Archive | October, 2010

So Much Life, So Little Time

25 Oct

I used to have a cell phone that would dial anyone I wanted. All I had to do was say, “Dial Dad,” and the phone would dial my dad. I thought that was a pretty cool feature. I pictured myself flipping my phone open, saying, “Dial Dad,” and resting my fingers while the phone did the work.

I never did get the phone to dial my dad. I never did get the phone to be able to dial anyone. I never figured out the voice dial feature. I felt bad about it. “You are a typical over-a-certain-age technology user,” I said. “You’re old and set in your ways and you can’t figure out something that a 15-year-old could probably do in his sleep.”

What happened to the woman who early adopted technology, I thought? What happened to the woman who bought a one megabyte Mac and could keep that puppy running no matter what hung it up? A fifteen-year-old, say my son, for instance, can manipulate technological devices like he shares DNA with them. How could it be, I thought, that I could not do something that my son, with whom I DO share DNA, can?

The answer came to me after trying for two weeks to get some writing samples to appear in an attractive manner on a website.  I was backing the car out of the drive, taking my son to yet another lesson or doctor’s appointment or school function. He was sitting in the passenger seat, oblivious to his surroundings, fingers flying over his iPod Touch. He was likely selecting a playlist, but he could just as easily have been programming a nuclear warhead.

And it hit me: he has no life.

My son embraces technology because, really, what else does he have to embrace? He sits in his room with his computer for hours at a time. If there is a new technology that interests him, he can spend hours, literally hours, trying to figure it out.

I, on the other hand, can spend about twenty minutes, none of which are uninterrupted.

Here is roughly how my website adventures unfold. First, I do a Google search to determine what my options are for hosting and building my website. While I wait for the results to pop up, I hear a disturbing noise from the kitchen. Upon investigation, I find that the cat has sent another teapot over the counter edge. There are china chunks swimming in a pool of warm tea and sodden tea leaves. I clean up the china and tea, all the while cursing the cat. Time up. Kids start coming home.

The next day, I decide I have iWeb so I’ll use iWeb. I watch the iWeb tutorial on the Apple website. This takes so long that I have no time left to do the actual work. Time up. Kids start coming home.

The next day, I realize my samples are printed on paper with ink. This is no longer an acceptable format for samples, though my ultimate goal is to be paid to produce actual writing that will be printed on paper with ink. I scan the samples between folding laundry, making snacks for my daughter and her friend, letting the dog out, letting the dog in and cleaning up after the cat, again.

The next day, I run errands. I do the grocery shopping, which requires trips to two stores. I go to the dry cleaners. They have lost my comforter. I add “buy new comforter” to the to-do list. I go to the library. I am an efficiency demon in the library. I have selected my book online and put it on hold. My book is waiting for me. I grab my book and head for the self-check lane. I scan my card. I have been in the library for less than two minutes. My account activity pops up. My daughter has $18 in late fees. I slink over to the “you didn’t get your books back on time, you slacker” line and my efficiency goes straight out the window. I pay the fees, I get in my car. My time is up. Kids will be coming home soon.

The next day, I am defeated. I do nothing about getting the samples onto my website. I wonder why I even need a website. Surely there are writers who don’t have websites.

The next day, after my husband assures me that all the good writers have websites, I return to the website problem. I actually make progress. I find an iWeb template I like and start building my site. Of course, I feel bad about myself for not making the thing from scratch. I can make a chocolate cake from scratch, why can’t I make a website from scratch? I remind myself that plenty of people make and eat cakes from a box and enjoy every bite. I soldier on.

The next day, the website is complete except for the writing samples. The children are not due home for at least two hours. I have run, I have made phone calls, the dog is in his crate, the cat has been fed, the teapots are out of reach. In short, uninterrupted time is mine. I prepare the writing samples web pages as if I know what I’m doing. I drop the scanned writing sample images into their intended places. I am almost out of time. I save the changes and visit my website. I click on the samples page. The samples look like crap. They are too small to read. Time up. Kids coming home.

