Tuesday, September 30, 2008

just one thing


There is one "petty tyrant" who is not even that highly placed who is making my life MISERABLE, she does this every stinking SEMESTER, because she has something I need and she makes these petty rules to prevent me from being able to do my JOB without jumping through a million jillion hoops and having to beg friends for favors.


In a really really bad mood today. I made a friend angry with me because I misunderstood his offer of help and assumed it was greater than it actually was.

all because of this woman.

I want to cry. I just want to cry. This week has sucked eggs for sure.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Sometimes, when the crap is hitting the fan*, you just need to pull back and remember the good things:

I LOVE ICHC. It has made me laugh, it has cheered me up when I'm down, it's calmed me down when I was close to going off on something, it's given me those "Awwwww" moments.

(*Not just the whole "ZOMG Wall Street Is ASPLODING!" headlines; more locally, I just got an e-mail announcement of one of those administrative things that makes me twitch a bit and worry that our university administration is gearing up for a massive "Your asses belong to US!" tattooing campaign.)

And hey....

I changed up my links page to reflect the changes below.

And to correct one long-time admission: Half a Pica Distance, aka Cullen.

I'm sure once he's back from surgery he'll be THRILLED to know he's right below Ken's banjophilia site.

The 'Pints is dead...

Long live the Pintsters:

The Fifth String
The Friday Not-Safe-For-Work-Language Thread.

Crap. I'm kind of sad that my one-stop shop for a place to gripe about entitled students and oblivious cell-phone users, share my prodigious and useless knowledge of doo-wop artists, and read links and commentary is going away, but the fact that the FFOT will live on - and hopefully, Ken's trivia quizzes - makes it a little better.

If the Wall Street Financial Crisis (tm) had something to do with this....well, even more reason I want to go and strangle a few investment bankers.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Chicken chicken (N.B.: .pdf file).

A presentation of the same: Chicken chicken

The only comment I can make? Who knew AAAS had a "humor" section? I guess I'm running with the wrong crowd.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

a little sad...

Ran out to the super-wal-mart this morning (because I'm less likely to leave wanting to kill someone if I shop really early on a weekend morning). I saw a jar of "Newman's Own" salad dressing.

And it made me sad.

Sad because he's gone...someone who was such a fixture and an icon.

And also sad because I (not being a big movie viewer) know him mainly for his salad dressing, and his cookies, and his marinara sauce, and the lemonade that (facetiously) promised to restore virginity (is that still on the market, or have people so much lost their senses of humor that something like that can't be sold any more?)

Oh, I've seen The Sting and Cool Hand Luke and, I'm sure, other movies he was in that I am now forgetting. But I don't know his work as much as I feel I should.

I will say I know it enough that, to use a generation's-previous-to-me version of the "Brad Pitt or George Clooney?" question (In other words: "Newman or Redford?"), that I'd pick Newman, every time.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

I will trade wheat for sheep

You know, I've kind of passed from the panic-stage about the whole financial mess, and have entered a sort of bemused fascination. What is going to happen to society as a result? Could, possibly, something GOOD happen, rather than something bad? Maybe a scaling-back, a realization that we don't need giant houses and a new car every three years and a huge wardrobe? (Oh, yeah, I realize some people live like that now, by choice or by circumstance. But the overwhelming cultural "norm," at least as Madison Avenue presents it, is that if you're not a LOSER, you get new cars every few years. And you buy your wife a diamond for her birthday. And your kids have every new toy that comes on the market. And you know? That's not how I was raised. Not even as recently as the 70s. My dad drove his cars until they were literally not worth fixing any more, then bought a new one - and paid cash for it if he at all could. And we got one birthday present - ONE. And I think the only diamond my mom had was in either her engagement ring or her wedding band.)

I've got the news on in the other room and am half-listening. One of the commentators seems to be saying that if you're not buying stuff on credit right now, you will probably be OK. That's me. I realize that that's rare, and I'm uncommonly blessed to be able to provide for all my needs (and some of my wants) out of the monthly salary I make as a professor. (OK: the one thing that might be concerning would be what would happen if student loans went away. Our enrollment would probably drop a lot, and some of us could get RIFfed. Then again, I have more seniority than a couple people, I teach several classes that no one else in the department currently could teach, and if I had to, I'd accept a part-time slot [provided they dropped the expectation that I do research, committeework, and advising]).

Okay, I admit I'd be a little sad if credit cards went away. I loves me some Amazon, as you all know very well. And I adore nothing more than being able to decide I want to make some kind of project, and go on line, and find a yarn or a fabric or whatever that would be PERFECT for it, and be able to have it sent to me. But the truth is? If credit cards went away for a while, I'd survive. I have enough books. I have enough supplies. I could manage by paying cash for groceries and medication, by just planning to have enough fives and twenties on hand for the day-to-day needs. After all, it was not that long ago that only a few rich folks had credit cards...I don't think they were common at all before the mid-70s; I don't remember my dad using them much.

Maybe this won't be so bad. Maybe we'll go back to an economy that's more cash-based, where credit isn't used for so many things. (I once saw a bank advertising that people could take out loans for a vacation. That seemed very wrong to me, but then I grew up going on "vacation" in National Parks and visiting relatives, so my family did "vacation" on the cheap). Maybe people will learn to be more content with what they have, rather than constantly chasing the next thrill.

Maybe, even, there will be some kind of underground barter economy spring up (hence my title, an allusion to Settlers of Catan, for the uninitiated). Those of us with talents or skills or even good strong backs might be able to get some of what we need or want by trading. For example: I know how to knit. Perhaps I might be able to, I don't know, get vegetables from a small-scale farmer in return for providing him and his with winter hats. Or when someone's house needs painting, a crew of friends get together, Amish-barn-raising-style, and all do it together - with the promise that when each person's house needs painting, everyone will return to do theirs.

(I realize that this could lead to problems with cheaters - and given the experience I've had with people volunteering to do things and then crapping out on it that seems a real possibility - but maybe in a culture like the one I'm describing, cheating is so frowned upon - as in "fail to show up to help once, and you're cut loose, without help from others" that the whole barter thing could work.)

I don't know. In some of my more musey moments, I think maybe a different path than what we're on would be interesting...a path where people valued people and experiences rather than mere stuff, where having skills like being able to sew or being able to repair small engines or being able to grow and grind grain are valuable things that are important to your survival and that of the community, rather than just being hobbies or some kind of odd thing you do.

I admit, I can be very Pollyanna that way. Very good at imagining the "good old days" without the bad of no antibiotics, no plumbing, racism, child labor...all of those things we're lucky to be rid of (or mostly rid of) in the 21st century.

But sometimes I contemplate a world that's slower and quieter, where people do more stuff with their hands and brains and consume less and worry less about money. So I don't know. Maybe this isn't the "beginning of the end," as some are making it out to be. Maybe it's a "beginning of a new beginning."

After all - Thomas Jefferson didn't have American Express. I bet Ben Franklin didn't buy his house slippers on credit. We've lived differently than we do now before, and we are smart enough to figure out a way to live differently again, if it comes down to that.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It was probably a smart thing, regardless

But I'm still not entirely proud of it.

A few years ago - back when there were greater fears of another terrorist attack on our soil - I had a Safe Place in my dwelling, a place where I could keep a decent amount of money in small bills. Just in case, you know, the banks and credit cards and stuff got attacked, so I wouldn't have to sell my body on the street for a gallon of milk.

As time passed and the worry got less, I spent the money...there were times I just didn't feel like running to the bank, and I needed a couple of twenties, or something. So I didn't have any cash on hand.

Well, as this week progressed, a thought kept nibbling at the back of my brain: yes, my money is in a credit union. Better yet, a credit union that didn't offer mortgages. And I know about the NCUA and all.

But. I kept thinking more, and imagining the phrase "I will trade wheat for sheep" and that kind of thing. And I decided that maybe, just maybe, it would be kinda smart to resurrect the Safe Place plan, and to get some cash in small bills. You know, just in case. Just in case some idiot in Congress decides the smartest way to deal with this thing is to suddenly declare a week-long Bank Holiday, or some similar idiocy.

So, after prepping the Safe Place (and NO I'm not telling what it is. Even though I think only Ken, Emily, and Sheila know my for-real for-true name and even then they probably don't know where I live), I went down to the credit union and drew out a large-for-me but not overly-large amount of cash, asked for it in small bills.

Like I said, I'm not proud of it. I felt like one of the characters in "It's A Wonderful Life," down at the Building and Loan, making a run on the bank while Jimmy Stewart stands behind the grille and pleads for people to remain calm.

But no one at the credit union questioned me. (Though they do have a new rule, which I support: withdrawals over a certain amount have to be accompanied by a photo ID like a driver's license.)

So I have my money squirreled away, in a place safe from fire and safe from all but the most persistent of thieves. Hopefully I won't need it, but will once again wind up slowly bleeding it away at times like when I want a pizza but have no ready cash, or when I need to make a small cash donation for something.

I keep thinking of the old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." I wish they'd be a bit LESS interesting for a while.

