Monday, October 29, 2007

Lemme At Her!

I have had a bad weekend, even though absolutely nothing went wrong. The bad is all in my head, brought about by an uber-mother to-do list that would gag Martha Stewart. (BTW, since I don't have TV, help me out on this. Is Martha Stewart still around? Still an icon for over-achievers? Or should I choose someone else? Who?)

Who is the "she" in, "I don't know how she does it?" I hate that bitch. Or, "She who must be obeyed?" Lemme at her. What do they have that I don't have? Brains? Talent? A superior day-planner? A better multi-vitamin? My husband, seeking to comfort me, actually dared to say, "Don't sweat the small stuff..." I spun around and pointed my blazing six-shooter glare at him. "Are you about to tell me, '...and it's all small stuff?'" Si raised his hands in the air "No. That's a stupid saying. Not everything is small stuff." "That's right. The person who coined that phrase? Notice how we haven't heard from that person in a while? That person was murdered by some mother who found out at the end of the first quarter that she was in charge of treats for her daughter's soccer game." "Oh...which reminds me...", he says, looking at the roster on the fridge.

Deep down, I know I'm being dumb. I'm reading a book by Ishmael Beah that graphically depicts what it's like to have real problems. (By the way, I'm about half way through it, and recommend it highly if you, like me, need to be reminded about what is and isn't "small stuff") Maybe this is why I'm more frustrated than usual: I'm not able to make headway on even non-life-threatening tasks.

Kate's list of recently dropped balls, all of which need to be scooped back up and juggled some more, along with a whole bunch of new ones:
  • Colored pencils in diverse, multi-racial skin-tones for Sara's art project.

  • Nate's skeleton costume. Still consists of a black body suit and a pile of white felt.

  • Four pots of decorative, drought resistant grasses bought but not planted. I got the lilac bush in the ground, but not these. Will the neighbors get to watch me this evening, digging in my garden in my skirt, stockings, dress shoes? Won't be the first time.
  • The Duplo, Brio, Playmobil, Lincoln-Log and Polly-Pocket families had a major block party this weekend and are all hanging out, hung over, in each other's boxes. Frankly, do I care? The kids don't.
  • My ex-vegetable garden is still clogged with crispy tomato plants, rattling in their cages, waiting to be removed.
  • Work. God, let's not even go there. Of, yeah. I am there. Well, OK, I'd better get to it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gourds are Good

So the gap that Nate carved in the jack-o-lantern's teeth works well for this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fire Drill

[Before I write tonight, I want to aplogize for my neglect. I have not been to visit my friends' blogs in a few days, and I miss reading about each of you. I makes me sad to miss out on the happenings in your lives, and I will be reading madly to catch up in a couple of days.]


At the school where I work, it is Emergency Preparedness Week, which means that during the day the little kids march outside for fire drills; shelter under their desks from imaginary earthquakes; and practice lock-downs, in which everyone pretends that the doors to our classrooms actually lock.

People are, I have discovered, much less concerned about the evening adult education program. I suppose this is partly because they are grown-ups and party because my boss, who is in charge of fire drills, doesn't work nights. In the 15 years I have worked at my school, we have never had a fire drill during evening classes, so we decided to give it a try. This was a drill for a drill, really. To do a proper drill, the fire alarm has to go off, and it has to be a surprise. Setting off the fire alarm requires a joint effort on the part of my boss, the alarm company and the fire department. Sometime soon? My students tell me they would prefer to wait until summer, when it's warm.

At any rate, the staff and I assigned ourselves evacuation tasks and decided to have the drill at 7:50 PM. I spent time before the drill going from classroom to classroom, explaining fire drills and evacuation plans to our students. This is an English as a Second Language program, thus requiring broad gestures to indicate the proper stairwell, the nearest exit and the "meeting place". By the fourth explanation or so, I felt like a flight attendant, or like I was doing the "Macarena". Everyone agreed to pretend to be surprised and put their coats on.

It went pretty well, but we did learn some things from the experience.

1. Regarding the sounding of the alarm, there is no substitute for the real thing. Kate parading through the hallways with a pot and lid from the school kitchen is a poor (though amusing) substitute.

