Monthly Archives: January 2008

And now for something completely different…

Instead of a Thursday Thirteen today, I am going to focus my blogging energy on something new. I am going to liveblog the Democratic debate this evening. Should be interesting, on many levels. Like, how *does* one liveblog, anyway?

So, I’ll see you tonight at 8ET (that would be 7 for me)!

Hump Day Hmmm 1-30-08

Today’s Hump Day theme is to discuss a pivotal childhood memory or event. For more takes on this topic, check out Julie at Using My Words. It would be even better if you used YOUR words and joined us!

Childhood is such a melange of memories. It’s hard to put my finger on any one time or place or event that was pivotal. And it is so intensely personal. I’ve never really put anything this personal on the blog before. I would have to say (since I’m writing this part after I wrote the post), it is the most difficult post I have written. I almost skipped today, to be honest. But that would be chicken of me. One of the most pivotal times in my younger life would have to be the time I was with my first “real” boyfriend, when I was about 16.

What made “Fred” different from the others, both before and after, was that he actually cared about what was going on inside of my head. He was interested in what I had to say, not just what I looked like. He wasn’t threatened by my intelligence or drive. He was a friend first. But, alas, it ended, as most high school things do. Even though it was a pretty mature relationship, we were not. We were still growing up, and our lives were going to be on different paths.

So why was “Fred” so important? Because this relationship set the standard for what I would look for in a spouse. After “Fred”, and I broke up, I dated. A lot. And since “Fred” had been my first boyfriend, I naively thought that all guys would be that way. I was genuinely shocked to find out that many guys felt threatened by woman with a strong personality. It surprised me that most guys would not take the time to learn about my interests the way I would learn about theirs. I was blown away by the fact that most guys did not view the relationship as a partnership. (Ok, you can stop laughing now). Frankly, I was dismayed. But I did know what I was looking for, and I wouldn’t settle.

My friends thought I was a bit crazy when I started dating Spouse. So did his actually, as I had achieved a bit of a “rep” from all of my casual dating. Except for the German part, Spouse did not fit the “profile”. That is, the exterior “profile” of what girls like me would date. The inside, though, was perfect. His mother is a total battle-axe, so a strong personality would not only be desired, but required to survive in his family. He is intensely driven to succeed, so any partner would have to match that intensity or be left behind. And he likes to talk WITH people, not TO people, so you’d better have something to say, because he is actually LISTENING. Instead of feeling threatened by my interests, he enjoys them because he knows it makes me a more complete person. And although it goes without saying, he is my bestest friend ever!

My time with “Fred” was important. It taught me to not settle in a relationship. It showed me what a relationship should be. It helped me to be open to the right person when that person finally came along. Without that experience, I’m not sure I would have been ready or recognized it for what it was. I might have just taken what was left. And I cannot imagine how different my life would be today.

An Open Letter to My LG Dishwasher

We had something once.

When you first came into my life, I was just getting over the last dishwasher. It had rusty racks that would have cost most of the price of a new dishwasher to replace. It was so loud, you could hear it upstairs in my closet. I had outgrown it and it was time to move on. But to what? I had matured as a homeowner. I was no longer that naive first time homebuyer, satisfied with builder grade appliances. I was ready for more. I needed something more.

I took my time. For while I was ready to move on, my old dishwasher still satisfied my basic needs. I did research. I asked questions. I checked up on you before I decided to commit. But commit I did, and I made you a part of my life.

Oh, how happy we were! You were so new, so eager to please! You had only one need, your insatiable thirst for Jet-Dry. But it was a minor foible, one I was more than willing to put up with so I could actually carry on a conversation in the kitchen while you did your work. You were beautiful, efficient, and oh so quiet. My love for you was strong and I felt safe in the knowledge that you would be part of my life for years to come.

And then, slowly, you began to disappoint. First it was the “drain error” you would signal at 29 minutes remaining. They, you started to do it a 59 minutes as well. And then, finally, you just stopped. Why? Was it something I did? Did I not keep you in Jet-Dry. Did I not rinse completely enough? Why did you forsake me?

