The best Halloween costume I ever had was in my Senior year in college. I was working in the costume shop at the university theater for my work-study job, and I had access to all the "scrap" bins of fabric. There were six or eight oversized armoirs, one for each major color of the rainbow, plus one for neutrals. I was allowed to have what I liked from them on occasions like these, since the scraps were big enough to make sleeves or trim (or a miniskirt) but were never enough to make a whole costume for a play.
So, from the blue bin, I took a floor length, midnight blue velvet skirt -- extremely fitted in the waist and hips and slightly a-line (also, with several places on it where the velvet had been ironed or otherwise crushed beyond rescue, hence its location in the scrap bin); a piece of heavy, nubbly but glossy fabric in a medium blue color, a small piece of white satin, and several scraps of lace and netting in white, blue, and silver.
I put a big white satin star at the bottom of the inky blue skirt (covering the worst of the crush offenses), and added a six foot long narrow tail made of white tulle covered in silver polka dots. I wrapped this trailing train loosly around the back of the skirt, and carried the end of it over one arm. I draped the medium blue fabric in fanciful folds over the top half of my body, and tucked and sewed them, so that it looked more like a blue cloud than a blouse. It was held on by a white satin choker that radiated white satin stripes, and it had puffs of blue and silver lace around the shoulders. I tied lots of narrow, streaming ribbons of blue, silver, and white into my hair.
I was a shooting star.
While I have never before or since had a costume that beautiful, I have had several that were similarly creative. (I grew up in a costume-making family. I always had great parts in the high school drama club productions, not necessarily because I could act but because my mother would sew all the costumes for free.)
In sixth grade, my best friend and I were the headless horseman and his horse. We made a paper mache horse's head, with my mother's help, and a hinged board with cutouts at the front for the horse and in the middle for the rider to stand. We draped the board with brown fabric, put fake rider legs over its midsection, tied an opera cape around the top of my head, and dressed my friend (the horse's front end) all in brown. She had eye holes in the giant horse-head, which was fortunate, because I couldn't see a thing under my cape. (My orange candy-pumpkin was, of course, the only head I carried under my arm.) We also couldn't climb stairs, we discovered to our chagrin. Which made it somewhat more difficult to actually ring doorbells. Fortunately we were trick-or-treating with friends, so they could ring, and bring us candy down from the porches of our neighbors.
In graduate school, some friends and I went as the Wizard of Oz folks. Of course, it was more fun for me and my friend Rose to be the Tin Man and Scarecrow, which left Charles to be Dorothy.
Nowadays, the costumes aren't mine. Instead, my Son Spidey hangs out with his best friend, The Hulk, at school...
and my Daughter the Pink Fairy Princess pals around with her friend the Sweet Pink Kitty at last night's downtown Halloween gathering.
And even though they're not quite old enough to be really creative with their own costumes, or to sew anything themselves, they already understand the fantastic power of dressing up, the imaginative leap of becoming someone else.
I would not trade my little Fairy or my strong Spiderman for anything in the world:
And I love the fact that apparently, despite the squabbles and scuffles, they would not trade anything for each other either.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
Friday, October 31, 2008
The best Halloween costume I ever had was in my Senior year in college. I was working in the costume shop at the university theater for my work-study job, and I had access to all the "scrap" bins of fabric. There were six or eight oversized armoirs, one for each major color of the rainbow, plus one for neutrals. I was allowed to have what I liked from them on occasions like these, since the scraps were big enough to make sleeves or trim (or a miniskirt) but were never enough to make a whole costume for a play.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
This is a photo of me, aged 10, all decked out in my recital costume at the end of my first year of tap dancing lessons.
Yes, I recognize that I am wearing tall bobbing black feathers on the top of my head. And I know you're jealous.
I came across this photo the other day, just moments after getting off the phone with my neighbor after our conversation about children and chores. The two are related in this way: we were talking about how difficult it is to feel okay about giving children chores to do during the week because once they get home from school, do their homework, attend their classes or practices, have dinner, and do their requisite reading time, it's already bedtime. And between religious instruction, sports, art or music, and dance, there is something nearly every week day, plus at least one day on the weekends, meaning there is so little time for kids to just BE that one feels guilty asking them to do the dishes too.
As a child, I took piano lessons, gymnastics, ballet, ice skating, tap dancing, and was in Brownies and then Girl Scouts. But here's the difference: our mom's rule was that we could only do one activity at a time. If we picked ballet, we had once-per-week lessons for the whole school year. And that was it. No other sports, Brownies, or anything else. To try gymnastics, we had to give up ballet. And so on.
Once we got to high school, we branched out a lot and took on more activities at a time -- but by then we were walking ourselves to and from school, and it didn't matter if we had to stay late on different days for different activities. Mom wasn't shuttling us around. I did newspaper and yearbook staffs, and drill team, throughout the year, plus had nightly play rehearsals for a short stretch of time each spring. But that was fine: I could drive myself (in the borrowed family car, not in my own car) or carpool to them.
Since I've been a "grown up," I've admired this rule on our mother's part. We had some organized extra-curricular activities when we were young, but we weren't overly scheduled. We had lots and lots of time to do what we enjoyed -- reading, building models of wacky cars, building a complex dollhouse out of stacked up shoe boxes and meticulously decorating each room, writing plays and forcing our friends to memorize parts in them so we could perform them for the neighborhood, and so on. In the face of the current hand-wringing I hear from all corners about how children nowadays are scheduled to within an inch of their lives, I have been planning to adopt this one-activity policy as soon as my children are old enough to ask for activities.
But my neighbor told me the other day that if your children don't start soccer (for example) when they are little, there is no hope of them ever playing soccer in high school. You can't, it seems, do what we did -- which is walk onto the field on the first day of practice for Junior Varsity soccer, tell the coach you are interested in learning to play soccer, and start in on the drills. Apparently, now JV is for the losers who aren't good enough to make the Varsity team. And to be good enough to make Varsity, you have to start soccer when you're about four. To be good enough to be laughed off the Varsity field but still allowed to play on the sucky Junior Varsity team, you can probably wait to start playing soccer until you're eight or nine.
I don't know what to make of this apart from my initial reaction of sadness.
I want my children to try different sports and activities, to experiment until they find something they really really enjoy. It may be soccer. It may be painting. It may be drama, or ballet, or baseball. I want them, by the time they reach high school, to have interests that are creative, and some that involve physical exertion, and some that require their brains. Like my sisters and I did. I don't care if they are the best on the field at these sports, or if they set school records, or if they become the next Monet. I just want them to be well-rounded people who can appreciate beauty, feel comfortable in their own bodies, and limber up their minds.
But I don't want them to be barred from participating in these activities at age 15 because I didn't enroll them in PeeWee Hockey as soon as their ankles were strong enough to strap on ice skates. I realize that some things will be more competitive than others, that in fact there are plenty of activities that do not require 10 years of practice by the time one hits middle school. But doesn't something seem a little out of whack if this is what most sports require?
When I was a child, there was no such thing as a soccer league for elementary school girls. Now, you have to play in the "Elite" league in third grade if you want to play the sport at all by the time you're in high school? That seems insane to me.
If Daughter falls in love with soccer, I suppose I will let her play it every year. But. But I will worry.