2. If you have a fire drill at night, it will be dark. I had told all the groups to congregate on the street in front of the school, find their supervising teachers and check in so everyone could be accounted for. Instead, we all milled around trying to find each other until we gave up and went back inside for coffee. I need to get a little flashlight for each teacher, so she can be easily spotted. As it was, we were reduced to bleating like sheep searching for our lambs. And you know how it is. You call out, "JOSE!", and eight male voices from all directions shout, "HERE!"

By the way, when is the drill over? When can I stop the stopwatch? When everyone is A) out of the building? B) clear of the fire zone and at the "meeting place"? C) accounted for by the supervising teacher? If it's "C", the drill isn't over, yet.

3. Walkie-talkies are cool, but it helps to know how to use one. As arranged, our Floor Manager, Mark, had grabbed one and I had grabbed the other at the beginning of the drill. As we exited the building, I could hear him: "Kate, the building's clear. Do you read?" In the dark, milling with the crowd, I was randomly squeezing bits of walkie-talkie, going, "Hello? Hello?" Afterward, back in the building, he showed me the button to press. Oh, OK. I went to the end of the hall so we could try it again, and unthinkingly held it up to my ear, causing my head to explode when he talked. "It's not a phone, Kate!" Right.

I don't know if our students feel any safer, but they were highly entertained.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Pumpkins 900"

Unfortunately, my degree in mommy-ology did not include this course. It's graduate level, and I didn't get that far. After I failed "Girls' Hairstyles 350", they didn't think I had potential for an advanced degree. Here's the jack-o-lantern Nate and I made.

In my defense, Nate and I both worked on the mouth, and while I was smoothing and trimming one side, he was busy on the other, humming softly to himself. " am a dentist..."

Simon, on the other hand, sort of took over Sara's jack-o-lantern. He likes to try something a little edgier. Push the envelope. He would never admit it, but he LOVES carving pumpkins, 'cause he's English and they don't do a lot for Halloween; at least they didn't when he was a kid. The Celts (I believe) made the first jack-o-lanterns, but out of turnips, not pumpkins. Talk about time-consuming... Here's Simon's interpretation of Harry Potter in flight, reaching for he snitch with his scarf blowing out behind him. Can you see it, now that I've told you exactly what it is?

Oh, yeah, sure enough.

And then "HP" in lightning-bolt letters on the back.

Sara and I think we would just get him a pumpkin of his own next year. "Sunset" magazine had some great falling leaf patterns.

Get busy, Si.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mixing Paints

I had actually planned to write on a different topic, but the kids are sobbing and shrieking upstairs. Finally, I can't stand it any more.


The sobbing comes closer...closer... They are standing at attention in front of me.

"What. Is. Going. On?"

Sara, through her tears: "Itoldhimhecouldpaintwiththewatercolorsbuthedoesn'tevenreallywantto painthejustwantsto mixthecolorsallup. He's MIXING and MIXING..." (She dissolves again into tears.)

Nathan: "Weeeellllll, I DO want to paint..."

Sara: (Interrupting) "YOU DO NOT!!! Moooommmmm, he's not painting! He just keeps telling me he's going to flick paint at me."

Nathan: "Am not! I want to paint and I need to mix the colors. (In a meditative, sensual tone...) I MIX the colors, they are soooooo pretty. I put my brush in the red, and then in the orange..." He is looking sideways at Sara. He is saying this because he knows this will make her scream:

Sara: "NO!!! NO MIXING!"

Nathan: "Aaaand, she is (he holds up his hand and begins to itemize on his fingers) pinching me, slapping me, flicking bits of paper at me..."

(Sob-surge from Sara.)

I am exasperated at this point. "Oh, Sara, cut it out. You know how much those paints cost? Almost nothing. Big deal if he mixes the colors - we can get more at the grocery st-"


Actually, no, I was not aware of this important distinction between our two little trays of watercolors. They both look utterly hashed to me.

Finally, I said, "Sara, Nathan can paint any way he wants. If he mixes the paint, big deal." While I was thus chiding Sara, Nathan got this smug, s*** eating grin.