I didn’t give up on you. I searched mightily for someone who could fix you, because not just anyone could attend to your special nature. But I did find him, and he came as quick as he could.

The prognosis was grim. You needed a transplant and we weren’t sure how long you would be on the waiting list. After a month – a MONTH – had passed, the surgery was performed and all seemed well. But before the repairman could even leave the neighborhood, you flashed your error code once again. The next day, the repairman returned and all was well. I felt the love again and thought our bond was stronger than ever before. We had weathered this storm and nothing would tear us apart again.

Who could have foreseen last night? You flashed your “drain error” code again at 29 minutes. Why? Why must you torment me this way?

This lack of respect for our relationship worries me. You show no regard for performing your most basic duties. How can I be certain that you aren’t leaking underneath? You are in such a central location, I tremble at the thought of the damage you could inflict upon the hardwoods in my living room. Not to mention all of that drywall.

So here I am. Faced with a difficult choice. Do I pay for another mulit-hundred dollar repair, or do I cut my losses? I bet I could recoup some of my investment on Craigslist. I could turn you into someone else’s problem. You might even end up in, horror of horrors, a rental property. And then I could take advantage of the multi-appliance discount right now at Home Despot. Perhaps even get STAINLESS!

Even so, I’m not sure I’m ready to move on. Spouse is done with you, but I’m so conflicted. I remember the good times. I remember the work I have put in for you. I’m not sure I’m ready to walk away or to admit I made a bad choice.

Oh LG, I wish I could quit you.

Yours (for now),

Melissa

S-O-C-K-S*

So Mel, how’s that Rosetta Stone thing going?

Well,I finished the first unit this morning (finally). I had to wait until I got my new OS and memory to install the program, but once I did it took me about two weeks to finish the unit. Some observations:

1. They probably use the same stock photos for all of their languages. Which would explain why my “un periodico” had Arabic text.
2. Where do they find some of these people for the pictures anyway? The photo shoots must be a hoot. Some of the situations are pretty goofy: “Ellos tienen cinco tazones verdes.”, “El nino no lleva zapatos.”, “Ella tiene un perro pequeno.” And yes, that last picture was a purse dog.
3. I’m only good for about 45 minutes before I lose focus and start musing about the pictures and have to stop.

Kidding aside, this is a fabulous program. It is an immersion program, which makes you learn a lot of things through context. No “classroom” type stuff. That’s no fun. The Rosetta Stone program is pretty enjoyable to work through and I feel like it is really starting to stick. The only thing I have to watch is not blowing off some of this early stuff. I’ve picked up just enough over the years to make that an issue. I have to concentrate, do each lesson, and not skimp. The program is pretty good about not letting that happen.

I am learning some useful “parental” questions to practice (I can’t figure out how to make the upside down question, tilde, or accent mark in HTML, so please pardon that. Maybe next time…):

Que esta haciendo el nino? What is the boy doing?
Que esta haciendo usted? What are you doing?
El nino lleva abrigo? Is the boy wearing a coat?
El nino lleva zapatos? Is the boy wearing shoes?
El nino tiene pelota de futbol? Does the boy have the soccer ball?
Que esta llevando usted? What are you wearing?
Que esta comiendo usted? What are you eating?
Que esta comiendo el gato? What is the cat eating?

One complaint I do have is with the microphone. It keeps freezing up whenever it wants a spoken response. Fortunately, I can tell it “no speech this session”, and it won’t look for the response. I consider this a minor annoyance as 1) the program gives you enough time to pronounce things when you do this, and 2) I can practice with Spouse, Dad, Mom, and whole host of other people so I’m not worried about getting things right. I’m still going to try and figure it out though.

So there ya go. I’m on my way to becoming bilingual! More updates as events warrant.

*This was from a really bad radio commercial that was on in Austin (and other places, you may have heard it, too) when I was in college. It was selling some Spanish learning program, and the two actors were going through something. Anyway, one actor says: “S-O-C-K-S: Spanish is easy!” It’s kind of a joke in our house now. The comic strip “Piranha Club” did a spoof on it, too. If you knew this, then you get a gold star. :)

Now You’re Cookin’ With Gas!