I hate it when

I'm grading a student test, I read an answer to a question everyone else has gotten, and my response is:

"the Hell?"

Yeah, that was 10 points that dude just lost.

What did I say?

Washington Mutual apparently had to be bought out this morning.

I made this comment last week.

Scary. If I thought I really could influence the space-time continuum, I'd say that it would suddenly rain money and all of the financial problems would go away, and the terrorists would all decide that they'd rather learn to play the sitar instead of blow stuff up, and a new candidate would rise up that everyone liked and who could do good things for the country.

But I can't influence the space-time continuum, unfortunately.


One thing I'm very grateful for, every morning as I wake up and hear the news-radio talking about more bank failures or buyouts, is that I don't have a mortgage.

That's right. I own my house, and not "own" in the sense that some bank has part-ownership.

I kind of hesitate to talk much about this because I know some people would regard it as me "trumpeting" my "privileged" status. And it's kind of true...I have enjoyed, and do enjoy, a certain amount of privilege, largely as a result of things my father has done.

My father, when he was working, was a college professor and minor administrator. I will observe that he never made a huge salary, not by administrative standards - he never approached $100,000 in a year.

But my father is frugal. And he's incredibly smart about investing. In fact, now that he's retired, I have him managing my stock portfolio for me because he does a far better job than I could ever do. (And may he be able to manage it for a good many more years for me).

He taught me well. One of his early lessons was to never go into debt for things other than a house, and possibly an education...he would argue that there were ways around going into debt for other things. True, we didn't have a lot of the things my friends had - we didn't get cable for a long time, we didn't have a VCR until I was in college, I think - but we were comfortable enough. We took our vacations in National Parks (inexpensive, and in the long run, I think more interesting than going and lying on a beach somewhere or spending megabucks in a theme park.) We did "cheap" things for fun - went hiking, went to the dollar-a-person revival movie house near the campus where he taught (I saw most of the "classic" Disney movies there; I think they did a Saturday "family" matinee with a kid-friendly movie).

So anyway. Those values kind of got passed down to me.

When I started grad school for the second time - when I was going to the campus close to my parents and living with them - I asked my dad if he wanted me to pay rent. After all, I was over 21, "should" have been out of the house on my own. He said no, not as long as I made an effort to put some money away each month for future needs.

So I did. I didn't make much as a TA but in the time it took to complete my Ph.D., I managed to save up a little over $10,000.

That came in handy later on.

Also, my father's frugality and concern for his family helped me in another way I will never be able to repay him for. When his mother died, the resort his parents had owned was sold. Apparently it had appreciated a good bit over the years, and after the large estate tax was paid, there was a goodly amount of money left over, which my dad and his brothers split. His brothers spent their portion on things like boats and vacation homes. My dad told my brother and me - I was in junior high at the time and my brother was even younger - that he was going to invest the money, and if it did well, it would pay for our college educations.

Well, this was the early 80s. You remember the 80s? My dad invested the money very wisely and it did very well.

So thanks to my dad, I had no college loans to pay back. Which I realize now is a big huge deal and something I can never adequately thank him for.

Even more than that...there was money left over in my account when I was done with college (well, the fact that I finished undergrad in three years, and then after that was a TA or an RA every semester, which carried with it a tuition waiver and enough of a stipend that I didn't have to touch that money, helped).

So fast forward to 2001. When I was thinking about buying a house. My father reminded me I had about $30K left in that stock account. And I knew I had my little nest-egg from grad school. And it turns out, parents can make a nice tax-free monetary gift (up to a certain amount) to their kids. And my dad had just taken his second retirement, so he had the money.

He told me that the bigger a down payment I made, the better.

He didn't talk to me about fixed-rate versus ARMs, but I kind of think if I had gone very far down the path of trying towards a mortgage, I would have figured out that if I could have gotten a fixed rate, that would have been best.

But anyway. The area where I live was (and still is, though it's a bit better now) somewhat economically depressed. The "housing boom" never really hit here. And the house I found and fell in love with was an older house - a small, circa 1940s house in a quiet neighborhood midway between downtown and the University.

I spend much of the summer negotiating with the seller - a man a few years older than I am, who was selling the house on behalf of his mother, who was having to go into an "assisted living" facility.

I hadn't really thought about mortgages; I was just holding out hope that the fact that I was a college professor (with a job unlikely to go away) would be enough to get me one.

Then, my dad brought up the option of paying cash, if the seller and I could negotiate a price that would work.

When I mentioned that to the seller, he was more willing to negotiate. I wound up getting the house for something a little less than $60K.

I know that sounds unbelievable to a lot of people - especially those on the coast - but this is a small, older house. It has one bathroom and two bedrooms - not exactly the kind of place most people were aspiring to. But I live alone, so the one bathroom makes no difference.

Also, there had been some "deferred maintenance" on the house - it needed a little work, some of which I could do myself, some of which I was able to hire someone to do.

So we worked out the negotiation, and I handed over my big cashier's check, and got the keys.

The funny thing is all along, I was wondering if I had done the right thing by not taking out a mortgage. One of my colleagues (who was buying a house at the same time) kept telling me about how a mortgage would allow me to "retain the use of that money" and that I could probably negotiate a mortgage with "not very big payments" (yeah, but how much of that would be interest?)

But now I'm SO GLAD I did it this way. I own my house. I don't have to worry about my mortgage being sold to someone else. (The house my parents own...they had a mortgage on it but my dad sold some stock to pay it off about 15 years ago because the mortgage was sold to a different financial institution, and, to put it bluntly, they were a-holes...rude on the phone, sent statements late, just generally were not good businesspeople. So my dad paid off the mortgage to avoid having to deal with them any more).

I really do wish everyone who wanted a home could afford one. But the whole idea that "bad mortgages" were written - ones that the bank should have known the people couldn't afford - makes me kind of sick. (I think, honestly, the banks are probably more to blame than the people. I knew nothing at all about mortgages - other than that you need to pay them, and they last 15 or 30 years, and a lot of what you're paying is actually interest - before I bought this house, and before the whole mortgage mess started up. And I'm a reasonably smart and savvy person, it's just I never NEEDED to know about mortgages before, having always lived with my parents or in apartments. So I place the blame on the loan officers who encouraged people to go for "more house" than they really could afford. And I blame them for perhaps being too Pollyannaish about the adjustable-rate mortgages: I know people with them who never believed that they were going to get hit so hard by the rate being "adjusted." Yes, I know, it was a gamble they took - but I don't remember ever hearing anyone suggesting it would be a losing bet. I know people with ARMs who are scrambling to cover payments now, they never imagined this would happen, because the bank officers seemed to assume that conditions would remain ever the same.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Things off which can flip.

I know it's a day early for Friday, but I'm angry now.

So here's my list of things that can be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels this week:

1. The printers in my building. For capriciously and unexpectedly de-connecting themselves from our networked computers. I can't print anything. I had to punt on giving a review sheet in my non-majors class this morning, because I couldn't print it out.

(1a. I can kind of flip off as well, for forgetting I needed that until the last minute. And for getting behind the schedule, which is apparently about as bad a thing as "crossing the streams.")

2. The whole ugly mess that is emanating from Wall Street and the investment banks. It has actually passed the point where I even want to TRY to understand it. I just want to assign blame, string a few loan officers up by their toes, and move on. My dad reassured me last night that things were going to be "OK" (for our family at least) and he reminded me that I already own my house (no mortgage), so that's one big thing I don't have to worry about.

He also said he seriously doubted we'd have another Depression. His opinion is that what will likely happen is that the dollar will lose more strength, "people's standards of living will go down and that will be unpleasant but not terribly unpleasant" and that I really, truly don't need to stack up on more nonperishable food than the three weeks or so I keep on hand anyway (as protection against bad weather or trucking strikes).

3. But you know? Standards of living going down can flip off. I have a decent standard of living but I'm pretty frugal and the thought of tightening my belt more kind of p*sses me off. Especially if that belt-tightening is necessitated by those who failed to wear belts (figuratively speaking) altogether.

4. People who text and drive and who talk on the cell phone and drive can flip off. See, people - restrictive laws come when people are stupid to behave the way they should. Texting while driving is now banned in California because stupid people did it, some people died, and now a law has been passed. Wouldn't it have been better in the first place for people to decide, "I'm driving now. I need to give it my full attention." and left the blackberry off? I'm sure the families of the folks killed in those accidents would agree.

(I was almost run off the road Saturday by some dangerously silly woman who was talking on the cell phone, strayed over into my lane (it was on a two lane highway), and because of road construction, I had no where I could safely swerve to - swerving to avoid her would have meant either going into her lane (and hitting the truck behind her head on), or going over the "Warning: steep drop off" edge, breaking the axle on my car, and likely flipping it. Fortunately when I laid on the horn and slowed down (but not too much, so the person behind me wouldn't rear end me), she woke up and got back in her own damn lane. But seriously. How many people are going to die or be maimed before the idiots wake up and realize they can't yack and drive at the same time?)

