Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recluttering the House

A few years ago, we put the house up for sale intending to move to Austin to be near my son. After six months, the house hadn’t even shown once, so we took it off the market intending to try again in a few months. In the meantime, son spent most of one year in Paris and then was sent to London. His company has now opened a branch in London, and my son is working there and no longer owns his condo in Austin.

One of the first things we did when we listed the house was to pack up a bunch of odds and ends we figured we could live without for a few months. Most of the boxes have been piled in one of the two guest room closets. Then we bought an artificial Christmas tree that arrived in two big boxes which are taking up space in the walk-in closet in my office. I decided that perhaps I should free up space in the guest room by unpacking those boxes. After all, we had been living without those items for at least two years, so most of them should go to the thrift store, right?

I should know better than to expect anything to be that easy. 

First of all, there were the craft items given to us as gifts from our friends in Hungary. When I first visited and they offered to take us shopping, I expressed a preference for seeing locally made crafts. Every Christmas since, I have been receiving hand painted wooden spoons, specialty jars for condiments and honey, Christmas ornaments, ornamental plates, and one year a decorative bull whip, which is sitting in an African basket on top of the blanket chest in the living room. The wooden spoons and and a three-compartment condiment set were among the items packed, and I couldn’t make myself part with them. I compromised by getting rid of some silver plated bar tools we had been given years ago by a friend of my son, and putting the spoons where those items had been. 

Then there were the nutcrackers, which in Louisiana double as crab crackers. If we ever do have our big seafood boil, we will need them, but I made room for them by getting rid of miscellaneous cheese serving implements that we never use.

One surprise was my spring form baking pan, which I thought was in its old spot in the mud room. The baking pan is the sort of thing I don’t use often, but when I need it, there is no substitute. So it is back in the mudroom, with no obvious candidates yet to take its place in the donate box.

Then there was the small box with my elephants. Back when I went to Zimbabwe, I bought a soapstone elephant. I found a few more elephants at home to keep it company, and before I knew it, I had an elephant collection. Friends and family who know I collect elephants buy me elephants when they can’t think of anything else. A few of them were allowed to remain on my bedroom bookshelf, but several are in the small box. The box is now in a new location, though, inside antique washstand that serves as my bedside table.

Adding to the menagerie are the six painted parrots that my husband bought at Iguazu Falls. “I guess you want to keep them,” I said. “Yeah, we can use them at Christmas, “ he said. “We can hang them on the tree.” They’re about 5-6” long, but they are now in a drawer in the dining room with the Santa wall plaque waiting to see how that works out.

Then there is the mandoline that his sister gave us one year for Christmas. We never figured out how to use it and it sat collecting dust, which it hard to remove from something with sharp blades. It’s a pricey little item, though, and I hate to just give it away. We decided to use it sometime in the next few months, and if we don’t, to donate it. I know how that goes. Three years from now it will still be on the back of the pantry shelf.

I did put some old patterns and unopened packages of cording in the donate box, along with an unused spiral notebook, some ski goggles I bought to use as sunglasses in Antarctica (since they went over my glasses), a cup holder from Adrienne, Texas, the midpoint of Route 66, and a small coaster with a child’s prayer on it that I suspect was MIL’s. The box is looking quite empty.

The majority of the items are framed family pictures. I’m not sure where we used to keep them all. Perhaps new items have taken their place. I can’t really get rid of them, but at least I can get everything down to one box.

Didn’t I have a plan to declutter this space once?

Monday, January 30, 2012


I often wonder if more people stayed awake in English class, would there be fewer grammar fails like this?
I finally remembered the word for thinking you can control another person's behavior like this: "codependency".

A friend of mine posted this picture recently on Facebook, and I did not want to interrupt the flow of “so true” comments to say, “Grammar fail! Victim blaming!”

That’s why I have a blog, after all. So let’s take the smallest issue first. What on earth does, “I often wonder if more girls were willing to be ladies, more guys would feel challenged to be gentlemen” even mean? I think that last clause is supposed to be “would more guys be challenged to be gentlemen” or possibly “if  more guys would be challenged to be gentlemen” or perhaps in the first clause "wonder" should have been "think", but as it stands reading it is an exercise in WTF? On so many levels.

Then of course there is a larger issue (no, not the largest one, not yet) - is it women’s fault if men do not behave as gentlemen toward other men? Because, I mean, Republican debates. Michelle Bachman is out of it now, so we can’t blame her. Maybe we can blame their mamas. Their wives. The catering help. Or maybe we can expand the concept of politeness to cover how we relate to everyone, in any context, not just potential romantic partners in a dating situation. It just seems to me that if you always respect the rights of other people to be different from you, whether they are explaining their (oh so different from yours) politics or telling you no, they don’t want to come up for coffee, it would be more obvious that a man always has the choice to be a gentleman. In fact, he’s the only one who can make that choice for himself.

Men themselves have pondered the question of how a gentleman treats another man. There's the story that President Herbert Hoover's Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson shut down the office in the U.S. State Department responsible for breaking codes to read messages sent between embassies of other countries and their capitals in 1929, saying, "Gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail." The idea that a man being a gentleman only counts in his interactions with women doesn’t make sense, considering that until recently, matters of diplomacy were only conducted among men, whether gentle or not.