Here's why. One thing my sisters and I had going for us (in retrospect) is that we were never prodigies at anything. One of us was pretty awful on the violin; another only slightly painfully better on the piano. Perhaps not surprisingly, the one with the strongest love of math had the best aptitude for music: she was first chair flute as a freshman in high school. As for sports, one of us valiently tried cross country (throwing up after her first race) and swimming, another stuck to high-kick dance routines during half-time shows, another dabbled in the performance arena but was never really that into physical activity. Someone tried soccer for a while, I vaguely recall, but I don't know which one.
What this meant is: none of us ever had that awful pitcher's elbow thing that causes middle-schoolers to need surgeries that once-upon-a-time were reserved for major league baseball players. None of us had a torn ACL. In short, because playing the flute doesn't give you repetitive stress injuries, all of us managed to make it to college without major physical damage to our bodies. Although we made it through college with wildly different attitudes about sports and physical activity, that seems to be far more a factor of personality than of not being pushed onto soccer teams in elementary school.
All of which leads me to wonder: how good (or bad) is it really to allow very young children to play at this kind of competitive level? Aren't we setting them up for injuries to their developing bodies, not to mention artificially forcing them to specialize in a sport at precisely the ages when they should be experimenting with all different kinds of activities? These are rhetorical questions in the sense that I already know what my answers to them are.
And yet, I wonder too whether my children will feel somehow "left out" if they aren't allowed to play on competitive teams as eight-year-olds. Will they grow up to feel they were deprived as children if I don't let them take art on Mondays, dance on Wednesdays, and soccer on Thursdays-plus-weekend-games?
And who will scrub the bathrooms if my children don't have time to do it?
Okay, so I'm kidding about that last question. But only sort of. Much as we might have disliked the chores we did as kids, it is a simple truth that when my sisters and I went off to college, we all knew how to cook, what a truly clean kitchen looked like, how to sort laundry, how to efficiently AND effectively clean a bathroom, and how to negotiate our way around vacuums, floor wax, dusting spray, and a lawnmower. There were a lot of girls on my floor freshman year who had never eaten homemade macaroni and cheese, much less knowing how to make it, who ended up with pink t-shirts from washing a red sweatshirt with the whites, whose apartments later on were pretty nasty because they didn't know how to scrub anything. I don't my children to become that.
And, frankly, I think that part of what it means to be part of a family is learning how to pitch in with the cleaning. Everyone uses the bathroom. Everyone should know how to scrub it. Properly. (Once they're old enough to be trusted with sprays and sponges, that is.)
But, to get back to my neighbor's earnest dilemma: how do you not feel guilty about asking them to do dishes, if they've been doing schoolwork and scheduled activities from 7am-6pm?
And on the flip side, how do you avoid them having absurd 11-hour days when there are pressures from all sides to be "involved" in activities like these? Do you just make a one-activity-at-a-time rule, smile sweetly, and tell them that when they can drive themselves to things, they can take on more?
I realize that with a preschooler and a toddler, my questions might seem a little premature. But since some of these sports start at age four, and Son is approaching five, I feel a rising panic that I "ought" to be doing something for him that I quite honestly don't want to do yet. I'm not ready for him to take on soccer practice. He's exhausted enough at the end of every day as it is, which tells me that he has enough activity in his life without adding a team sport right now.
But how, oh how, do I know I'm really making the right decision? How do you know?
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
On our recent trip to Wisconsin, we spent a lot of time staring out the windows of the car -- admiring the scenery and idly watching the store signs whiz past. It was fun to see Menards again, if only because it made us do our impressions for each other of the Menards guys. Their homemade commercials were delightful when we lived there because one Mr. Menards had a nearly-insane twinkle in his eyes and ended every ad with a giant toothy grin and a rousing "Men-ARDS!" in a voice that can only be described as piratical. Imagine the "ARDS" part of the store name is growled in your best pirate voice, given extra-added-over-emphasis, and followed by a crooked-jawed smile, and you have some idea of why we loudly declared (a la Captain Hook) "Men-ARDS!!" to each other every time we passed the store.
We also discovered this gem:
Yes, you read the words over the car bays correctly. This is Quaker Steak and Lube.
Seriously. I wasn't sure how good a steak an oil-change place might produce, but I sure liked the idea. I wanted to take a picture but kept forgetting. So I went online to find this one. Sadly, I learned online that this place does NOT fix your car while you're eating the steak they just fixed for you, despite the fact that that kind of practicality would be something you'd reasonably expect to find in Wisconsin. Instead, it's just a restaurant in an old garage. Total bummer to find that out on our return.
But we did have a great time driving past and speculating about whether it was really a car repair shop that served steak on the side, or really a family steak house where you could get your oil changed while you ate your iceberg lettuce salad.
Back at home, I did finally manage to take a photo of this place, which cracks me up every time we drive past:
I can't figure out if I admire their honesty or simply want to mock them for their lack of marketing savvy. Seriously? OK Cleaner. What do you suppose their company motto is? We're not great, but we don't totally suck. Or maybe: We'll get your clothes pretty nearly clean. Even if those things were true, wouldn't you name the place something else? Looking at the space they have for the sign, I can see that Excellent Cleaners or Superior Cleaners or Fantastic Cleaners wouldn't fit. Neither would Mediocre Cleaners, for that matter. But given the space requirements, wouldn't you suck up the extra expense, splurge for two extra letters and a hyphen, and at least name the place A-OK Cleaners?
And, to backtrack a bit, wouldn't you totally pay a bit more to get your oil changed at a place that would serve you a steak while you waited? Even if it wasn't a very good steak. Think what a booming business and actual Steak and Lube place would do. I'd go there every 3000 miles for sure. Wouldn't you?
I think it's clear: I should go into marketing.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
(And by 11th grade Political Science class.)
At various points in my life, certain songs have resonated so strongly as almost to become theme songs. Madonna's "Crazy for You" was the mournful lament of my (unrequited) loving heart for several years of high school. Maria's cheerful "I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty" from West Side Story carried me through many long days in the theater costume shop in college. (It worked because we sat in a windowless basement sewing room for eight or ten hour stretches, and none of us felt anything like pretty. But we did feel like we were completely hilarious in our perverse ability to be happy under the circumstances.) Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" was the love song that bouyed my first real relationship (made ever-so-romantic by his phoning me long-distance, drunk, one night at 2am to let me know that when the bar at closing time had started playing this song that reminded him of me, he'd made an excuse to his friends that he had to use the bathroom, just so he could stay inside and hear the song out before he had to leave with them *sigh* college boys can be sooooo charming).
Right now, the song I'm humming is the 1966 classic "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'."
And I feel every bit as sassy, fabulous, and powerful as the go-go-iest go-go girl ever could. Here's why:
Oh, yes, they are. Knee high, buttery soft leather boots with decorative buttons and 3+" heels. Red. A perfect glorious red. The color is blissfully nothing like bad lipstick. I've been trying for nearly four years to find red boots I could fall in love with, and I have found to my astonishment that most of them come in an overly-shiny color that can only be described as trampy and street-walkery. The ones that come in a good color -- something more like oxblood or cranberry -- are invariably chunky. They're awesome in their "girl cowboy" or "hip biker chick" vibe, but not really styled in a way that suits my work wardrobe.
Finally, my search has ended. And -- are you sitting down? All that style, all that class, and they are CROCS!