5. Politics can flip off. I just want the election to be over. And I want everyone currently in Congress - especially those who saw this financial mess coming and did nothing - voted out and sent back home. Preferably to spend the rest of their lives mucking out someone else's stables.

6. The fact that for every thing I complete, I get a list of three more things I have to do. Can. Not. Deal. With. Any. More. Thank. You. I already have the "stealth test" to write for next week, and my annual "Can I keep my job, please" document (aka Tenure Review), and an exam to grade, and other grading to do, and prep for this class that isn't supposed to be a new prep but kind of is and why am I writing on my blog because I should be working....ugh. Next person who "needs" something from me with less than 24 hours turnaround gets it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

'Splain this to me

Someone with more financial smarts than I have needs to talk me down off a ledge, so to speak.

It sounds like we, the American taxpayers, are bailin' everyone out. Bad home loans, bad student loans, AIG, Lehmann, now possibly Caterpillar. The stock market MAY tank, some say. We MAY face double-digit employment, some say.

(Which scares me. As a tenured prof, my job is pretty secure in normal times provided I don't sleep with a student or some equally monumentally stupid move. But there is such a thing as RIFing, which stands for Reduction In Force - where even tenured folks can be let go if times get bad enough).

So - since it looks like my stock investments may evaporate, my non-vested pension plan may go away, and my credit union is paying me a royal (eye-roll) 1.2% on my savings account in times of 3%+ inflation - what is to say I shouldn't just take a big whack of money out of my accounts and just spend it? Buy lots and lots of canned goods that will last a long time (or something like camp food), buy all the books and yarn and fabric and other supplies that tickle my fancy now, because I might not be able to if the whole system tanks and the bookshops and yarn-sellers shut their doors (or in the event I have no money to spend in the future).

Basically go into pre-disaster mode and stock up on everything necessary (food, TP, advil...) and everything that makes life worth living (books, yarn, dvds of movies I love...) with the thought that I may have to figuratively hole up for, oh, four years or so.

Just generally figure we're waltzing on the deck of the Titanic with a big honkin' iceberg in view, so I might as well get my kicks in now, and plan on standing on a bread line come a year's time. (Or maybe go out and buy a rifle and lessons on how to use it, so I can at least have deer meat to eat).

I've said before that it ticks me off - and worse than ticks me off - that I've spent my life budgeting, and saving up money, and delaying big purchases (especially big "fun" purchases like my dvd player) until I have the money at hand to buy them, and there are rafts of people in this country who spend and spend and spend (I work with some of 'em. Honestly, I'm shocked at the level of credit card debt some people I know claim to have), or investment brokerages who take bad risks, and then go,

"Silly me....I seem not to be able to cover this. I would gladly pay you Tuesday for the hamburger I have just consumed."

(Not unlike a guy I knew once, who "conveniently" had left his wallet in his other pants when we all went out for lunch).

And of course, the Government comes in on its big white gelding to the rescue, and not just swooping up the banks that are gasping like goldfish on the kitchen floor, but offering swoop-ups to everyone and anyone who apparently made a bad credit decision - the sort of bad decision that, if I had made it a few years ago and called my dad for help, he would have kind of groaned and said, "I taught you better than this. You can live on beans and rice for a few months. Suck it up and pay the bills off."

In other words: I feel like I'm gettin' screwed here, so shouldn't I be allowed to have a good time first?

(The other thought that crosses my mind: what if the dollar I don't spend today is worth 25 cents in a few months?)

So someone - please talk me down here. Let me know that it's really truly going to be OK and I'm not going to find my money has disappeared itself somewhere and I just have to redouble my working and halve my fun-spending in the future to make back up what went away.

I don't know if...

Sarah Palin does crafts (she's probably too busy), but I think this is one she could get behind.

(Though I tend to prefer the alternate wording of, "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight").

Ike photos (Boston Globe)

These photos make me sad.

(Though #25 cheers me up somewhat - hooray for the men who go into potentially dangerous situations like that to help people.)

I hope everyone who's affected by Ike either gets their power back on soon, and gets stuff back to normal, or decides to move somewhere more inland.

I know coasts are beautiful and it's hard to leave them once you've lived on one, but I really don't think I could live in a coastal area that might get hit with a hurricane.

When t-shirts become TMI-shirts

One of the guys in my non-majors class showed up yesterday in a somewhat surprising t-shirt. It said, "Fiscally Republican/ Socially Democrat/ Sexually Liberal"

Um, dude? There's at least one fact on that shirt I didn't need to know about you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"free" does not equal "worthless."

As you might remember, I go in for weekly allergy desensitization shots. Fortunately, the campus nurse is willing to do this for me, so I don't have to go out to a doctor's office or even schedule an appointment - she kind of knows to expect me between 3 and 3:30 on Tuesdays, and in return, I am content to sit and wait until she has a moment to attend to me.

So as a result, I see some interesting behaviors in the campus nurse's office. And sometimes, I think that maybe, some of the odder ones are the result of the students' not paying (well, not DIRECTLY, anyway; it's part of their fees) for the service.

I saw another case of it today. Guy comes in, looks around the waiting room, announces he is a half-hour late for his doctor's appointment. (A doctor comes to campus two days a week, on loan from the local hospital).

(In cases like that - where someone announces something like that to a room full of strangers, I'm always tempted to say something borderline snarky like "Congratulations!' or "good for yooooou" in a Squidward Tentacles sort of voice, but I never do).

The receptionist looked at him and said, "I'm sorry, then you will need to reschedule, because you missed your appointment time."

He gave no explanation - no excuse. Just reiterated that he was late. ("Again...good for yoooooouuuu")

The receptionist then said: "We have other people waiting for their appointments, the doctor does not have time to see you today now."

"But...but...Can't he see me NOW?"

"He is in with a patient," and she gestured to the three or four other people waiting with me "And these patients are next."

"But I just need to see the results of my blood workup!" (Don't even try, HIPAA)

"You will need to reschedule."

"Can't one of these people wait while he sees me?"

Okay, this is where I get kind of infuriated. Yes, I can understand life-emergencies. But you did not cite any life-emergency - for all I know, you could have been playing Nintendo Wii or taking a nap or watching ESPN and then gone, "Oh crap...my appointment was 15 minutes ago." And if it's that important...you work around it. I have students leave my class on a regular basis for doctor's appointments. I hate that they do - but I understand that if you're sick, or your kid is sick, you sometimes take what you can get in terms of appointments. And you make an effort to show up on time.

But if all of those things amount to a big FAIL, then you suck it up and reschedule. You do not demand to be seen right then. You do not say (in front of the patients who showed up EARLY for their appointment) that they should wait, because you're an extra-special snowflake who deserves coddling.

The nurse responded to the guy's sorry request with: "The doctor's schedule only allows him to be here until 4:30. There is not time for him to see you today, even if you waited until all these people had been taken care of."

He kind of spluttered at that.

Finally, she said, "You need to come in the other room and I can reschedule you."

(I kind of wished that "rescheduling" came with a side of ass-whuppin', but I'm sure it didn't).

But seriously - who, when they go to a "real" doctor's appointment, one they are paying at least a co-pay for, shows up late with no excuse and then demands in front of the people who are following the "rules" (i.e., the patients who showed up a few minutes early for their appointment) that the rules should be broken for you?

An actual-factual doctor's office would laugh in your face. And charge you for the visit any way.

Entitlement behavior ticks me off. I hope this dude learns pretty fast that he can't change a light bulb in a ceiling fixture by holding the new bulb up and waiting for the Universe to revolve around him, because he's apparently not learned that yet.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Perhaps I am too good at looking at things as object-lessons; I don't know.

But today, I realized I was possibly "bein' schooled."

It was a workday at the local Christian camp. They have regular workdays because there's a lot of upkeep necessary the (now ex-)director didn't exactly keep his end up, and there's been tons of deferred maintenance - to the point where the denominational office is making noises about selling off the camp and making one big camp "in a convenient central location" (not for us; it would be a 3 hour drive for us - meaning our kids wouldn't go, most likely).

So we're doing something that may wind up being a futile task (if the denomination decides to sell the site, everything will be plowed under to make way for either McMansions or luxury condos for the rich folks who are fleeing the city to the south of us...it's kind of the Aspen phenomenon in some areas around here already, where the rich folks move in and either people feel they "have" to sell because their land goes so high, or utility costs skyrocket, or the rich city folk complain because people have chickens or donkeys on their property - chickens and donkeys they had long before the rich folk moved in. But money talks...so the chickens and donkeys usually wind up going.

Anyway. So I showed up. Found out that my youth group wasn't going to be there (d'oh) because of "illness, girlfriends, and football," or so the other guy from my church who showed up told me his phone message went.

(An aside: I worked HARD this week. I even gave up my usual Friday night relaxation to grade a mess of student papers so I'd have this morning free. I don't ever get to use...I don't know, "Shopping" or "Working on a quilt" as an excuse for not doing something).

The men were cutting tree limbs. I looked kind of longingly and the stacks of limbs piling up and made noises about "you need someone to make brushpiles for you, or load those into a wagon?" because I generally prefer outdoor, muscular-type work to cleaning.