Then of course there is the obvious largest issue of victim blaming. To be fair, the blogger who originally posted this picture (and identified it as reblogged . . . from dapperdean, originally from alovefromabove) did say “I fully believe this goes Vice Versa as well”

(I’ve revised this whole last section because what I had written before seemed both obvious and puerile.)

Of course the worst thing about the caption is that it falls into that whole category of “if only women would” speculations about how the world would be a better place “if only women would” make some change that is either very difficult, vaguely defined, or completely counter to what some other person thinks women should do to make the world a better place, if not all three. This is not to say that the world couldn’t be a better place if we women made some changes in our behavior, but that’s because the world would be a better place if we people made a difference in our behavior. Reducing our carbon footprint, thinking about what charitable gestures would better serve their recipients instead of our own convenience, learning more about the character and abilities of the people we vote for rather than just their allegiances, those are a few of the things on my list of how to make the world a better place. Not one of them requires wearing a crinoline.

For that matter, being kinder to people around you, being magnanimous when others seem unkind, noticing if there is some small thing you can do that would make someone around you more comfortable, like giving up your seat or holding open a door, are also actions that might make the world a better place. These are the actions of a lady. They are also the actions of a gentleman.  

All that is needed for a man to be a gentleman is for him to make the choice to be a gentleman. He’s the only one who can make that choice for himself.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Now This I Can Actually Afford

After my first outrageously expensive attempts to put together an outfit with Polyvore, I found one I can afford. Everything here but the shorts (which I already have) and the shoes are under $30. Oh, wait, the earrings are $135, but I don’t wear earrings anyway. I just tossed them in because they look pretty with the rest.

I don’t really need to buy the top because I have two turquoise tops, one a plain cotton sweater and the other a T shirt with glitter flowers. So I really just want the cuff bracelet, the belt, the purse, and the shoes. Well, not those shoes, I have a similar pair in mind, because they are at store near me and I need to be able to try them on. The shoes I want are expensive, but all my shoes are, because of my feet.

The purse, belt and shoes, plus the tops I already have, will also go well with my new white jeans.

The purse is interesting. It is made in India out of recycled tires. I’m trying to stifle that little voice in my head that keeps pointing out that any environmental benefit that arises from its being made of recycled materials is going to be offset by its having to be shipped from India to Louisiana. I’m also trying to stifle the little voice in my head that keeps pointing out that I have a plain black purse that is more versatile and has compartments, which is a feature I like in purses. But it just looks so perfect with the outfit. Besides, if I buy it I will be propping up the world economy. I can rationalize with the best of them.

I don’t know what it is with me and clothes these days. Thoreau once said, “I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” I’m not sure that retirement is an enterprise, let alone one that requires new clothes. Perhaps I am a  new wearer of clothes. Thoreau seemed to approve of those.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Some things are more important than fear."

I had not heard of the book, Allah, Liberty & Love, by Irshad Manji, until seeing this video on Pharyngula earlier today. Extremists from the group "Sharia4Belgium" stormed the author's  book launch in Amsterdam and threatened to break her neck. I don’t have anything to add to this story other than my best wishes for Irshad Manji.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Travelin' Through

January 19 was Dolly Parton’s birthday. On January 19, I was not much worried about Dolly Parton, writer of the Oscar nominated song Travelin’ Through, because I was on my way to Lafayette, Louisiana with my husband, who was attending a conference there. He was going to be gone overnight, so I decided to tag along and find ways to amuse myself.

As soon as we got to the hotel, I was confronted by large posters advertising the exhibit DINOSAURS: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries at the Lafayette Science Museum. The exhibit is a traveling exhibition organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in collaboration with the Houston Museum of Natural Science; the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; The Field Museum, Chicago; and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh. 

I put “seeing bones older than mine” on my Lafayette to-do list and went. I got there to find a few busloads of school children lining up outside. Several of them waved at me as I walked to the door, and one of them held the door open for me.

Admission was $5, but senior citizen admission was only $3. I didn’t realize what a bargain that was until I got inside and saw the first item in the exhibit - the world famous T-Rex skeleton from the Museum of Natural History. The last time I saw that I was the age of the children on the buses.

I hadn’t brought my camera because I didn’t think the museum would allow picture taking, but they did. I took what dim and blurry pictures I could with my handy iPhone. Since Lafayette is a little more than an hour from my door, I may go back before the exhibit closes March 11th and take some better shots, and just look at it again.

A large part of the exhibit dealt with new discoveries in the biomechanics of dinosaur movements. There was a 1/10 size model of a T-Rex walking 

and a huge metal diplodocus skeleton designed by computer software that was first developed to model how the diplodocus may have moved. Three large screens showed pictures representing how the muscles may have attached.

A sign in the biomechanics exhibit discussed how juvenile animals may have moved differently from adults. I read it as school children ran, skipped, and bounced by me. You think?

There was also a beautiful diorama showing how what is now Liaoning Province looked 130 million years ago. Next to the diorama was a display of the actual fossils discovered there. As I looked at one I realized I had been seeing pictures of it for years. Now I have seen the actual fossil.

I’ve also seen the fossil of Bambiraptor, discovered by a 14 year old on his family’s ranch in Montana, and so many more.

An amusing part of the exhibit was a display of the packing crates used to ship the exhibit. The museum didn’t have storage space for them, so they made it part of the display. I thought that was clever, and actually quite interesting.