WANT
I saw this beauty at Home Despot on Friday. It is beautiful. That glass door? Is an OVEN. The grilling I could do on this baby…I am verklempt just thinking about it.

And today is even nice grilling weather in Austin. Clear sky…low 70’s. Just absolutely beautiful. Sigh….

But what will I get at Home Despot this week instead? THIS.

CURSE YOU MAXWELL AND YOUR DEMONS OF ENTROPY!!!!!

Friday Haiku 1/25/08

Greetings loyal reader! (there go the crickets again). Well, the past couple of weeks I’ve been having some sleep issues, alluded to in yesterday’s TT post. And really? I’m starting to get a little pissed off here. I just want a decent night’s sleep. So, how does Mel deal with her problems? In haiku, of course! My loss is your gain. But just in case that this does not satisfy your Hai-day needs, check out A Mommy Story.

To sleep, perchance to
Dream. But just sleep will be ok.
So tired am I.

I can’t remember
When I last I slept the whole night.
Insomnia sucks.

Vicious cycle now.
Drink caffeine to stay awake,
But can’t sleep at night.

Had of glass of milk.
Now I’m contemplating wine.
Maybe this will help.

Then a nice warm bath.
Followed by nice warm pj’s.
And a boring book.

Good night everyone!
Upstairs to the bed I go.
Wish me pleasant dreams.

Update: Actually slept the whole night! But it took me an hour to fall asleep. Oh well…

Thursday Thirteen, Well Lit Edition

Greetings all! Well, it’s the middle of the night and I’ve woken up again. Sigh. I usually remedy this by going downstairs, getting a glass of milk, and watching something on Discovery Home or Fox Soccer. (I don’t want to read anything as the goal here is to fall back asleep) But as I was approaching the stairs, I noticed, not for the first time mind you, that I didn’t need to turn on any lights for safety because of the glow coming from our gameroom. Being in need of some blog fodder, I went and checked it out and there are, you guessed it, THIRTEEN LEDs glowing in that room. Amazing. Here they are, moving counterclockwise:

1. Smoke Detector

2. Cable Modem on top of bookcase

3. Wireless router next to cable modem

4. Surge protector for cable modem and router

5. Television set

6. Gaming System

7. Printer/Fax/Copier

8. Speaker for kid’s computer

9. Monitor for kid’s computer

10. Kid’s computer

11. Keyboard for kid’s computer

12. Surge protector for kid’s stuff

13. My laptop, plugged in for charging.

I’m just kind of boggled here. And yes, the waste of energy is occurring to me as I type this. I’m wondering which ones I can do anything about. I think the only ones I can really take care of are the ones related to the kid’s computer. Those are on standby as that computer is the print server in the house. But we don’t need to print in the middle of the night very often. The TV and gaming system just glow to show they are connected, and their surge protector (not listed because it is hidden from view) is pretty awkward to get to. And we can’t really turn off the modem and router. Same goes for the smoke detector. But that’s a lot of LEDs for such a small area.

So, there’s my TT for the week. What’s yours? If you want to read more, or join in, try here.

Hump Day Hmmm 1-23-08

What makes you go hmmm? Check out Julie at Using My Words for more takes on this topic. Or better yet, use your words and join us!

When you look at American society today, it’s a little hard to wrap your head around it. There is so much about our society right now that is worrisome that it was hard to pick one issue that I thought deserved special attention. But after some serious thoughts I decided that the Cult of Instant Gratification is the biggest threat to our society.

As a whole, we have come to expect everything NOW. It’s all “on demand”, “thirty minutes or it’s free”, “buy now, pay later”. I can fall into this trap as well. But we need to be more careful, because this way of thinking is highly destructive, and not just in the obvious areas.