"And you, Nathan..." Ooops. The grin is wiped suddenly and cleanly from off his little face, replaced by false remorse. "There will be no flicking, throwing, smearing or other uses of paint for torture."

"OK, Mommy." "OK, Mommy."

Nathan exits the interrogation and Sara, once dismissed, lunges after him in a way that makes me yell, "SARA? I saw that. Do not pinch your brother." I guess I'd better go upstairs now. There is an eerie silence that does not bode well. My husband had to work today. I envy him.

Friday, October 19, 2007


We just bought flooring at a local furniture place and got a $99 special deal on this fabulous foosball table. It'll be great in the rec room downstairs, after the flooring project is over. It arrived a few days ago, and Si opened the box, just to "make sure nothing was broken".

I came home the next evening and he had emptied the box, to "check that all the parts are there".

Then the little men went on their rods. May as well get started with some of the preliminaries.

Two nights ago, I discovered it was all put together except for the legs. Si was eyeing them and saying, "Those legs. I hope they're not wobbly. It seems sturdy up to this point, but the real test will be the legs."

Yeah, sure enough I got home last night, and it was all done. Now it's too big to remove from the living room.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Five Things

I was tagged by "Flying Pink Elephants" to play "5 Things". I like being tagged - it offers me a chance to blog without pondering a topic. What a relief.

5 things found in my room:
  • MY BED! God, how I love it. I don't get to spend nearly enough time in it lately, so I think about it all the time. Cream-colored flannel sheets patterned with autumn leaves...cotton comforter from Target that I just bought this summer, but feels like it has been washed a thousand times. Orgasmic.
  • Cozy sofa with brass reading lamp;
  • The beginnings of my black and white photo gallery;
  • Books I've hung onto since I was a kid: "Anne of Green Gables", the "Little House" books, "Narnia", "Winnie the Pooh";
  • Unused bottles of perfume on my dresser. I'm not a big perfume person - patchouli, if anything. But every time my MIL comes to visit, she brings me a bottle.
5 things I’ve always wanted to do:
  • Scuba dive;
  • Ride in a helicopter;
  • Take a nice, long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters in September. Maybe 8-10 days;
  • Go to medical school so I can join "Doctors without Borders" and be useful;
  • Visit the places my students are from: Mexico, Vietnam, Tibet. Not like a tourist, though; like a member of the family.
5 things in my bag (I'll do my carry-all, 'cause my purse is so boring):

My carry-all is genuine fake patent leather. It has a slinky woman in silhouette cavorting on a chile pepper. It says "Muy Caliente!"("Very Hot!") It is beyond tacky and utterly inappropriate.
  • Flash drive in a Ziploc bag, 'cause I lost the cap;
  • "Energy" mints, with caffeine. The can in which they are contained has a satisfying rattle. Unfortunately, it takes 8 mints to equal a cup of coffee. Geeze.
  • Leatherman tool;
  • Receipt from "Hair by Edie" (I went there today. Being shampooed by Edie is almost as good as going to bed.)
  • Ancient bottle of hand lotion so gross and crusty that it once tested positive for explosives at airport security, necessitating a pat-down. I've been frisked.
5 things found in my wallet (this is REALLY boring):
  • A tiny booklet called "The Basics", which tells me how to use my cell phone; then the remaining contents are all cards....
  • Pink punch-card for 10 free spinning classes at the rec center. I need to use it before it expires. The pressure.
  • Cards, cards, cards: voter registration, credit, debit, rec center membership, city library, county library, health insurance, dental insurance, driver's license, Costco;
  • Oh, and a little money;
  • And a blank check, folded small in a hidden compartment.
5 things I’m currently into:
  • Uh, blogging.
  • Photography. I'm trying to learn. I wish I could move to Florida and apprentice myself to Seagrape. She's incredible.
  • Making terrariums (or, is it terraria???), which is my upcoming project with my daughter's Brownie troop next week. Pray for me.
  • My knees. My friend M. had knee surgery last week, and ever since I've had...knee awareness. Ooooh. Is that a twinge I'm feeling right now? Could it be (gasp!) the meniscus? I'm being so nice to my knees this week.
  • Tequila

There! Whew! OK, I'll tag 5 friends now, per the rules of the game. Anyone else want to play? Please do!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


"Apuesta" is Spanish for "bet". I learned that from one of my adult English as a Second Language (ESL) students tonight, when he coughed up this lucky charm as his forfeit.