I don’t know how much of an impression the exhibit made on the children bouncing their way around me, but I was thunderstruck. Traveling through time to the days of the dinosaurs, I tipped a mental hat to the many scientists who bring these days to life for us, as well as the many staff and docents in small town museums throughout the country who try to educate us all, especially the juvenile members of our species, who still travel at a bounce. 

Glimpse of Gaia

You may be aware of the recent case in Rhode Island in which a teenager, Jessica Ahlquist, sued the Cranston school board for having an obvious sectarian prayer hanging in the school gym. U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux agreed that the prayer constituted a violation of the U. S. Constitution and ordered it to be taken down, after the school was offered a chance and refused to amend the language to remove references to “Our Heavenly Father”.

As a result, Jessica has been quite predictably* been the subject of threats and abuse. When the Freedom From Religion Foundation tried to send her flowers, two florists in Cranston refused to deliver the order. A third florist in a nearby town at first agreed to deliver flowers, then reneged when he became the subject of threats.

Finally, the owners of Glimpse of Gaia, in Putnam, Connecticut, 24 mile from Cranston, agreed to send the bouquet and added one from a Cranston, RI couple (not themselves, as I stated until corrected by TRiG).

As a result, there has been an outpouring of support on Glimpse of Gaia’s Facebook page, and people who want to support both the business and Jessica Ahlquist have been ordering bouquets, some to be delivered to Jessica herself and others to be delivered to local nursing homes and hospices, and in one case, the Putnam Police Department.

One of Glimpse of Gaia’s owners, Sean Condon, responded quite thoughtfully to the two critical emails he received. His response, and the less than thoughtful answers he got back, can be seen on the Glimpse of Gaia Facebook page, linked above.

I’m writing about this not because I want to drum up business for Glimpse of Gaia, but because I am enthralled by this outcome of hate and malice. As a result of two florists who outright refused to deliver flowers and one more who was pressured not to, strangers in nursing homes and hospices are receiving beautiful bouquets. A business that did the right thing is receiving more business. In this one instance, at least, love overcame hate.

With flowers.

*One wishes it were not predictable, but I’m not going to pretend we live in some alternate universe where it’s not. 

Friday, January 20, 2012


I have discovered a new way to waste all my time, actually two new ways. One is Pinterest.com, which led me to polyvore.com. Polyvore is a shopping site which allows you to create outfits by dragging clip art together, sort of like playing with paper dolls only without the dolls. Since I have a pair of black shorts, I decided to look for co-ordinating items, and assembled the outfit below.
When I saved the outfit, I titled it "Summer".

I wouldn’t have thought to pair the shorts with a pale gold top, but I found the hat, which led me to look for a top to match the tan stripes in the hat, and that led to the blouse. Then I looked for a scarf and that scarf! Stripes just like the hat, and yes, the predominant color is navy, not black, but there is black outlining the navy zig-zags and some of the flowers. So the scarf led to the purse and the sandals and bangles are pretty self-explanatory.

So now I want this outfit. I want this outfit despite the fact that the price of the components, minus the shorts, since I already have shorts, is around $560, which is more than my clothes budget for the entire season. $255 of that is the scarf. So if I lose the scarf (but I love the scarf), that gets it down to around $300. There is a problem with the top, though: the largest size it comes in is too small for me. Take away the scarf and the top and that leaves $160. The bangles have to be ordered from the UK, though, which means shipping costs. Besides, while I like the idea of the bangles, I don’t like the actuality of bangles. I’m constantly fighting to keep them from falling off my arm. 

Okay, so lose the bangles. The shoes, the hat and the purse together are about $150. I don’t know about the hat, though. If the crown fits, fine, but if it’s too big the brim will be down around my chin. So that leaves the purse and the sandals. I have black sandals and without the hat, top and scarf, the purse makes no sense.

So problem solved, right? I can’t buy this outfit: it’s impractical, its expensive and parts of it won’t even fit me.

Sigh. Sometimes I hate common sense.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


It’s been a bad time for sports fans here in Baton Rouge. The BCS Championship Game has come and gone and LSU lost. Not only did they lose, they were held scoreless, the first shutout in BCSCG history. LSU fans are in a funk, to put it mildly.

Even worse, they aren’t able to vent about the big loss through their usual outlet, radio station WSKR the Score. As of New Year’s Day, the Score, a local sports talk radio station, is now Hallelujah 1210, a gospel station. Rumor has it that radio hosts got a call from management the day of the change; other staff found out by email. There was an article in the local paper last Saturday, but it was in the religion section and talked mostly about the new format, not what happened to the old crew.

There is another local station with a sports talk format, but it is an ESPN affiliate broadcasting mostly nationwide programming, with one local afternoon show on weekday afternoons and a few others scattered throughout the week. 

I never realized it until after the station changed formats, but the Score did not hire and pay most of their hosts. The hosts paid the station for their time slots and then sold their own advertising to make what money they did. Only one host was an employee of the station, and he was on hiatus. There are rumors about why that is, too.

So now there is a hot mess - hosts who sold advertising time they cannot deliver, advertisers whose products may or may not be suitable for a gospel format station. (Our barbecue platters are perfect for your next tailgate - uh, dinner on the grounds.) Nobody official seems to want to talk about why the change was made so abruptly with no warning to the people whose livelihoods were being affected.