But no. They needed me to clean. Specifically, to wash windows.

And I admit I grumbled as I did it. (I was washing the outside of the windows - the spider-encrusted, greasy, icky outside). "Why am I doing this?" I asked. "This makes no difference at all. No one's going to see this - it's not like the brush-cutting where the entrance looks immediately better."

And then later on: "I can't do a good enough job at this. No matter how hard I work, there are still going to be stains and webs and the windows are still going to be kind of greasy."

And you know...it was almost like someone was responding to me, going, "There's no unimportant work here. What you do will matter even though you don't think it matters as much as things like brush cutting."

And: "You sometimes have to learn to live with "good enough" as the quality of your work. Not everything can be done to perfection."

So I kept working. Eventually, I realized - hey, the windows look pretty good, they look brighter and cleaner. (At least from the outside).

And then I went indoors to change the water. And you know, from the inside? The windows still looked streaky and ugly and (to my eyes) not "better" enough from how they were. But other people reassured me that they were a LOT better.

And I wonder if that isn't one of my problems: I see everything I do from the "inside," so to speak: I can see all the smudges and streaks and the not-perfect-job. But maybe, if you look from the outside, it's really kind of OK. I once had a friend who told me that I was "too good at too many things" - and the fact that I was good at a lot of things lead me to be extremely self-critical, because I expected that I would be able to do everything well.

And I've also read that one of the values in "failure" - in doing something, trying something you know you're not that expert at - is that maybe, that failure can be like the comparison - like the white wall that sets off a piece of artwork - and you come to appreciate the things you CAN do well more. I don't know.

I refer to myself as a "recovering perfectionist" but the truth is, just like anyone who is in "recovery" from anything, I do have relapses, times when I fall back into the old ways of thinking.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

You know...

How they've been doing these radio spots for Washington Mutual with the tagline,

"It's WaMu; whoo-hoo!"

Well, it looks like it may sometime become "It's WaMu; D'oh!"

I don't know. I'm seriously considering putting all my money into CDs. Some Johnny Cash, some Smokey Robinson, some Dolly Parton....diversify my portfolio, so to speak.

Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh...

(I keep telling myself "you still have at least 25 years for the stock market to recover before you retire" but I'm not convincing myself very well.)

But Mr. T makes it a little better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

more crazy spam

....because some days, you just have to find something that makes you laugh.

These are all from the "Quarantine" box on my webmail - where spam-that-might-be-spam-and-might-not (but never actually isn't) goes before I delete it.

Actual subject lines, folks:

"Make yourself look spiny" Yeah, because the Sea Urchin look is, like, totally NOW.

"King Kong wants to eat your banana." Oh, dear.

"horses for loan" I suppose that's because gas prices have gone up.

"your hardiness will be your new trait" You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

"Quality products only" But of course. What else would you expect from an anonymous spam from a company you've never heard of?

Monday, September 15, 2008

spammity spam

Two observations:

1. 90% of the spam I've gotten in the past couple days has been "get out of debt" related. (That's a change from the 90% that offered to enlarge body parts I don't possess, or offer me new ways to, um, fill an opening in females (again, with a part I lack...and also an orientation different from the one I have, I suppose). I wonder if that reflects some kind of zeitgeist (with the stock market "tanking" - I can feel my retirement dollars calling out, "You should have spent me on books!" as they evaporate) or if it's just some random thing.

2. I got one piece of spam with the header, "Science can fix you!"

I bet the male dogs of the world are not happy to know that fact.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


David Foster Wallace has committed suicide.

And good Lord, his wife is the one who found him. How awful.

And I'm sorry, but to the blogger I read (no link given, I'm too angry at them*) who seems to blame this on "the state of U.S. society," shut up for now. Even if a suicide note comes out, shut up.

One thing I've had to learn - losing friends and a relative this way - is that looking for someone or something to blame is usually pretty fruitless. And it's offensive to have someone using a person's death to promote their own particular agenda.

RIP, David Foster Wallace. I hope you find some kind of peace.

(*one of the craft bloggers I USED to read. No more. Their feed is going off my feed-reader.)

staying in the hole

Okay, this is one of those periodic "I don't understand this aspect of human behavior" posts.

In the church I belong to, we have communion every week. It is administered by deacons taking the trays of bread and cups and carrying them down into the congregation to serve people. (They also serve the choir, which is behind the communion table. This will become important in a moment).

One week when I was serving as elder, we were short one deacon. (It happens; we are a small group and this was during the summer when a lot of folks were on vacation). So I handed one tray to one deacon and a second tray to the other, leaving one set of trays (On the other side - the "wine" side- there were three deacons and the elder there gave out all the trays. Two deacons from that side serve that side of the congregation and the third goes to serve the various rooms where women are doing the nursery or running Children's Church).

At any rate...the second deacon on my side immediately started serving the choir. As a result, one woman on the far right hand side of the congregation (and her "gentleman friend") got missed. By the time the person serving the choir got to them, he had run out of elements.

Now, I realize the Catholics in my readership do this very differently. And the Protestants may not be in a situation where Communion is served regularly. But...what would you have done in that situation, if you had been "missed"?

Here's what I would have done: either overlooked it for a week (God will understand), or, if I felt strongly about it, I would have waited until most of the congregation had left at the end and either caught the pastor or one of the elders and quietly said, "I got missed at communion. Could you help me make that up right now?"

My assumption would have been that it was a mistake, an oversight...something easily corrected and not to be taken personally.

The problem is, this woman (and her friend) did take it personally. Apparently she was very insulted by it. I don't know why; I don't know if she feels that she's looked down upon for being a widow with a "gentleman friend" or something.

Anyway, apparently she kind of took it out on the (interim) pastor and also the woman who is the Head Elder.

And she was still talking about it this week. Apparently her friend is so insulted that he's not coming back.

And here's what was done: The pastor and head elder both apologized. The head elder explained it was an oversight - clearly, there were one too few deacons that day. She took communion to the woman and her friend at her house when she went out to do communion for the homebound members that day.

No harm, no foul, would be my conclusion. People went out of their way to correct the problem.

But she's still hurt and unhappy about it.

And this is the "I don't get it" part: I tend to assume, in cases where something that slighted me could be interpreted as either an intentional slight or a mistake, that a mistake was made - a miscommunication, an oversight, a foul-up, something that is not personal and not personally directed at me. ESPECIALLY if someone comes afterward and goes, "I'm so sorry that that happened but here's the explanation..." Then I will smile and shrug and say, "Things like that happen" and let the person know I'm not upset and that whatever supposed wrong has been forgiven and will be quickly forgotten. (Even in some cases where it might JUST be an intentional slight, I tend to choose the path of assuming no harm - in the long run, I'm happier, even if I'm maybe turning a bit of a blind eye).

I don't get continuing to hold a grudge over something that was a silly oversight, especially if it's been explained and amends have been made.

I see it almost this way: it's like the person in question somehow finds themselves at the bottom of a hole. And they're sitting there complaining about how it's damp and oozy and cold. And a bunch of other people are standing around the rim of the hole, lowering down ropes and ladders and flashlights and even OFFERING to go down into the hole to help the person out. And the person is all, "No, I'm staying down here" but then continues to complain about the damp and the darkness and cold and maybe even intimates that SOME PEOPLE could come down and help them, but didn't...

And I don't know what to DO with people like that. I don't like to listen to someone continue to sit and complain when all reasonable accommodations have been made.

What I'd like to say to this woman? "Get OVER yourself. It is NOT about you. Good heavens, you're in your 70s [actually I think she's in her 80s, but let's lowball the age here], you are a grown up. This is one of the things I try to teach my Youth Group kids not to do!"

But I guess some people enjoy feeling wronged and pouting over it. Okay, fine...stay in your hole if it makes you happy. I'll be up here in the sunshine when you're ready for someone to give you a boost out.

Friday, September 12, 2008


This is not directed at any of the nice readers of my blog.

This is directed (in absentia) at some of my students:


I told you and told you that hand-drawn graphs on graph paper were perfectly acceptable for this assignment.

Oh, and LABEL the DANGED AXES. Even if you have to FRICKING do it by FRICKING HAND (which I would argue suggests that you should probably just go back and hand-draw the entire graph, but whatever). I have seen four graphs now where the x-axis is labeled "1" from the auto-default that Excel does for people who don't know how to use it.

That does not help me at all, and it does nothing to convince me that you knew what you were doing. FAIL. EPIC FAIL.

OK, this is why

This is why I am avoiding the politics talk as much as I possibly can this fall.

Because it is SO DAMN UGLY folks. Unnecessarily ugly. And it's seeping into areas that it shouldn't seep into, IMHO. There are certain craft blogs (CRAFT BLOGS, people), I'm going to have to give up reading because of the screechiness and screediness.

One woman linked to a letter-to-the-editor from an Alaskan expressing concerns about Palin. Fair enough; she can do that.

But instead of wording her link with something like, "Here's one reason why I'm concerned about Palin" or "This is why I'd like you to think twice about voting for the ticket," she used the phrase "redneck frightmare."