When the lovely new (perhaps my new best friend, I'll admit) "social media PR" person from YOU by Crocs emailed me to ask if I would like to try a pair of boots from their new fall line, I did the email equivalent of stuttering and blathering and perhaps drooling slightly, accidentally, on myself. That is, I did precisely what I would have done if David D-- had asked me out in high school. You know David D--, the hunky boy in Political Science class who always smelled so good, had devastating green eyes, and could have any girl in the school? The one who only knew you were alive when it was time to pair up for projects and he knew he could smile in THAT WAY that would make the shy brainiac without a boyfriend secretly sigh and then do the entire project herself because there was no way she was not getting an "A" on it, just because he was too lazy to do his part very well. Well, when Mr. YOU by Crocs emailed, I was nearly sure he must have been aiming at the blogger standing right behind me, and I was just accidentally in his sightline delusionally thinking that he was talking to me. But, of course, email doesn't work that way. And he was in fact talking to me.
And so I agreed to blind date and marry his boots.
Now, lest you think I've sold my soul for a pair of boots, let me reassure you that I am under no obligation to be anything but honest here. So, Fact 1: the first time I tried to wear them to work for one of my Marathon Mondays (on campus 8:30am-10pm), I only lasted three hours before I had to cancel my classes for the day and come home early. These boots will not, I repeat WILL NOT, cure stomach flu. Truth be told, they won't even really take the edge off, even though they are an awesome cherry red.
Fact 2: Back in realism land, I wore them again yesterday. For 14 hours. On my feet. Teaching. I, who do not normally wear stilettos. And all day long, I felt like a fashion model. My colleagues couldn't get enough of them. Even my students couldn't help but commenting on how great they looked. Every where I went, we had conversations about my footwear fabulosity. If you want to feel like a million bucks, get yourself some Crocs. Not a sentence you ever thought you'd read, is it?
Not quite accustomed to such high heels (heels for me are usually more like 2"), I couldn't walk the way I normally do. Instead of striding purposefully and fast through the halls, like a woman on a mission, I had to slow down slightly, and step more stately. I felt like I always imagined I would feel wearing heels, back when I was a little girl and used to listen to my mother's spectator pumps clicking smartly on the wooden floors and think it was the most glamorous sound in the world.
Fact 3: These boots are comfortable. The body of the boots is shapely without being binding. (By contrast, I have some black tall boots that make me feel like I'm wearing a tourniquet by the end of the day, and they aren't even styled to be super snug.) Also, I am notoriously klutzy when it comes to basic walking, and my heels slide out from under me all the time. I twist ankles. I slip on stairs. But yesterday? Never once. There is something fantastic in the design of these shoes that makes it possible for me + high heels to = graceful. I'm hooked. They have some padding in the footbed, which is nice if you're going to spend all day posing as a foot model for Barbie. Honestly, there could be a bit more padding for my taste, but then the balls of my feet aren't really used to spending 14 hours in stilettos.
Frankly, I didn't expect to come home last night and feel like I'd been walking in sheerling socks all day, and when I first saw just how high a 3 1/4" heel is, I was a little worried that I'd need to walk through the door and rip them off my feet in a fit of agony. But instead, I'll be wearing these again as soon as is fashionably possible. (It might be a little silly to wear chili pepper red boots every single day; they are quite noticeable.) Honestly, if you're going to spend all day in HIGH heels, you should do it in these. There are boots and shoes, all equally scrumptious in their leather and details. And if you want a bit more of the flat shoe comfort of the original Crocs in a super stylish alternative, you can prance around in the cozy, fleece lined, snow bunny boots.
And don't forget what is perhaps the most important thing: If you were the consummate wallflower in high school; if the David D--'s of the world got you to do their chemistry labs and poli sci projects just with a smile, but didn't ask you out afterwards; if you have any need to do something that will make up for all that high school angst and prove that 38 is not too old to be a "late bloomer," then get yourself some glorious red boots.
Those silly high school boys have no idea what they were missing...
Go on, click play. You know you want to see Nancy Sinatra and all her friends dancing around in sweaters and black satin briefs. And boots. Don't forget the glory that is boots.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Son: "I want to watch Superball."
Daughter: "I want to watch Underdog."
*sounds of general wrestling over an object*
I look up to see them both with both hands on a casette tape.
"You guys? What are you doing? There's no such thing as Superball or Underdog to watch."
"We're pretending this is the remote control," says Son.
Because there aren't enough real toys in our house to squabble about, they have to find something they can pretend is a remote control, so they can really fight over which non-existent show they will (won't?) be able to watch. Makes perfect sense.
Son: "Who wants to play marbles?"
Daughter, holding baby doll in one arm raises other hand.
"Okay, do you know how to play marbles? First you draw a big circle... Wait. Let's pretend these are her jumping bean marbles," says Son, pointing at Dolly.
"Okay," says Daughter.
Moments later, I look up, when I hear counting and small, sharp clicking noises. They have combined their game props.
Dolly is lying face-down on the sofa pillow, covered nicely with the pink blanket, with only her head exposed.
Son is throwing marbles at the molded hair on her soft rubber head. As each one makes a smart click and bounces away, they count together,
"one, two, three, four..."
I don't know what to say about something that looks like torture but after all involves only an inanimate Doll and includes complete cooperation between my children who are equally enjoying the game.
And so I do nothing but sit on the couch silently shaking with laughter.
At least they're not fighting over a fake remote that only plays non-existent shows.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I keep starting posts, writing hundreds of words, deciding I hate them, and starting new posts. Since I can't seem to write a whole post of substance, here is a little collection of short thoughts and good things.
Husband did the grocery shopping yesterday on his lunch break, so I wouldn't have to do it with both children in tow. And then, last night I found out that he'd not only bought milk and yogurt and all the necessaries. He bought me this.
This is my all-time favorite ice cream flavor. It takes me back to my childhood (in good ways) with just one spoonful. And the occasional crunch of a peppermint candy? Perfection. The ice cream AND the husband.
Facebook is freaking me out a little. On the one hand, it's full of awesomeness: I have reconnected with old friends I'd lamented were permanently "long lost." I've seen photos of the children of friends I didn't even know had children. I've gotten out-of-the-blue emails full of great news and chat. I've gotten birthday wishes, and get-well-soon wishes, and flowers for no reason at all.
On the other hand, I've been "super-poked" multiple times -- and for a woman who grew up at a time when "poke" was slang for, well, you know, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, the whole notion of a "super-poke" is really more disturbing than anything. I've been friended by people whose names I don't recognize, only to figure out after a day (or week) of puzzling, and looking carefully at their friends list, and scrutinizing the minuscule and inscrutable photo that doesn't really show me their faces at all, that they are people who were too Popular and Important to be nice to me in high school. Which makes me wonder a bit why they want to be my friends now. And I've written long and thoughtful emails in response to long-lost dear friends who'd found me and friended me, only to have them not reply. If they didn't want to talk to me, why did they find me? Did I offend them somehow in my email? Or are they just too busy to check Facebook?
And why am I not too busy to check Facebook? Actually, I am. But my gmail account gets updates if someone friends me or messages me, so that at least I won't miss any of the action when Jennifer Whatsername Popular gets in touch and wants to know how I've been since we graduated.
Facebook has become a conundrum I cannot figure out how to handle.
