Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bodily Function and Love

So, it occurs to me that one of the markers of true friendship or familial closeness is the fart. Now, of course, I have a mix of family and friends who will alternately be amused or disgusted by this statement, but it's true. Even the disgusted among my acquaintance have to acknowledge that flatulence is an expression of love. Here's why (with examples).

1) I have heard multiple people tell me the story of their relationships and how a) embarrassed or b) amused they were when they (or their partner) farted for the first time in front of the other. But they always end the story by saying how it made them feel closer because they could relax (in more ways than one).
2) My friend and I were on a little road trip last summer, and the topic of indigestion came up. I told some little poop story (as I am wont to do), and she busted a gut. She was actually a little surprised that I talked so openly and joked about that stuff (maybe she was under the mistaken impression that I am sophisticated), but ever since then we have sent little jokes and stories on a similar theme. It's actually made us (already close friends) a little closer. It's just one of those markers of intimacy, in a weird and hilarious way.

3) Another girl came to my grad school department the year after I did. She seemed nice, but we really didn't visit much. One night we had dinner and found out we had quite a bit in common, so we started hanging out more. The day I knew we were going to be good friends was the day she told me about her fart machine and how she and her friends used it to play jokes on people during their cruise. When I reacted with great amusement, she was a little surprised and glad. She told me she wasn't sure if I would think it was funny. Once I declared it so, she and I became great friends and have shared lots of laughs about bodily functions. It was farts that brought us together. Awww.

4) My family has had fart contests and laughed at poop and fart jokes since I can remember. This includes my immediate family as well as my dad's extended family. And it gives us a kind of camaraderie and sense of fun whenever we're together. You can bet at least once when we all gather someone will make a joke that splits our sides. I can't imagine being in a family that couldn't laugh about that kind of thing.

So there you have it. Eleven years of college, and a Ph.D. in interpersonal communication, and my contribution to the study of relationships=the fart as a marker of intimacy. I'm living proof of the power of poofs (though not in the British sense...look it up).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Revolution Inside

I've been on my Weight Watchers "diet" now for about seven weeks, and have lost 15 pounds. This, obviously, pleases me greatly.

But the fact is, it is hard for someone like me to admit I needed help from an outside source, and even more difficult that it comes in the form of what is basically a support group. I am smart enough to do this on my own, and I've read all the stuff that tells me what one should eat and not eat...but for some reason I really needed the structure of a program and a weekly routine of weighing in to motivate me to do what I knew I needed to do.

On the positive side, though, the program has really highlighted for me how to balance my food intake. I had heard all the gunk about how if you're going to a party eat light earlier in the day. Blah blah. I never listened. But now I find myself planning a little bit better so that I can enjoy party food without ruining anything. The past three weeks have had regular social events where unhealthy food was served, and I found myself automatically thinking through how to account for that in my day. Eat a salad with vinaigrette for lunch, eat an apple, eat a smaller sandwich...whatever it takes so that I can enjoy some junk later in the day. Similarly, at Thanksgiving, I tried to fill a good portion of my plate with vegetables so that I would be less tempted to overload on cheesy potatoes and corn. It worked, and I left feeling comfortable and happy. I ate my cheesy potatoes and corn, but I didn't overdo it.

And the really miraculous thing about this is that I now think this is normal and reasonable, if I think of it at all. I am not feeling left out of anything, nor am I feeling intense longings to gorge on junk. Maybe I'm still in the honeymoon phase or something, but I really, for the first time in my life, feel like I have a grasp of what food is supposed to be doing in my life rather than seeing it as a pastime. Food is not just about's about pleasure AND health. I still enjoy my sweets and eat pizza from time to time--I ate two crab rangoon on Monday night, guilt free--but just in a better proportion to my other, healthier foods. This is revolutionary. Simple, but revolutionary.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I wish someone would explain to me why I decided to buy four boxes of Girl Scout cookies awhile back. Because now I have four boxes of Girl Scout cookies sitting in my house, and each friggin' cookie is two points on my Weight Watchers diet! That's ridiculous.

I just ate one, and I took the tiniest bites ever to savor it. This worked for the first cookie, but I am not sure this will be enough in future. Soon the overpowering deliciousness will take over and

Since the end of October, I'm down 13 pounds, which is great (I even lost over Thanksgiving week! Heck yeah!). I have to keep up the hard work and not surrender to the evils of cookies.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Year Two

I've been absent on my own blog. It's mostly that year two of professorship has been more overwhelming than year one, so there's been yet another learning curve. Someday I will learn that the learning curve is like a rainbow that has no definite beginning or end, but just an ongoing arc. The harder you look for the end, the further you get from it and the more frustrated you become. So I guess that means this year is about another lesson in chilling out and letting go of control.

But the problem, of course, is that control is my obsession. So that's going well.

Anyway, the purpose of this entry is to appease my mom and aunt, both of whom have asked why I haven't posted in a long time. Now I've posted again, and I will try to do what I can to become a regular writer again. I miss ranting. :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why I love Kurt Vonnegut

"Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer. So it goes." (From "Slaughterhouse-Five")

I may not be writing much on my blog, but with stuff like this out there, how can I possibly compete anyway?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sexism from 100 years ago

I use the following song in my gender communication class, and it always amazes me. A mere 100 years ago, it was hilarious (HILARIOUS!!) to suggest that women were capable of being independent, authoritative human beings. The very idea of women trying to wear pants (PANTS!!) was downright hysterical. Uh-oh. I probably shouldn't use that word. Why, you ask? Look up the etymology of the word: hysterical (HYSTERICAL!!).

