Saturday, December 31, 2011

If At First...

"In school they told me practice makes perfect and then they told me nobody's perfect so I stopped practicing."
~~Steven Wright, stand-up special "When The Leaves Blow Away"

Tomorrow, I'm not even logging in to that site. I swear.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Best Gift I Never Got

I had a "real"-ish post planned for today--something sparked in part by something I read on one of the blogs on our little corner of the Internet. Fridays are one of my days off so I figured I had all day to work on it and get it "just so," instead of starting in the morning and then rushing home after work to finish it up in time to post three minutes before midnight and then spend two days editing the typos out of the post (as I did most of the rest of this week).

Instead, what happened was I spent most of the day enjoying the gift Cranky Ex-Boss Lady's daughter gave her for Christmas, which was a 6-month membership to Neither of them have internet access or even a computer at home, so part of the "gift" is kind of from me, as I will be doing the "legwork" of researching their family histories online. As of yet, CBL has not gotten me the list of names she wants to begin with, so I've been taking advantage of the unlimited access to research my own family tree in every direction imaginable.

It's astoundingly easy to get started and crazily addictive once you get going. Within a few hours, I was four or five generations back on multiple levels of my tree. While most of the records available are just-the-facts statistical type things (dates, names, locations), occasionally you can get a glimpse of a little more--height and weight on draft registration cards, surprising household compositions from various census records, etc. This afternoon, I saw the signatures of two great-grandfathers whom I never met on their World War I draft registration cards.

I also discovered that my father's father's mother's mother's father had moved in with his daughter and son-in-law after he was widowed. During the 1900 census, he was 72 years old. The census information shows that he arrived in the US from Wales in 1860, that both his parents were born in Wales. Then comes the Occupation column under which someone wrote, "Old man."

I realize this internet thing has been around for a while now, but it's still amazing to me that it's possible to sit in my desk chair, in my pajamas, in my teeny, tiny Western New York town and look at, say, the Welsh census from 1841--not just the figures, but a photographic image of the actual pages.  It's so amazing, in fact, that I am thinking of asking Hubby to log on to my/CBL's account to change the password so I stand some chance of accomplishing something "real" tomorrow.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Behold! The Power of Weird!

"'I'm not the person to ask about what's normal," Denise answered. 'I've mainly seen normal in the rearview mirror.'"
--Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

"It took me a long time to realize that normal is in the eye of the beholder."
--Whoopi Goldberg, in an '80s stand-up special

Civics class in the fall of my freshman year was taught by Mr. Scovner, who was a long-term substitute for Mr. Ely, who was running for some local office.

Mr. Ely was an older man who wore corduroy suits (with corduroy bowties!) in colors that could charitably be described as earth tones, but were less charitably (albeit more often) described as shades of baby poop or vomit--mustard yellow, olive green, a couple of unfortunate selections from the brown spectrum. In addition to his dubious sartorial selections, Mr. Ely believed in teaching by rote--which means that for the few weeks at the beginning of the semester when we actually had him, his entire lesson plan was to make us write out the definitions of 20 words that were relevant to the topic of civics ("the study of government and citizenship") and then recite them aloud as a group every day.

Mr. Scovner, on the other hand, let us know on the first day what he thought of rote learning--he held up the list of definitions and told us he had faith in our ability to memorize them on our own and had no intention of mentioning them again until the scheduled day of the test. He was, of course, younger than Mr. Ely and bore a striking resemblance to a semi-spiffed-up John Belushi, who had died that spring of an accidental drug overdose--a resemblance, incidentally, which we were forbidden to mention.

Other than that prohibition, though, Scovner ran a pretty loose classroom and many, many afternoons were taken up by conversation related to civics only tangentially, if at all.

One of those conversations was about how we thought the Tylenol poisonings might--or should--affect Halloween trick-or-treating that year. Scovner went around the room asking us whether or not we would hypothetically let our hypothetical children trick-or-treat this year. Some people said they would let their kids go, but just be extra thorough in checking the candy. Some people said they would only let their kids go to the houses of people they knew very well.

When Scovner came to me, I said, "You know, I don't think I'd let my kids go at all."

And Scovner said, "Not even to people you know?"

"Just because you know someone doesn't mean they're not weird," I explained.

And Todd Smith* piped up from across the room, "Yeah, like, we know you--and you're weird."

Heh. What do you suppose it means that that moment makes me giggle to this day?

*It's rather convenient when someone's given name is anonymous enough to play the part of a plausible pseudonym.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

To Thine Own Selves Be True...

"We're not the same personality with everyone. We adjust our self to each person we meet, each situation we're in. We have a flexible self.  In fact, inflexibility of self--fixations, compulsions--we regard as unhealthy. Just as being able to focus hard, but also switch attention has aided our chances of survival, not having to be exactly the same self with everyone makes us more successful socially. Does that feel false? Not true to yourself? Only if you believe in a rigid self that's uniformly on view. If you accept that self is a plural noun, more like a repertoire than a statue, then featuring one side more with one friend or associate than another won't seem dishonest."

One night during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I had three friends over to stay the night. This would be an unremarkable thing for most high school girls, but in my case, it was an occurrence so rare that to my recollection, this was the only time it happened during my entire high school career.

Due to a combination of borderline pathological shyness and moving around every couple of years, along with my deep interest in solitary pursuits like reading and writing, I was never really part of a larger group of friends. When I hung out with anyone at all, it was usually with one friend at a time and the few close friends that I did have knew each other barely, if at all.

This night not only brought together two New Hampshire friends who likely wouldn't have said hello to one another in the halls at school, but also a Pennsylvania friend who was on a two-week visit, whom neither of the other two had ever met. At this great distance, it is hard for me to imagine what the hell I was thinking bringing the three of them--with little more than me in common--together in such a small space.

Somehow we managed. We drove around singing loudly to the radio in Pasta's1 car and when, in the middle of a Huey Lewis and The News song, my sarcastic friend June said, "What is this, the Benny Goodman quartet?" I responded, "It would be if you would shut up and sing--otherwise, we're just a trio."

Later, the Pennsylvania friend and I somehow discovered that neither of the New Hampshire girls had ever tasted that German delicacy sauerkraut2 and we made a late night foray to Shaw's in Concord to grab a can. At the very least, sauerkraut should come from bags and be cooked in the oven all day long. This sauerkraut was plopped out of a can and simmered on the stove while we played cards nearby. Though I repeatedly warned the New Hampshire girls that the spoonfuls they wrinkled their noses up at were not really representative of the sauerkraut experience, I'm sure that first taste scared them off forever.

The morning after that night, I remember thinking how each of these friends appealed to a different side of my own personality. June was my intellectual, acerbic side; Pasta my juvenile, goofy side; and MommaCW my more mature, thoughtful side.  I don't know that I had given much thought before then to how I tended to compartmentalize my friendships--and therefore little bits of myself, but ever since it's been one of those themes that my brain picks up from time to time.