Local sports fans, of course, are burning up the message boards talking. It takes their minds off the Big Loss.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I have finally unpacked the Mikasa Fruit Panorama dinnerware and have it sitting in the cabinet over the baking center. We’ve even been using it for dinner several days a week, although if hubby sets the table, he uses our old Walmart china. 

The dinnerware

With a wine goblet we already owned

With a Village Pottery Della Robbia egg plate from Hungary 

I don’t remember why I kept the Panorama dinnerware in the attic for so long. I think it had something to do with being afraid to break it, although it is probably sturdier than the Walmart plates. In unpacking the plates, which were in their original boxes, I discovered I had been wrong about one thing. MIL had used some of the original set; just not the second set. She kept the original box, because she kept everything.

Unpacking and using the china of course reminds me of Eloise, my late mother-in-law. I have a lot of reminders of Eloise around the house. For one thing, there are the afghans. When Eloise’s sister died, she left behind her a lot of unused yarn in 1970’s earth tones and day-glo colors. Eloise, being the thrifty soul she was, crocheted the yarn into hideous but practical afghans. We have three of them, in addition to a quite beautiful afghan that I am not allowed to use because the cats might destroy it. I finally dealt with one by hiding it in a duvet cover, but the others, despite all my attempts to hide them, keep popping up around the house, at least in winter. The cats, I might add, are completely remiss in their duty to destroy the ugly afghans.

Rolled up afghan

It took me years to realize that Eloise was not just expressing her practical side in using up the last of her sister’s yarn. She was mourning her sister, and making sure that she would be remembered. If I had succeeded in banning the afghans from the house, I would have succeeded in banning a good bit of my husband’s family history as well. So I have made my peace with the afghans*, and try to use them as a reminder that I am not always right.

Her china and her silver represented something to Eloise, too. She and her mother and sister grew up poor after her father died, although helped out by her Uncle Charlie, who lived next door. Things improved for her during the second world war, when she moved to Washington and held a job in the then equivalent of data processing. She even got to see Eleanor Roosevelt up close once on an elevator, and often spoke of how Mrs. Roosevelt was not as unattractive as people say.

But it was as a married woman she achieved financial security, and she was extremely proud of the fact that her silver set had a butter spreader for every place setting, and her china had eight pieces per setting. That may have been why the gift of dishes was a sore point, although her relationship with her daughter was always rocky anyway.

I can relate to her being proud of all her pretty things. I’m that way myself, which is why I worried for so long that her pretty things were choking out my pretty things. It was John’s Aunt Mary who showed me another way of viewing things. When we visited her and Uncle Jack, she gave me a tour of her house that included many items which were gifted or inherited. She seemed to get a lot of pleasure from them.

I realized then that rather than seeing my MIL’s things as stuff competing for a place with my stuff (current or wished for), I could see it as part of the panorama of family history. Items that I had tucked away on drawers were given pride of place, at least on a rotating basis. 

I’m a rich woman, really. I have butter spreaders.

*Some poor child writing a current events paper for school is going to Google that phrase and be completely confused.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Back when I wrote It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, I started out with a second paragraph that reflected one of my reactions to the first line of A Christmas Carol, but on editing the post I realized the second paragraph didn’t fit with what I had started to say. I kept it for a rainy day. It's raining, so here is how the post originally started:

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” I am rereading A Christmas Carol. The beloved tale that encourages generosity, celebration, family feeling and empathy at Christmas and all other times begins with the words “Marley is dead”.

As I read them, I am put in mind of the words of that other merry Victorian prankster, Robert Browning. Do you remember reading or hearing these lines as a child?

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven—
All's right with the world!

They are from a longer dramatic work called Pippa Passes. Pippa is a young girl who works at a silk mill in Asolo, Italy. She is spending her one day off a year out in the sunshine, walking the town and singing. As she sings the lines above, she passes a house where a young wife and her lover have just murdered the wife’s elderly husband. Hearing “God’s in his Heaven”, they are stricken with guilt and commit suicide. No, I did not make this up. I think the Victorians had more of a [morbid] sense of humor than we give them credit for.

In the course of her wandering and singing, Pippa also inspires an assassination. I hope none of her descendants turn up on American Idol.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Extremely Annoying and Incredibly Sad

Usually when I go to see a movie, it doesn’t occur to me that it may have been based on a book. I had heard of  The Help and Eat, Pray, Love before I saw the movies, The Help because it was recommended by a friend and Eat, Pray, Love because it was the basis for a sales campaign by World Market. I did not know that The American was based on A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth until after I had seen it.

I don’t like reading books after I have seen the resulting movie because then I can’t get the actors’ voices out of my head. If you’ve ever read The Julie/Julia Project, you know that Julie Powell is not Amy Adams. So when it did occur to me that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close might be based on a book, I decided to search my Kindle before searching movietickets.com, and that’s how I found Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel.

The main narrator in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is nine-year old Oskar Schell. I say “main narrator” because there are three different narrators in the book. In addition to Oskar, we get to read letters written by each of his grandparents, his grandfather’s letters having been written around forty years before the action in the book takes place, and his grandmother’s letters being written contemporaneously with the events in the book, although that is not clear until the end. What is also not clear is how the reader ever gets access to the letters.