Meh. So, the good news is that we're a lot better off than we were 100 years ago. But, by the same token, I continue to hear similar sentiments today. About the guy who doesn't demand his way or the highway: "Well, I guess we all know who wears the pants in that family. Hardy har." (HARDY HAR!! That's backwards. Haha!) The woman who hints at aggression is a ball breaker. The man who hints at aggression is a man (MANLY!!).

Here's the song, in all its hilarity. It was recorded in 1909 by the delightfully charming Billy Williams, and was written by a fine, swell, upstanding gentleman named Charles Denton. Here's to you, aholes.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Travel Yin and and Yang on Crack

I love to travel, so the past two weeks have been nothing but chaotic pleasure. I went on a cruise with a friend, and had more fun than is recommended by the Surgeon General. I got to snorkel, eat delicious meals (each and every dessert contained Grand Marnier liqueur--ooh, lala!), have relaxing visits on the balcony of our suite overlooking the bluest water I've ever seen, and so on. It was a relaxing trip that never stopped moving...literally (the boat pretty much always moved and when it did, I got off it!) and figuratively (I was on non-stop sight seeing mode).

Then, of course, I jetted off to NYC for a few days immediately afterward and spent six days wandering around, and bussing around on a guided tour. I saw all the big spots and several smaller spots. I spent too much money on food and stuff I didn't need. I saw the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, and so on and so on. I wore out my sandals from walking. I saw my first Broadway musical.

So, that pretty much sums up my idea of heaven. Stuff to see and do every day for two weeks.

If only it weren't for the airlines, which were required to make it possible. A flight delay from Florida (the weather's fault, I grant you) meant, I got to Des Moines at 11:30 pm on Monday. My flight to NYC left La Crosse at 5:20 am on Tuesday. Five and half hours between flights, and a four hour drive from one place to the next. So, I drove like a madwoman from midnight to 4am, repacked and left my house again at 4:15am to get to the La Crosse airport again. All things told, I ended up being awake for 36 hours.

Then, coming home last night, we boarded the plane just a few minutes late (at 6:30pm). Great. But it was raining with lightning, so we had to wait to leave...along with all the other planes at La Guardia, leading to a major traffic backup. At about 7:30 or 8pm, we were about to pull away from the gate when another storm blew in. So we sat. Then we sat on the runway for awhile. We finally took off about about 9:40pm...more than three hours after we sat down on the plane. That's later than the time we were supposed to land in La Crosse.

And, as luck would have it, we missed our connection, which was the last flight to La Crosse for the day. So we got sent on a fool's errand around the Minneapolis airport, being misinformed by one Delta airline representative after another about our options for sleeping at the airport till our plane left at 10:00 the next morning. We were told there would be pillows and blankets as well as mats. Then that there would only be mats. Then we argued a little more and they finally coughed up some crappy, useless pillows and blankets. We found a supposedly quiet spot to sleep, but there was construction and cleaning crew noise all night. Fortunately, we got out of there on time this morning.

Airlines can't help the weather, but honestly. What a nightmare flying is. My love for travel is equally as strong as my hatred of what's a girl to do, really?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yin and Yang on Crack

I believe that reality must be a balance. We cannot know good without knowing bad. We cannot experience happiness without also experiencing sadness. We must feel pain to know what pleasure feels like. I am confident that it must be this way, but I can't help but feel that the intensity of the simultaneously oppositional tugs is sometimes a bit stronger than is universally necessary, which merely leaves me feeling stretched too thin, like (in the words of Bilbo Baggins) butter spread over too much bread.

I am about to embark on a month of adventures. I'm traveling by cruise ship to Key West and Cazumel, and then returning to the Midwest mere hours before leaving for New York City for five days of exploration. Both trips involve great friends, fun experiences, and I hope lots of pictures and memories. I have not had a full-blown vacation in several years, so I'm completely pumped. Both of these trips have long been on my 'must do' list, and I'm checking them off in short order.

But the forces of the universe won't have it all to the good, it seems. While I'm planning for these wonderful trips with wonderful friends, I'm feeling the oppositional tug of concern and worry for the well being of one of the truly dearest people in my life, who's battling a serious illness. All my hopes and thoughts are directed toward her recovery, but I'm fully conscious of the difficulties presented to her, all the while I'm flitting about on planes, subways, and cruise ships. The joy of traveling will be blended with the concern for my friend. The excitement of my July co-exists with the hard decisions and anxiousness of hers.

My life has quite often been a series of tolerable oppositional tugs, the tensions never terribly extreme. This time, however, I feel the tautness so acutely it makes my heart race nervously when I think about it. I wake up at night and instantly my mind moves from excitement of the impending trips to anxiety about my friend's well being (or vice versa)...the two poles strike practically simultaneously, and then I continually bounce from one to the next, which leaves me reeling and awake for lengthy periods of time.

As an intellectual and half-assed amateur philosopher, I know what all of this means and acknowledge the inevitability of opposition. I just, for the first time, have absolutely no idea how to cope with it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Memories of Dad

I've been a slacker on blogging, but since it's Father's Day this weekend, I thought I'd better play equal and list some dad memories just like I did for mom. This in honor of the fact that my parents are always worried about making everything equal between my brother and me.

1) I love to read, and have since I learned how. Part of the reason is because I got regular trips to the library on Saturdays. Dad would drive Dirk and me up there and we were allowed to look around as long as we wanted and to pick multiple books. It was part of the routine of our family life, so it became part of my routine as an individual, too. Relatedly, I remember Dad reading stories out of a magazine he got. It was a religious magazine for adults, but it always had a kid's story in it. We'd all sit on the couch while he read it aloud to us.