It's like the six blind men and the elephant deal--how many of my friends would it take to paint a complete picture of who I am? Would anyone fully agree with anyone else? Is it ever possible to get to the whole truth of someone's self with only bits and pieces to go on?

The holidays--with all those gatherings of family and friends, who would likely not be in the same room otherwise--have a tendency to stir up this inner debate like little else.

I tend to think of myself, and I think many of us do, as being fairly straightforward and on the surface about most things, but there is no doubt that I manage--both consciously and subconsciously--the information I put out there. Just for two very obvious examples, I tend to tread lightly around the subjects of politics and religion, despite pretty strong opinions on both, unless I'm certain-ish I'm in sympathetic company. If I am asked a direct question on either subject, I will wiggle and hedge if I think I can get away with it--but I will not lie outright. I have become adept at noncommittal responses and subtle changes of subject, but if I am backed into the corner of having to share a personal feeling that I feel may offend or hurt someone, I try to do so as kindly as possible, always acknowledging their right to a different opinion.

Does this mean I am being "fake" or "false" with people? Or does it merely mean that no matter how strong my opinion is, I don't feel it's more important than a given person's friendship?

Of course, not all issues are as "life and death" as politics and religion. In certain relationships, we bond over a shared interest that might seem at odds with an interest I share with another person. Would I have talked about my deep (and embarrassingly enduring) love of CBS soap operas with the occasionally intellectually snobby women in my book group? Or would I have talked about the finer points of the symbolism in Cold Mountain with Cranky Boss Lady, whose reading tastes tended toward paperback suspense novels with recurring characters?

No and no. Does that mean that one or the other of these passions of mine--books and shallow TV programming--is somehow more representative of who I am than the other? And does talking about only one of those passions with someone make me "fake" or "false?" Is there any way to share every bit of ourselves with any one person in our lives? Would we if we could? Should we if we could?

I don't have any answers this year, but the questions just keep getting more and more interesting.

1. Three of the nicknames used here have been used previously on the blog for these fine ladies. The fourth--June--referred to herself as "That Cleaver Tramp" when she commented on the blog. We took to calling one another "June Cleaver" in our early days of stay-at-home motherhood and it's kind of stuck. I am happy to say that all three of those high school friends are still in my life in some capacity or other.

2. One of the many dangers of having a mind like a lint trap is that I have zero control over what gets stuck in there or when some fluffy bit might fly loose. In the case of sauerkraut, I rarely see, hear, or say the word without my brain kicking out the punchline of a naughty joke from the fourth grade: "Sauerkraut, sauerkraut, sauerkraut, two with wieners and one without." And that almost never fails to remind me of Son-One bringing home this doozy, also from fourth grade: "What do a Coke machine and Monica Lewinsky have in common?" ANSWER: They both say "insert bill."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'Tis The Season For Boundless Generosity

The holiday stomach bug has passed from family member to family member here at Masked Mom's Headquarters; no one has escaped unscathed. 

I stumbled into work yesterday to cover the couple of hours until a coworker would come into relieve me. He took one look at me and asked if I was okay.

"Stomach thing." I groaned.

"Look, I like you and I hope you get rid of it soon, but don't get rid of it by giving it to me. Go home."

So I did and I am mostly better, but still having that washed-out feeling these things always leave behind. Hence, the washed-out post. Here's hoping for something better tomorrow.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Little House Books

In fourth grade, our teacher, Mrs. Wentz, read aloud to us the books from the Little House series, beginning with Little House in the Big Woods in the fall and ending the following spring with These Happy Golden Years. She did not read us The First Four Years, which had only recently been added to the boxed set version of the books--she said it was from an unfinished manuscript that had been left behind when the real Laura died and that it had been finished by her daughter Rose. She said she thought the book was too adult for our delicate nine-year-old selves, practically guaranteeing that the curious among us would immediately seek the book out.

And so it was that the first Little House book I read was actually an afterthought to the original series. Little Sister and I had gotten the boxed set as a gift from our grandparents the previous Christmas and I pried that slender volume out of the end of the box and read it in a day and a half. Then I began at the beginning and read the rest throughout that summer.

As so often happens, these books came to me at exactly the right time. We were living "out in the country" for the first time in our lives--seven miles from town, on a dirt road, our nearest neighbor out of sight down in a gully half a mile away (a good portion of that distance taken up by the driveways of our place and theirs). The property we were living on had been an active farm, there were outbuildings from another era--a milkhouse, chicken coops, several collapsing barns. At the top of the trail between the barns, a maple sapling had grown crookedly through the spokes of an abandoned wagon wheel, which was still attached to a broken piece of axle. There were work harnesses for horses hanging in one of the sheds--the neglected leather split and cracked into patterns that you could trace with a finger as though they were hieroglyphic messages from a not-terribly-distant past. When my father hung twin tire swings in the huge maple beside the driveway, I wasted no time naming them Trixy and Fly after the ponies Laura and Almanzo rode in The First Four Years.

Except for the dissonance of reading The Long Winter during the height of summer--lying on a blanket in the front yard in shorts and a T-shirt in 80-degree weather with birds singing and bees bumbling lazily nearby while I read of the extreme cold and tens of feet of snow that put the Ingalls family and the whole town in peril--it is hard to imagine a more perfect setting in which to read those books for the first time.

The "first time" because of course I read them again. And again. I'm not even sure how many times now I've read those books. And I sought out others as well both by and about Laura--in high school, I discovered On The Way Home, a travel diary of the trip Laura and Almanzo made from South Dakota to Missouri, where they would live out their lives and West From Home, a collection of letters Laura sent home to Almanzo in Missouri when she went to visit their daughter in San Francisco in 1915.

Later, when I was working at a bookstore (yes, not only am I an addict, I was briefly a dealer as well), a shipment came in that contained the book Little House In The Ozarks: The Rediscovered Writings, a collection of Laura's newspaper and magazine pieces. It never even made it to the shelf. I wrote about my attachment to that book here.

Recently, my love of all things Laura was rekindled when, while blog-hopping, I learned of a book called The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, by Wendy McClure. I am only a few pages in to this book about Wendy McClure's passion for Laura and her quest to trace the journey of Laura's family, but I am delighted to find myself vicariously living in "Laura World" (as McClure calls it) once again.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Timeless.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Monday, September 5, 1983

"Stick with me kid and we'll go places." If Garfield had only known what he was getting himself into...

I've always loved this snippet from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird1: "I started writing sophomoric articles for the college paper. Luckily, I was a sophomore."

While digging around in Volume 1 of my journal to choose today's selection for Spiral Notebook Sunday, I had to remind myself several times that I was a sophomore (and a high school one at that) when I scribbled such immortal lines as "The president is on TV. He has just set Dr. Henry Kissinger up as 'special aid' in Central America. No one else seems to agree with that idea. What with as Ronald, dear, puts it--'the inaccurate stereotypes' about Kissinger. He is talking about Watergate. I am too young to remember--and have no idea what Kissinger had to do with it. (At this point I don't particularly care--I really wish RR would shut up and put A-Team on.)"