Thanks, Carlos!

Carlos and I wager on things occasionally. He usually pays up with food though, and I had forgotten about this bet until he reminded me. Our ESL school has a childcare and some years, (particularly if Halloween falls on a Tuesday or Thursday night, when we have the class), the children do a Halloween costume parade. Carlos is obsessed with this notion, 'cause he loves to dress up in his hideous rubber ghoul costume and scare the crap out of the kids. He is hoping to continue his reign of terror this year, with a new crop of kids.

Here he is a couple years ago, posing with one of our volunteer tutors. Yeah, hi, Carlos. Sweating much in there?

"Teacher. I dress for Halloween and SCARE the children. Halloween is on this year Tuesday!"
"Hmmm. No, I think it's on Wednesday this year. "
"No, Tuesday."
"Uh-uh. Wednesday."
(Here we go again...) "Carlos, I bet you $2 it's on a Wednesday."

After a quick lesson on what "I betcha" means, we shook on it.

It'll be great on my rear view mirror.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Worm Society

I had really hoped to get into the mountains this weekend, but gazing in frustration from the sun porch was about all I could manage. Very sad.

The weather has been shitty in Salt Lake for the last three weekends, including Saturday this weekend, so that left us just Sunday to take care of business in the yard. Almost everything's done, except my mums, which are going crazy.

Simon and the kids spent the day digging me a new garden in the front yard. This isn't because I've been wanting a new garden, but because we can't get the lawn to grow there, no matter what. Well, it would grow there if we'd water the hell out of it, like the previous owners did. This is a desert, after all, so we're trying to phase in more drought resistant plants and cut back on watering. In fact, Simon wants to xeriscape the whole front yard, but I'm chicken. What if I can't make it look good and the neighbors have us arrested? This little drought resistant garden is my test patch.

The kids "helped" by rescuing worms. Every worm they overturned had to be relocated to a safer garden. "A safe and happy life for every worm, no matter how lowly." That was the original mission statement of the Worm Society. But, as often happens in well-meaning charity endeavors, they experienced what we call "mission creep". Soon, services expanded to include potato bugs. This then led to infighting on the Board of Directors regarding the direction these services should take. Those for preserving potato bugs (Sara, because they're cute) were at loggerheads with those declaring potato bugs bad for the plants (Nathan, who advocated euthanasia). The final straw was the further expansion of services in order to reach out to slugs. I uprooted and threw away the shriveled zucchini plants, revealing a big fat one; Nathan somehow saw it to be within the purview of the Worm Society to chop the slug in half with my trowel, screeching "Hi-YAH!". After the resulting gooey gore-fest, the Worm Society was disbanded in disgust, and Sara and I went inside to bake a pie instead.

This photo as taken in the early, happy days of the Worm Society, before the trouble began.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Scariest Part of Halloween?

The costumes. Tonight was my deadline for costume decisions. The kids have spent the last 6 weeks or so telling me, "I'm going to be a unicorn! No! A prince! No! A hula dancer! No!..." After Friday, October 12th, all costume choices are final. "OK, guys. This is it. Gimme your first choice and a backup, in case I can't figure out how to make it."

Nate's easy. Plan A is a skeleton. Bless him. Plan B is a bat, but I won't need to go to Plan B. We have an old velour cat-suit, long since missing its tail. So all I need to do is get some white felt, cut out bones, spend a little time with Mr. Glue Gun, and we're all set. I'll buy him a mask. We have a Grim Reaper-ish hood from a previous Halloween in the dress-up box, so he's all set.

Sara on the other hand...she is passionate about her Plan A - a dragon. Ooof. No plan came immediately to mind. I Googled it and sure enough, there was a pattern for a homemade dragon costume. But check it out!