2) Dad traveled a lot for his job in Sioux City. We were always sorry to see him go (except that Mom took us out to eat--on a week night!!!--while he was away), but it was worth the separation when he came back with presents for us. As soon as he pulled into the driveway, we'd dash out to the car, ostensibly to greet him. Really, though, we were dashing for our new toys. They were never enormous gifts, but they were new and exciting. Once, around Halloween, I got a little plush jack-o-lantern that hid a ghost inside it. I think of it now as more of a recognition that he thought of us while he was away, and that he missed us. Even the hyperactive little girl.

3) There's still a well-known song in our house, called "Hershey Kiss Eyes." It's the song my dad wrote for me. My main memories of him singing it are around the dinner table, and after we ate. I'd sit on his lap and squirm (as usual) and he'd sing it. "She has Hershey Kiss eyes, and ruby red lips. Cute little toes and fat little hips [Ed note: Hey!!!!]. She can wiggle and she can squirm. She's her daddy's wiggle worm." He can't sing to save his life, but for this song, it didn't matter. It was perfection.

4) In addition to the library trips, one of the greatest patterns in our family was discussion. We were allowed to ask all kinds of questions, and just to generally question everything. My parents are devoutly religious, but that did not mean I wasn't able to doubt and question growing up. I could ask his opinion and contradict him all I wanted, and I was never punished for it. And if Dad didn't know an answer to something, he'd help me find it. I remember when I was about 12, I started hearing the first anti-Catholic crap in my life. I was baffled because my best friend in Sioux City had been Catholic, as were some of my cousins, and they all seemed like the same to me. Dad offered me a book on the similarities and differences and told me that Catholics were his friends the same as Protestants, and that any differences between the two groups were minor compared to the similarities. That still means a lot to me, even though I'm not particularly connected to either camp at this point in my life. Just the fact that he was intellectual about it made all the difference. I truly, absolutely believe that my success as an academic is rooted in my dad's approach to life and questions.

5) Dad likes to quote an old saying: "The best gift a father can give his kids is to love their mother." And he can quote it because he lives it. My dad still loves my mom as much (or more) than he did when he married her 40 years ago. He compliments her, gives her little thoughtful gifts, etc. This particularly struck me one time when he was going through a rough patch in his life, spending his weeks away from home, and coming home on weekends. We were in the Walgreen's parking lot, and he was talking about how hard it all was. He said, "I sit in a hotel room, and I just miss my best friend." His best friend=my mom. It was all I could do not to bawl, a similar struggle I face as I write that out. I'm perpetually single, and I sometimes think part of that is because I have yet to meet a man who will treat me the way my dad treats my mom. Those are enormous shoes to fill, and not just because he's 6ft7in. I fear that sounds creepy, me comparing dudes to my dad, but if you have a dad like mine, I guess it's inevitable.

6) One last little one. I remember one Saturday during lunch, my dad and I had an insult-off. We went on and on, trying to take each other down. It was awesome. I eventually won, but I think it's because he let me. Dad's hilarious (sometimes in a groaner sense, sure), and I've always loved that we can all just joke around and make ourselves laugh till we hurt. Dad's confident enough in himself that he's willing to take a few slams from his (truly loving and respectful) kids.

7) Okay, I lied about 6 being the last. One last thing. He didn't spank me nearly as much as I deserved. And I always had ample warning that punishment was imminent. And he never actually hurt me when he did it, despite the fact that his hands were bigger than my butt--at least for a few short years. That's a good dad for you.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Memories of Mom

So, I got my mom a really nice, sincere Mother's Day card, which I totally meant. My mom is pretty much awesome, and that's just the way it is. But I thought it might be nice to think through some of more specific things about my mom in addition to the generic Hallmark sentiments. Here are a few things that make me smile when I think of them.

1) When we went to South Dakota on vacation when I was pretty little, we saw some buttes. Mom said, "Hey, aren't those the butts I read about?" Obviously, she didn't realize how important some e's really are. At the time, I didn't know what a butte was, but I knew my mom said butt, and that was enough to make me laugh. Dad teased her about it, and it became a family joke.

2) When I was little, she used to tease me by squeezing my thighs. That sounds really weird. But it was a tickling thing, and it made me laugh. She would sometimes give me warning so I would try to squirm away, but other times she'd surprise me and get me. As I write, it sounds so bizarre, but it was hilarious to me at the time, and truly a fun mom thing. Not weird.

3) She also called me poopsock, boogerbutt, and missybutt. I swear she loved me! :)

4) I used to cry a lot at school, and one time she made a deal with me. She bought a Barbie doll and told me I could have it if I went two weeks without crying. I didn't make it, but I was too honest to lie about it. My teacher told me to tell my mom, but to explain that she (the teacher) thought it was 100% understandable and I shouldn't be punished for it (this was my fave teacher EVER). So I went home and confessed. Mom expressed that she was disappointed, but she didn't get mad at me. I got the Barbie, though I think I did have to wait a couple of days. I just remember that as an instance of her being a good disciplinarian, but one with compassion.

5) I remember as a teenager, something happened that mad mom feel bad, and she cried. She's normally fairly stoic for the most part, and especially as a kid I rarely saw her cry. I remember seeing her cry there in her chair, and having that first dim realization that my mom was a person beyond the four of us. It took longer to fully realize that (and I still sometimes forget), but that was a hard thing to realize as early-teenage kid. I ended up crying just because she was crying.

6) Similarly to that one, I was 15 when my Grandpa Huisman died. We knew for a while that it was going to happen, so when the phone rang late one night, we knew what it was. Dad answered it and then Mom came to my room to tell me. I remember I started to bawl because A) Grandpa died and B) I had been snotty and mean to Dad and now I felt bad because now I saw that my dad wouldn't live forever either. Mom just hugged me and told me not to feel bad about that. Dad would be around a long time. Then, in the kitchen, Dad was writing a note to my brother who was working till way late to tell him what had happened. Dad got upset while writing and threw the pen down on the table and started to cry. And Mom and I sat down the hall on my bed and cried together. As an adult, I think maybe she should have been with Dad instead of me, but at the time, I needed her and I guess she knew that.