That little nugget is one of the more coherent paragraphs amid lots of song quotes, soap opera plot summaries, random shifts in subject and frequent tantrums about how the Army and/or my parents and/or my geometry/Spanish/French teachers and/or any and all of my siblings were ruining my life. I was reading awkward passages aloud earlier to Daughter-Only and commented that the style could really be called extreme stream of consciousness because there's so little filtering--it was clear I was writing whatever popped into my head at a given moment, often midway through a previous thought.

So that's the field from which I chose the following passage in which my mother lays down the law about the bickering among her four children.


Monday, September 5, 1983

Family discussion time---one of the really lovely one-sided ones where Mom tells us all what's wrong with us and gives us a lot of "or elses." Well, this time it's get along or else no Guiding Light. Well, no TV or Atari anyway. Which means no Guiding Light, which means no Grant2, which means we're going to get along. But for me the threat is the only reason--Guiding Light is the one thing the Army can't take away. They took everything else, though, and wrecked my entire life! And Mom isn't much help, lately..."You're not in Pennsylvania anymore." and "You're living six to eight months in the past." and so on. It was a really lovely conversation, believe me...Don't think I don't realize that I'm being bitter, childish, bratty, unreasonable and living in the past. Because I do--I mean I would have to be dense to not realize it with everyone telling me so.

1. There are many, many writing books that I consider valuable, but really only two that I consider essential: and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is one of them. Anne Lamott has a knack for delving right into the heart and soul of things and the book is full of wisdom that is applicable not just to writing, but--as the title indicates--to life as well. The other essential writing book (that also has includes some sneaky life lessons) is Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. I have owned multiple copies of both books because I have a tendency to give them away to anyone who shows the slightest interest in writing.

2. The actor who played Phillip Spaulding on Guiding Light and I were on a first name basis, obviously. Throughout this volume of the journal, he competes for space--handily holding his own--against various crushes from high school.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...

...not only is it good for the environment, when it comes to blogging in the middle of the holidays, it's very energy efficient. Here, a semi-holiday-themed post that originally appeared on November 27, 2007.

My How Times Have Changed

Many years ago, when I still had time and energy for a book group, a friend gave me a recipe for an appetizer to take to the pot luck night my book group had every September. It was extremely simple and very tasty--Uncle Ben's rice, chopped spinach and shredded Swiss cheese in fillo dough cups (in the grocery store freezer already formed, thanks very much) warmed in the oven. I was mixing the filling in a big bowl and it was all brown and green and admittedly resembled dog vomit more than anything you'd want for food. Two of the boys (Son-Two and Son-Three, I think) went by and Son-Three peeked over the edge of the bowl and said, "That's not for us to eat is it?!"

When I told him I was taking it for the book group, he said, "You must not like them very much."

Fast forward to last night, Thanksgiving Eve. Son-Three says with evident anticipation, "You are going to make those little spinach cups, aren't you?"


Four years later, and those spinach cups continue to be a hit--at Baby Brother's for our extended family's Christmas gathering, the first four people who I talked to greeted me with "Did you bring spinach cups?" Even better, they were all under twelve. I don't know about you, but I applaud anything that can make children enthusiastic about spinach.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Risky Business

Here at Masked Mom Headquarters, we're a big board game/card game type family and always have been.

Hubby and Baby Brother are big fans of the game Risk in all its variations--between the two households, we have at least seven different versions of the game including both the Lord of the Rings version and the Lord of the Rings trilogy version (which adds to the map from the original LOTR version) and I think Baby Brother even has a Star Wars version.

This battle raged on for over a week--set up on our dining room table.

I am not the biggest fan of Risk ever--while I enjoy the actual game play and even the overall length of the game doesn't bother me, the time between turns is absurdly long. There used to be a commercial for Boggle (the 3-minute word game) that riffed on that theme. It showed four people playing an unspecified board game and as one guy finished his turn, he said, "Okay, I'm going to go out now and rotate my tires while I'm waiting for my next turn."

My brain can't handle a lot of unengaged time like that--it begins to feast on itself, but that's an issue for another day. I used to play a lot more than I do now--out of pity for Hubby and Baby Brother--but once the boys got old enough to play along, I could decline an invitation without suffering guilt.

Still, the debate about whether I'm exaggerating the length of time between turns and the inherent boredom factor in the game comes up fairly often. Last weekend, Son-One was home for a night and Hubby, Baby Brother and Second Nephew lugged out the original Risk and we all got an unexpected reminder that I am not the only one who is distressed by the downtime between turns.

Team Green: Head and shoulders above the competition.

Years ago, when Son-Two was maybe eleven or twelve--old enough to know better, certainly--I glanced up at him at some point in one of Hubby's interminable turns and realized that he was systematically biting the heads off of all his cavalry pieces. This serial decapitation was not being done maliciously. In fact, it seemed Son-Two was sort of absent-mindedly working his way through the idle troops in his little plastic holder.

Despite not wanting to encourage vandalism, I couldn't help laughing a little--okay, okay, I laughed hysterically--at the sight of that line of headless horsemen, casualties of Son-Two's boredom. Hubby was not quite so amused.

And ten or so years later, once again embroiled in the is Risk as never-ending as Masked Mom thinks it is debate, we open the box to those headless horsemen and I start giggling uncontrollably all over again.

"See?" I say, "Risk takes so long to play Son-Two had to resort to cannibalism to sustain himself."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Liebster, The Sequel

Shelby over at WOM: Working Mom was sweet enough to give me the Liebster Award--my second. If you haven't already met Shelby, check out her blog if you get the chance. It is full of helpful tips and glimpses of her life as the working mom of two.

According to the "rules" of the award, Liebster is the German word for "beloved" and it's an opportunity to try to bring some attention to bloggers with under 200 hundred followers. As part of the rules, we're supposed to pass the award on to 5 other bloggers whose blogs we love. I chose 5 for  my first Liebster about a month ago and those choices can be found here.

Here are 5 more blogs I've discovered in the past few weeks that I've also come to love:

Is This The Middle?
Buttered Toast Rocks
Life...Minute By Minute
Mark's Work
By Nicole

If you haven't already visited these folks, they're definitely worth the click.

Today marks my fifty-second consecutive day of daily posts (a personal best)* and a big part of what's made those daily writings possible is the daily reading I've been doing. There's a tremendous amount of inspiration and support to be found among the wildly eclectic and talented group of people who have set up shop on this little corner of the internet--and maybe the internet doesn't really have corners, and maybe I'm just a little giddy from too much raw cookie dough and molten fudge, but I'm really grateful for the ever-growing community I find myself a part of.