Unnecessary. Totally unnecessary. And offensive, IMHO. And did it make me more likely to click the link? Hell no. And did it make me more likely to consider her opinion? Double hell no.

Maybe I'm a weird person but I'm more prone to listen to the quiet person in the corner who speaks softly, remains calm, and backs up their position with evidence, than I am to the person whose eyes are glittery and who is screaming and using rude language. And if most people in the U.S. think you have to be offensive in order to convince people or even get their attention on an issue, that is really, terribly sad. And maybe a sign that we're closing in on being "done" as a country, if it gets much worse. I don't want a Paranoiocracy.

Look, if you want Obama to win rather than McCain, that's fine with me. If you have doubts about McCain's policies, fine with me. But making "old jokes" or calling him a fossil or something goes over a line. As does all the misogynistic ranting about Palin that I've seen.

And on the other side: I have my doubts about Obama's ability to lead. I have concerns that his political philosophy may be much farther and more unpleasantly Left than what most folks think. But I'm not gonna comment about his appearance. Or his ethnic background (dear God, no). Or even so much about his way of speaking. (I personally think the "lipstick on a pig" bit was not a slam intended at Palin...I've heard people say that kind of phrase around here and although it's perhaps infelicitous given the setting, I don't think he meant it to be directed at HER. In fact, I found the "old fish" comment right after more worrisome...). And I don't like Biden much, but that's mainly for his policies and for some of his history.

(Oh, and for the record: I do think the "Community Organizer" meme was probably an unfortunate choice for the right to engage Obama's experience.)

But so many people seem to equate one person voicing something like "I'm not sure he has the foreign policy knowledge" to "Open Season on insulting candidates!" And it's ugly as hell when people start sucking the families into it, and it's unseemly when cracks are made about a person's appearance (Seriously, I know plastic surgery exists, but a person should not have to get it just to be thought of as viable for public office).

It's like I'm back on the third-grade playground, when I listen to some political commentary, only the "mean kids" know a lot more hurtful words, and they can scream louder because they're bigger.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never forget


Never forget.

And two other things:

1. Straighten out those who would deny the real cause of the events. If you can't convince those who think it was forces OTHER than terrorists who did this, at least keep them from convincing others. I shudder to think of a future generation with a twisted vision of what actually happened.

2. DON'T call it "Patriot Day." I realize that this is perhaps a bit of a personal crochet of mine, but I think that name sanitizes it too much - glosses over the real horror. This is the Anniversary of September 11, 2001.

On the other hand, the good:

We have not had an attack on our soil since then. Things are getting better in Iraq despite what the news says. Many of the sponsors or promoters of terrorism are dead or in prison.

But we must stay strong.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Aw crap

I think I'm getting a cold. I can't tell if it's that or if it's allergies, but since I had a sore throat MONDAY, none yesterday, but one again TODAY, that makes me suspicious. And it rained today, which should mean allergens are less.

I've already started drinking hot (decaffeinated) tea. I guess tomorrow I better lay in a bigger supply of orange juice. (I already have tons of chicken broth on hand. I tend to be bad about "worry purchasing" chicken broth..."Wait, I'm almost out of this, right? I better get some because the place near me doesn't carry the brand I like." So I have like 15 cans of chicken both on the shelf.) So I can make whatever kind of chicken soup I need.

The only upside is that I will have a reasonable excuse not to do a grueling Saturday's worth of thankless volunteer work.

At least it's not a true summer cold, where you're sick and feverish and it's 110* degrees out; those really suck. At least now it's down into the 80s so it's not quite so much a feeling of "Man I am going to faint walking across this parking lot."

That says, it does kind of suck being sick when you live alone. If you run out of ibuprofen or something you are faced with the Hobson's choice of making the long, long trek to the pharmacy (which will invariably have the long checkout line with the complaining woman who thinks she's being overcharged or wants to use a coupon that's actually expired) or staying home and dealing without it. And I will say there are few things worse than trying to do necessary shopping when you're feverish and ill because it seems like all the petty annoyances (like the complaining checkout woman) are magnified tenfold.

Of course, I could be wrong and it could just be that the room I teach in Wednesday afternoons is infested with mold, which is also a possibility. (And perhaps a slightly cheerier possibility because I only have to deal with it once a week.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


To make up for a couple of "downer" posts recently (what can I say? I've had lots of evening meetings in the past 10 days and I HATE evening meetings...work a full day then spend an evening trying to moderate a group of women who canNOT stop the stupid side-conversations long enough to allow the necessary business meeting to proceed. Got home after 9 pm each time. Not happy about it), I'm going to just mention a few things that I would buy for myself, if I weren't so tight with my money...

1. A satellite radio and subscription to same. Radio around here sucks...for music, we have "both kinds of music", neither of which I like. And the talk-radio is a bit better, but it's getting unappealingly spittle-flecked as the election approaches. And on the weekend, AM radio is 100% dismal. Investment shows, shows devoted to mortgages (?!?), shows that sell some kind of snake-oil crap...

Part of the reason I've not bought one is the impending (is it still impending?) merger of XM and Sirius. I don't want to buy a receiver and find I bought the Betamax of satellite radio. (Actually, that's what keeps me from buying a lot of new technology: I'm really turned off by learning that what I just paid $200 [or whatever] for will be obsolete in 8 months).

2. an iPod. I've resisted it for a long time (and probably will continue to, as I'm a staunchly PC person, and I'm not sure how well apple products would talk to my laptop). Still, it would be nice to be able to download my favorite CDs onto the tiny little thing and have it to listen to while I work out. Or to carry with me for those times I get stuck somewhere. I'd want one with the biggest memory possible; shiny, new, and small are less vital to me than being able to put more than two or three Beethoven symphonies on it. (Because it would be a mostly-classical iPod).

3. Built in bookcases, and trade out the guest room bed for one of those modernized Murphy beds. My guest room is kind of an embarrassment. It's sort of the catchall room and if a relative calls to tell me they're on their way, I have to scramble around and move stuff so they can get INTO the bed. And it's also my office. And my exercise room. But I also need more bookspace. (And built in bookcases would cover up the fugly yellow wallpaper).

4. Also for the guest room, one of those desks that closes up into an armoire type of thing. For obvious reasons, and also because it's psychologically nice to be able to "close up" your workspace and not think about it.

5. An ice-cream maker. One of those spiffy little ones with the sealed up container you freeze, so you don't have to screw around with rock salt. (And yeah, I realize this is deeply contradictory given my OH NOES SO FAT yammering of before, but you know...once in a while it would be kind of nice to have homemade ice cream. I rarely BUY ice cream because it seems like I'll eat a small serving out of the container, and by the time I think of it again, it's all freezer-burned and nasty. But if I could make one or two serving's worth at a time...that would be fantastic. (And I could freeze yogurt, too. I happen to like frozen yogurt).

6. A shredder. This is probably the only thing I would actually buy. But I have several years' worth of old bill-stubs that it's time to get rid of. But the idea of just putting them in the trash skeeves me out (once in a while we do get trashpickers) and I can't imagine spending evenings sitting down to tear them up.

7. And heck, if I'm daydreaming: finish off the attic. Make it into a big big room, plumb up there and put a nice new bathroom in, and use it as my "suite." The benefits of this would be multiple...the downstairs room I use now as a bedroom could become my office/exercise room (or a library), I'd be a little bit up above the damn barking dogs in the neighborhood (not just my neighbor's dog, now. Seriously, if I were a person given to violence I'd be tempted to shoot the things some nights, that's how much of an annoyance they are). And if I had a good framer, I could get him to put up the extra-special-good insulation to block out the sound.

That won't happen, though - for one thing it would require reconfiguring a lot of the house's systems (the ductwork was retrofitted and a lot of it is routed through, and takes up a lot of room in, the attic). And the thought of having that level of disruption of my home (one of my friends has had kitchen remodeling going on for two solid years because the guy she hired works slowly and doesn't show up when he says he will) scares the hell out of me (And it would probably make more sense in the long run just to buy a different house and MOVE). But it's sort of fun to daydream about - this clean new quiet space, room for my stuff, being up above some of the noise and crap.


Redfish, Maggie, Kate - thank you. It is, as I said, something I fight against. Luckily not all the time - a lot of the time I can look at the stuff the media spews and go, "Yeah? I'm fat and I don't have any of those things going on for me" But I do think the whole "it's SCIENCE!" spin they're using now is harder for me to discount. I mean, when it's some prissy designer going, "Ewwww.... boobs! butts! cheerleader thighs!" I can kind of roll my eyes. But when it's some guy in a white coat making noises about Type II Diabetes, it's a lot harder for me not to be scared.

Even though my own doctor has told me my regular exercise is probably the best preventative against that I can do.

I also kind of hate the textbook we use in the non-majors class now, and some of the things it said contributed to my distress. It's an "issues oriented" text. I'm not going to bother to give the authors' names because there are several out there like it.