7) More generally, it's just a funny realization to have your mom go from the lady who bosses you around and makes you do dishes and vacuuming to the lady you want to talk to and go shopping with and hang out with just because she's your friend. I remember the teenage moments of frustration and anger, but those are so faded and distant and now mostly all that's left is the idea that my mom is a fun person I can hang out with and laugh with. And vent to when I need it. And I need it a lot.

8) One more. I remember sitting next to her in church and being cuddled up with her arm around me. I got to play with her rings and necklaces and eat pink mint candies. That was about the safest place on earth. I still miss that sometimes. But I suppose it would look dumb for a 32-year-old to curl up next to her smaller mom and play with her jewelry. Darn.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On year one

This year was my first as a professor, and like a good lifelong learner, I've been trying to pay attention and get something out of it. Here's a list of good and bad discoveries, in no particular order.

1) I am not as horrible at my job as I fear I am. I learned this when I got my evals back for my large lecture class, and discovered that I got high marks from almost everyone in the course. This was only weeks after I had a breakdown in fear that I had irrevocably messed up my course and my reputation as a teacher. I had been so convinced that I stink that I was terrified to get my reviews. And then it turns out I did fine, and several of my students from that class were repeats this semester, and several others have asked me to be their adviser. So go figure.

2) I'm also not as good as I want to be. I've always been unorganized, but I let that get in the way of teaching a few times this semester and it made me feel bad and inept. We'll see what that means on my evals this semester, but I hope my honesty and enthusiasm make up for some of the absent-minded professorisms. Nonetheless, I gotta work on some serious skills in this area of my life. I'm a mess!

3) Despite my general self-loathing and continual apprehension about what students really think of me, I am relieved to find that I really love what I do. So now I just have to build my confidence to match that. It feels amazing to know that all those years of school were worth it for this job. Even when I'm feeling (as I'm feeling now) like I'll never get all the grading done.

4) I'm not a happy person even when I'm happy. I'm not sure what it will take for me to embrace the happiness that I know I deserve. I continually fight the slump, the dissatisfaction, the anger, and the overall unhappiness that seems to follow me around. The past few weeks, it has been nearly unbearable, and I am not sure why that is. I keep writing it off to being tired, but it's not like I haven't been tired before. I've learned that I need to get to the bottom of it if I don't want it to destroy my career, as well as, potentially, my overall life. I just don't yet know how to do that.

5) I've learned that Wisconsin is near Iowa in geography, but a far distance in many cultural senses. The constant presence of beer--in the most unexpected places--continues to surprise me. I've learned that I enjoy the stuff more than I thought I did, but I also learned that it's easy to pack on a few pounds with a simple glass of liquid. The occasional, single beer to be social can turn into a few extra pounds in no time. No wonder this is one of the most obese states in the U.S. And no wonder my pants are tight.

6) I've learned that people are nice. I am lucky to be in a department full of really, genuinely nice people. I have little in common with many of them, but I love spending time with them all the same. They are good, fun, caring people around here. In academia, that's not all that common (alas), so I am particularly grateful to all of them. And I hope they don't think I'm a raving lunatic, though I'm sure I sometimes seem that way.

7) I actually am a raving lunatic.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

American Theater

I like TV. I like theater. I like musicals. So when the opportunity presented itself to see all three in one, you might understand why I said, "Yes, please." Or at least why I said, "Sure, why not?" It all started last fall, when I was new and friendless in my new town. Some colleagues invited me to attend a production of Gilligan's Island: The Musical, which was playing at another local university way off in May. I agreed for the reasons mentioned at the start of this paragraph, plus the added fact that I wasn't about to turn down a social opportunity, even if it was more than six months away.

Finally, the night came. I admit that I had low expectations. The TV show was utter crap, but I like it for its open embrace of crapness. I figured the musical would feature little references to the show, little in-jokes and stuff like that. Plus songs...who knew what the songs would be like, but I was game to try. Low expectations for me does not equate to unpleasantness.

When I got there, I discovered via the playbill that an alien featured in the plot. Oh, dear. I had been duped into going to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and had been shat upon by a plot involving crystalline aliens. So that was warning bell one. The group of us discussed our growing apprehension with this development. Were they really going to mess with the 'integrity' of the show in such a ridiculous way??


So the second warning bell was the first song, where the characters meandered about the stage, each carrying a plywood section of the ship that was tossed about by the storm while they sang the theme song of the show. Finally, they were separated by the tides, and washed up on a plywood forested-island.

And then it went downhill from there. Honestly. That was the high point. The second warning bell was the high point.

The good news is that I laughed pretty much throughout the whole debacle. The bad news is that I laughed at it, not with it. I have low-brow tastes, but I'm dismayed that crap such as this passes for theater, and that its connection to a terrible TV show means we were suckered into going.

Though I should add, in our...oh, let's say in our defense...that our original draw-in to the show was the fact that Greg Brady (aka Barry Williams) was going to play the Professor, but he had to back out. The problem with this defense is that it still rests on our being lured in by crap TV. So we still come out pretty weak in this whole thing. But not quite as weak as the musical itself, so it evens out, I guess.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sometimes I get confused.