*I mention this for two reasons. First, no one is more surprised than I am that I have somehow come here with something (not much some days, but something) to say for 52 days in a row. Second, I expect to drop that particular ball any minute now so I'm trying to fully revel in it while I've got the chance. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Heard A Rumor...

...that high winds and pouring rain are interfering with our home internet service so just this quickie post from work tonight unless the internet's up and running again before midnight. Otherwise, back tomorrow with the post I hoped to post tonight.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'll Tell You Mine If You Tell Me Yours

One of the residents at work recently got a prescription for ciprofloxacin, brand name Cipro--also known as the anthrax antibiotic--to ward off a non-anthrax infection. When he was taking his first dose, I casually* mentioned that anthrax treatment was one of the things Cipro was best known for.

He raised an eyebrow and chuckled uneasily, joking, "Uh, I'm pretty sure I don't have anthrax."

I agreed that he probably didn't. Then I said, "Have you ever heard my anthrax story?"

He raised the eyebrow again, a little skeptically this time.

I said, "What? You mean not everyone has an anthrax story?"

Then I shared my anthrax story, which technically is Hubby's anthrax story, but one of the great fringe benefits of marriage is you automatically get a proprietary interest in each other's stories so...

At one time, Hubby had a hazardous materials certification and worked sporadically for a company that would send him to all sorts of emergency and remedial situations. He removed underground storage tanks from an abandoned gas station. He cleaned asphalt that had spilled into a creek when the nozzle at the back of a truck was not properly secured during the road workers lunch break. He assisted with chemical disposal at transfer stations on occasion.

In the fall of 2001, a series of letters containing anthrax spores killed five people and sickened seventeen others. Hubby was called to work on the clean-up of the postal facility in Trenton, NJ through which the letters had passed.

Daughter-Only, who was in first grade at the time, told one of her classmates, "My dad's in New Jersey doing something with anthrax."

Fast forward to mid-January, Hubby has been home and back to normal life for several weeks by this time. He has just gotten out of the shower when there's a knock on the front door.

It's an FBI agent. He wants to know what, precisely, Hubby was doing with anthrax in New Jersey. It was all cleared up in a matter of minutes, but it's a story that will last a lifetime.
*There is some question as to whether it's possible to mention anthrax casually, as the rest of this story will endeavor to show.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Back To Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

Last week, when I left former President Bill Clinton's book Back To Work: Why Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy on the counter in the staff office at work, one of my coworkers saw Clinton's face on the cover and assumed it was a memoir.

"Why are you reading about Clinton?" he asked me. "Don't you know how it turns out? He bangs his intern. Did you get to that part yet?"

Leaving aside the question of whether that's really appropriate office talk or not, his remark illustrates one of the more depressing things about Bill Clinton. The man had a stellar--though not perfect--record when it came to the economy. Among other things, when he left office, there was a budgetary surplus. A surplus! That's the opposite of a deficit. There was no deficit. And still, what people remember about him are his indiscretions and missteps.

This slim volume of economic analysis and advice is unlikely to change the minds of anyone still thinking of President Clinton as the guy who banged his intern. Worse than that--it's unlikely to reach the people who need to hear it most. Like a lot of books related even tangentially to politics, it will likely end up being more of a preach to the choir kind of thing--read primarily by people who agree with Clinton going in.

It's a shame, really, because the book is clear-eyed, well-researched, meticulously documented and full of common sense suggestions that legislators on both sides of the aisle would do well to take into consideration. Along the way, Clinton acknowledges his own mistakes and those of his fellow Democrats and he does not hesitate to give credit where it's due, even to the staunchest Republicans.

All of this in an easily readable and compact1 package. A few bits that will stay with me:

~~"...fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience, and argument irrelevant: If you possess the absolute truth, those who disagree are by definition wrong, and evidence of success or failure is irrelevant. There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. Respectful arguments are a waste of time. Compromise is a weakness. And if your policies fail, you don't abandon them. Instead you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme."

~~"The status quo is represented by much more powerful lobbying groups than the future is."

~~"No one can take the future away from us. But we can take it away from ourselves."2

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Thought-provoking.3

1. 196 6"x9" pages.
2. Emphasis his.
3. The hyphen makes two words one, right?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Sunday, February 29, 2004*

In this Sunday's excerpt from the Spiral Notebook Journal, in a spin on that old directive "Physician, heal thyself," our resident Nag nags herself.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

So despite my best efforts in October, I have once again allowed laziness and circumstances to overcome sense and my NEED to write. It could, of course, be argued that since I'm still, you know, technically, alive, "need" is the wrong word to apply to my urge, desire, or whatever, to write. By the same token, it could also be argued that the line between life and death is fuzzier than most people will acknowledge and being "technically" alive is not at all the same thing as living.

Writing a journal entry about journal entry writing is also not at all the same thing as writing a "real" journal entry.

*I mentioned in the opening post of this series that I began keeping the Spiral Notebook Journal in July of 1983. It is a complete fluke that  all three of the offerings to this point have come from 2004. I found them in a wad of entries I had previously printed from the computer files I saved the journal to (from its handwritten origins) in 2005 and not from digging through the battered volumes themselves. But those typewritten entries (each saved with some specific purpose in mind--a purpose, needless to say, I have long since forgotten in most cases) cover several decades and still somehow I've cribbed notes from 2004 three weeks in a row. This is probably not as interesting or potentially significant as it seems to me at this moment. I am also probably not going to recall the promise I am about to make, which may be a blessing in disguise, but next Sunday, I promise to offer up something from that first spiral notebook, begun a few days before my fifteenth birthday.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Good News/Bad News

Good news is my string of consecutive posts (welcome to #47, such as it is) remains unbroken.

Bad news is (due to being called in for two consecutive overnight (on my days off) shifts due to the illness of the regular overnight staff) this is the extent of that 47th post.

Good/bad news is I will have lots of time to kill on said overnight and will probably spend it leaving absurdly long comments all over the internet or attempting to write a semi-coherent post for tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holy Infidel Frog!

Before I found my current job as Chief Nag at the halfway house, I spent ten years working in a small flower shop. Most of the time, there was barely enough business to keep the owner and I busy, but around the major holidays we needed extra help. Sometimes we would enlist the teenage children of family and friends to do what we called "hopping." A hopper would ride along on deliveries to take the flowers to the door while the driver turned the vehicle around, checked the route for the next delivery, and so on.

Before my own children were old enough to ride along, we had recruited the thirteen-year-old son of the owner's best friend who rode along with me on one particularly eventful trip. Our region was being hit by a major snow storm and while the areas we were driving in were relatively clear, we had the radio tuned to a Buffalo DJ who was reading an ever-expanding list of closing and cancellations.

At one point, Boy Hopper turned to me and said, "Wait! Did he just say Holy Infidel Frog Academy?!"

And, you know, in my semi-overwrought state (working retail during the holidays is full of wrought, trust me), I was pretty sure the DJ had said, "Holy Infidel Frog Academy." At that moment, it made as much sense as anything else I could think of.