I don't like the issues oriented approach. To me, it smacks of, "Oh, OK, we know you don't want to learn anything about this subject so we're going to use Ripped From The Headlines propaganda to make you learn." And I don't like the emphasis on having the students do "opinion" things over "fact" things. Because if you don't know the facts behind stuff, how in the HELL are you going to formulate a reasonable opinion?

Yeah, yeah, I know, that's how lots of folks in politics operate, and how lots of Hollywood spokes-cause types operate, but still...if'n you can't tell me what a stem cell is or what it does, I'm less likely to want to hear your opinion on whether they should be used or not medically.

Last week and this week have been kind of downer weeks. Last week was "Biological Molecules" in the context of "diet." And the whole thing was very BMI oriented.

Except they used a modified, truncated BMI chart. My BMI is 30 (that's as close to telling you my weight as I'm gonna get). Yes, that is technically overweight. It is just one tick away from being obese. (Good Lord I hate that word. Yes I know it's a medical term but it's become so invested with moral judgment that I can't stand it any more. I prefer to call myself "fat." Yes, it's morally charged but it's simpler and doesn't have the sense of being a medical judgment on a person the way obese does. Or at least to me).

Well, they chopped the chart so a 31 BMI is the top. Nice. I suspect I have at least one student in my class who is off the chart. That's got to not be a good feeling.

And a lot of the chapter was like that..."If you're overweight or obese, limit your food intake and exercise more." Gee, thanks textbook. Like I would have never figured that out on my own.

It did have a couple throwaway paragraphs about, "Oh, yeah, eating disorders are like kind of bad for you, too." But not the pages and pages of gory detail about heart disease and osteoarthritis and diabetes, all with the implication of "if you are Teh Fatz, here is your future"

And this week it was about cancer.

(Yeah, and this is an 8 am class. I almost feel like I need to hand out balloons or something at the end of class each day to try to lift the mood).

And yeah, knowing about cancer is important. But this textbook falls into the very easy and very comfortable trap of telling people, "If you don't smoke, eat lots of vegetables, cut out fat and meat and sugar, exercise, don't tan, and stay away from chemicals you will be SO much less likely to get cancer." And by implication, if you get cancer, you didn't do those things diligently enough. Or if you fail at ANY of them, you will probably die a horrible death at an early age. And well you should deserve it, you bad person!

And I found myself having to edit. There is, my understanding is, a 30% genetic link...that is, 30% of cancers can be attributed to people having a family history of it. And so you can exhort someone to do all this healthy crap...but they still might get cancer. Hell, even people withOUT a genetic history and who do everything "right" get cancer...that's why cancer is so terrible and so insidious.

I don't know. Perhaps I see too many symbols in things, or I see patterns where none exist. But I almost sense a pattern in the various ways of "talking about" disease these days, where it's putting the blame for the disease squarely on the person WITH the disease...Have heart disease? It's because of all those damn donuts you ate. Got cancer? Too bad you didn't eat more broccoli. Got some auto-immune disorder? Well, you MUST have somehow "sinned" in your lifestyle in the past...either you didn't eat the right thing, or you ate the wrong thing, or you had some hobby that was unsafe.

And I kind of wonder...how much longer before some in the media start calling for denying medical care to those who are "responsible" for their own conditions? Or at the very least penalizing them somehow?

And you know what? It sucks to be sick. It sucks to have some kind of bad medical condition. But it sucks even worse to have people acting as if you somehow brought this on yourself, and if you were only better/stronger/purer you would have been spared.

It's a lot like how it used to go in Jesus' day...people who were lepers, or who had the bloody flux, or some other kind of dread disorder, the only "comfort" the religious leaders offered them, often, was "Go back and examine your past for how you sinned...or how your parents might have sinned."

And I kind of thought we had advanced beyond that. Oh, I know, it's a different KIND of "sin" these days, and we don't quite call it that, but I think it's just as toxic to tell someone who's suffering, "Well, if you had JUST exercised a little more" as it is to tell them "One of your parents must have been an adulterer."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

hard post to write.

Gah, this is very long. And very personal. But I'm not going to cut it; you can skim or skip if you want, this is partly therapy for myself.

This is kind of a hard post to write. This is very much "my stuff" and it may come across as kind of whiny. And some people who haven't "been there" might not totally understand. But this is something that has been percolating in my head for a while, and came to the surface last week, because of an incident that happened while I was working out:

I need to work on being nicer to myself. I actually have, at times, a kind of dysfunctional relationship with myself (if that's even possible). Like the absent parent who buys elaborate toys for their child, when what the child really wants is love and attention, I will buy myself books and craft supplies and such...and then drive myself so hard at work that by Friday afternoon I'm kind of glassy-eyed at my desk, but still berating myself to do more.

But even more than that: I also need to work on being nicer to myself re: the exercise/BMI thing. I tend to get VERY paranoid about my weight...moreso now because of the rumored "Wellness Initiative." One day last week I was actually screaming at myself (well, in my head; I didn't have enough breath to actually DO it) while I was working out because I felt like I wasn't moving fast enough. I believe I used the phrase "fat slug." And "Fat slob" and "ugly" and "repulsive" and all the horrible words that a person shouldn't use on anyone.

And OK, because I'm generally a let-it-all-hang-out type here: I really do have problems with this. I think part of it is all the societal stuff. I quit reading the fashion mags more than 10 years ago because I came to recognize that looking at models who possessed a genetic legacy for body-size very different from my own, and that these models were being presented as the IDEAL, was not good for my psyche.

But what is almost worse these days are all the news scare-stories. You know the ones: "OH NOES if you are 15 pounds over your ideal weight you are going to die SO soon!"

And because I'm fundamentally a rule follower - a person who wants to please the Powers That Be even at times when it's in contradiction with what I see as reality - I get really wrought up about this. Because, well, I'm considerably more than 15 pounds over the "ideal" weight (whether you look at the BMI charts or the old actuarial tables). And yeah, yeah, I know: I have a big frame. I have shoulders like the linebackers of 30 years ago. I have a large rib cage. (I know because I can feel it.) And I'm fairly muscular thanks to 15 years of working out nearly daily on a cross-country ski exerciser.

But that doesn't matter sometimes with the drumbeat of "OH NOES OBESITY" scare stories. It's kind of like...it's kind of like "IT," for those of you who've read "A Wrinkle in Time." It's always there, kind of under the surface, kind of an undercurrent. It kind of worms its way into my mind and takes up residence there whether I want it or not. And you have to actively work to resist it, sometimes with every fiber of your being.

(And before someone drops a comment recommending Weight Watchers or TOPS or one of the other diet plans: been there, done that. I did the "write everything down that you eat" plan. I did the "have no food other than 100% healthful food in the house" bit. And as for the "oh, just give up one sugared pop a day" or "just don't eat at fast food joints - I drink NO pop. If I ever eat fast food it's as a rare treat (less than once a month) because the waffle fries at Chick-fil-a? Are really kind of good. But it's a rare treat. My diet is actually pretty healthy. True, I may like sweets a bit more than is good for me but I do try to limit my intake. And I have philosophical objections to never eating a cookie or even bread again in the name of MAYBE getting down to a size 10 or something).

But anyway. The whole insidious message - which seems to imply that I am only a few ticks away from needing one of those carts to get around at the wal-mart, that suggests I am on the brink of Type II diabetes...it's hard for me to avoid it.

(And the thing that makes me wonder: if I, as an adult and fairly secure woman, and one of - if I do say so myself - higher than average intelligence - can get bamboozled into believing she's defective because of media hype, what of the prepubescent girls? I hope they really don't hear those "if you are 10 pounds over this number, your chances of dying from some horrible disease go up x percent...oh, and no man will ever love you either" stories)

But the thing is: the media hype and my objective reality don't seem to mesh.

If I told you what I weight - and I'm not gonna, I can't do that just yet, I'm not comfortable - a lot of people might seriously think (because women tend to lowball their weights so much in this culture) that I WOULD be riding one of those carts around in the wal-mart, and I would have to be shopping at a "special" store ("Mr. Paul's, the Tentmaker"?)

But the objective truth of my life? I have to restrain myself to keep from elbowing past people at the wal-mart because I walk faster - even at a somewhat relaxed pace - than 80% of the people around me. (Even in class - even on field trips, I'm the first one into the forest or to the middle of the prairie. Even though the students are 20 years younger than I am and mostly considerably slimmer).

And as for clothing? Size 14 in some things, 16 in others. Not that huge, at least not by "average American" standards. I could take a 12 in some things if I were in to the tight look, but I'm not. (Though I have heard of fashion designers reacting to being asked to design clothing for over-size-12 women as if you had asked them to go and roll naked in dog feces.)

And the media hype would suggest that I'm weak and flabby and can't do much.