All right. Hugo Chavez is a bastard, to say the least. A serious, power-hungry bastard. Obama shook hands with him, okay. It seemed like one of those situations where you have to be polite and diplomatic even when you kind of wish you could run away. But whatever. He did it. But the outrage about it seems weird to me because there have been plenty of times when our leaders interacted with some pretty dastardly dudes. For example:

Bush's family has a long tie to the Saudi Royal family, the perpetrators of atrocious human rights violations, and who tolerate the United States only because we make them richer. If we stopped buying oil from them, they'd hate as bad as or worse than Chavez. And yet...Bush kissed the prince, held his hand, acted altogether chummy. Where's the outrage?

And then there's:
Vladimir Putin, the man whose soul Bush saw, has been linked to extreme totalitarian-style political tactics (including assassination of outspoken opponents).

And don't forget:

Reagan schmoozed with a damned dirty Communist...sure, it was for diplomacy, but when Obama suggests talking to Communist Castro, he's a maniac hell-bent on destroying America. The Gipper was an effing hero for doing it. What gives?

Lastly, let's not forget:
He's not a president, to be sure, but Donald Rumsfeld was sent by Reagan to provide military support to known human-rights violator and genocidal asswipe Saddam Hussein in his fight against Iran. Shook his hand and smiled at him, not terribly unlike Obama's interaction with Chavez. Again, it's not like we didn't know who Hussein was or what he was doing to his own people.

So. My point. I have a point and it is this: Hugo Chavez is an arrogant, evil blowhard with aspirations to totalitarianism, and the U.S. should not support him. However, I really believe it's a pot-and-kettle argument to say that Obama is making a calamitous error in shaking the douchebag's hand. Our leaders have done similar things, and often with (it seems) far more nefarious intentions. So seriously. WTF?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Delayed Reaction

This weekend, my family, and some of my aunt's family, gathered at my grandparents' house. In years past, this would have been a typical Easter activity. We're a close group, and we often got together for the major holidays. This year, however, was not like the old times. Instead of celebrating together, we were looking through my grandparents' belongings, taking what we want before we sell the remaining items and the house.

Since Grandpa passed away in December and Grandma moved into a nursing home, there's no reason to keep the house, and that includes 80+ years of accumulated stuff in the lives of Bill and Cleo. My mom and her sisters already took what they wanted, and now it is my cousins' and my turn. So Saturday afternoon, I found some nice mementos from their house, including an accordion, some china, some games, and other odds and ends.

At the time, it was a little sad, but I kind of just saw it as the thing we were doing. I've known it was coming for several weeks, so Saturday was just the day. We boxed up everything, wrapping the fragile stuff, and loaded it up in the car. Done.

And now I'm back in La Crosse, looking through what I took and thinking of what I'll do with it and where I'll put it all. And I'm bawling my eyes out. It's now hitting me that I took pieces of my grandparents' lives from the place where they lived with them, and left other pieces behind forever. Some of the items that made their house their home are now in my home because Grandpa and Grandma aren't home to enjoy them anymore.

Life is obviously not permanent. I understand the cycle, and I've accepted the fact that my grandparents won't live forever. But before now, the concept of impermanence and separation through death was all too easily seen in sepia tones of long-gone ancestors and the experiences of the older generations. Even after Grandpa died, it seemed distant and unreal. Heck, even on Saturday, it didn't seem entirely real.

But now, with my grandparents' things sitting in boxes and on my table, I am hit with the fullness of what's happened. In full, vivid color I am living with the reality that my family has irrevocably changed. The home I grew up visiting will soon just be another person's house. And the fragmented remains of Bill and Cleo's lives will sit all across the midwest in the lives of their impermanent descendants.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ms. Nervous

I was at Target a few weeks ago, and I saw a little display of buttons, magnets, and stationary featuring those characters from the Mr. Men children's books. The series featured various anthropomorphic shapes that had personality flaws that were resolved through the narrative.

I had a moment of nostalgia as I looked at the stuff on the Target rack, remembering the one Mr. Man book I had and read regularly. It was Mr. Nervous. Ah, the memor....wait. I had Mr. Nervous. The only one my parents ever bought me was Mr. Nervous.

It occurred to me right there at Target that it was likely no coincidence that they bought me that one. I'm sure it wasn't just a matter of them choosing whichever one was available or cutest. They chose the Mr. Nervous book...because I was such a nervous little kid.


I remember being a high-strung, nervous little kid. I got scared at school, at home, at church, at the store. I'd have tear-filled meltdowns with little notice, driving my parents crazy. I was in 4th grade before I went to school on day one without bawling about it. I cried when I spent the night away from home without them. And so on...

But when I got my Mr. Nervous book, it never once occurred to me that the book was meant to be a lesson in chilling out from my (very likely) exasperated parents.

But 25 years later, I'm finally onto them. I see their game! Too bad for them I'm still a high-strung nervous adult. Mr. Nervous wasn't enough to cure me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Home vs. home

I was lucky enough to spend my spring break away from home. I went Home. I didn't need a fancy beach vacation. I like going Home.

I've always been very close to my family, and I consider myself exceedingly lucky to have these people in my life. But every blessing has some twinge of a curse. It's the dualistic nature of the universe to pair opposites: yin and yang, black and white, etc. The curse of having so many wonderful people in my life is that I'm perpetually Homesick. No matter how settled I am into my adult home, I still always long for Home. Home with my family. Home where I belong to people. Home where I am a daughter and a sister, not just a single woman, a professor, and a friend.

I joked with my students before spring break that I was jealous of those who were going somewhere exciting, that I didn't think it was fair. But the truth was, I was just as excited to go Home as they were to go to Florida, South Padre, or the Caribbean.

And I left my parents' house this morning, and their company later in the afternoon, with that familiar sense of dread. That feeling of going to a strange familiar place I call home in my everyday life, but that can't compare to Home. Even if I have a family of my own someday, I don't think it will compare to the Home I've known my whole life. I'll always want to leave home for Home.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Some compassion after all...