I am really good at a lot of things. I can fold a fitted sheet so you can’t tell it from a flat sheet. I can drive while handing a juice box to a child in the back seat. I can get two kids to eye doctor appointments on the same day, right before dad gets home and still have dinner on the table at the regular time. I am really good at these things because I do them a lot.

Fifteen-year-olds are really good at working with technology because they do it a lot. They have no lives, they have to fill the time somehow. I, however, have too much life and not enough time to live it. So, I can’t whip out a website as quickly as I can a batch of cookies. I bet if I make those cookies sugar cookies and I make them as big as my son’s head, then he’ll help me fix my website. If I make a lot of cookies, I bet I could even get him to program my cell phone.

Copywrite 2010 by Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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Liver Makes Me Quiver

18 Oct

When I was a kid, I ate liver.

My mother made it; I ate it, no coercion necessary. One night, my sister leaned close to me and whispered in my ear, “You know you’re eating an organ, don’t you?” I haven’t eaten liver since.

Now that I am a mother, I am astounded that my sister wasn’t grounded. Instead, my mother made hamburgers for my sister and I whenever she made liver for herself and my father. I don’t recall where my brother’s sympathies lay in the liver war.

I am nowhere near as accommodating as my mother was. If you don’t like what I made for dinner, you are welcome to make your own. But here’s the tricky part: my feelings will be hurt. My husband knows this and so chokes down whatever I’ve made. My daughter whines but eats what she’s been given because she is too lazy to make her own dinner.

My son is a special case. His reactions to dinner range from “I’ve had better” to running to the sink to violently spit out whatever vile substance I’ve asked him to eat “just one bite of.” One night last week, he asked what was for dinner. I said, “Fish.” He said, “Lame.” I asked what would be NOT lame. He said, “Sloppy Joes.” I went to the store, I got the things necessary to make Sloppy Joes. I made the Sloppy Joes. The fish stayed in the refrigerator. When confronted with the Sloppy Joe, my son said, “I thought we were having fish.” He wasn’t hungry; he had already eaten.

No matter what I make, my son never says, “Mom, this is really good.” He probably never will. His favorite cookies are sugar cookies. I made very excellent sugar cookies recently. Everyone concluded that they were excellent cookies. I knew my son concluded they were excellent cookies because he didn’t say, “I’ve had better.” He took the entire plate of cookies, went to his room and locked the door.

My son’s favorite cake is yellow with buttercream frosting. Plain buttercream frosting. I made a devil’s food cake with coffee buttercream about a month ago. It was delicious. My son wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.

My daughter has her own eating eccentricities. They center more on how foods are prepared and presented than on the actual taste of the foods. Apples must be sliced and any bit of the core must be removed. Oranges must be sliced as well and all bits of pith must be removed. Recently, she asked to have her strawberries de-seeded. Because I am a curious kind of person, I attempted to remove the seeds from the strawberry. It is possible. The resulting strawberry looks almost obscene in its seedless nakedness. When we have three or four houseboys, I will have my daughter’s strawberries de-seeded. Until then, my knowledge of strawberry de-seeding is between us.

I have discovered that, no matter how heinous children find a particular food to be at home, they will eat it with gusto somewhere else. My daughter eats macaroni and cheese at the neighbors, she claims to hate it here. Her best friend eats vegetarian sausage at our house. I’m sure she spits it out at home. My son doesn’t let a vegetable cross his lips at home; he eats them readily at my sister’s house. I am sure he would eat eggplant there.

Like many mothers, I have tricked my children into eating things they dislike. I have put finely diced beets in the spaghetti sauce and whole wheat flour in the Snickerdoodles. Whole Grain White Bread is my new best friend. As long as the children don’t see the label, all they taste is the white bread. If they see the label, all they taste is whole grain. My neighbor deceives her children about food, too. They don’t know it, but they like fish sticks. They call them “sticks.” If mom calls them “sticks” they get eaten. If mom calls them “fish sticks” they go in the trash.