It's the last week of October, which means only seven more days to add funds to the Literacy Funding Challenge. Those who have contributed have been amazingly generous. Thank you. We are only $20 away from another $100 in matching funds. If you've been thinking of doing something to help out children in needy schools, this is a great way to choose a specific project that you can be assured will make a difference.
Having been out of town last week, and being sick before that, I am just now getting around to drawing the winner of the lovely scarf that is my idea of a karmic kind of reward for good deeds done. Thanks to random.org, we have a winner:
LaskiGal. A former teacher who currently stays home with her young son, LaskiGal has been donating her time for tutoring ever since her school district cut funding for the tutoring program. Congratulations, LaskiGal! And many thanks for your hard work.
Have a great weekend, everyone.
And if you have any Facebook advice, I'm all ears.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The lovely Kat at Sassy Irish Lassie has asked me to guest post today. I'm deep in the depths of photos of my recent giraffe encounter. And, my brain seems to be mush for writing about anything else. So for some real wonder, click on over to Sassy Irish Lassie, and check out the loveliness that is being face to face with this creature:
Thursday, October 23, 2008
So this is me, jumping on Bossy's poverty party. Haven't heard of her poverty party? She's got folks gathered up to share tips and tricks, commiserate, and generally help each other out at this time of financial uncertainty. There are lots of ways that the Husband and I could be better about managing our money. We are not good about closely monitoring the money that's in our 401K plans. We've been known to sit on money I make from extra teaching for months before finally deciding where to invest it. (Hint: the non-interest bearing checking account where my paychecks get direct-deposited is not the best place.)
But one thing we are good at is managing our credit card debt.
Since I know a lot of people struggle with that, I thought I'd share three "tricks" we've used to help keep that debt under control. They're easy, and they've saved us thousands of dollars in the long run.
(1) We have a gas-station affiliated credit card for gas purchases. Ours is a Visa card through BP. I don't know if other gasoline companies offer similar deals, but I'd guess they might. The BP card, though, is a steal of a deal. It has no annual fee, and it initially gave us 10% cash back on all of our gas purchases. Now that's down to 5%, but every little bit helps, right? It also gives us 5% back on some restaurant and other purchases, but we use it almost exclusively for gas. Every time our rebate hits $25, our statement has a notice saying so. The hoop is that we have to go online or call to request a rebate check -- a step I bet some people are too lazy or forgetful to take. But not me. I never forget free money. We get about $100 every 3 months from them. That's $400 a year for doing nothing more than being vigilant about going to the gas station we prefer anyway and using the right card to spend the money we'd be spending anyway. You can use that money to pay down other bills. We do.
(2) We apply for a store-affiliated credit card when we have to make a big appliance purchase. Unfortunately the refrigerator doesn't care if times are tough, and if it dies, it has to be replaced. Shopping around for the best selling price is easy, but did you know that you should also shop around for the best payment method? Even if the store isn't currently advertising it, most stores that sell appliances (from Home Depot to Sears to your local appliance mart) have store credit cards. And most of them will offer "six months same as cash" deals if you ask. That means you have six months to pay off the item without paying any interest. We've gotten these cards at several major stores. The trick is this: As soon as I get the first credit card statement, I go immediately to my online banking and set up a monthly automatic withdrawal: 1/6 of the purchase total every month for six months. That way, we don't pay for the whole purchase up front or, even worse, pay for it on our regular high-interest credit card and then pay an extra $150 or more in interest. If you don't pay off the item before the six months is up, however, you're on the hook for ALL of the interest for the whole six months, so be very very careful that that last payment gets there in time. (Can you tell we moved into a house that was built in 1978 and had to replace nearly all the appliances in the first year we were here?)
(3) We beat the card companies at their own game. What is their game? you ask. Interest. They make all their money by charging you interest on your purchases. Often, the minimum payment on a credit card balance is the same as -- or sometimes even lower than -- the interest that has accrued that month. This means that if you make the minimum payment every month, you will never ever ever pay off your bill, and that's just what they want. The best way to defeat this is to pay less interest every month so that more of the money you send goes towards paying off the actual debt itself. There are two ways we've reduced the interest we are paying:
* We call the company, and ask them to reduce our interest rate. Seriously. This actually works. (Admittedly, it works best if you have been paying them regularly at least the amount of the minimum balance.) You will be in the best negotiating space to get this reduced interest rate if you have sitting in front of you one of those offers that comes through the mail asking you to apply for a new card that will give you 0% interest for six months on balance transfers. Tell your current company that you are thinking of switching to the other company with the better interest rate, and THEN see what they can do for you.
* If they don't dramatically reduce your interest rate (or even if they do), don't be shy about transferring a balance anyway to a new account you open at 0% interest. Even in the present "credit crunch," we still get a few of those offers in the mail every week (down from a few per day, but they are still out there). It might seem counter-intuitive to open a new line of credit when you can't pay off the old one, but here is why it's smart.
If you are carrying $10,000 in credit card debt, then you could easily be accruing $150 per month in interest on your regular cards. If you consolidate that debt onto an interest-free card and pay only that "interest" amount of $150 per month for six months, you will have saved $900 in interest, and decreased your debt to $9,100. If you always try to pay a little more than the interest payment, in order to reduce your debt, then your principle will reduce even more if you have six months to chip away at it.
Husband and I did this to pay for our wedding. Just a year out of graduate school, and with a new house in the mix, we didn't have any money saved for a wedding because we'd spent it all on a house down payment. So we applied for a 0% interest card and put all of the wedding expenses onto it as we encountered them. We paid as much as we could afford to pay every month. When there was a balance left at the end of six months, we transferred that balance to a new 0% interest card, and we made ourselves pay all of it off before the end of six months. Don't get me wrong: this wasn't all easy. We had nearly a year of "budget months" where we hardly ever went out (we entertained friends at home instead), we brown bagged our lunches to work, we didn't buy things that were unnecessary (including new electronics or clothes). But we did it.
You can buy yourself a reprieve from the grind of interest by consolidating the balances from multiple cards onto an interest-free one. Then, put everything you can towards paying off that balance every month (including the rebates from your gas card, right?). As the interest-free period comes to a close, search for the best deals on interest rates you can find. Then talk to your new company and your old company, and see who will give you the lowest rate for the next six months. Make them fight for your money. You will win by having much lower interest rates.
PLEASE NOTE: Your credit rating will suffer if you endlessly shift balances from one card to another and don't pay them off. But if you made purchases on one card, make only one shift of balance to another card, and then pay that balance down, your rating will actually get stronger, since you're getting yourself out of debt.
PLEASE ALSO NOTE: I am not a financial planner or an expert in anything money related. I'm a literature professor. The suggestions here are simply things that have worked for my family to help us manage credit card debt.
Now, all I need is someone to
bully me into show me how to begin managing the money my employer puts into my retirement account. Anyone got good tips for that?
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
You may perhaps have a small child in your house who has a hankering for a tutu. If you are the sort of person who likes a little DIY project, or you (like me) cannot stand the nasty feel of the cheap cheap cheap fabric that passes for Disney Princess wear these days, then here are some directions for you. Supplies will cost you under $10. The project will take a little over an hour. The finished product will satisfy the most frilly of girly hearts, and will fit a child roughly ages 2.5-7. (Oh, yes, we are all about the long-wearing costumes here at the Time household.)