What!? How about a costume that doesn't require a degree from MIT? Her reluctant Plan B is Hermione Granger. I could do that.... I actually have the right kind of robes, left over from my Oxford days; and a woolly scarf in Gryffindor colors. We would need a wig, is all. I can tell though, that she reeeeally wants to be a dragon. Anybody out there in Blogsville ever made an easy dragon costume? I'd love advice and ideas; or commiseration will also be gratefully accepted. I see a lot of corrugated cardboard in my future.

Got kids? What do they want to be for Halloween?

"More Fun With Bad Translations"

Also known as: "Growth in Chirp Like Cricket with Poor-Acting Intercourse Transfer".

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Today's High and Low

As I sometimes do when my life isn't very blogable, I'll play my "high point / low point" game. You can play as well by writing about the best moment and the worst moment of your day today. (This works best at the end of a day.) There's a good chance that your high won't be very high and your low won't be too low, but dig deep - try to figure out what moments they are.

Low Point

K's mom. K. loves to play with my son Nathan at daycare after school. They always come up to me when I get there and beg for a play date. I've tried, like, five times to set something up, calling K's house to be told, vaguely, that they aren't sure how the day is going to go, yet; they think they might go over to the local pool at some point this afternoon...maybe if we're all there at the same, unspecified time, the boys could play. Sometimes, she tells me that her husband has stepped out to do some errands, and she needs to talk with him about what he has planned for the day, then she doesn't call back. Other times, I just leave multiple voice messages. K's mom and I arrived at the same time today, so K. and Nathan came to both of us and asked us together. Play date? Play date? K's mom laughed and made eye-contact with me. She didn't quite roll her eyes. "Yeah, sure!" she said in a fakey tone of voice that said, "When donkeys fly!" I decided not to let it pass and said, "You bet. We're not doing anything special for the next couple of weekends. I have your number! I'll call you this weekend and we can figure it out! Byeeee! Talk to you later!" I can't figure her out. Nathan's other friends all come over to play without reporting neglect or abuse... I sometimes wonder if it's a religion thing. Or maybe she's just really, really disorganized.

High Point

Talking with Sara and Nate at supper. We talked about issues. They are both pretty upset about the population of highland gorillas that is caught up in the fighting in Republic of Congo. In Sara's opinion, we should call off the war in Iraq, redeploy the soldiers to Congo, beat the mean guys who are killing the rangers and save the gorillas. Simple! Regretfully, I explained the notion of national sovereignty and pointed out that it would be a case of extricating ourselves from one civil war in order to plop ourselves down in the midst of another. It made me happy, though, that she has actually been thinking the problem through and trying to come up with solutions. (Sniff!) My baby's going to grow up to be an activist! I'm so proud! (I'm dabbing my eyes.)

I'm Really Glad I'm Not Eight Anymore

It's been a while since Sara has mentioned her romantic rivals, B. and O. I was happy; I thought they had decided she has cooties. But the saga continues. O. was the favorite, but he's on his way out. I was hanging out in the bathroom with Sara tonight, sitting on the bathroom floor, visiting with her while she had her shower.

"Mom? Are warts contagious?"
(Uh-oh. I'm really not too sure. ARE they?) "Uh... Nah, I don't think so."
"Oh. Well, O. keeps chasing me around, trying to touch me with his wart."
"Oh, for Pete's sake. Tell him to grow up. Tell him that you're not afraid of his stupid wart."
"But I AM afraid of it!"

So, the flags are not flying high for O.

B. on the other hand, is in recovery mode.

I guess, according to what she told me today, that he was being mean. "Did you know that B. told Katie to tell Kaitlyn to tell Mo to tell C.J. that I suck?"
"Really! What for?"
"I dunno."

She got out of the shower and dried off, then went into her room and came back. She had a silver key-fob with a gold-colored dolphin that read "Aloha! Hawaii!" on it, and a note: "I want you to have this it is a way of saying sorry fore all that I have done."