Packaging is tremendously important to my daughter. Mandarin oranges are terrific in the little cup, but won’t be touched if they come from a can. The little cup is not entirely reliable, however. Peaches must come from a larger can. Put in a lunch box, the little cup of peaches comes back home unopened every time. Applesauce in the little cup was a treat for a while until some little girl in my daughter’s class started bringing in applesauce in a squeeze pouch. “You can get them at Costco,” said my daughter.

I no longer shop for my children’s favorite foods at Costco, though. There are few guarantees in life, other than the one about death. Another is that whatever favorite food you finally find in a 48-pack will become a “no eat-em” the minute you bring the case into the house. No Eat-ems abound in the back of my food cabinets. I have three packages of cinnamon cereal, 12 packages of Mini-marshmallow cocoa mix and numerous individual serving size boxes of Cocoa Puffs. For a long time, we had frozen beef pot pies on every shelf in the freezer when my son decided that only chicken pot pies were worthy of his gastric juices. It took us nearly a year to work through a 36-pack case of microwave popcorn. Do any of you need applesauce in the little cup?

Color seems to make a difference for my children. When he was tiny, my son would only eat white foods. Mashed potatoes, cooked chicken, even tofu were eaten happily. His diet is still pretty colorless. Meat can be red, but vegetables can only be potatoes, preferably mashed. PopTarts, which must be of a brown flavor, seem to be a major food group, but they are best consumed alone in his room.

Blue food gets my daughter in an eating mood, particularly ice cream. Normal-people ice cream flavors, like chocolate or vanilla, can easily be passed up, but blue ice cream, no matter the flavor, gets her vote every time.

I’m thinking I’ll invent a new ice cream flavor. “Blue Liver.” Whatcha think?

Sticks and Stones

11 Oct

My name is Janice. Most people call me “Janice.”

Now and again, someone will get it in their head that they should call me “Jan.” Usually, these are people with names like “David,” “Barbara,” or “Patricia.” They introduce themselves using their whole name, then say, “But you can call me (insert shortened form of longer name).” Like this, “Hi, I’m David, but you can call me ‘Dave’.” Why don’t they just say, “Hi, I’m Dave”?

Never in my life have I said, “Hi, I’m Janice, but you can call me ‘Jan’.” I have said, “Hi, I’m Janice.” The Daves, the Barbs and the Pats then proceed to say, “Hi, Jan. It’s nice to meet you.” “Please call me ‘Janice’,” I say. Most people understand that this probably means I don’t want to be called “Jan.” Every now and then, though, I run into someone who just really wants to call me “Jan.”

When I was in high school, I sang. For four years, the choir director called me “Jan.” Maybe he thought I went by “Jan” because my older sister, whose name is “Roberta,” went by “Bobbi.” I think probably he liked her better, too. Lots of people liked her better. She was a senior and pretty and nice and friendly. I was a freshman and gangly and sullen and sarcastic. I’m pretty sure, at least in high school, that even my parents liked her better.

By my senior year, my sister had graduated and just about everyone in the choir knew that I really didn’t like to be called “Jan.” One day, when the choir director called me “Jan,” I heard the male voice sections respond, “ -ice,” thereby completing my name.

My last name caused much more trouble for me in school than my first name did. If I was gangly, sullen and sarcastic in high school, I was just sarcastic in grade school. Sarcasm is lost on most fourth graders.  Mostly, they just thought I was weird. The playground was not a happy place for sarcastic weirdoes like me. I recall one particular day being cornered by a number of my less weird and less sarcastic classmates who taught me how to play “dress up” while calling me “Janice Lindegarter belt.” I was humiliated, of course, but my inside-my-head voice was saying, “My God. ‘Lindegarterbelt’? Is that the best you can do?”

I can still have trouble with my last name, though no one has called me “Lindegarterbelt” in more than 43 years. When someone asks me for my last name, I say, “Lindegard.” I do this because they asked for my last name and my last name is “Lindegard.” More frequently than you probably will believe, they say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry Mrs. Gard, we don’t have anything on file for you.” And I will have to correct them and say, “My last name is ‘Lindegard.’ The whole last name. My first name is ‘Janice’.” I have never added, “you idiot.” My brother may have added, “you idiot.” He has had the same thing happen to him when someone asked for his last name and did not look up from whatever they were searching through.