As the DJ started at the beginning of the list for the umpteenth time, we cranked up the volume and were mildly disappointed to learn that it was the "Holy Infant of Prague Academy."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some Signs Are Not As Clear As Others

This photo that I took December 6, 2011 of  a (cold-blooded) spotted salamander in the parking lot of Rite Aid in my corner of Western New York state is probably a sign of something (besides the obvious fact that I need to get a digital camera instead of relying on my crappy, outdated phone for pictures), I'm just not sure what.

(The fact that I've resorted to posting picture-based posts rather than more substantive ones two days in a row is definitely a sign that I'm having the kind of week that tends to hollow out my brain. Happily, today was the last day of my work week. Looking forward to recharging and catching up with visiting everyone else.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sign Me Up

"Please wait to be seated...or I will smack you over the head with this heavy wooden sign."

"Your local grocery store--putting the 'quit' in Banquet since 1969."

"Don't hate me because I'm bueatyful."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

By Any Other Name...

As I've gushed several times on here in the past month or so, I've really been enjoying my bloggy renaissance--especially "meeting" new bloggy friends. One of those is cdnkaro over at four under 4 (plus two), who is juggling enough balls to make most of us dizzy and still somehow finding time to blog daily and visit other blogs and just be generally fabulous. Both of us were recently  tagged with the "Tell Me About Yourself" award, which entailed telling seven things about ourselves and passing the award along to fifteen others.

Yesterday, cdnkaro posted "The Versatile Blogger Award," which had pretty much the same "rules" and passed it on to me.

As with cdnkaro, my blogging circle's limited diameter makes it virtually impossible for me to pass this on to fifteen others who haven't already received it in one or both of its forms. But I'm trying to expand the circle little by little and would like to pass The Versatile Blogger Award on to two worthy bloggers that have come into the circle recently. 

One is sebtown294 who blogs over at In Search of a Title. I followed a comment she left here over to her post of some pretty amazing artwork and have been stopping back regularly since.  

The other is Sarah who blogs over at My Life In Contradictions. I only "met" her a day or so ago when she "followed" me on Blogher, but I'm looking forward to getting to know her better.

Having just posted a 7 things list (not to mention posted 42 daily posts in a row), I feel like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel of share-worthy things so decided instead to share 7 quotes that I think reveal a little something about how I see the world.

1. "I believe now that I wrote myself into life. Before I learnt how to do it I lived as if blind, forever raging against the dark. Learning how to write illuminated life itself for me, letting me see fully for the first time its shape and dimensions. Before I learnt how to write, I did not know who I was."
~~Susan Johnson, A Better Woman: A Memoir of Motherhood

2. "As I see it, we know we're truly grown up when we stop trying to fix people. All we can really do for people is love them and treat them with kindness. That goes for ourselves, too. That goes for ourselves, especially."
~~Phillip Simmons, Learning To Fall: The Blessings of An Imperfect Life

3. "What separates bliss and hell when you've got small children: about ten seconds."
~~Judith Newman, You Make Me Feel Like An Unnatural Woman: Diary of a New (Older) Mother

4. "Although my passion is for words, I also love playing with ideas, looking at something from as many sides as possible, lifting up an observation and shaking it to see if a revelation might fall out." 
~~Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain

5. "...when she glanced over at this new book on her nightstand, stacked atop the one she finished last night, she reached for it automatically, as if reading were the singular and obvious first task of the day, the only viable way to negotiate the transit from sleep to obligation."
~~Michael Cunningham, The Hours

6. "She finally found grudges to be unwieldy things--hold those, and pretty soon you have to drop amusements to maintain your grudge grip; blow your energy on that and you may have none left for mischief."
~~Carrie Fisher, The Best Awful

7. "I wish I could leave a trail of gratefulness behind me that you could see, glowing thanks. I would pay to see the stars, but I never have to. This to me is one of those miracles."
~~Elizabeth Berg, True To Form

Monday, December 12, 2011

Masked Mom's Media Monday: All Over The Map

A random-ish glimpse at some items that have found their way into my various collections:

5 CDs From The Rack Next To My Desk

1. Daryl Hall--Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine

2. Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler

3. Shaun Cassidy's Greatest Hits

4. Prince & The Revolution--Music From the Motion Picture Purple Rain

5. Melissa Etheridge--Breakdown

5 Songs From The Mix CD Currently In My Van's Player

1. The Wrights--On The Rocks1

2. Jewel--Hands

3. John Sebastian--Welcome Back

4. Sheena Easton--Strut

5. Lifehouse--Whatever It Takes

5 Books Stacked On My Desk

1. Natalie Goldberg--Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

2. Mil Millington--Instructions for Living Someone Else's Life

3. Alice Hoffman--The Ice Queen

4. John Irving--The Imaginary Girlfriend

5. Marion Winik--Telling

5 Books Currently Checked Out On My Library Card

1. Wendy McClure--The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House On The Prairie

2. Rob Lowe--Stories I Only Tell My Friends

3. Bill Clinton--Back To Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

4. Joan Didion--Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

5. Stephen King--On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft 
(I actually own this title, but have not yet unpacked it since our move in April2.)

5 Shows/Movies Saved In My DVR

1. O (recorded 9/22, still unwatched, though I have seen it before)

2. Parenthood (3 unwatched episodes)3

3. Once Upon a Time (1 episode, watched, but not deleted)

4. The Big Bang Theory (4 unwatched episodes)

5. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (6 unwatched episodes)

Oh, and one random number...
...randomly generated at, for the winner of the audiobook version of Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers:
1. #1 S. Stauss.
Thanks to everyone who entered with special thanks to number three, without whom the "random number generator" would've been the quarter in my pocket.
Masked Mom's One-Word-Line Review: Dorky and proud of it.

1. This link leads to the only audio/video clip I could find for On The Rocks, which happens to be an instructional video for line dancing. Maybe I just need to get out more, but the way the woman waves and smiles at the camera in the beginning just tickled me to death.

2. I have now further cemented my reputation as a somewhat questionable housekeeper by admitting that boxes from a move seven months ago remain unpacked.

3. Lesson learned the hard way*: if you are, say three, episodes behind watching a family drama, clicking on the show's home page in order to link to it for a blog post is a good way to expose yourself to LOTS of spoilers.

* And isn't that the best way to learn a lesson?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Monday, December 27, 2004

In this Sunday's offering, I ramble about some of the lingering effects of a childhood of Army Bratdom.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Finding myself moved to a new location or in the process of moving is a recurring theme in my dreams in the past few years. The only universal element in the dreams is the feeling of desperation and regret at being somewhere new. Whether I've made the decision to move or it's somehow understood that the decision was made for me, I'm always certain it's a terrible mistake. The anxiety of those moments is often intense enough to wake me up or instigate a change in the setting or circumstances of the dream.