And in my reality? I regularly lift 40 pound bags of soil, sand, whatever. I've carried buckets of soil that probably weighed 50 pounds (and the main problem with that for me was that the handle cut into my hand). I can get down on my hands and knees to fix stuff. (Last night I had to build a "critter excluder" out of hardware cloth - something pushed out and broke the old cover I had up over the crawl space, and raccoons or something were getting under my house. So I waited until the sounds of whatever critter was under there indicated it had left, and went out, crawled in behind my pecan tree, in the tiny space next to my air conditioning unit, and cut a piece of hardware cloth with tinsnips to the right size, and then used my handy staple gun to staple it on (thank goodness the person who built this place framed out the crawlspace with wood around the concrete of the foundation so I had something to staple into). (And yeah, I was kind of "Sarah Palin would be proud of me!" when I was done. Well, she probably would have been prouder had I SHOT the critter, but it's illegal to fire guns within the city limits...)

And you know? I kind of want to go to the people doing all the obesity scare stories and go "Look at me. I'm fat. And I did this thing. I'm not as disabled as you seem to think I am."

But...and it's hard for me to explain this to people who haven't been fat...there's a sort of cognitive dissonance that comes. On the one hand, there are ALL these stories in the media that induce a certain paranoia...stories that (let's be honest) make me feel like I am DEFECTIVE because of my size, and DEFECTIVE because I don't seem to want to do any of the "simple" things that it apparently takes to lose weight. (Again, the whole cutting-out-pop thing. When people suggest that it infuriates me. The beverages I consume in a day: two glasses of skim milk. One six ounce glass of orange juice. A bunch of water. Perhaps a cup of hot tea, usually without milk or sugar. Which of those should I cut, and how should I replace the nutrients that comes from it?)

I don't like feeling defective.

Because, part of it is: it contradicts my objective experience. Yes, I am fat. But I have also walked 10 miles in a day without negative effects the next day. Or spent several hours doing strenuous yardwork. Or carried lots of heavy items. I don't get out of breath easily (at least not when the relative humidity is below 90%, and that's an asthma thing, not a fat thing). I get less worn out working in the field than students 20 years my junior.

And another contradiction: we all hear "fat people die soon." My grandmother (who died about 20 years ago at 92) and my aunt (who passed recently at 90) were both fat like me. Fat in the same way as I am, I mean. And they made it to pretty ripe old ages. And my grandma was the one who had her grandkids getting after her for going up to fix her porch roof when she was in her late 70s. (My aunt was as active as she could be but had had both legs broken in a car accident when she was younger, and one had been badly set.) So I come from a line of fat, long-lived women. Fat, long-lived women who pretty much ate what they wanted. Who would have considered the "Cabbage Soup" diet to be something you ate only if you were too poor to have anything else. And given what the media say, fat and long-lived aren't supposed to be things that go together.

The other thing is the whole "U R DEFECTIVE" meme so contradicts what I have been taught at my church. A very simplistic version? There used to be a sign up in the Youth Group room that said: "I know I must be OK because God doesn't make junk."

There is a reason I am the size I am, and I do not think it is purely because my mother let me occasionally eat a Twinkie when I was young.

The other thing is that a lot of the whole "fat people are defective" idea is aesthetic - that some people don't like looking at bigger bodies, and so they think that shaming, and teasing, and belittling is the way to either get those bigger bodies to get smaller, or to stay out of their viewspace.

And that's probably where my drill-sergeant-like screaming at myself the other day came from. (Seriously, I was going as hard as I could. It was one of our typical mornings - high humidity - and I was pushing hard at 5.5 miles per hour. But I was angry with myself because I couldn't break 6.) And yelling at myself isn't going to make me get smaller. I did complete the workout, but I spent the rest of the day feeling crummy and low. And I think it's because I started out the day by insulting myself. And I ought not to do that. (I also seem to have pulled a shoulder muscle by pushing too hard. It's not bad enough to scale back on working out but I have been having to ice it a little.)

Part of it is I think our definition of beauty is narrower than it perhaps once was. And women are 'told' that they should conform to that definition however they can...whether by surgery or extreme dieting or makeup or whatever.

Oh, here's a little something:

This is sort of an unrelated thing (but really isn't). I cried the first couple times I watched that. Why? Because there are a number of women on there who look a little bit like me. Look much more like me than the women gracing the covers of magazines these days. I don't know if it's the rounder faces or what...but I can look at Botticelli's Venus and almost see a sister there.

For years, back when I was reading the fashion mags, there were times when I literally felt like I was a different species from the women modeling in them. Because I look so different from the typical model, at least the late 80s "Glamazon" and the early 90s "Waif Chic". And it does lead to a certain...I don't know, dissatisfaction. Or sadness. Or something. Maybe women with stronger self-esteem look at the models and snort and go, "Shyeah, they're freaks" but I (when I was in my 20s and still pretty insecure) looked at them and felt like the freak myself.

Which is why I love and cherish that little YouTube bit I've posted...a lot of the women, particularly the ones earlier on in the clip (from the beginning of the 500 year span) look a lot more like me...I feel like I belong to the same species as them...and then I realize that at some point in time, someone considered those women to be beautiful and worthy of painting...and it kind of makes me take a deeper breath and pull my shoulders back.

So I don't know. I probably am giving the people who speak disparagingly of women who aren't coat-hanger slim too much space in my head. And I'm probably reading too much into badly-reported medical studies where the "increased risk" that is so bruited is actually something like 2%.

But it's such a hard thing not to fall for! Even someone like me, and I'm pretty strong and I'm pretty good at calling B.S. on other things when I sense something is B.S....I can't quite break through on this. I get hung up. I don't know why. But I do want to be nicer to myself. I do not want to go through life looking at my thighs and going "why are you so big? I hate you" or looking at my face and wondering why my genetic combination makes me more of a pudding-face than Kate Moss or Kate Winslet or whoever the hell is currently popular.

I want to love my outside as much as I love my inside. But it's hard. Part of it is that our culture makes it hard, and part of it is that I have made it hard on myself.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I don't get this.

This is going to be my (own, personal) entry into the Friday (bleep) Off thread. (Because I'm going to be busy today, y'all).

Here's a personality trait I don't get: The person who has to squash the happiness of someone else by either (a) explaining all the downsides to why that person is happy or (b) going all one-up-man-ny and talking about how THEY'VE done better or how THEY did that thing YEARS ago.

A similar type of person is described on Cute Overload as a "Nuffer," which seems an apt term, so I'm going to adopt it here.

Some vignettes:

A member of your social circle has just gotten engaged. She (let's pretend it's a she) comes up all breathless and happy with the news. The Nuffer either says,

"Oh, yeah, that's been in the rumor mill for weeks"

or, worse, the Nuffer starts talking about how the happy couple will now have to pay a "marriage penalty" in taxes, and how expensive weddings have got, and what the divorce rate is, and maybe even segue into complaints about his or her marriage.

Nuffer: FAIL. U R doin' it wrong.

The correct response to, "My boyfriend and I just got engaged!" is "Wow, that's great! I'm so happy for you!"

You can then go on to add more congratulations or good wishes if you feel they are warranted.

If you have DOUBTS about the match, the time to bring them up is NOT when the newly-engaged person is standing there in your small crowd, beaming with happiness. The appropriate time is in private - and only if you are a close relative or best friend. If you're a co-worker or an acquaintance, it is not your place.


Second situation: someone at your workplace has received an award. The CORRECT response is to congratulate the person. The Nuffer response is either:

a. "Those awards are all political"
b. "Yeah, I won one of those 3 years ago." (with the phrase "what took YOU so long" implied)
c. Not reacting at all.


Third situation: an academic setting. Someone, after a long dry spell of article rejections, gets an article accepted. The Nuffer responds: "Oh, yes, I know that journal. It's a MINOR journal, it's very easy to get a paper into it."

Thanks a freaking fat lot, Nuffer. The polite response would be, "That's great. I'm glad to hear it."


Another situation - when I was a kid, I learned to read at 4. People used to think that was kind of impressive, back in the less-competitive 70s. It was something my parents were kind of proud of, something that they took as kind of proof that they were doing the parenting thing right. (I learned on my own, because they read to me a lot, and let me look at the words when they were reading. I don't remember trying to learn to read, I just remember looking at a book one day and realizing that I could figure out what the words said).

Even my school teachers in the very early grades were somewhat impressed.

But now, 4 is actually a terribly old age to have learned to read. Or at least according to the Nuffers. THEIR children learned at 3. Or even at 2. Obviously I was just not that bright, waiting all the way to 4 to learn to read. Why didn't my parents use flash cards? is the implication. Why didn't my mom read to me when I was in the womb, they wonder - no matter that back in the time I was born, people weren't so koo-koo crazy about pushing their babies to become little geniuses.

I've heard from friends who are parents that the whole Mommy Nuffer phenomenon is very bad, perhaps even worse than the Academic Nuffer phenomenon. Mommy Nuffers jealously compare developmental times (how much earlier were their babies able to roll over; how much sooner was their child at speaking his or her first word?)

And they also love to be the "parenting police": "Oh no, you let your child DRINK JUICE? Don't you know fruit juice is the royal road to childhood obesity? Quick, take it away and give the child plain water instead before he develops a taste for demon sugar!" Or, they do things like sniff superiorly and remark that No Child Of Theirs will ever watch anything so mind-rotting as The Wiggles or Yo Gabba Gabba.