Oskar is also an unreliable narrator. He is an unreliable narrator for reasons inherent in being nine years old: he has a limited understanding of other people’s behavior, limited access to facts that are relevant to his situation, and limited interest in understanding any point of view other than his own. 

Oskar is variously described in reviews as “precocious”, “unusually intelligent”, and “not a typical nine year old”. Of course he isn’t. He’s the author’s conception of a precocious nine year old as shaped by the author’s need to have a coherent first person narrator, and possibly as shaped by the author’s recollections of himself and his friends at the age of nine.

Nine year olds are funny. They are still children, but in many ways you can see the emerging adult they will be, not just in temperament (which  is apparent in infancy), but in the way they speak, the gestures they make, the sense of humor they show, the facial expressions they use. They can go back and forth between babyishness and a seeming adult sophistication so fast it gives you whiplash. So the author’s choice of a nine year old as not just the main character, but as the main narrator, makes a lot of sense. 

The problem is, nine year olds, even very smart nine year olds, just aren’t that coherent. Ask a nine year old to tell you about a favorite book, movie, or TV show and three sentences into the narrative you will find yourself asking questions to keep oriented. Children that age are still in the process of developing a sense of what the listener needs to know. They are much better at it than their three or six year old selves, but not good enough to sustain a book.

So the Oskar who narrates the book is not believable. The Oskar who is a character in the book, however, is. Oskar’s father died in one of the Twin Towers on September 11, and Oskar is trying to come to grips with his father’s death. Oskar’s mother also has a male friend, Rob, and Oskar not only resents and dislikes Rob, but also the fact (as he states it) that his mother is moving on with her life.

Oskar also has a therapist that he sees on a regular basis, with whom he has no rapport. The therapist is a stock character: child psychologist who has no rapport with children. This therapist is necessary because Oscar’s interactions with him give us another view of Oskar, but a therapist who could actually make Oscar feel safe to share his hurt about his mother moving on with her life would give us an entirely different story, one the author doesn’t want to tell. For a reader who isn’t, like me, standing outside the story thinking, “This just doesn’t work”, that would not be a problem, but I kept wondering why Oskar’s mother didn’t just find him another therapist, especially when it becomes clear she has her own disagreements with the man.

It’s not as though she is without financial resources. She and Oskar continue living in the family apartment in Manhattan, one that is large enough that Oskar’s father has his own closet. This is an important plot point. Oskar goes into the closet one day, notices that his father had his tuxedo laid out on a chair in the closet, and in the course of other explorations, finds a key. Oskar sees the key as a message from his father and embarks on a search to find the lock it goes to, and the message it holds.

And when I say “embarks on a search”, I mean literally wanders around Manhattan on his own for hours at a time. It turns out that Oskar’s mother is not nearly as clueless as she seems all along (remember, Oskar is an unreliable narrator), but even so, Oskar is allowed a lot more latitude than one would think is prudent for a nine year old in a big city.

This is true despite the fact that Oskar has an overprotective grandmother who lives across the street. Oskar has only been able to get her to allow him to bathe alone by holding a piece of her knitting yarn as she sits outside the door, occasionally giving it a tug. Grandma has reasons for her issues, as the reader finds out in the course of reading letters she writes to Oskar. The letters are another example of the author choosing a narrator for convenience, not realism. In the first letter she writes, Grandma goes into detail about her sex life with Grandpa, in a way that one would not expect her to do with a nineteen year old grandson, let alone a nine year old. It is not clear from the book that Oskar, as opposed to the reader, ever reads the letter, but still. It seemed like every three pages I found myself saying, “What are these people thinking!”

And yet, despite the book’s flaws, I found Oskar’s story compelling and true to the incredible sadness and confusion that comes with losing a parent at an early age. Even if Oskar’s mother, grandmother, and therapist had been far more adept in dealing with his pain, they still would have been helpless in the face of his grief. When a child loses a parent, there is no good thing the other adults in the child’s life can do. Oskar tells us this, in the way perhaps only an overly precocious, unrealistically articulate, badly supervised and unreliable nine year old narrator could.

The Wrong Person

In the past few days I have followed a crooked trail from Fred Clark’s summary of a book by Mark Driscoll to a blogpost called So You Think You’ve Married the Wrong Person

The “so you think” is a dead giveaway that the blogger's conclusion, even not having met you and knowing nothing about you and your spouse, is going to be “well, you thought wrong, bozo”. (“Bozo” is not stated, merely implied.)