A Catholic church official has spoken out against the ex-communication of the Brazilian mother who chose to terminate her 9-year-old daughter's pregnancy after the girl had been raped by her stepfather. Just wanted to point it out to show there's complexity of thought even within the church's relatively straightforward views.

Kudos to this dude, IMO.


I hate people who are vain, and who focus too much on their appearance. I hate people who judge others solely on their looks, and who value themselves for their physical traits at the expense of their personality and basic human decency.

And yet.

I recently got a new hair cut, complete with brow waxing and all that. And I have to say that my confidence has taken a noticeable bump. I find myself smiling at people more, being bouncier, being happier. Feeling more like approaching people and chatting them up. Add to that the new glasses that I'm trying to grow accustomed to, and I feel like a new, cooler person.

I'm struggling with it, though, because I love the feeling. I love feeling good about myself when I walk out the door, and I love chatting people up and feeling like a fun person. But I also feel kinda lousy that it took a physical alteration to make that happen, and I fear I'm using my appearance as an artificial boost. What happens when I get used to the changes and they become the normal me? Will I take a dive again? And is it really healthy to base your confidence on your looks? Shouldn't I worry more about being happy inside and less on looks?

I worry about the balance. Where's the balance between these two elements of our total selves?

And I worry that I'm worrying too much about all of this. And then I worry because I worry too much about worrying about things to worry about.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The trouble with black and white thinking

I'm shocked by the following article...every possible aspect of it is terrifying.,0,5869588.story

The issue of abortion is frightfully complex, and I'm not willing to dip my toe too far into it on a silly little blog like this, but the fact that the Vatican calls abortion a worse crime than the rape and impregnation of a 9-year-old girl by her stepfather is giving me the absolute jitters. Here are some reasons why:

A. If you've seen what happens to a woman's body when she's carrying multiples, you can imagine what it would do to a tiny 9-year-old body. This girl's life would be at very serious risk if she carried them to term, which (BTW) simultaneously puts the fetuses' lives at serious risk.

B. This is not an issue of birth control. If you want to argue that abortion as b.c. is a moral crime, I'll listen to the argument, but I'm not willing to listen to any claim that this case is anywhere near the same issue. This girl had no control over any aspect of what happened to her. She did not choose any of this. So I can't in good conscience tell her that she has to further put herself at risk and live with more personal physical trauma than she already has.

C. The Vatican basically is arguing that this girl's life and well being are less significant than the fetuses' lives, which is one of the issues that bothers me more broadly about the abortion debate. Once children are born into the world by parents who don't want them or can't afford them, then it seems like society is supposed to care less about their welfare. Programs that help children living in poverty, or in abusive homes, are too often derided for being entitlement programs. Sure, the parents suck sometimes, but it is no more the kids' fault than the 9-year-old girl's fault for being raped. So why do we care more about the fetuses than we do about the people already living in the world, including (but not limited to) this girl and her personal tragedy? How can you rank one as more important than the other when your basic argument is that all are equally important in God's eyes? It's a circular argument, I realize, but that's why I also think the following.

D. The idea that abortion is a black/white issue, a right/wrong issue, a simple issue, etc. does not work, and this case is absolute proof that we will never resolve it by trying to oversimplify it the way the Vatican just tried to do. That might make me a wishy-washy liberal, but I guess I'm just fine with that. I'm siding with the little girl's family on this one. If I were them, I'd tell the Catholic church to stick their little pointy hats up their butts and find a new religion.

Monday, March 2, 2009


So I went to the mall to kill a little time on Saturday (before the birthday fiesta). Macy's was having a 75% off sale on shoes, and who am I to resist a perusal? I actually need some brown dress shoes to wear with my dress pants, and they had a pair for $11. Sweet. The clerk who had brought out the mate to the one on the rack put them on the back shelf while I looked around some more. I ended up finding another pair of boots to try on, but by then the clerk was busy helping another customer. So when another clerk asked to find the mate, I said okay.

Shortly after I get the mate, the original clerk shows up asks if I need another mate from the back. I said no, that someone else had brought them up for me. She acted all confused, so I pointed to the other lady and said she had offered to get them for me. The first clerk was all upset, and told the other lady that she had been helping me.

And that's when I realized they work on commission. How the crap was I supposed to know that??

The rest of the time I was in there, the first clerk was polite to me, but only just barely. It was obvious she was mad that I may have cost her part of her commission. I apologized for having made things complicated (even though I didn't really feel like I should have to apologize at all!), and she was all coolly accepting of it.

So the thing is, I'm thoroughly annoyed at stores that put their clerks on commission. Partly because I have no way of knowing, as a customer, when that's the case; and partly because in busy times like Saturday, it would have meant I had to wait an extra five minutes just to get the attention of the one clerk to try on the 2nd pair of shoes. How inefficient is that? What does that say to the customer? Basically that your time is less important than making our clerks be pushy about sales.

Meh. Yet another thing to irk me. I needed that.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Two Schools of Thought

What's a single girl to do? I want to date, I would like to get married someday, all that. But what happens when the only guys who express an interest are guys you aren't at all interested in?

My philosophy has always been to avoid going on dates with people you're not interested in. Why waste your time and his? I know you're not my type. I know you're uninteresting to me. So let's just not go out and save us both the headache.

But then I have people who tell me I'm just being too judgmental or picky. I should go out on dates when they're offered just to see what happens.

A few times I've taken this advice and it's been exactly as I thought it was going to be. Awkward, boring, sometimes even excruciating. So I am confused, perpetually. Should I say no right off and hope that someone of interest comes along? Or do I just take the chance that someone might turn out to be interesting under the surface?