Hmmm... He seems to be getting a clue.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Puny, Petty, Pathetic

Lately, this is how my life strikes me. No grand adventures. No great debates. Since I'm not allowed to be bored (That would be ungrateful, and anyway, I can hear my older brother admonishing me, "Only BORING people are bored."), let's just call it...restlessness. I do realize that the reason I started blogging was to acknowledge the smallness of life and, in examining it, get beyond it. I'm starting to chafe, though. I can't influence the junta in Myanmar, but I make a superior marinara. We still don't have universal health care or an immigration plan, but my daughter flosses.
THESE are my contributions? Fuuuuck. I had bigger plans, but here I am, in the 'burbs. To illustrate...

The Petty Confrontation

I did my grocery shopping today. While I was loading my car, a big pickup pulled in right next to the cart-return corral. I returned my cart. The corral was full of carts, and I nested four of them together with mine. I turned and walked away. As I passed behind the tailgate of the pickup, I dimly registered the driver saying, "Well, it doesn't look like you did any damage to the truck." I scarcely noticed what he was saying, until he said louder, "Ma'am? I said, I don't suppose you did any damage to my truck...!" I realized that he was talking to me! I stopped and looked at him. (BTW, I loathe being called "ma'am".) I had made no contact whatsoever with his truck. I looked so befuddled by this accusation that he had to clarify: "You know, when it smashed into my tailgate?" Ummm... I told him that I really had no idea what he was talking about, and he said that maybe it was such and such other lady who put her cart away just before I did, blah, blah, blah... I felt guilty, though. I have no idea why. Had molecules from the air movement caused by my passing cart adversely affected the molecules comprising his custom painted tailgate? (Gasp!) What had I done?

I also had an impulse that I attribute to my general ennui. An impulse to make uproar. Add a little drama. I thought, "What if I were to burst into tears?" How fun! I could snivel, "Oh, my God! I can't believe you would accuse me in this way! In front of all these people! I hate being accused of a wrong I did not commit. I didn't do anything, and here you are, saying that I did, but I didn't...I SWEAR...TO...GOD!" after which I dissolve into sobs. That would have added a little interest. I didn't. But I contemplated it.

The Puny Local Controversy

According to a Letter to the Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune by a senior at Brighton High School, it is an injustice that girls cannot wear strapless gowns for Homecoming. Not even the upperclassmen! Oh, my Gawd! (When I write my next letter to the Trib and don't get published, I will remember that this girl did.) This letter has generated several days worth of response and discussion. Of course strapless is not permissible, one writer said. It would drive young men to acts of indecency! Then another young man wrote in to say that he doesn't appreciate such cheapening of the maidenly form. He prefers his dates to dress modestly. (Here in Utah, the whole issue of "modest" dress is a big deal. In fact, even the choice of the word "modest" in this discussion gives it religious undertones.) This exchange has been going on for over a week, now. In today's letter, Dwight Adams told us that we would be shocked (SHOCKED!) if we knew how a guy's mind worked when it comes to women. Really, Dwight!? You're shittin' me.
"Then there are those of us who work to control our imaginations. The more immodestly you dress, the harder it becomes for the man to control that part of himself. Many of us will deal only with modest girls, just to avoid the hassle." Thanks Dwight, for taming the raging beast within. "Males who enjoy strapless gowns..." are in serious danger of an enormous boner suddenly shooting out of their boxers and smacking them (or innocent bystanders) right in the face! A guy could lose his front teeth that way.
But you see, here is something I can hold on to! Tsk! Not that! Get your minds out of the gutter. I'm talking philosophy, here.
Feeling powerless?
Feeling like you don't make a difference?
Go strapless! Man will be forced to cope with the "...sexual stimulation that female exposure provides." (Quoting Dwight again.) You will make an impact.

Someone please come and rescue me from Utah.

And finally, The Pathetic Substitute for the campfire we should have had this weekend.

My poor kids are roasting marshmallows in the chimenea on the back patio, because the weather sucked this past weekend, and we had to blow off our camping trip to Arches NP. Could this be the actual cause of my melancholy?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don't Worry, Folks!

It's commercially sterile!

I expect this might not be getting regular coverage on CNN, but the story of the rat's head in the can of green beans is rocking the town of Lehi, Utah.

A lady bought the can of beans, canned by Allen Canning of Arkansas, at her local Wal-Mart, and found this when she opened the can. Yum! I think that little pink ear is so cute, and all the sloughed-off fur is SOOO appetizing...