Supplies: 4 yards of 54" wide tulle, one spool of matching thread, 1 yard of 4" wide satin ribbon OR one package of satin blanket binding in a coordinating color, 1" wide elastic, the size of your child's waist plus 2". (Buy the blanket binding if you are going to follow the additional directions to make a top half of the dress to match the tutu. Just buy the ribbon if you only want to make a tutu.)
The tutu will look prettiest if you choose two shades of your desired color @ 2 yards each. Daughter, who has a hankering to be a "pink fairy princess" for Halloween, helped me choose a light pink and a dark pink.
First, fold one piece of tulle in half down its length, and smooth it flat on your cutting board, aligning the fold along a straight line on the board.
Next, measure the width of folded piece. Mine was 27". Then carefully cut down the entire length of the fabric, in a line that is 1/3 of this width (in my case, 9") away from the fold. This will produce three equal strips of tulle, 18" wide.
Do the same for the other piece of tulle.
Sew the short sides of each piece of tulle together, being sure to back tack at the beginning and ends of the seam (you won't be hemming these). You should now have six tubes of tulle.
Layer the tubes, one inside the other, in alternating colors, with the seamed side in. Important: the innermost tube should have the seam facing out, so that the tube is smooth against your little fairy's legs, since the raw seam can be prickly.
Pin through all six layers around the top of the tube, in enough places that the tulle won't slide away from you as you sew.
Sew a gathering stitch (a simple running stich on your machine, using the largest stich length) through all six layers around the top of the tube.
Cut a piece of satin seam binding 30" long. (This will depend a little on your child's measurements. You want it long enough to be too big for her hips. Something like 1.5 times the size of her waist should be about right.) Sew cut ends right sides together into a tube. Press seam open, then fold ribbon in half down its length and press.
Put four pins into the tutu top and the satin ribbon, marking each into quarters.
Gather tutu by pulling the bobbin thread of your gathering stitch. Tuck the gathered top of the tutu inside the folded satin ribbon, and adjust the gathers on the tutu so that they are evenly distributed around the satin ribbon. Pin in place. Stitch down.
Fold the top of the satin ribbon over the gathers, and sew 1/4" from the open edge to close waistband. Leave a 3" opening. Thread the elastic through the satin casing, keeping one end sticking out of the seam opening. Stitch together ends of elastic, overlapping one inch. Then stitch casing closed.
And it's really fun to wear -- for everything, including feeding the Dog!
Notes: For an older child, you could easily add two more layers of tulle to make the tutu fuller. You can make any kind of fanciful top you like to attach to this (or none at all). I spent about $4 on additional fabric to make the top part of the dress. Details of what I did, and a photo, coming sometime between now and Halloween. For now, it's my bedtime.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Those of you who recognized the magnificent reflective bean from Millennium Park know that we were in Chicago last week. But the rest of the story is that we were only there for one full day before heading the next morning up to Wisconsin for the most fantabulous weekend reunion of old friends and all their children.
We stayed in a gorgeous place that complete defies my mother's old saw, "What, were you born in a barn?" This was always her way of indicating bad manners or some lapse of household standards, such as forgetting to close the door on leaving the house. You know, the sort of behavior one might expect of a vagrant child living on a heap of straw.
This 100+ year old barn, with its tile silo still intact (now containing a graceful wooden spiral staircase), was a little more upscale than I think she had in mind. It had been converted into a house in the 1970s. Brilliantly.
In this picture, I am standing on one hay loft, which had been turned into a multi-bedroom suite. Can you see the beginnings of a long row of chairs at the bottom of this photo? That's a table that seats 12. There were two of them side-by-side on this half of the giant main room, plus another table on the sunporch, a giant kitchen with a 6-burner stove and enough plates to feed a small army. Russel Wright, no less.
The decorations were eclectic and wonderful -- quilts, low wooden antique chairs, mismatched art -- not too kitchy, not too fancy antiquey, so we didn't have to worry about the fact that the children were working up some serious speed running laps of the barn (over 100 feet of straightaway). There were games galore, boxes of crayons and coloring books, two ATVs in the garage, charcoal grills, really everything you could possibly want for a weekend away for yourself and 23 of your closest friends.
Including misty mornings of dew on the prairie grasses.
And a handy GIANT pile of bright orange cozy hats by the back kitchen door. (Lest you think this is just over the top guest service, please to recall that we were staying on 80 acres in rural Wisconsin during deer hunting season. Our rule: no one walks out the door without wearing an orange hat.)
There was a large pile of wood, intended for the fireplace, that Daughter and her new buddy had a grand time loading into the old red wagon.
Which they then figured out how to transport all by themselves up the hill from the woodpile to the group of Daddies who were busily tending the grill a few hundred yards away.
Because we'd all been in Madison for graduate school, we had to do all the things that our memories were made of -- take in the Saturday morning farmer's market, wander down State Street, eat a brat (short for bratwurst, not for a naughty child) on the Terrace by the lake, get Babcock Hall ice cream, buy Badger gear for all the kids.
I was delighted by the resilience of Madison. The farmer's market stand that used to sell my favorite spicy cheese bread (warm!) was still there, on the very same corner where it had stood a decade ago. Its bakery goods case was still full of sticky treats and a few hopeful buzzing bees.
The restaurants I used to love were still opened on State Street. Even the crazy used clothing shop where I once bought the most beautiful suede jacket with a satin lining (which I still have) -- still there.
The coffeehouse where Husband and I met: a great photo op for our children.
If I told you all the stories of this weekend, this would be the longest post in the whole world, but I will say this: dear friends produce dear children. A barn full of them, a barn echoing with laughter and running, filled with the smells of grilled food and fresh Amish pie, piled with satin quilts and cozy pillows, and diffused with slanting rays of light through dozens of enormous windows makes for quite possibly the nicest weekend away I've ever had. Ever.
I hope you had a perfect fall weekend too.
Friday, October 17, 2008
And why does her husband have that look on his face?
And why does the family look so out of proportion?
And why is her son on the ceiling?
And how did they DO that anyway?
Pretty amazing, huh?
Please remember that today is the last day to enter to win a lovely scarf by mentioning something good you've done for someone else recently. Go to last Saturday's post to leave a comment.
I'd also like to give a big shout of thanks to MANDY, who donated to the Literacy Funding Challenge. It's so much appreciated! We're now only $30 away from getting the matching funds from my sister. Yippee!!
Thursday, October 16, 2008
In case you haven't cleaned out your car lately, or in case you have and it horrified you, or for whatever reason you need to feel better about the state of the vehicle in which you spend too much time every day, I'm here to cheer you up immensely. Let me give you a little background: my children bring home inordinate amounts of art projects and paper from school every day. On late pick-up days, I tend to come prepared with a little snack for each of them in a small bowl. Daughter has a penchant for taking off her shoes in the car. I am generally getting out of the car at the end of the day with my own computer bag, purse, and lunch bag, in addition to whatever else I'm carrying for the children. I try to keep up, but somehow the stuff that makes it into the car just doesn't always make it out the same day.
Even though the car was not as bad as it has been at some points, I had to get it ready for our weekend trip, so I went to clean it out.