The post is a short one, and starts out with:

From time to time I hear a husband or wife wonder if perhaps they made a mistake in marrying the person that they did.
Things have usually gotten pretty bad by the time this question arises. Maybe the differences between the husband and wife are much greater than either one anticipated. The husband is neat, the wife is messy. The wife is talkative, the husband is quiet. The husband is always on time, the wife lives more in the moment. The wife is social, the husband is a homebody. These differences, which were initially just an irritant, have grown into something massive. What was once a tiny gap has become a great divide.
Pretty bad? Here’s my list, culled from real life and internet blogs and message boards, of things getting “pretty bad” that cause people to reflect that they might have married the wrong person:
1) A spouse having multiple affairs and giving the other spouse an STD;
2) A spouse who cannot hold a job, not because of the poor economy but due to inability to get along with supervisors;
3) A spouse who is an alcoholic, gambler, or unrestrained spender;
4) A spouse who treats the other spouse purely as a source of supply, of sex, personal services such as housekeeping, or of income;
5) A spouse who is abusive towards the children;
6) A spouse who is abusive to the other spouse.
To be fair to the blogger, however, it may just be the case that when he meets spouses involved in those situations, they aren’t just wondering if they married the wrong person. They’re pretty damn sure of it.
The post goes on to quote some words of Paul Tripp and then to conclude:
Your marriage, and the struggles in your marriage are not an accident. Even if you married a non-Christian, you’re [sic] marriage is not an accident! God is sovereign over all your struggles and sins, and he is using the differences between you and your spouse to bring himself glory and to make you more like Jesus.
I am trying to put myself in the mindset of those who are regular readers of The Blazing Center and whose beliefs would make this comforting advice. I am failing dismally. If you are miserable in your marriage, at war with your spouse and worried about the effect your quarrels are having on your children, I don't think a glory hound god who did this to you on purpose is going to make you feel better. This post makes me feel like a cog in the machine of God’s Greater Glory, Inc rather than as if I matter. Furthermore, rather than my spouse being considered an actual person in his own right, he’s apparently God’s object lesson for me. I don’t know about God, but I see my spouse as so much more than that.
The blogger has added a “side note”, which I don’t remember being there the first time I read his post, but it may have been. It goes 
There are obviously a thousand different variations on marriage. If you are in an abusive marriage, I am not saying that you need to stay in the path of harm. That conversation should be had with your pastor or another wise Christian.
No, that conversation you need to have with the police, or an attorney, or an expert on spousal abuse. 
I understand that the author of the post is speaking from a faith tradition in which marriage is forever. That is why he cannot bring himself to utter the word divorce even in cases of abuse, preferring to pass the buck to some other pastor or “wise Christian”. That’s why he trivializes the concerns of people whose marriages are in trouble. Those of us who have spouses who merely talk more than we would like don’t necessarily think we’ve married the wrong person. We think we need to buy more earplugs, and maybe some duct tape, but we don’t think we’ve married the wrong person. 
My first marriage was to the wrong person. Although I grew up in a liberal Methodist church that tolerated divorce and although I was not a practicing Methodist at the time, I took seriously the vow I made “until death do you part.” I took the vow seriously through years of verbal abuse. When it began to seem that the death in question was likely to be untimely, likely be violent, and likely to be mine, however, I decided “I didn’t sign on for this” and threw my now ex out of the house. I like the way Wayne and Tamara Mitchell put it, “ When you married for better or for worse, the worse refers to life, not what the wrong person decides to put you through.” 
The funny thing is, though, for most of my marriage, I thought we were right for each other. I thought I was a good person to deal with my ex’s volatile temper, name calling, and threats, because I was brave enough to stand up to him and not be manipulated by him. If he hadn’t progressed to physical violence, I would have stayed in a bad marriage and agreed with the writer that no one is perfect.
I like to say that when my ex beat me up, he did it in the kindest way possible. He came home from work, picked a fight over nothing, and worked himself into a rage with no participation on my part. There was no room for me to say, “Well, maybe if I had . . .” As a result, when I met my husband, the right person, I was free to marry him. And you know what? He talks too much. When we are going somewhere, when he says he is ready to leave what he really means is he will spend the next ten minutes heating his to-go cup of coffee, looking for his car keys, wallet, and sunglasses, and going back into the house to check if he left something on. He refuses to get rid of items I see as junk and clutter.
And he has his list of my little irritants as well. Despite all these, we are amazingly in synch. If he says he is thinking of something, it’s very often the same thing I was thinking of as well. If I have a yen for nachos, he is likely to come in from some errand he is running and say, “I thought we’d go get Mexican tonight.” We have the same values, the same political views, and many of the same interests.
It’s more than that I am just physically safer with my husband. If I had stuck with my ex, I would never have known the well-being that comes from a relationship with someone who actually is the right person. I probably would have agreed that people divorce too easily over the wrong things.
As it is, I consider myself fortunate that when I was dealing with a bad marriage, I didn’t go to anyone like the author of So You Think You’ve Married the Wrong Person for advice. He would definitely have been the wrong person.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Small Accomplishments

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I like to look back on the year past and make a list of things I accomplished. “Resolving the Middle East situation” and “curing cancer” have never made my lists and never will, but it’s nice to know that I can achieve goals, even without a set of formal resolutions.

So here is the 2011 list:

  • I donated about 4 boxes and 4 bags of things I no longer need to  the Boys and Girls club and about half as much again to Goodwill. I took care not to give them anything dirty, stained, missing parts, or dangerous, but I can’t guarantee that nothing was useless or outdated.
  • I bought clothes that I actually like and I make myself wear them. I say “make myself” because even when I have nice things in my closet, I tend to wear beat up T-shirts. The beat up T-shirts are gone, except for two or three I keep for painting and other dirty jobs.
  • I also make a point of wearing my jewelry instead of letting it sit in my jewelry box unseen.
  • I started an exercise program. Unfortunately, my efforts at exercise class resulted in the infamous broken foot, but I can now both ride a bike and walk fast enough for thirty minutes to raise my heart rate and break a sweat.
  • I restructured my daily eating habits to include more fruit, nuts, and yogurt and several days a week, to eat my main meal in the middle of the day and a lighter one in the evening. I also lost 17 pounds. 
  • I started baking yeast breads again.
  • I got the photographs I took in Africa digitized and on a disk. We won’t say how much that cost.
  • I wrote 120 blog posts, compared to 18 in 2011 and 26 in 2009.
  • My good friend D and I meet several times a month for walking, lunch or day trips.
  • I kept in touch with friends from work and met them for lunch several times.