Actually, I think she's making a bit of a fuss about it. I spent some of the summers of my youth working in a cannery, so I know that sometimes...stuff can slide on by you on the picking tables. I canned peas and corn, and I didn't see anything worse than thistle buds, smut blobs, dead bugs, giant tangled clots of sopping corn the occasional morsel of dead toad. I've heard stories about beans, though. I never worked at the local bean canning plant, which was just down the road, but I heard stories about the stuff the bean combines would scoop up and haul in to the plant. Mice, rats...I even heard once of a possum that survived both the bean combine and the cutter (it IS hard to kill a possum), and arrived out on the picking table in...well...a bad mood.

What amuses me most about this story is the cautionary tale it should provide public relations people everywhere. Do not let your company spokesperson go on record saying, "There's no way that product could have hurt her....This rodent was rendered commercially sterile."

That's the problem. Put a rat head in one can of beans, pretty soon everybody's going to want one.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


It's becoming a fall tradition - every October I find myself sitting on a rug littered with Duplo, holding a screaming toddler.

In October, we start our Family Literacy program, which meets in the mornings and so generally serves quite a few stay-at-home moms. We have childcare of course, but I have learned that people from different cultural backgrounds have different views about leaving their children, or even about putting their children down. Our childcare helpers, the long-suffering Leticia and her husband Francisco, get to spend quite a bit of October cooped up up with about 12 infants and toddlers who have scarcely ever been out of their mothers' sights.

After a while they get used to it, but the first couple weeks are...trying. It doesn't take us long to figure out who is going to be The Crier. This is the one with extraordinary endurance. And leadership skills: when The Crier cries, all the other kids start crying, too. Soon one shrill little "MAMAAAAAA!!! MAMAAAAAA!" turns into a wailing chorus. Last year, the honor went to a team effort by the three-year-old twins, A. and A. They reigned as champions because each supported of the other's effort. I'm sure that, without help from her twin, neither would have been able to sustain a two-hour crying jag. I suppose they napped well afterward...

This year, I think the laurels may go to 18 month-old M. The moment her mom lifted her out of the stroller and put her down, we knew the direction the morning was going to take. Who could guess that something so small could make that much noise? I hustled her mother out of the room to give her a placement test, but little M's screams shattered windows blocks away, I'm sure.

All you parents out there, do you know the spot in your occipital lobe that jolts you like a cattle prod at the sound of a crying child? That jangling, imperative (but not very articulate) voice: "HUH? BABY CRYING!! MUST! NURTURE! NOW!" The whole time I was testing the mother, neither of us could concentrate. Then, it was quiet. Ahhh... The mother and I smiled at each other. "She's stopped," I said. "Whew! Since she's being so good, do you want to go into the classroom and meet your teacher?" "Yes." We didn't realize that we couldn't hear her anymore because Leticia had taken her outside on the lawn. A few minutes later, she was back. The neighbors would have called the cops otherwise. Finished with my testing at this point, I went to the nursery, opened the door and walked into the original Wall of Sound. Baby M. had set off all the other babies - it was mayhem. She's smart, too. As soon as the door opened, she made for it, figuring she could make a mad dash for her mother between my legs. Nope. I have learned some tricks from being Nathan's mom. I snagged her - she punched me with her tiny fist. Sending up a little payer of gratitude that I teach adults, not kids, I sat down on the rug to wait her out.

She may be this year's Crier, but she can't go for the full two hours. She's smaller than the twins were and screaming requires a lot of energy. Finally, she was an exhausted blob of snot, and oozed her way onto my lap, snuffling and hiccuping. There is actually something very relaxing about holding a limp, gooey toddler. I am trapped. Pinned down, but mindlessly happy. Back in my office, the phone is ringing, people are wondering where I am. I am sitting there on the rug, grinding my stocking into someone's half-chewed animal cracker, rocking this kid. Note to self - the Family Literacy program needs a rocking chair.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Stiff", by Mary Roach

Caveat #1: I like to share my opinions of the books I read, but this is not a proper book review. This is an improper book review. If you want something more studious...well, they have blogs for that.