Here's what I removed:
2 fleece jackets
5 ½ pairs of shoes (some in sizes no one wears anymore)
1 dinosaur sun visor
1 sippy cup
1 denim jacket (mine)
2 baseball hats
2 snack packs
A bag full of random paper trash
2 sunhats (one infant sized; my children are 2.5 and 4.5 YEARS old)
1 orange cheetah print plastic fedora
2 random plastic bowls
1 complete outfit of Daughter's (dirty)
2 painting projects left over from a vacation we took in June
1 knight in shining armor shield (plastic)
This doesn’t even include the smattering of toys that live in the car in their very own car toybox, or the things I purchased on the day’s outings that I was planning on bringing in anyway. Nor does it explain how items long outgrown are finding their way into the car, particularly since I cleaned it out in June before our roadtrip out to Pennsylvania and New York and again in September before we went to Saugatuck for the rainiest weekend ever in the history of Michigan. I haven't troubled to list the handfuls of cheerios and pretzel nubbins that fed the vacuum, or the pencils, umbrella, spare diapers, sunscreen, sunglasses, wipes, and dvd player case that were simply restored to their rightful places within the car.
My conclusion here is a simple one: my car needs a maid.
Also? It's a good thing that the time I don't spend keeping my car tidy, I do spend doing dishes. Otherwise, our house would be terrifying.
How about you: what part of your home (or car) is your dirty little secret?
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
A friendly warning.
If you choose to spend a few extra minutes pulling all the sweaters out of the closet to refold and stack them neatly, and your two-and-a-half year old comes past you carrying a step stool into the bathroom, and you think she can't be getting into too much trouble because she's only three feet away from you, so close that it doesn't even really count as being in a separate room,
T H I N K... A G A I N... M A M A.
Because, in case you have forgotten, three feet away might as well be three miles away if you have your back turned because you do not, in fact, have eyes in the back of your head.
What will she be doing, you wonder?
Well, chances are, she will have found the infant nail scissors, and spent a highly satisfying three or four minutes cutting up one of your favorite necklaces.
Which just goes to prove what you already knew but in your complacency at the rare treat of having only one child at home conveniently forgot: complete, contented silence on the part of a wide-awake toddler is always a harbinger of doom.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I am tired. And faintly woozy. This despite the fact that I canceled my classes for yesterday and left work a mere three hours after I'd arrived, came home and slept for most of the afternoon, and then went to bed for the night at 8:30. (Here, I'll do the math. That means I got nearly 11 hours sleep last night, plus a 4 hour nap before that.)
On the plus side, the severe abdominal cramps seem to be gone, and the daycare was able to squeeze in one of my children for the day today. So things are looking up.
Back when I only had one child, I used to think that I couldn't get anything done when he was at home with me. It was just too difficult, what with all the dangers he could get into while my back was turned. And all the things he wanted to "help" me with were just made more difficult in the process.
Now, having just one child at home seems like blissful ease. There are no squabbles to referee, no competing interests to negotiate. Now the biggest problem I have is that Daughter wants to feed the entire contents of the dog treat jar to Dog, one mini-bone at a time.
I still have to muster the energy to do two loads of laundry, clean out the car, and generally get things ready for a little trip we're taking tomorrow. Which basically means that Dog has already eaten far more than her fair share of treats for the day.
At least the process has been endearing. Daughter, lying on her stomach drawing on our big Aquadoodle mat, with a little tin pitcher she'd filled with treats sitting next to her; Dog, lying at attention next to Daughter, happily gobbling up the treats that Daughter would periodically toss in her direction. "Here," she'd say, not even really looking up from her picture as she handed a treat towards Dog's waiting mouth. "Dood dog." They were both completely content.
So, tell me something that's making you smile today.
And if you haven't been brave enough to brag about your generosity recently, go do so on my celebrating charity post; you could win a lovely scarf from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Monday, October 13, 2008
I had many ideas for something inspiring, funny, and who-knows-what-else to post for today, but here at Chez MommyTime there's a little intestinal distress going around. I will spare you the details. Let me just say it is most unpleasant, and I really don't feel like writing much.
So here's a picture of a crazy kid in dragon face paint to take our minds off things...
Also, I did want to mention that all this week I'm celebrating goodness and generosity. Some lovely soul has donated overnight to my Literacy Funding Challenge (see the sidebar): THANK YOU!! As the amount is now up over $100, my matching money is going in today. My sister has offered to match the next $100 that gets donated (by someone other than me), so if you were thinking of donating, or want to learn more, why not click on over there right now.
Also, leave a comment on this post (that is, the one just below the one you're reading now) mentioning an act of charity you've undertaken recently (doesn't have to be monetary) to be in the running for a lovely scarf. As soon as I feel better, I"ll be adding a widget to the sidebar listing all the people who deserve celebration for their acts of kindness.
The world is full of good people. It's nice to be reminded of that once in a while.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
You know how easy it is to find baby gifts for first-time parents. Between the registry, and the adorable clothes in such teensie tiny sizes, and the desire to help in practical ways, there are so many things to buy for baby #1 that it's hard to narrow down the options.
Well, I'm about to make it a little harder -- or a little easier, depending on your perspective.
If you want to stand out from a sea of diaper bags and burp cloths, or you favor gifts of a more crafted and heirloom quality, or you need something to give a mother of a second child, or you have your very own little one who just keeps dashing off in a store, look no further than this great idea:
These beautiful, adjustable, sterling silver baby anklets are hung with little silver bells that tinkle softly when baby wiggles, kicks, or walks. They come in two sizes, for babies and toddlers. They would make a gorgeous and unique gift for a friend.
Or, if your children are anything like mine were as younger toddlers, they would be a very practical gift for yourself. If I'd had Bumble Bells on Daughter the day she ran away from me in Kohl's, I certainly would not have severely sprained my ankle trying to dash after her between the racks. I wouldn't have had to keep her in sight, you see, only within earshot. And I would have caught up to her just the same. Except without the week of being on crutches afterwards.
Those of you who are concerned about safety (aren't we all?) will be glad to know that Bumble Bells are ASTM certified. For you who don't click outbound links, that means that THE international organization that regulates product standards attests to the fact that these bells cannot be removed by a curious child and swallowed. Now that is peace of mind.
The main site for Bumble Bells has more information, photographs, and testimonials from other mothers who have fallen in love with Bumble Bells. You can buy them right now on the Bumble Bells Etsy shop, and in select retail stores, although the small company is expanding and soon will offer more purchase options.
One of the reasons I agreed to review Bumble Bells is that I prefer to support local business whenever I can. Bumble Bells is a Chicago-based company owned by a mother whose own daughter wears Bumble Bells, and as soon as I started talking to her, it became clear that she not only offers a great product but cares about children everywhere. After I'd already agreed to write the review, I asked Jill from Bumble Bells if she would be interested in making a donation to the Literacy Funding Challenge as part of Help Our Schools Saturdays; she responded right away by telling me that a portion of their profits already goes directly to Head Start and that she would be very happy to consider making another education-based donation as well. The goodness and integrity of small businesses in this country never fails to inspire me. All I had to do was explain the project to her, and within a few hours, I had this email response from Jill,
"I have donated! And man does that always feel good."
What a fantastic company to give your business to, if you're in the market for a unique and beautiful baby gift! I only wish I'd known about Bumble Bells before my children were too old for them.