And I wonder if some of the Nufferdom stems from a fundamental need to feel oneself BETTER than other people - better because their child is developing faster, or is less feral than very small children tend to be, or because they have somehow made their child's environment purer or cleaner or freer from the base taint of popular culture.

And it must be kind of lonely to inhabit that Nuffer Parent world, where you have to always be vigilant, where you are always looking for the ways other parents slip up so you can point them out to them.


Nuffers are people who are never impressed with anything, never happy for anyone else over anything. I don't get it. I don't get why they feel that way. Are they so insecure that they can't be happy for someone else? Do they think happiness is like a big pie, and someone else getting a slice means there's less for them? Are they so damaged somehow that they can't be enthusiastic? Do they always have to let their doubts or negativity about something show?

There is one person in my life who has developed into a Nuffer over the years. I am not sure what did it - whether it's disillusion over how his life is turning out, or a fundamentally sour temper crystallizing in middle age, or what. But I find myself talking with this person less and less because I am so tired by his Nufferdom. And I'm tired of having to take people who are broadsided by it (not being familiar with his tendencies) aside and explain that the rest of the world really DOESN'T feel so negative about their engagement/new baby/promotion/award/whatever.

So, Nuffers of the world: Take a chill pill. Learn to smile. Happiness is not a pie that is divided up; it is more like one of those magical sweets in the Harry Potter or Willy Wonka books that keeps regenerating itself no matter how much is taken and passed around.

And if you're going to do your Nufferly rain on anyone's parade today, you're invited to (Bleep) off. Because seriously: there's enough unhappiness in the world without having people trying to quash the bits of happiness other people manage to have.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

New motto

I dislike hyperbole. I dislike having the sense that I am being manipulated, being made to feel a particular way. I particularly dislike the way things are presented in the news to day (especially "health" news), where there is a new scare every week.

Just by chance (seeing someone's "riff" on the original on their craft blog), I ran across this WWII era British poster.

"Keep calm and carry on."

What a wonderful sentiment. Now, I don't take that as saying "bury your head in the sand" or "pretend that nothing is happening." No. It says, "Carry on." Keep living your life. Keep going. But it also says "Keep calm" - a very subtle recognition that these are not Ordinary Times, that there is something going on. But that it is best not to be needlessly alarmed about it.

And the truth is, for most of us, Carrying On is a lot easier than it was for the Britons to whom the poster was directed...they were surviving the Blitz. They were being bombed out of their homes.

How different that is from the culture we face now, the (to use a common Internet acronym) ZOMG! attitude that exists, where everything can be spun up into a source of panic, where everything is a Big Huge Hairy Deal, where we're all on the absolute verge of death for a myriad of reasons, where we must be eternally vigilant about what we eat/breathe/read/witness/allow our kids to do.

And I think as a culture we all need to take a collective deep breath.

Bad crap has happened before. Bad crap will continue to happen. It is the nature of this world. Most of us, really, are not on the brink of death, just needing one more cigarette or one more day of sun exposure or one more pound of body mass or one more exposure to Cell Phone Death Rays to push us over. For those who have kids, they will not be hopelessly damaged if you allow them to eat sugar. Or let them watch some stupid cartoon. Or send them to school without the "right" brand of backpack.

Look, we survived Sept. 11, 2001. We rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. We survived Pearl Harbor. We survived the depression. I think we can survive a lot of the stuff the news is making out to be The Worst Thing Ever! right now.

So I'm going to remember that when everyone's going koo-koo bird crazy around me, when the latest whipped-to-a-fine-frenzy news story has people frothing at the mouth: "Keep Calm and Carry On."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Well, I announced it...

Remember how I was talking about declaring my office at work a "Politics-free zone."

Well, I did today.

Two colleagues were...discussing VP picks in the hall. I came walking down the hall (I had been to the restroom and was heading back to my office, which they were standing outside of), looked at them, and declared, "I'm through with all of this. My office is now a politics-free zone."

And I kept walking.

Of course, the problem is, I'm known for having a somewhat dry sense of humor, and they may have interpreted it as me, joking. I hope not.

If it keeps up? I may see if I can find, secondhand, a reasonably priced white noise machine (like they use in doctor's offices to keep confidential conversations in the exam room confidential when the walls are thin) and keep it running in my office.

Because I'd rather hear that kind of static these days.

Because I really, honestly, truly, totally am fed up with it. Fed up with all of it. It's been a brutal summer (My mom mailed me a copy of my aunt's obit. It came today. I opened it and read it and felt...I don't know, like "Well, it really happened, didn't it." It was a good picture of her but it still makes me sad.) I want to focus on the things I have some power to actually change.

Sitting around and griping about the choices for this fall, or saying mean things (and trust me, some of the discourse about Palin was mean) doesn't solve anything.

So I'm going to concentrate on rewriting a couple of journal articles, and reading lots of supplemental material to add in to my lectures, and maybe even read some stuff that I've always wondered about but never taken time to learn.

And I'm going to leave the politics to those who actually have the stomach for it.

You know cartoons have corrupted you when...

The Overture from Tannhauser is playing on the Internet Radio, and all you can hear in your head is:

"Weturn, my Wuv, a longing burns deep inside me...."

(Even worse? They often play that bit as the "recessional" at our graduations. I've warned my colleagues to quickly stifle me if I ever break into song. Because I have been known to do so when I hear that piece and am alone...so it's probably a short step to me doing it in public).

Monday, September 01, 2008

Good things

Rob (at Crab Apple Lane) and the Swillers who were in the path of Gustav are all OK. (And it looks like the worst of it's past Rob now...he has a nice photo up of cardinals coming to feed after the storm).

From my somewhat-distant vantage point, it looks as if Gustav was not nearly as bad as feared. Sure, there are going to be people who were killed (though at least one was one of those "alcohol was involved" situations - and so I would not blame that on Gustav.)

But I think if anything good came out of Katrina, it is that people in NOLA took the evacuation more seriously this time, and it seems that the Powers That Be were far better prepared. (And I agree with Rob - I don't think it's so much a matter of politics as it was a matter of "We were able to learn from the mistakes last time.")


I've been working in my garden some more, trying to put in an hour or so every few days as I have some free time. It's really probably too much for one person who is employed full-time elsewhere to keep up, but I try. I weeded the tomato and herb garden (and debated pulling out the tomatoes which look very sickly right now, but didn't. I gave them a shot of the special "tomato fertilizer" I have and think maybe when it gets a bit cooler, they'll pop back.)

I also planted a couple rows of beets. I want to try growing beets this fall. One of the things I'm still not used to about this climate is that there's a fall season for cool-season crops, and according to the beet package, I should be planting them now for my USDA region.

So we'll see. I've gotten to like beets recently, at least in the form of Harvard beets and pickled beets. I may try making borscht this fall if I get some beets from the garden.

I like the thought of growing food even if I'm not that successful in practice.


I also cleared out a disused flower bed - I'm going to order a bunch of mixed daffodil bulbs from one of the bulb places and put them in there, daffodils are one thing that do really well here in the spring, and there's almost no labor involved. While pulling up the St. Augustine grass that had invaded, I scared up what I think must be a Rough Earth Snake. They're fairly common around here (more common than in Georgia, I guess, judging from that website) and they are kind of cute little things.

I'm not snake-phobic (at least for snakes that I know are non-venomous) and I'm happy to let my little population of Rough Earth Snakes (I know I have more than one because I've seen more than one at a time) live in my garden. (It may be because I have lots of earthworms - their food - in my garden. And another website says they eat slugs, which, if that's true, means that any Rough Earth Snake that wants to move into my yard is more than welcome here).

I also want to find some kind of nice "fall flowering" plant (maybe calendulas) and put them in that garden until I get the bulbs and put them in (I think November is the right time for that around here).

I find working in the garden very peaceful. I know some people like to listen to an iPod or something while they work but I don't; I like hearing the birds and (today, at least) hearing the quiet of my neighborhood.


I bought a new pillow for my bed the other day. It's surprising how much a difference little things can make. I had been having neck and upper back trouble and I decided one possible source might be that the old fiberfill pillow I was using had got kind of flat and nasty. (It was a fairly old one; I think I had it even back in high school and it's been through the washer more than a few times).

So, on a trek out to do some other shopping, I stopped by the nearest "Bed Bath and Beyond" (which I cannot help thinking of as "Bloodbath and Beyond" because of that Simpsons episode). They had a lot of pillows. (Alas, all made in China. I looked at some of the down ones but then saw where they were made and thought, "Ew, Plague Birds" even though I suppose the down is sterilized before it goes in pillows).

I did wind up buying another fiberfill one (I have allergies, though not specifically to down). I have to say there must have been some real advances in fiberfill technology in recent years - this pillow is really nice and "squishy," it feels almost like a down pillow except it doesn't "pack down" the way some cheaper down pillows do.

And it's an "anti allergen" one - it has one of those miteproof covers, but doesn't feel plasticky.

I've been using it for a few days and my shoulders are better. So maybe the pillow was all it took. And there is something really nice about replacing something that was worn out (but you didn't realize it at the time) with something that's nice and new and works well.