Though I don’t go by “Jan” or “Lindegarterbelt,” I have had some nicknames in my life. My nicknames are person-specific; as in certain people call me certain names.

My husband calls me “Boo Boo.” This surprises me. I would think “Boo Boo” would be something you call someone who is cute and sweet and loving, not someone who criticizes the way you do everything, from mowing the lawn to rinsing the dishes. I do think I’m kind of cute, so maybe that’s my “Boo Boo” factor.

My sister calls me “Bean.” I have no idea why. I call her “Bird.” I know why. She knows why. Maybe she told me why she calls me “Bean” once, but I’ve forgotten. My brother calls me “J.” Pretty obvious why he calls me that, I think. If he called me “Jan,” I’d have to hurt him, so he cuts everything but the “J” off and gets to keep his hair.

Some dads call their daughters sweet names like “Princess” or “Sweet Pea.” My dad called me “Pig Pig.” I think he probably liked my sister better. He never called her “Pig Pig.”

I’ve mellowed about name-calling as I’ve gotten older. When my daughter called me “Poopy Pants” because she didn’t like something I said to her, I said, “Ok, Doody Drawers, but you still have to clean up your mess before you go out.” Soon, we were calling each other “Poopy Pants” and “Doody Drawers” on a regular basis. It was cute; it was funny. My daughter’s best friend thought it was cute and funny. She tried it with her own mother. I think she got grounded and I’m pretty sure her mother didn’t believe that “Abby calls her mom ‘Poopy Pants’ all the time!”

My daughter doesn’t call me “Poopy Pants” much anymore. Lately, I’m a “big, fat, big-headed old baby.” I don’t remember if I was trying to get my daughter to stop, or to start something. I didn’t miss a beat, though.

“That’s right,” I said. “That’s me. I’m a big, fat, big-headed baby.”

“You forgot old,” she said. Then she did whatever it was that she had resisted doing before calling me names.

Name-calling seems to vent steam in my house. When I let my daughter call me a “big, fat, big-headed old baby,” I’m giving her a safe way to express her anger and I’m showing her that someone else’s words only have the power to harm if we allow it. I don’t get upset about being called a BFBHOB, because I’m not big or fat. I don’t think I have a particularly big head and I’m certainly not a baby. I’ll give her old; I am, compared to her.

We both know that what she’s saying isn’t true. She also knows that the rules for name-calling are different at school and with friends. She’s a smart girl.

So, she calls me a “big, fat, big-headed old baby.” Sometimes, she even adds “mean” or “ugly” and then she laughs and I laugh with her. But if she ever calls me “Jan,” the girl is grounded.

On reading

4 Oct

Knowing that I like to read, friends give me book recommendations on a regular basis. Some friends even give me books. The books they give me are good books, even really good books, books that thoughtful, well-educated, well-read people read. As I have been accused of being all of those at various times, I understand why my friends give me these books. But, there is a breakdown in the logic here.

I read crap.

I readily admit it. I’m sure the people who write the crap I read don’t consider their writing to be crap. In fact, they are probably very proud of the crap they write and they should be. Theirs is some of the best writing I have read in a long time. It is filled with engaging characters and interesting plots and it’s just plain fun to read.

A lot of people read crap. In fact, more people read crap than any other kind of reading material available. Crap sells. Someday, I hope to get my own crap published. Then, my kids will be able to go to college and read some good books, even some really good books.

I used to read good books. I read a lot of good books. I had to read good books in high school, books like “The Old Man and The Sea,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Of Mice and Men.” Books written by dead white men. They teach more different kinds of books now, books by dead white women, living Native Americans, dead black men, living black women, living white women, living and dead Latinos, living and dead Asians. I think they still teach some dead white men books, but I haven’t checked recently.