* * * * *
In the spirit of celebrating the goodness of people and the power of generosity, I'm hosting a giveaway. The prize is this cozy, lovely pale pink scarf from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, in honor of national breast cancer awareness month. To win, leave me a comment mentioning a charitable act you've undertaken in the last month for someone you were not related to by blood or marriage. It might be a monetary contribution, a donation of time, or anything else you can think of that shows you reaching out to a larger community. Can't think of anything you've done in the last month? Longing to capture that feeling that you're doing good? May I suggest following Jill's lead and donating to a valuable educational project for a needy school. It's easy, and you are assured that your money is going straight to a really valuable project of increasing children's access to books. Then come back and leave me a comment saying you've donated (no need to say how much; every $5 makes a difference).
Entries accepted for until Friday, October 17th at midnight EST. Winner will be announced on the follow day's Help Our Schools Saturdays post.
* * * * *
And now, the winner of the Tiny Prints $75 to spend on gorgeous custom holiday cards or stationery:
(comment left on Oct 5 at 3:33pm)
email me for details on how to claim your prize.
Please note: some people chose to leave two comments mentioning their two favorite cards, while others put both card names into one comment, which meant I couldn't just number the comments and fairly ensure that people who deserved two entries got them both. So, I typed out a list of everyone who entered, in order, including your name twice if you named two cards. Then I numbered the list -- all 185 names -- and I used those numbers as your official entry numbers for the Random.org drawing.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Last week, I twisted my ankle. I've had serious ankle sprains in the past, of the variety that involve nearly-instantaneous baseball-sized swellings and long weeks of wishing the bones had simply been broken instead of the ligaments torn, because bone heals so much more quickly and easily. The most recent one was nothing like that. It was just enough to occasion twinges of pain if I stepped down wrong or turned my foot at one particular angle. So I began swimming instead of running for exercise, but I didn't give up lifting weights.
And then, of course, the inevitable happened. At the gym, I went to sit on a weights machine that works your pecks and back, and as I swung my leg over the bench, my foot landed not on the floor but on the long metal "foot" of the machine. Of course, my ankle twisted right over the top of that metal piece, and I grimaced and muttered and got all twitchy and nursed it and generally did all the things that suggest, "ooohhhh I have an owie, and oooohhh am I stupid for not seeing that coming."
I didn't realize the man at the machine next to me had seen what happened until he asked if I was all right. And when I said I really was more dumb than seriously injured, he smiled. "These things just happen," I said, rubbing my ankle. "Yes," he said, "but that's how you know you're an athlete."
I've been thinking about those words for over a week now.
Crazy as it may sound, I think he might be right. Not about the fact that I am really an athlete, but about the fact that we humans wear our sports-related injuries as a badge of pride and think of ourselves as somehow more accomplished for getting hurt. We humans? We can be nuts sometimes.
For instance, there was that time I was on a mountain bike trail with Husband, who is a far better technical biker than I am. I have the infamous family thighs, however, and am a very strong climber of hills. So, while I can often out-climb him, he leaves me in the dust on the way down, as I tend to be a bit too tentative, a bit too heavy on the brakes, a bit afraid of doing an endo right over the bike and cracking my head open on a rock.
On this particular day, the sun was shining. It was early fall, and the weather was perfect for wearing a long-sleeved jersey (nice for warding off scratches from wayward branches) with biking shorts (nice for not feeling too restrictive). Maybe a mile and a half into the trail, I was really feeling great. Stronger. More confident. We'd been biking pretty often that summer, and I was clearly getting better. We crested a hill and faced a long, twisty slope down. Littered with small rocks, it was tricky going, but I was a new and improved biker, finding a good line between all the rocks and roots, using my brakes sparingly, descending much faster than usual.
And then: At the end of the hill was a sharp turn to the left. I was going too fast to make it, and in missing the turn, I missed a bridge. Instead, I zoomed right off the path next to the entrance to the bridge and, airborne, sailed into the muddy ooze of a low-lying swampy marsh. My bike tires, of course, stuck immediately in the mud. My body, on the other hand, had too much momentum to stop short, and I was launched, flying Superman-style, right over my handlebars and into the black goo. By the time Husband reached me, I was standing up. The entire front of my body, from helmet visor to shoes, was coated in a thick layer of mud. I removed my sunglasses to reveal a sort of reverse-raccoon face, with two light circles around my eyes the only part of me that was not coated in swamp mud, and I burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.
The laughter only lasted about 30 seconds, though, because my right arm was completely useless, and my shoulder felt as though someone had sliced into it with a hot knife. It was a sharp, breath-catching pain that brought involuntary tears to my eyes.
We walked slowly out of the woods, Husband pushing both of our bikes, while I held my right arm as still and close to my body as I could. Even with a partially-torn rotator cuff -- in fact, I would venture to say, largely because of it -- I felt like more of an athlete than I have ever felt in my life. Walking out of that trail, I couldn't stop thinking, "Here I am in my bike shorts and jersey, flithy with mud, injured. I am a real biker. Anyone could see that."
Nevermind that a real biker would have made that turn and ridden the rest of the trail without Supermanning over the handlebars. Details.
I could tell plenty of other similar stories:
-- of fingers that had to be taped up because they ached from rock climbing so much. (Did you know you could actually overwork the ligaments and tendons in your fingers? You can. Did you know that the folly of rock climbers is that they will simply support those fingers with strips of white medical tape and keep on climbing? They will.)
-- of a deep, giant, perfectly oval bruise on my tricep, courtesy of a racquetball returned in a heated game. (Oh, yes, I did keep playing. And I won 2 games of 3 that day.)
-- of a fractured wrist sustained as a teenager while trying to learn a scratch spin on ice skates. (Did you know that your father will yell at you, a lot, if you go ice skating again while still wearing the brace because the fracture hasn't yet healed? He will.)
And so on.
My question today is: WHY? Why do we injure ourselves like this and then go back for more? Of course, the smart aleck answer is that I am a clumsy klutz who shouldn't be allowed within 50 feet of any kind of sports paraphernalia beyond a yoga mat. But the fact is that I'm actually reasonably coordinated. And that it is a simple truth that if you try enough new sports for enough time, you will eventually hurt yourself doing something.
But that doesn't explain why those injuries are badges of honor. What is it within us that makes us feel like we are more athletic right at the very moment of our becoming broken through that athleticism? How is it that injuries make us feel psychically stronger? Is it the rush of endorphins? The amnesia about pain that takes over after a day or two? The fun of telling a "war story" that obviously results in an only-temporary limp?
Or am I the only person you know who has secretly enjoyed the powerful rush of feeling? I have done something daring and dangerous, even hurt myself in the process, and come out on the other side to tell the tale.
I am athlete. Hear me whimper.
Don't forget: you only have until midnight tonight to leave a comment on this post to be entered to win $75 worth of lovely custom holiday cards and stationery. Winner of the drawing will be announced on tomorrow morning's post.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
May I present, Tap-Dancing Spiderman (turn up the volume on your computer to hear the music in the background)
Yes, that costumed child is actually Son and not some random kid off YouTube. And yes, the state of our family room hearth/floor is deplorable. But sometimes, you just gotta' dance, you know? And everything else takes a back seat.
Normally, this dance ends with the flourish of an orange plastic leopard-print fedora, but on this day he couldn't find the hat and felt that perhaps it was overkill on top of the mask. Personally, I missed the hat toss at the end of this particular performance. But, then again, I am often overly fond of such theatrics.
May your Thursday be as joyful as Tap-Dancing Spiderman.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I am impressed by you in so many ways, and I am registered as a Democrat, so it's not hard to guess where my vote will be going on November 4th.