Do I follow my gut (like Stephen Colbert tells me to) or do I ignore my trepidations and get the free (if uncomfortable) dinner?

And lastly, why doesn't someone interesting express an interest in me? Why??

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I earlier confessed to being George from Seinfeld. Another confession of a similar nature is in order. I'm also a combination of Putty and Jerry in that I have an overactive fear of germs. It's not to the level of full-on germophobia (unlike Putty, I have not felt the need to go through a 12-step program for the problem), but it is significant enough that I sometimes have chapped hands from overwashing.

So, that's another of my many charms. Why am I still single??????? Ahem.

Anyway. So my primary issue with food is in the sharing with other people. Knowing that their utensil touched my food, or their fingers, gives me the willies. In the interest of being a member of society and a number of friendly social networks, however, I generally keep my angst to the inside and force myself to continue eating after the dreaded double dip. Because if people knew the full extent of my neurotica (awesome--a word I made up that sounds dirty but isn't), I would spend even more time holed up in my house.

If I may be indulged in yet another sidetrack (and it's my blog so sod off if you don't like it), my family has a current running joke (or a hypertext story, to use a term by my proffie Steve D.) about me in this category. The three of them wanted to go to Bonanza for dinner one night. Bonanza is a buffet-style restaurant, like Old Country Buffet or Golden Corral. I, in keeping with the full honesty that comes with family relationships, expressed a less than enthusiastic response. I wasn't excited about eating food touched by people whose cleanliness standards were highly suspect. My exact words were that I didn't want to eat with all the people "chawing." I don't know where that word came from, but the point is my family thought it was funny and now every time eating out is mentioned, the word "chaw" appears at least once.

Yes. So. End of sidetrack.

The point is (I think) that I am freaked out by germs, and most particularly the eating of it in social settings where I can't control the entire thing. Again, why am I still single?? I am usually able to overlook the fact that the kitchens at the restaurants I frequent are probably not as clean as I want because I can't see it back there. Ignorance is bliss. I eat out, I take that risk. Period.

Imagine my dismay, then, to read an article in the NY Times this week that discusses all the various disgusting things that can legally find its way into the food I buy. For consumption in my own home. Which I always thought I had some control over. Turns out I have no control over eating germs even with my OWN FOOD IN MY OWN HOME. Crap!

Apparently I eat rodent hairs, rodent poo, maggots, mold, and various other delights every time I open a jar or wrapper. That's just fantastic. Now I have to swear off eating even at home?? Madness.

Read it. If. You. Dare.....

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why can't I marry Aragorn?

So, I'm trying to write a paper today to submit to an academic conference. I can't write in silence, so I decided to put Lord of the Rings on for background noise. And now all I can think about is that I really need for Aragorn to be real, for him to dump stupid Arwyn, and for him to marry me instead.

And maybe take a bath.

But not shave. I like the scruffy look.

I have such simple expectations. I really don't see how this is too much to ask.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Grammar, Punctuation, Joy

I like to write. More importantly, I like to write using proper English. I think grammar and punctuation rules are not just useful, they're also fun! As an undergrad, I took a class in copy editing, and it was one of my favorites. I consider grammar and punctuation to be the version of math that I'm actually good at: it's a puzzle, organized by basic principles that are easily learned and applied. If only math were as easy as my version of math.

Now, some will say that math doesn't have exceptions, but grammar does. Fair enough. But those are part of the fun, too. Or something. I don't know. I can't account for that. But I still think grammar is like math. So deal with it.

The point is, I found a blog through one of those Internet chains where you start somewhere you normally go on the Internet and suddenly you're somewhere completely off in the wilderness. This blog makes me happy, and I thought I'd share it. It's filled with pictures of signs and logos that misuse quotation marks.

Enjoy. And, please, whatever you do, don't go looking through past entries of this blog for grammatical mistakes. There are none. You'll just be wasting your time. No, really.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Right Foot

When I was a kid, sometimes my parents had my brother and me shovel the driveway. Not when there was a ton of snow, mind you, but when there wasn't enough to justify the snow blower. I don't remember doing it tons of times, but I remember hating it a lot. 'Work? Why should I have to work?' I thought. Surely, I didn't need to learn a work ethic or to contribute to my own upkeep. That's madness.

Any arguments I might have provided were shot down, however, and I was occasionally asked to chip in. One afternoon in December of 1985 was just such a time. My brother and I bundled up and headed out to our long--eternally long--driveway and got to it. It was arduous work, our backs ached, and we could think of nothing but going inside to warm up.

That is, until we noticed that the cement stairs leading up to our backyard was completely piled on with snow. We lived in a hilly town, and our back yard was probably about 8 feet above our driveway/house level. There was a staircase that went between the garage on the east and a retaining wall on the west. It was suggested (I don't know by which of us) that the pile of snow might make a nice sledding opportunity. Suddenly our painfully cold bodies were irrelevant, and only the thrill of the orange plastic sled was on our minds.

I remember going down the first time, but I'm not 100% sure about that. Either way, it was FUN. The staircase was long and steep enough to get some speed up before hitting the base of the stairs. There was a patch of grass between our patio area and the driveway, and that was the place that kind of slowed you down as you neared the driveway itself. It was seriously perfection. We went down again and again, eventually deciding it would be even faster and cooler with the two of us going down together. Oh, yeah. It was.

Eventually, Mom came out to see what was taking us so long to do the shoveling. When she saw what we were doing, she was naturally a little nervous and told us to be careful. Duh! Of course we would be careful. What was she so worried about? Honestly. What could possibly happen??