After high school, I went to college. I majored in English, so I had to read more good books by dead white men. Men like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway (again). I took a class in literature of the theater, so I read Inge, Pirandello, and some other white guy I can’t remember.

I read Shakespeare, of course. I read a lot of Shakespeare. I took a whole class in Shakespeare. I even went to see “Macbeth.” That was a lot of fun. No, really, it was.

I continued to read good books after graduation. I felt I owed it to my degree. How could someone with a degree in English from a respected university sit on the 151 and read Nora Roberts? How anyone would know from looking at me that I had a degree in English is a mystery, but there you are.

After college, I made a point of staying away from books written by dead white guys. I read books by women. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Kate Chopin is memorable. It was what all the young feminists were reading and I was nothing if not a feminist. I was probably even strident. I read a collection of essays by Marxist feminists titled, “Women and Revolution.” No one could question my intellectual credentials from looking at my bookshelves.

“The Shipping News” ended my run of good book reading. “The Shipping News” is one of those really good books. People loved it, so I slogged through it, each word going in one eye and out the other until one night I had an epiphany. I realized I didn’t have to finish the book. There wasn’t going to be a test, I didn’t have to write a paper. I could just stop reading, so I did. I even gave “The Shipping News” away. I think I put it in a bag for The Goodwill.

Eventually, I felt tremendously guilty. I was a good book failure. It crept into the back of my mind that I might even, perish the thought, be shallow.

Because I couldn’t possibly be shallow, I decided the fault lay with “The Shipping News.”  Surely, I thought, “The Shipping News” is an anomaly. The difficulty with “The Shipping News” was I had to use my eyes to get it into my brain and my eyes kept closing. I thought I would try good books on CD. Maybe if the good book were read to me, I could enjoy it, just like when Dad read us to sleep. I decided I would listen to books in the car. I tried some highly-regarded book read by Blair Brown. I abandoned it for safety reasons. It made me drift off into unfocused daydreaming, just like when Dad read us to sleep.

So, I stopped reading fiction all together. Instead, I read books about gardening, knitting, parenting, spinning (wool, not a stationary bicycle in health club). I learned a lot and, if I didn’t read the entire book cover to cover, I didn’t feel guilty. Who reads a parenting book cover to cover anyway? You look up today’s problem, ignore the advice given, and put the book back on the shelf.

Then, I went to grad school. Another name for grad school is “when you aren’t eating or sleeping or writing a paper, you read” school. Unfortunately, the books you read in grad school can’t be abandoned. You will be expected to converse knowledgeably about them the next day.

I read every night, often long into the night. Some of it was interesting. Most of it, however, was written in Academic. Academic is a language designed specifically for use by professors and professors-to-be. It is incomprehensible on the first read, difficult on the second and marginally understandable on the third. I usually settled for marginally understandable.

Winter break came. I had six weeks to do nothing. The kids were in school. I hate housework; hence I had nothing to do. I needed something to read. I found Charlaine Harris and the Sookie Stackhouse books, the basis for the HBO series, “TrueBlood.”

I finished the first book in a day. The next day, I went to Borders and bought the second book. The next day, I went to Borders and bought the third book. The minute the children were out of the house, I read. I finished the third book on the third day and went back to Borders. I bought the rest of the books. I read them all.

One week onto Winter Break, I needed more books.  I discovered Jim Butcher. I read all of the Harry Dresden books.

Two weeks into Winter Break, I needed more books. I discovered Laurell K. Hamilton. I read all of her Anita Blake books. I found Tanya Huff and her Blood books, the best vampire fiction I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot.

Three weeks into Winter Break, I took a break from reading to knit some Christmas presents and interact with my family.

Winter Break ended, I went back to grad school. Eventually, I finished.

Now, I have lots of time to read. I still read crap, but I only read good crap. “Dead Until Dark,” Charlaine Harris’ first Sookie Stackhouse book, has the best first line I have ever read. I won’t give it away. You’ll have to start reading crap, too.

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