Feel free to add small accomplishments (or big accomplishments) of your own.

It's All Their Fault

A story greeted me this morning in the People section of our local newspaper: Expert: Women in ’50s may have triggered obesity issue. Women in the 1950s were regularly blamed for many things, so I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me. Furthermore, the booming economy and loosening of wartime restrictions on food products like sugar, meat and butter, women’s return to the home when they were kicked out of their wartime jobs, and the increasing availability of convenience foods like cake mixes, probably did change family diets in the fifties. 

That isn’t what our expert meant, it turns out. No, the problem is what young mothers of the fifties were doing while they were pregnant with us baby boomers. Fitness and nutrition expert (according to the article) Melinda Sothern 

has a theory that the tide of obesity that has swept the nation in the last two decades had its roots in what young mothers did, or didn’t do, in the postwar, suburban sprouting 1950s.
. . . [S]he thinks the obesity rates soared just when they did  - in the 1980s - because a generation of young women decades earlier smoked, spurned breast feeding and restricted their weight during numerous, closely spaced pregnancies.

Okay, let’s say she’s right. Were these young women smoking, restricting their weight, and bottle feeding their babies in defiance of the best medical advice of the time? Not really. 

“Sothern points to her own family as an example of the obesity trinity in action.

Her mother was told by her obstetrician in the 1950s to gain less than 20 pounds during pregnancy. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day was a good way to keep the weight down, the doctor said. [emphasis added by me, because somebody had to.]

Later in the article it is mentioned that women who were pregnant in the fifties were advised to gain as little as 10 pounds a pregnancy.

So why does the headline say “Women in ‘50s may have triggered obesity issue” rather than, “Doctors in ‘50s may have triggered obesity issue “? Or to be less pejorative, “Medical advice in ’50s may have triggered obesity issue”? True, the choice of “women” rather than “doctors” may have had to do with space considerations on the part of the headline writer, but the headline does seem to reflect the emphasis of the article: not on the bad medical advice women of the decade were given, but on the women’s behavior that resulted from that advice. 

When I was in graduate school, the speech department occupied a small section of the medical school. During a bout of ovarian pain, I consulted some of the obstetrical textbooks available, and was that ever an eye opener. The text book writers infantilized women and encouraged their doctors to do likewise. Your OB/Gyn was not just a person with a specialty that you paid for advice the way you consulted your car mechanic about your car or your butcher about how to cook the Sunday roast. He (and most likely he was he) was a father figure who saw you as a bundle of irrational actions wrapped around a womb.

There was no internet, no trained midwife, no nurse practitioner to consult. It was Dr. Know-it-all or nothing, and Dr. Know-it-all knew nothing about nutrition, mom’s or baby’s. It was not his fault. In advising his patients to restrict their weight gain, he thought he was giving the best medical advice of the day, advice that would prevent the problems he ultimately, if our expert is right, caused. But to say “Women in ’50s may have triggered obesity issue” and ignore the  reasons that women in the 1950’s acted the way they did is to obscure the problem that our expert is trying to solve. Sometimes even the best educated members of our society don’t know enough, and what they think they know is dangerous. It’s not their fault. Medical researchers are trying their best to learn the healthiest ways to live, but it takes time and some wrong guesses to do so. 

But it’s not mom’s fault, either. She was trying to give her baby the best start she could by following her doctor’s advice. The unthinking tendency to generalize about women of the 1950s (not all of whom were pregnant mothers, some of  them were grandmas who were ridiculed for reminding their daughters that they were eating for two) is cruel and unhelpful. It’s not science to ignore the societal factors that led pregnant women in the post WW II era to take bad care of themselves during pregnancy thinking that they were doing the reverse. It’s the same old mom blaming, repackaged. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Okay, time to match the famous first lines listed in It Was A Dark and Stormy Night with their respective works, although I am sure anyone who was interested has Googled the ones they did not know. It turns out the line “It was a dark and stormy night” made famous by the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, was also used as the opening line of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle.

Thank you Amaryllis, Dr. Ngo, and Nenya for your contributions.

