months this summer, but I’m trying moderation now–we’ll see how that goes.) As I sat, a squirrel got closer and closer. I was sitting so quietly, it didn’t notice me. I remembered how as a child I liked to sit in the apple tree in our back yard and be so still that the birds would forget I was there.

I was satisfied that I had worked hard, and I was surrounded by plants and flowers that reminded me of my friends and family–my dad, who taught me to love growing and eating tomatoes, Regina, Peg, Judy, Noriko, and others who have shared plant starts with me. No wonder I love my garden so much.