Nothing. Nothing happened, and we went inside when we had our fill. But by the next day, we were ready for more, only this time, we decided two people were not enough to get the speed we needed. A quick call to my bestie Mandy across the street solved that problem. Mandy was 1.5 years older than I was, but I was still larger (hmph). We decided to go heaviest person in the back (Dirk) and lightest in front (Mandy). That put me in the middle. Good times ahead. Nothing but good times.

We positioned ourselves at the top of the stairs, my legs sticking out around Mandy. And we were OFF. Down the hill we went, all joy and anticipation. Until about half-way down, when my foot hit the retaining wall and bent backwards. By the time we hit the bottom of the stairs, I was completely freaking out. My brother, who normally was a very supportive big brother, rolled his eyes and told me to stop crying when I told him I hurt my foot. (To be fair, I really was a total crybaby. I bawled when I stubbed a toe).

I went inside--crawling because I couldn't walk on the foot--and Mom wanted to know what I was bawling about. I told her and she was as skeptical as my brother. She put me in bed, elevated the foot, and told me to just wait for it to feel better. When she came in later to check on me, she couldn't help but notice my foot was swelling up. Eep. This was when she became concerned.

Then something happened that kind of amuses me. Dad came home and looked at it and said we'd have to go to the hospital to check it out...but not till after supper. WE ATE FIRST!! I've mentioned before that we're a food-centered family, but what the heck??? My ever swelling foot was second to food. Good thing I know they loved me, huh? Anyway, we went to the E.R. after dinner, and long story short I wore a cast for six weeks. Oh, and not surprisingly I milked that thing for all the sympathy I could get.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm a George

I was watching Seinfeld the other night, a show that I never tire of. It's mindless, but at the same time, I find myself applying theories and concepts from my studies and I love that. I've actually used several episodes in class to illustrate various communication and relationship issues. My students like it, I like it. Win-win.

So I was watching an episode the other night where George decides to see a therapist for his woman problems. As he's sitting in the therapist's office, he tries to unzip his parka, but the zipper sticks. After a few seconds of trying, the therapist encourages him to let it go and focus on the issues with his on/off girlfriend. George lets go of the zipper for about three seconds, but it lures him back. He can't focus on the conversation because the zipper is broken, and it's driving him crazy. So he's pulling and tugging on the zipper, and the therapist keeps telling him not to focus on it. But the more she says it, the more he becomes obsessed with it. And the more obsessed, the more filled with rage that it won't unzip. Pretty soon, he's completely freaking out in anger over this stupid little zipper.

I was laughing while it happened, but then I realized I was laughing because I could relate to it. It was funny because it That is absolutely 100% how I would behave in that situation. I become so obsessively focused on the little things, on the things that I can't fix (and that don't ultimately matter all that much), that I lose track of thinking of the really important stuff. I become so angry when things don't go the way they are supposed to that I lose it.

Because I live alone, drive alone, etc., I usually get away with this childish behavior without anyone noticing. But sometimes I lose it in front of friends and family--something inconsequential gets under my skin and I freak out. At the time it seems perfectly well within the range of reasonable responses to the situation, but inevitably I look back later and realize (with shame) that I was a giant ass. People laugh at George Costanza (me, too) for doing exactly what I do. This is not the way I want to live my life, nor how I want people to see me.

Serenity now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Five Weirdo Things I Believed as a Kid

5) When I was probably five or so, we replaced the sidewalk in front of our house. I honestly thought God would be totally P.O.'d at us because he put that sidewalk there when he made the earth and here we were ripping it up. Though, come to think of it, maybe that's why he didn't give me my Cabbage Patch Kid right away. Aha!!!! It was my parents' fault. Typical.

4) Speaking of God, the sanctuary of our church had vaulted ceilings, but the fellowship area right behind it had regular ceilings. That meant the back of the sanctuary had a wall that went only partway down from the ceiling to about 10 feet (ish) above the floor. On this partial wall was a big vent, which I suppose was related to the heating/cooling elements. As a kid, though, I didn't think much about heating or cooling. I did, however (as validated by the above), think a lot about how God was watching me misbehave. It was my working assumption that the vent was where God hid to watch the church service--and me. I figured if it was the "house of god," then God must live there, where he could see all the action from above. It didn't always keep me on the straight and narrow in church, but it did sometimes.

3) Nearly every Saturday afternoon, my dad took my brother and me to the public library to pick out books. I loved going to the library, and in particular looked for books with that plastic wrapping. I loved the sound of the plastic wrapping, which I always described as "special." I have no idea why I used that word. I remember one time I told my mom I liked it because it sounded "special." She laughed, and I didn't see why.

2) I saw Superman (II or III??) with my was the one where some of the people turned into robots or something--that's how I remember it, though I don't know if that's really what happened. This whole thing terrified me. There was one woman in particular who turned into a robot, and she had an Afro kind of haircut. Every night after that for years (seriously, for YEARS), I swore that woman lived under my bed, and countless times I saw the top of her afro creeping up over the edge of my bed to get me. I used to whine that my parents didn't let me see as many movies as I wanted, but maybe that was a good thing after all. Yeah, yeah, yeah. My parents were right. Blahdy blah blah blah.

1) There was a young woman who went to our church; she was a newlywed I think. She was just another old adult as far as I knew, but I'm guessing she was probably mid-20s. This was the early 80s, around the same time as the show "Bossom Buddies" was on TV. I rarely watched that show but I was aware of it, and the premise--that two men dressed as women every day. Whenever I saw this woman, I really believed she was just like those characters on TV--she was a man who wore women's clothing. Whenever I think of this, I am both amused and a little dismayed. This poor woman probably had no idea that the little blond brat a few rows back lived under the assumption that she was a drag queen. What if some little kid thinks that about me?? I'm tall, broad shouldered...yipes!!