Caveat #2: "Stiff" is a book infused with liberal splashes of black humor. I laughed; but not everyone does. If you';e not in the mood for macabre humor today, come back and read this tomorrow instead.

I wouldn't exactly say that I loved this book. That would be weird. But it was very interesting and fun to discuss. Mary Roach is a journalist and divided "Stiff" into chapters that stand alone as articles, really. And yes, the book really is about cadavers. People learn a lot from dead bodies.

Mary Roach is entertaining - downright funny at times. At one point she describes a journey to a small town in China to check the veracity of news story that a man who owns a crematorium there actually did cut the buttocks off cadavers so his brother (who owns the restaurant next door) could include them in his dumplings. Not true, she discovered after a lot of cultural and linguistic embarrassment; but I was most amused by her descriptions of the bad Chinese / English translations she encountered on the trip. It might just be an English as a Second Language teacher thing, so forgive me if you don't think it's funny; but when "We do chicken right!" translates to "Do me chicken!", I laugh my ass off.

This often leads to one of those humiliating moments when I say to my husband, "Honey! Listen! Listen! OMG, this is so funny! *Snort, snort* " He listens, bored, while I read the chicken thing aloud. I keep glancing up at him to see if he gets it. "Get it? 'Shampoo', but on the bottle it says, 'Sham Poo'! Huh? Oh, never mind. *Snort, snort*"

If you DO like bizarre translations, go to and eat your heart out. But I digress.

Roach's style combines a sort of gee-whiz disingenuousness (she knows her curiosity is ghoulish, but she can't seem to keep herself from asking inappropriate questions) with solid facts and statistics. Some of the chapters cover such topics as:
  1. What happens to cadavers in medical school anatomy labs;
  2. How helpful cadavers have been in the studies of auto safety, ballistics, and police forensics;
  3. Cannibalism;
  4. How plane crash victims can reveal important information about the cause of the tragedy.
Some of these chapters were fascinating, some didn't grab me. For example, the chapter on ballistics testing bored me a little, so I skipped to the next chapter. As there is no story line, I felt no guilt.

I will say though, that, after the exhaustive research that went into this book, a better copy editor would have been appreciated. I'll bet Roach wasn't happy when she saw "Calvary" spelled "cavalry". That stuff leaps off the page at me, and I think, "Sloppy, sloppy. What is this, my blog?"

Everyone in my book club who read it enjoyed it except one person, who said she didn't like thinking about her eventual corpse-hood. This was one of the main issues raised by the book: What can you choose to have done with your body after death? Burial and cremation, of course. I know about donating oneself to science, because one of my friends has decided to do it. But I didn't know about a technique being tried in the Midwest, which dissolves bodies down to a pile of soft bones you can crumble in your fingers, and pH neutral, sterile water. In Sweden, you can be composted. Of course! Not at IKEA, though.

Unfortunately, reading the book has turned me off the idea of donating my body to science. I would love to be a cadaver in an anatomy / physiology lab; but when you donate your body to scientific study, you don't know where you're going to end up. What if my head were used for plastic surgery practice (the eye job I could never afford in life...); my leg went to an auto manufacturer for an impact study; and the rest of me went to a police lab in Tennessee so they could see if I rot more slowly in spandex tights? Lying out on the ground, headless, in spandex.... What would people think?

I have decided that cremation would be nicer, although did you know that cremains are sterile? They add no nutritive value to the soil. So, the idea of being composted appeals. I could be reduced to little pellets and put in a special, biodegradable box after which I'm planted under a lilac bush. Or maybe I would be more useful in the tomato patch. It has sentimental appeal, and adds whole new meaning to, "Bite me!"


Quality writing: 6 (Well, there was that whole "Calvary/cavalry" thing; and Roach would be the first to admit that she's no Steinbeck. It's not meant to be a literary experience.)

Interesting characters: 8. (Some of them are alive.)

Interesting plot structure: NA.

Addictiveness: Only 5. (For me, an addictive book needs an exciting plot with characters who are living, if fictional.)

Bonus points, though, for being thought-provoking and evocative.

Overall grade: 7

Ever thought about what you what should become of your body after you die?