But I just have to say that I was sadly disappointed at a crucial point in the debates last night, where I thought you could have hit the ball right out of the park. Where, in fact, I was hungering to hear you do so even though I am predisposed to agree with many of your policies.
People who have been following this election for a while have heard the stump speeches, the talking points, the references to specific autobiographical details so many times that reiterating them does not do much for us. People who are new to following this election may not have heard these lines yet, but I don't think that's what they crave. People who are tuning in just now to learn about you and Senator McCain are looking for solutions. For answers in a moment of crisis to the panic that they are feeling. They are looking for inspiration.
And I think people who already believe in you are looking for that too.
You were asked at the very end of the debate "What don't you know, and how will you find it out?"
My stomach did a little flip of excitement. Here's what I wanted to hear, what I thought was coming: I anticipated a rousing speech admitting that although you are incredibly well-educated, you are only human. I wanted an eloquent statement of humility. I craved a clear, precise explanation of how no one can possibly really know what it is like to be president before he or she is actually president. No more than reading books, babysitting, taking parenting classes, asking experts, or stocking up on all the "necessary" supplies could fully prepare me for what it would mean to be a mother for the first time can you wholly know what you will encounter if you become president. You began well with the admission that the most work a president does is always on issues he or she couldn't have anticipated...but after that sentence or two, you moved right into something that sounded like a canned closing speech.
I wanted you to inspire me with your honesty, to tell me that you DO NOT have all the answers, and you are okay with that, and we should be too. I wanted you to remind me that you are knowledgeable and qualified but that you will look forward also to relying at key points on those who know more than you, on a range of individuals who are experts on different issues. I wanted to hear you be emotional and engaged about the work involved. I wanted you to answer the second part of the question: "how will you find out?" by showing me that you know when to rely on yourself and when to turn to others. I wanted you to say something that would not try to make me think "There is a man who already knows exactly what to do to fix everything in the next four years," but who would inspire me to feel, "There is a man I can trust to figure out how to lead us to a better future over the next four years."
Americans right now -- whether Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or Undecided -- are being buffeted by fears and uncertainties. We need as our next president someone who can convince us that he is a man in whom we can place our confidence. And to do that, he needs to talk to us not only from a list of talking points, but also from the heart.
At least in answer to one question.
If you can seize the opportunity to present yourself not just as an intelligent man, not just as a man with specific policies, not just as a man of the people (all of which are obviously important), but as a statesman, a man who can inspire people in difficult circumstances to trust that the uncomfortable choices you will undoubtedly have to make will ultimately move us forward, then you will win this race. Then, you will have shown your potential to be a truly great leader.
In my humble opinion,
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
It is a simple fact that there is a giant technology gap experienced by those of us who are still quite young (thank you very much) but who have reached a Certain Age. Where Certain Age means that we have eschewed the recent resurgence of leg warmers as fashion items on the grounds that since we wore them when they were in style the first time around, we are mercifully exempt now.
I could totally relate to the post Meg wrote a while back about the invention of emoticons and the memory of having to wait in line for access to the computers in the one lab on her college campus. I left her a goofy comment about my college experiences with a typewriter, and she promptly sent me a kind email with a link to another post of hers about that very thing. She claims we are the same age; however, I think I might be a bit older than she is, since my college computer lab didn't have any lines of people waiting to use the computers since most of them were too intimidated by the machines. Whatever. We're darn close in age, that's for sure.
And then I remembered the post I read on Foolery about mimeograph machines and the danger they pose to lovely long hair. Which of course had immediately made me recall the early days of graduate school, when only the professors were allowed to use the copy machines, and we lowly graduate assistants had to use the mimeograph to make handouts for our students. The "clear" ink turned purple the minute it touched your skin and left days-long stains. It also smelled strong enough to get you high if you stayed in that room for any length of time running dittos.
And then I couldn't stand it any longer. I just have to tell you the story I know about living in a time when the store "Modems Plus" sold something completely unknown and had a name eminently mockable for sounding like it just might deal in feminine hygiene products...
Once upon a time,
long not that long ago there was a girl who was given a choice about what to take with her to college: a computer or a typewriter. Naturally, she chose the latter. The former was a little scary, somewhat unknown, and, quite honestly, seemed like overkill.
The typewriter she was given as a graduation present, on the other hand, was magnificent. It had a small LCD display that showed her the line of text she was typing, so that she could edit it, correcting typos, even rearranging words, before she hit "return" and went onto the next line. For ambitious projects, should could tell the machine to save the whole text, and its memory would hold about five pages worth, which she could then read through and revise before printing. Of course, the reading screen held about eight words of text, so it was a little tricky to do sophisticated editing. But this was certainly a giant step up from the white-out and mechanical typewriter days of high school.
As a junior in college, she came to appreciate the joys of the computer lab with its high tech editing options. She could cut and paste whole paragraphs of text!
By the time she went to graduate school, a computer seemed indispensable. So she spent about $1000 of her very own money on a 386 processor* desk top model with a monochrome screen (white letters on a black background). It stored information on 5 1/4" floppy disks ("floppies" for short) that were black and, yes, floppy.
The second year she had it, she got a lot of complaints on her student evaluations (she was a graduate teaching assistant by then) that she was not responsive to email.
Why is so much importance placed on this newfangled thing they call email? she wondered to herself. Why don't they just ask me questions before or after class or in my office hours like any other mere mortal?
And why on earth do they have their knickers in a twist about the fact that I don't respond to it instantly? she added crankily.
Perhaps it was because she had a 1200 baud* modem that she was not a giant fan of the email.
Halfway through her graduate career, she upgraded to a laptop with a color screen. She still had a crummy modem -- but at least it was faster, and she learned to check her email more regularly. And to love all the things that being connected in the digital age could offer her.
This was particularly handy because it enabled her to carry on a steamy cyber affair with a soon-to-be-doctor who was studying for his medical boards in another state. They'd met on a long weekend at a mutual friend's wedding, reconnected mid-summer for another long weekend break in their mutual studying (she was taking her own PhD qualifying exams at the end of that summer), and in the meanwhile sent each other daily letters about everything they were thinking, feeling, flirting, imagining, hoping, and dreaming about their futures, their attraction for each other, and the trees outside their respective study room windows.
It was very romantic.
And full of that tingly tension that comes from longing for something you cannot have because he lives eight states away.
It ended, of course, as all relationships by correspondence are doomed to end -- over the telephone.
At least by then, she'd learned to check her email everyday.
And to write the most romantic letters you'd ever imagined without ever picking up a pen.
She cannot deny that she has never before or since been as good at responding to email immediately as she was during that summer of Internet romance. But she still has a file of his printed-out emails to her, alongside a box full of quaint hand-written letters from a previous, less technologically inclined boyfriend, which she suspects means that all other things being equal, she is a softie for love letters of the variety you can actually touch.
But that's probably just because she was born so long ago, back before Al Gore invented the Internet.
* If these terms mean nothing to you, it only means that you are not yet old enough to have wrinkles. Don't bother your pretty little head about them. They are simply Stone Age measurements of computer power, the single-celled organisms from which your Pentium III processors eventually sprung, thanks to the miracle of Darwinian evolution, as it were.
Remember: just a few days left to enter to win $75 in custom holiday cards or stationery for yourself. Leave a comment here.