It's amusing to me that my dreams seem to be addressing a decades-old anxiety (moving around, especially at the whim of the military bureaucracy) and at the same time reminding me not to take the stability of my current life for granted--even if that stability is largely geographical. As frustrated as I sometimes get with the circumstances of my life, there is no place I'd rather be--not merely because of the trauma and upheaval of moving, but because there is so much to leave behind. Family and friends first, but the comfort of a familiar area can't be overstated, especially to my Army Brat inner child. I often find myself reveling in the simplest things: for instance, I know four or five routes to get from here to the grocery store by car and at least that many by foot. It's a rare thing for someone to mention a street in town or a road in the lower half of the county that I can't picture immediately in my mind and tell you five aways to get there.

I have been here so long that I don't even have to think about where I'm going or how to get there. It has become ingrained, reflexive--a part of who I am. It is a sense of belonging built not only of people, but of place. I would imagine that people who had the luxury of growing up all in one place would be prone to take it for granted and even to feel stifled by it or resentful of it. I appreciate it to an almost geeky degree--I'm a total dork about it, if you must know.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Step One: Admitting I Am Powerless Over My Addiction

"I'll just stay addicted and hope I can endure..."
performed by B.J. Thomas, written by Mark James

Like most addicts, I've had nagging doubts about my ability to control my urges when it came to my drug of choice, but it wasn't until this week that I was forced to admit my life had become unmanageable in the face of my addiction. I have joked about it, minimized it, hidden it and even, sometimes, boasted about it in what I see now was a desperate attempt to cover up the devastating extent of my disease.

All that's over now--the protective armor of my deep denial was shattered this past week when I found myself standing in the rain at 11:14 p.m. in the parking lot behind the library with my right arm up to my shoulder in the mouth of the after-hours book drop. 

After work Wednesday night, I had a pile of books on my front seat that I casually (but gently) tossed into the book drop on my way home from work. It wasn't until I started to get out of the van at home that I realized that the book I was in the middle of reading--Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire--was not where I had left it.

Of course, I had left it on the front seat of the van and when I'd gotten into the van at work, I'd reached into the back seat to grab the return pile to move them up front--my oh-so-clever attempt to not forget to drop them off--setting them on top of Out of Oz.

So that, rather than forgetting to return the books needing returned, I flippin' returned a book I not only wanted, but, in my humbly addicted opinion, desperately needed.

In hopes that the non-addicts among you may at least partially understand the depth of my distress at having accidentally returned this book, a few facts:

1. I am such a fan of the Wicked Years series, that when I unexpectedly found the third book (A Lion Among Men) on the shelf at the library (I'd had no "warning" it was coming out), I literally jumped up and down at the sight of it.

2. I have been eagerly (and impatiently) awaiting this fourth (and final) volume since I closed the third book in 2008--and even more impatiently since I found out the release date (Nov 1) a few months ago.

3. I was about fifty pages from the end of the (500+ page) book and all kinds of things were going on. I fully expected to finish that evening and was greatly looking forward to doing so.

4. At the time that I got the book, the library here in town didn't yet have a copy so it was ordered through the interloan system. If the book was actually removed from my account and sent back into the system, it could be a week or more before I could get the book back--longer if there were other patrons waiting for it. A week or more, people, of not knowing what the hell was happening to Rain and her cohorts. Simply unbearable.

So, for these reasons, when I realized I had inadvertently returned the book, I absolutely panicked. I immediately drove back to the library to see if it was possible to retrieve the book from the book drop.* I looked into the maw of the terrible beast and saw only darkness--and a metal grate that looked maybe a little like teeth. The grate was tilted toward the back of the book drop to ease the books gently into the bin at the back.

If I could just get my arm to the back of the grate, maybe my books were high enough up for me to reach a corner of Out of Oz. Maybe...(reach)...maybe...(stretch)...maybe...(ouch!)...

Maybe this manufactured emergency was about to become an actual emergency. Maybe I not only wasn't going to get the book back, maybe I wasn't even going to get my arm back...After the physics defying act of rotating my elbow in one direction while rotating my shoulder in another, I popped free and started to realize the wisdom of accepting what I clearly could not change.

If I couldn't get the book back right now, maybe I could stick a note in the book drop and ask the nice Library Ladies not to "return" it so I could pick it up in the morning. So I penned a quick note full of desperation and dropped it into the box, being careful to remove my arm as quickly as possible.

I am not sure what happened to the note--the Library Ladies never saw it, and it may still be hung up somewhere on the innards of the book drop monster. Regardless, the book was returned into the interloan wilderness sometime before the library opened at 10 the next morning.

Through a miracle of timing, though, I got a copy of the book back the next morning anyway because our library had gotten its own copy that very day and the fantastic Library Lady who answered my frantic call (two minutes after they opened) took sympathy upon me and set it aside for me to pick up.

But, you know, none of this means I have a problem, really. I mean, I can quit anytime I want.

Besides, what options do I really have? A twelve-step program? Where do you think all those steps come from?

That's right, a Big Book.

*I am not at liberty to explain why I know this, but it was possible to retrieve some books from the former book drop system--which was a little hatch in the front door of the library that dropped into a cart with a spring-loaded bottom that fell further as it got fuller. So, if your arm was long enough and your book hadn't slid too far down or back (or if, for a purely hypothetical scenario, the snow brush from your car was long enough to nudge a too-far-back book forward into arm's reach), it could be gotten back. Hypothetically. Ahem.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Puppet Masters: Kids Make Me Say The Darnedest Things

Sometime in the past week or so (it's all become a beautiful, bloggy blur), I commented on cdnkaro's hilarious post "5 things I never imagined I would say...until I became a parent" about an essay I wrote (years ago) on the same topic. She suggested I share it and since it means less writing and more copying off my own paper, I'm happy to do so here.

This was originally written about nine years ago.

Puppet Masters: Kids Make Me Say The Darnedest Things

Let me assure you up front that I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe, for example, that the footage of 1969's mission to the moon was merely a clever fake. Nor do I believe that Elvis is still alive and in hiding somewhere--if he were, surely he would've done something when, in the '80s, the song "Love Me Tender" became the name of a dog food: Love Me Tender Chunks. ("Love me tender/Love me true/Feed me something new...")*

That having been said, it should be all the more alarming that there have been times when I've been completely convinced my children were plotting against me.

I crossed the threshold of parenthood--an institution if ever there was one--fourteen years ago and haven't had a day of peace since then. It is not merely that I haven't slept through the night in all this time, not merely that I haven't performed bathroom functions without company on one side of the door or the other in years. It is far worse than that. It seems I am at my children's mercy in more than just the usual ways.

Somehow--maybe a chemical agent in their construction paper creations--my children have gained control of my mouth. They make me say things I never dreamed I would say.