Let’s start with the obvious first: Consumer spending. It is now the cultural norm to get something now, and worry about paying for it later. Now I’m not saying all debt is bad. Constructive debt, like mortgages, student loans, and car payments (within reason) are good. Even responsible short term financing for a large purchase isn’t something to get worried about. But what about those “convenience checks” that come in the mail and entice you to spend it on yourself? Or putting a small purchase on your Home Improvement Store card with no payments for 90 days? Or, and this would never happen, what about obtaining a mortgage that you really can’t afford? What happens when those bills finally come due? Well, they usually won’t get paid off all the way, and you use the card a little more, and then a little more. And then you get into trouble. If you get enough people at the same time who are having trouble…

But it’s not like we’re getting the best of examples from our Uncle. You know, Uncle Sam? He’s been borrowing and borrowing for years. With no real plan on how to pay it back, I might add. Right now, things are looking a little scary. So, what’s our plan? Give people more money so they can spend it. That’s right, we will (probably) be given money in the hopes, nay expectation, that we will go and be irresponsible with it. By the way, where is this money coming from anyway? If there was all of this extra cash just laying around the halls of government, wouldn’t it be better to spend it on schools or our crumbling infrastructure? Ah, but those are results we have to wait for. And we have to see some results now.

The Cult can influence some less obvious areas as well. First, our children. We want our children to behave and behave NOW. But what if it takes them a little longer to settle down? Well, we have a pill for that. What about education? We need a quick fix, so instead of seeing what works, let’s find the minimum each child needs to know (and who decides *that* btw), and give them a test on that. We’ll see some results in pretty short order, I’m sure. And in college? The number of engineering and scientific degrees keeps declining. Could it be that careers in these fields don’t command the same out of the gates salaries that law and business do? Or is it because these areas are seen as being “harder” and require more work?

The Cult is influencing our health, too. Need to eat in a hurry, so let’s stop off at the drive through. Feeling in the dumps? Here’s a pill, or perhaps you’d prefer that in a patch? (Not that for some people these pills aren’t lifesavers, but how often would you suspect they are overprescribed?) No time for the gym? Here’s a device that in four minutes a day will give you the body you’ve always dreamed of!

The Cult has caused us all to forget about waiting, watching, and working to make something happen. It rewards instant results, no matter how they are gotten, at the expense of long term accomplishment. By continually seeking the short term solution, we are in danger of having these issues repeat themselves, usually with more dire consequences, in the future.

So, what are we to do? We need to start making the hard choices. We need to start deciding what our priorities are and make sure those get taken care of. We need leaders who are not afraid to tell the truth about how problems need to be fixed. And we need to be strong enough to hear that truth and elect them anyway.

The next time you hear the Cult knocking at your door, stop and think. Take a moment to fully understand the actions you are about to take on their behalf, and then act accordingly. If we can all do this, I think this society can still deprogram itself. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Guilty Pleasures 3

We all have those things that we are embarrassed to admit that we like. Things that cultured, well educated people shouldn’t like. But we do, and, if you are like me, are a bit sheepish about them. So here is the third of my many guilty pleasures posts.

(places paper bag over head)

Veggie Tales

“If you like to talk to tomatoes,
If a squash can make you smile,
If you like to waltz with potatoes,
Up and down the produce aisle…

Have we got a show for you!”

Veggie tales theme.

Yup. Veggie Tales. If you do not have children under the age of 12, you probably have missed out on this. And believe me, you have missed out. I mean, TALKING CGI VEGETABLES! Doing very silly things. Riffing on Monty Python and Star Trek, and Indiana Jones, and Gunsmoke, just to name a few. And all in the name of introducing Bible stories and morality lessons to young children. It’s fun! It’s wholesome! It’s SILLY!

The Veggie Tales crew are headed up by Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. In the television shows, Bob and Larry host each episode from a counter top in a kitchen. They start out with a letter from a kid asking about some moral or ethical question, then follow up with two shorts about dealing with it. Usually, one of the shorts will be the retelling of a well known Bible story. In between, there is a silly musical interlude. We then wrap up with an applicable Bible verse. Thirty minutes of fun. There are also two full length feature films (one currently in theaters), a few hour long Christmas and Easter specials, and a few direct to DVD movies to their credit.