  • Call me Ishmael.  Moby Dick
  • Marley was dead, to begin with. A Christmas Carol
  • In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis
  • There’s my last duchess, painted on the wall . . . My Last Duchess, poem
  • I sing of arms and the man.  The Aeneid
  • Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.   Exodus
  • Happy families are all alike . . . Anna Karenina
  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. The Hobbit
  • "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents.”* Little Women
  • To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman. A Scandal in Bohemia
  • In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. Job
  • The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day. Casey at the Bat, poem
  • The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. The Wind in the Willows
  • All children, except one, grow up. Peter Pan
  • My mind now turns to stories of bodies changed into new forms. Metamorphoses, Ovid

Poems contributed by Amaryllis:
  • Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary... The Raven
  • Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... The Road Not Taken
  • Because I could not stop for death... Death
  • In Xanadu did Kubla Khan...  Kubla Khan
  • Let us go then, you and I... The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock
  • The went to sea in a sieve, they did... The Jumblies
  • I met a traveler from an antique land... Ozymandias
  • Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert... To A Skylark
  • How do I love thee? Let me count the ways... Sonnet 43 Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  • Oh what can ail thee, knight at arms... La Belle Dame Sans Merci
  • Let me not to the marriage of true minds... Sonnet 116, Shakespeare
  • When I was one-and-twenty... When I Was One-and-Twenty
  • Listen, my children, and you shall hear... Paul Revere’s Ride
  • So. The Spear-Danes, in days gone by... Beowolf
I must admit, I thought the line for The Jumblies belonged to Winken, Blinken, and Nod.

This one from dr ngo, which I had to Google:
  • He was born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad. Scaramouche (I was way off with my guess of Pudd'nhead Wilson.)

And finally, from Nenya:
  • It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. A Tale of Two Cities
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Pride and Prejudice
  • In the beginning was the Word... The Gospel of John
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 1984

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

So I Have All This Stuff

Two months ago, I wandered into an antique/gift shop next to the place where I get my hair done. As I looked around, I saw some green dishes and serving pieces that looked very similar to a small cabbage-shaped soup tureen I had bought in Tennessee this past summer. I don’t need the green dishes, but I asked the owner how much they were. She said she had really only bought them to accessorize the cabinet they were sitting in, which was for sale, but she would sell me the whole set for $28.00.

The cabbage soup tureen

I decided I really should talk to my husband first, not because of the amount of money involved, but because he’d have to live with them, too.  My husband didn’t have any major objections, but he did ask the obvious question, “Where would you put them?”

So while I pondered this problem, weeks went by. John started to organize some financial records and noticed he didn’t have all the statements for our savings account. “I keep them up here,” I said, pointing to the cabinet over the baking center. This led to a round of moving the statements to his files, shredding old duplicate checkbooks, and otherwise clearing out the closet. Suddenly we had room for the green dishes. 

What I didn’t have was $28, what with Christmas and all, at least not until the end of December. No rush - the store owner hadn’t intended to sell the dishes anyway, and if she did sell them to someone else, I knew it wasn’t to be. 

In the meantime, as John brought down Christmas ornaments from the attic, he decided to take stock of what else was up there. Some of what else was up there was cardboard boxes with glassware that had belonged to his mother. “Why are you holding on to that stuff?” I asked. “Because the appraiser told me it was antique,” he replied. 

“Well, maybe we should bring it down from the attic”, I said. (Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!) “Oh, you know what else is up there? Those dishes your mom gave me.”

I was referring to a set of 8 place settings of Mikasa Fruit Panorama that my sister-in-law had given her mother about twenty years ago. My MIL took offense at the gift (something of a hobby of hers) because she already had dishes, and never opened the boxes. So when MIL moved from her house to a retirement home, she gave me the dishes. I had intended to use them, but they wound up in the attic with her other possessions, and whenever I thought about getting them down, it seemed like too much trouble.

The cleared out space over the baking center would be perfect for the Mikasa, however. As for the antique glassware, it could go in the big armoire that is cluttering up the living room and serving no useful purpose. Well, it held a few of the Christmas decorations, but they are now in plastic tubs in the attic with their buddies.

As for the green dishes, in the big Christmas decoration reorganization, I freed up shelf space in the mudroom. I had a hair appointment this morning, so the plan was go back to the shop and buy the green dishes, if they were still there.

But yesterday John decided to bring the boxes down from the attic. “How many do you want me to bring down?” he asked.

“How many are there?” I asked, picturing maybe three boxes of crystal. “Ten or twelve,” he replied.

Oh, dear. When I said to bring the boxes down from the attic, I thought we were talking about maybe 16-24 glasses, not every bit of kitchenware MIL had ever owned. Now I remembered why the boxes were up in the attic to begin with.

We settled on bringing down six boxes to start with, not counting my Mikasa dishes, and to go from there. I quickly discovered that the boxes labelled “Antique Glassware” should have been labeled “collectibles that are currently popular but may not be 13 years from now”, and ones that were unlabeled should have been labelled “miscellaneous kitchen debris collected by an 80 year old woman who never threw anything out”, and “miscellaneous knick-knacks with which you can clutter up every surface in your house.” That’s why the boxes were in the attic.

Once the first few boxes came down, however, it was clear they all needed to come down. The boxes are disintegrating, the items in there are speckled with black coffee ground like matter that my husband assures me are roach droppings, not mouse droppings (I have roaches in my attic, what a comfort), and my husband actually let me add a few items to the box we were filling for Goodwill.

Some of the items, it turns out, are big platters, serving bowls, and a punch bowl. They will not fit in the armoire. My husband wouldn’t give them to Goodwill. My shelf  space in the mudroom may be gone. John did suggest we could get more plastic tubs and put anything that doesn’t fit in the armoire back in the attic, but I wonder how happy he will be to do that if I bring more dishes into the house.

I didn’t even look in the shop when I went for my haircut today. Maybe the green dishes are all gone to a good home anyway, one where their new owners don’t have quite so much stuff.