We all had lists of things we swore we, as parents, would never say to our children--things we heard often growing up: "Because I said so." and "If you all don't straighten up, I am going to turn this car around right now." and "If you're not careful, your face will freeze like that." That's just a partial list of things we knew for a fact we wouldn't stoop to say to our own children. Of course, the list and our principles often go right out the window when we're face-to-face with a three-year-old screaming at a pitch that could shatter glass or we find ourselves driving around town with a car full of children who, from the sounds of it, are reenacting the gorier scenes from Lord of the Flies just beyond the sight range of the rearview mirror.

Things have gone a step further than that in my house, though. In the past fourteen years, not only have I said--often loudly--all the things I promised never to say, I have said things that, were they overheard, could earn me a quick trip in a tight jacket to a soft room.

I have said, "What would you like me to do, write Disney?" when my oldest son, at age eight, repeatedly pointed out that the parrot in Disney's Aladdin had teeth, when real parrots so clearly do not. To which my son replied, "Yes, please, and while you're at it, tell them the lobster in Little Mermaid would only have been that red if it had been cooked."

To the emergency room staff, I have said, "My son swallowed a boutonniere pin." about this same son, who, at twelve, should've been well beyond the stage where choking hazards consume a parent's every waking moment. I was comforted to hear that my son wasn't the only one to carry the oral fixation past toddlerhood and into puberty--only the week before, a woman across town had had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on her six-foot-two-inch, seventeen-year-old son, when he accidentally swallowed a Lego building block he'd been absent-mindedly chewing while doing his homework. I can only imagine the sentences that came out of her mouth, once the danger had passed. Both boys escaped without permanent damage. Two years later, the verdict is still out on their moms.

To my second son, then eleven, who was repeatedly and fruitlessly running over the same piece of string with a soft-sided vacuum cleaner that clearly had no suction for a fairly obvious reason, I blurted, "When the vacuum cleaner looks eight months pregnant, it's probably time to change the bag." It's an indication of how far things have deteriorated that the phrase sounded perfectly logical in my brain. It was only after the words were loose in the open air that it sounded a bit, well, off.

Over the years, I have also said, "Son-Three, don't milk the dog." In my defense, my youngest son was, in fact, milking the dog. Our beagle had had puppies a few weeks before. Son-Three, then four, came upon her while she was resting on the sofa, the only place she could get any peace from the constant demands of her litter. She was lying on her side, teats exposed. Son-Three squeezed the nearest teat and a stream of milk shot across the coffee table. Still, "Don't milk the dog." is not the kind of thing you're prepared to hear yourself say.

To this same child, around the same time, I said, "Son-Three, don't swing from the chandelier." I felt I had stumbled into the punch line of a bad parenting joke when I came upon him literally swinging from the chandelier in the dining room. We moved the dining room table after that, and raised the chandelier, just to have to avoid speaking that sentence again.

My daughter, at eight, the youngest of my children and the only girl, has only recently come into her own in this department. Just a month ago, I had to say to her, "Don't rub bread on your face." She was standing in front of me holding two slices of bread, waiting for a gap in my phone conversation, apparently intending to ask what sandwich fixings were available when she began rubbing a slice of bread on either side of her face. Strangely, in all the years I devoted to daydreaming about the warm, wonderful, soul-searching conversations I might have with my children, and all the hard-won wisdom I imagined I might one day pass on to the next generation, the phrase, "Don't rub bread on your face." didn't play a major part.

When these illogical and unexpected phrases began popping out of my mouth at an alarming rate--looking back, around the time the first of my children became mobile--I couldn't help but be a little concerned. Was parenthood too much for me? Was my mind going? Worse, were the increasingly odd things coming out of my mouth an indication that our lives were spinning completely out of control?

With each passing year, though, I've come to see the odd phrases and the moments that inspired them not as symptoms, but as gifts. No, I am not exactly the parent I dreamed of being, nor are my children the spunky, but angelic tykes I fantasized giving birth to in my pre-parental days. But the reality is so much more entertaining, educational, and, yes, soul-enriching than the cardboard cutout daydream version would have been. And, maybe my kids are making me say this, but I wouldn't have it any other way.


*This was not part of the original essay, but as I was typing this, it occurred to me that even if Elvis were willing to let the damned dog food thing slide, Lisa Marie's bizarre and blessedly temporary marriages to Michael Jackson and then Nicholas Cage would surely have spurred him into revealing himself. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Listen Here--A Giveaway!

Updated: The audibook goes to...S. Stauss! Thanks for stopping by.

After the Masked Mom's Media Monday review of Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers, I was contacted by the nice folks at Macmillan Audio, who asked me to spread the word about the audio version of the book by giving away a copy of said audiobook to one of my "loyal readers." You need not be terribly loyal to win--just let me know in the comments that you're interested and in a few days, we'll randomly generate a number with a random number generator and contact the winner who will receive the book directly from Macmillan Audio.

In the meantime, you can (I hope) preview an audio clip by clicking here.* Or, find more information about the audiobook by clicking below.

*I am generally pretty easy to please--especially when it comes to FREE blogging sites, but the fact that I just spent three hours poking around the shadier neighborhoods of the Internet (and sold a tiny piece of my soul, I'm pretty sure--though Hubby assures me I have a large enough soul to spare a little, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) and STILL couldn't find a way to embed an audio clip into a post successfully has made me a LITTLE irritable. I have settled instead for linking to the clip that is linked onTom Perrotta's page. Don't be surprised if, instead of hearing the first few lines of the audiobook, you are whisked away into Medieval Europe or the year 2413, a year in which, I hope, people can easily embed audio even in FREE blogging sites.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I'm Tellin'...

The "kinda nerdy, happily wordy and bookishly dorkalicious" (all true and all stolen from her blog header) Word Nerd tagged me for the "Tell Me About Yourself" award, which involves sharing seven things about myself and then passing the award on to fifteen other bloggers.  Here's the badge that comes with the award--I'm posting it here in spite of the fact that, based upon information she provided when notifying me of this award, posting it may contracturally obligate me to provide the Word Nerd with cookies. I actually enjoy baking--and I'm not even going to cheat and try to use that as one of my seven things.

I am, however, going to be a gigantic slacker on the passing the award on--I have only recently begun actively blogging again and pretty much everyone I "know" well enough to pass this on to is already on someone else's list. But I will highly recommend clicking over to Word Nerd's list of 15 and checking out some of the great writing and great bloggers listed there.

And of course, I would love to get to know better some of the bloggers who are not on that list who have recently been stopping by here. Anyone who is game, feel free to grab the badge (No cookies necessary--I'm more of a cupcake girl.) and link to your seven things in the comments here.

And now, at long(ish) last, my seven things:

1.As I pulled into work this afternoon, I was listening to the theme song from "Welcome Back Kotter". On purpose.

2. I did a 20 Things About Me post in 2005. I was going to cheat off myself and repost some of them, but I'll just link to it here instead.