Other major characters in the VT universe are Archibald Asparagus, Junior Asparagus (who was NOT in the new movie, much to my chagrin), Pa Grape, Mr. Lundt, Jimmy and Jerry Gourd, Nebby K. Nezzer, and the taunting French Peas. And of course, we can’t forget Larry the Cucumber’s alter ego, Larry Boy, with his super suction ears!

It’s been a while since we’ve seriously watched Veggie Tales as my guys are getting a little older, but we did go and see the new movie, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, on Saturday. Great fun and a good message. Actually, a couple of messages. Anyway, Veggie Tales is a fun alternative to a lot of kid entertainment out there. If you have a little one in the under 8 set, be sure and check them out!

I’ve attached videos of two of my favorites, Song of the Cebu and Dance of the Cucumber. And, in honor of the movie, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. For more general info, check out BigIdea.

Simple Gifts

Last week, Julie at Using My Words had an interesting post. Ok, she has interesting posts all the time, but this one was particularly interesting. It was this post about GT kids and school. She had some questions about expectations and how to deal with the situation.

Oooh boy. Welcome to my world.

Both Things are in the GT program at our school. Both are obviously very bright. But Thing 2, the eight year old, is special. He’s THAT kid. A sponge. He’s always reading SOMETHING. He cares about things at a level that most 8 year olds don’t. His vocabulary is amazing. In fact, right now he’s designing sculptures based on what he sees in a kaleidoscope. But he’s in the second grade with his age peers.

So, what do we do with the kids like Thing 2? It’s not PC to sort the kids by level. Oh sure, it’s ok to have a Varsity athletic team, but if you put all the smart kids in one class, it’s somehow not fair. Why is intellectual talent viewed any differently than athletic or artistic talent? Why are people made to feel bad if they look to nurture intellectual gifts the same way they would music or sports? Sending Thing 1 to a special soccer camp is viewed as cool. Advancing Thing 2 means I’m elitist.

Now here’s where my thoughts start to get a little muddy. A regular classroom still has a lot to offer kids like Thing 1 and 2. Right now I am using it to teach them that no matter how brilliant they are, the rules apply to them, too. This means turning your homework in on time and completing all classwork assigned to you, with a high level of quality each time. This means learning to present your ideas to your classmates articulately without condescending to them. This means learning that there are rules that must be followed, not matter how special we think we are. And I’m not talking societal rules here. I’m talking about fulfilling a grant, or filling out a patent application, or meeting a publishing deadline. These are things that these types of kids will be doing and some of this basic work in school will prepare them for it. If they can’t be bothered with minutiae like this, then their intellectual talents don’t really do them much good, do they?

But then you have to follow this up with challenging work. Unfortunately, American public schools have become so obsessed with pulling the bottom up that they are pushing the top down. In a perfect world, we would go back to leveling classes according to their ability, so that those who need the extra help can get it, and those who are ready to move on can. But again, that’s not PC anymore. Having a top band is competitive. Having a top math class is elitist. Until we as a society can get past that prejudice, the solution will not be found in the public schools.

So, as much as we would like the schools to give us the answer here, they won’t. It is up to me to nurture the talents I see in my children the best way I can. I expose them to as many experiences as possible. I encourage their interest in new topics (although I admit that Thing 1’s newfound interest in the destructive power of soundwaves is a bit disturbing). I push them to perform at their best every day.

But how should we deal with school? Well, it won’t help your kid’s attitude toward school if they hear you disparaging it all the time, right? So start there. If you must complain, don’t let them hear you. I’ve actually heard a child (not mine thank goodness) say that “Daddy says this work is a waste of time so I’m not going to do it.” Focus on teaching them to take pride in their work, no matter how easy. The cello part of Pachelbel’s Cannon is the easiest thing to play, but if I don’t play it well, the whole piece falls apart. Work with the teachers to provide meaningful extra assignments, like an in-depth presentation to the whole class on a topic just covered. Look for outside activities to stir your child’s interest. Start interest clubs at school. This is what keeps children interested in going to school even if the curriculum doesn’t. But most of all, just stay in tune with your child. Your child will let you know in their own way what needs to happen. They’re pretty smart that way, aren’t they?