3. I work at a halfway house for recovering addicts and alcoholics. My biggest struggle at work is dealing with residents in their late teens or early twenties--near or at the ages of my own sons. They always break my heart a little. Sometimes they break it a lot.

4. My DVR is set to record every episode of The Young and The Restless. I am currently 23 episodes behind, but I know I will eventually binge and get "caught up." Most of the time, I have no idea why I watch it even while I'm watching it, but I have so far been unable to stop.

5. For weeks after I finished Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, I couldn't talk or think about the book without getting actual goosebumps. It was the closest I've come to writing a fan letter since the one I sent to Melissa Gilbert in fifth grade. I still kind of regret not following through.

6. The fan letter I sent to Melissa Gilbert in fifth grade was part of a school assignment and had less to do with Melissa Gilbert herself and more to do with Melissa Gilbert as the embodiment of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose books I read over the summer between fourth and fifth grade. I still feel a weird attachment to Melissa and even read her memoir, A Prairie Tale.

7. I consistently mix up fours and sevens. Despite my ever-advancing age, I still have a pretty good memory for names, faces and numbers generally, but somewhere in my brain there are some crossed wires between sevens and fours--my mind retains them interchangeably and has for as long as I can remember. So I never quite trust myself with any number that includes either of those two digits. I have the same problem with the words "lawn mower" and "vacuum cleaner"--it requires conscious effort on my part to spit out the correct word.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

You Say Potato, I Say What The Hell Are You Talking About?!

Growing up an Army brat, I became accustomed to regional differences in speech. What was a "soda" one place was "pop" in another and "tonic*" in still another. Though these differences occasionally tripped me up (an example of which is coming soon), I mostly thought of them as quirky linguistic flavoring and collected the best of them, some of which are still with me.

For example, before I lived in Mr. High School's hometown in central Pennsylvania, I always put "soon" after the verbs in my sentences, like pretty much everyone I'd ever known--"I'll be leaving soon." By the time I moved away (the first time), I was mostly putting it before the verb, like everyone I was close to in that area did--"I'll soon be leaving." I have long since reverted to my default of after-the-verb, but every once in a while, a before-the-verb will slip out and make me all nostalgic.

Not all linguistic differences are created equally, though. Growing up primarily in towns around Pennsylvania, I pronounced--and still do--the word "aunt" the same way I pronounce the insects that live in hills. When I was in ninth grade, we moved to New Hampshire, where everyone pronounced it like the word "on" with a "t" stuck on the end. Of course, I had been aware that it could be pronounced that way--maybe even that it should be pronounced that way or may, at least, have been intended to be pronounced that way. But! That was not the way I pronounced it.

I couldn't bring myself to pronounce aunt "their" way, but neither could I bring myself to pronounce it "my" way for fear of being made fun of--a valid concern considering that I was badgered for months after moving about my so-called "Southern" accent. My understanding of "Southern" and theirs differed, of course. But I had little ground to stand on in that department, since Pennsylvania was, technically, south of New Hampshire--and apparently everything south of New Hampshire qualified as "Southern."

The point being, the entire two and a half years I lived in New Hampshire, I never once used the word aunt in mixed company. When I spoke about one of my (many, many) aunts, which was admittedly not often and probably less so under the circumstances, I always referred to her as "my mother's sister" or "my mother's brother's wife" or whatever verbal gymnastics were required to avoid that damned four-letter word.

After those years of bouncing around, I am still fascinated, though rarely shocked, to find that people from different areas have new and different ways of saying things, which brings me to tonight's story.

Recently, I pulled the halfway house van (commonly called, among the guys themselves, the Druggy Buggy--another turn of phrase that was novel when I first heard it) alongside the curb at the grocery store to wait for several residents. I was chatting with the residents who were already in the van when a man I had never seen before came to the window on my side and shouted, "Next time, instead of giving me the finger, maybe you should use your signal!" and then stormed away.

I was too stunned to respond and to this day have no idea who he thought I was or how he could've mistaken our very large, bright red van for any other very large, bright red van (there's not another in town, to my knowledge--in a town of right around 5,000 people, I'm pretty sure I would've spotted it by now) or me for any other driver from the halfway house, for that matter.

In any case, I was sort of sitting there with my mouth hanging open, figuratively if not literally, when the resident in the passenger seat beside me said, "You didn't finger him, did you?"

Uh, no, no I did not.

*I'm not sure if it's still true, but when I moved to New Hampshire in the '80s, "tonic" referred not merely to "tonic" but to any old soda.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta--UPDATED

"We are like sheep without a shepherd,
We don't know how to be alone,
So we wander 'round this desert,
And wind up following the wrong gods home."
performed by The Eagles, written by Don Henley & Stanley Lynch

Tom Perrotta's novel The Leftovers opens in the aftermath of the disappearance (literally into thin air) of millions of people around the world. The official word is "It was a Rapture-like phenomenon, but it doesn't appear to have been the Rapture." The event scientists, pundits, and politicians dub the "Sudden Departure" is interpreted--and used to advantage--in a variety of ways by different groups and individuals worldwide.

The suburban town of Mapleton, where most of the action takes place is home to a chapter of the "Guilty Remnant," a cult-like group who believe the "Sudden Departure" was the Rapture and have taken it upon themselves to "save" as many of the left behind as possible. The outward behavior of the group's members is distressing. They wear white, constantly smoke cigarettes in public, maintain strict vows of silence, and wander around town in pairs at all hours of the day and night as "Watchers," silently monitoring the behavior of their former friends and neighbors: "They just stood there, calm and expressionless, sucking on their cigarettes. It was supposed to remind you that God was watching, keeping track of your smallest actions--at least that was what Kevin had heard--but the effect was mostly just annoying, something a little kid would do to get on your nerves." As the story progresses and one of the main characters, Laura Garvey, becomes more deeply involved with the Remnant, the creepy and inconvenient outward behavior of its members pales in comparison to the sinister goings-on behind the scenes of Guilty Remnant.  

The central characters in the book--Laura Garvey and her husband, Kevin, and college-age son, Tom, and teenage daughter, Jill, each deal with the cataclysmic shift in their understanding of the world in their own separate ways and each choice has its own set of consequences.

The search for meaning is practically universal, especially in the wake of incomprehensible events. Where and how we seek those answers may reveal as much about us as any external "answers" ever could. Desperation for answers can lead us into some desperate situations, as the Garveys learn in the course of the book.

With characters who take different "sides" in some of the essential questions about life--the search for meaning, the importance and place for faith, how (and whether) to carry on in the face of incapacitating grief--it would've been easy for Perrotta's characters to drift into caricature, to become two-dimensional representations of polar opposite positions. Instead, as was true in his previous work The Abstinence Teacher, Perrotta shows us not just how people are, but how they may have gotten that way. It helps us to understand that even people with whom we most vehemently disagree may be just doing the best they can.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review:  Recommended.

Find information about the audiobook and the opportunity to win a free copy here.