Monday, December 20, 2010

My Collection of Best Christmas Songs Ever, to Enrich Your Season

Merry Christmas! It's time for my first annual Christmas Song Awards, a selection of "The Best Christmas Songs Which..."

Okay, technically I think I may have mentioned most of these in previous years. But this is the first time I've brought them all together for your amusement/enjoyment.

So here you go. Enjoy.


Best Song that involves Luciano Pavarotti and a small child:

"Gesu Bambino"


Best Christmas Song Ever to Include the Words "nuclear fallout zone":

"Stop the Cavalry" by the Cory Band

Which is, of course, technically not a Christmas song. But it's still the best Christmas song ever.


Best Christmas Song Ever to Include the Words "bean dip."

"Merry Christmas From the Family" by Robert Earl Keene. (Watch the video. His grin tells me he's in on the joke.)


Best Christmas Song for those Ambivalent About the Season:

Christmas Eve in Sarajevo

(Embedding for the official video is disabled. But this works just as well. Just enough non-joyful feeling here to tell you you're not alone.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Most Wonderful Thing I've Ever Seen About Christians and Christmas, From Stephen Colbert

I can't make the embed code work for this video. But if you're a Christian who cares about the true meaning of Christmas (and no, it's not Nordstrom's Butter-Soft Leather Gloves for Her) you need to go to the original site and watch this video from comedian Stephen Colbert. Click here.

"If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are or we've got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition... and then admit that we just don't want to do it."

Does this guy nail 21st century America or what?

(Apologies for the risque ad that plays first, if you're easily offended. But then again, if you're easily offended, chances are the video itself will do it too. And chances are that you haven't been coming here that long, either.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pushing Purple Limits

I spent the afternoon dyeing fabric again, because I had some warm color dyes I hadn't tried out yet. Plus one purple. So my fabric of the day runs along the spectrum from grape to violet to red(s) to orange to yellow.

I've read that you can intensify the colors and possibly speed up the processing time by microwaving the fabrics while they're in the dye bath. And so I did.

And now I'm wondering why I have to test the limits of things. Things like how long those little red plastic cups can stand being in the microwave?

I'm not sure. I think it's because, as the scorpion said to the fox, It is my nature.

For the record:

30 seconds = fine
45 seconds = pushing it
45 seconds followed by another 30 = I'm lucky I don't have a purple kitchen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Laurie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Okay, first thing: I have not been in a car accident since I was seventeen years old. And I have not had a traffic ticket in twenty years (since I was in grad school and, in a blizzard, made a right turn on red when the "No Right Turn on Red" sign was covered in snow.)

Second thing? You know how all the "How to handle an accident" articles start with, "Never say, 'This was my fault'"?

Screw it. This blog is only occasionally connected to my real world via Facebook, so... This was my fault. I screwed up.

I should have seen the pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk. Even though it was pitch black and pouring rain, and he was wearing dark clothes, pedestrians always have the right of way. And he did. If I had been healthy and mentally on top of things and hadn't had the plague, I would have seen him before I started the turn.

But the good news: I did not hit him!

The bad news: The car in the lane I swerved into to avoid hitting him did not fare nearly as well.

Three hours later, I have finally stopped shaking and crying.

What today has given me:

1) A whole new level of love and appreciation for my husband. When I called and said, "I just totaled your car," (because yes, I was driving his NEW car), his only question was, "Are you okay?" And then he came and sat with me and held me as I cried and shivered and waited for the police and the tow truck.

2) A new appreciation of how decent people react in crises created by other people. The guy I hit was a jewel. What he said when I went up to his window in the pouring rain, sobbing and shaking and apologizing, was, "It's only a car. It could have been so much worse."

It could have. I missed the pedestrian kid by a foot, max. (He continued on, oblivious.)

The other guy's car is damaged. Our car is damaged worse. But now that I've stopped crying and shivering and crying and shivering... I understand that he's right. It could have been so much worse.

P.S. I read the part about my husband to my husband? He said I didn't give him nearly enough positive press. So...yeah. My guy is awesome. I am SO glad he was in town and at our house when this happened, because I'm not sure I could have handled it otherwise.

P.S. Tonight I am reminded of a Christian definition: Mercy is when you DON'T get what you DO deserve. Grace is when you get what you don't deserve. One momentary lapse could have meant that I, and a kid, and his family, could have been paying our entire lives. Mangled cars and one traffic ticket excepted, I got off easy tonight. Thank you, God.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Grief and Dyeing

These have not been a good couple of days. And when I say "these have not been a good couple of days," I mean it in the same way someone might say, "Oh, the Titanic? It had a little maritime incident."

A dear friend (my youngest son's church confirmation mentor, a member of our bell choir and a wonderful person) lost his long battle with cancer, dying far too young. Another friend miscarried a much-wanted baby. And a third friend lost his job -- his second in a year, a job he was overqualified for, but a job! -- because the company had overestimated demand and overhired.

And I have the plague (technically probably a cold), so I can't even handle the emotions of this week in the time-honored Methodist way -- by making a casserole -- because I don't want to give everybody else the plague, too.

The sense of helplessness -- of wanting to do something but not knowing what or how -- is overwhelming.

And so I have been dyeing fabric. Fabric that will probably end up in a quilt, eventually, to be given as a gift, but that's not point. The point is the process. The point is the color. For a visual person like me, color, intense color, has healing powers. And that is what this week calls for.

I've discovered a different dyeing process from what I've used before -- low-water immersion. (The above photo isn't my fabric, because I can't find my camera right now. But imagine more depth and you get the idea.) You soak fabric in a fixative solution, then scrunch or twist it, then add dye and a little more fixative. And then let it process. And the dye will seep into the twists and scrunches, but slowly. And since dye loses power over time, the outsides of the twists and scrunches will be dark, and the insides will be light. So when you look at a dyed fabric, you will feel depth. You will feel movement.

I finished the process yesterday. The dyeing, the hand-rinsing, the machine washing, the ironing. About 45 pieces of fabric, all the colors of the rainbow, ranging in size from 12" x 12" to 18" x 22",the entire color spectrum.

Would you believe I ironed each piece twice? I convinced myself it was to help them dry (because I was too impatient to run them through the dryer -- I wanted to see what I had, ASAP.) But it was really because I needed to feel the color. I needed to take each piece and let my eyes feast on that depth and movement. I needed the color to bring peace to my soul.

And I knew that it would, because it has before. And knowing that the chances are good that this fabric will eventually be put in a quilt to go to someone who needs it adds to its power.

I don't mean to imply here that it's all about me, obviously. The difficult part of being close to this much hurt is the powerlessness -- the wanting to make things different but not being able to.

I think we survive weeks like this, all of us, based on faith. Faith in God to create some kind of meaning, faith in family and friends to provide support, faith in the ability of color or music or art to soothe our hearts.

Oh, and let's not forget, faith in the power of Methodist women bearing casseroles.

God, family, color, casseroles...

Pretty sure if you anagram them, you'll get "survival, and healing."

Thursday, December 09, 2010

I Am So Uncool, Part II

I have a confession to make.

I... I still use...

(Hold on a second, I can do this.)

Hi, I'm Laurie, and I still use AOL.

Whew. Okay. There. I said it.

My AOL usage is a source of great amusement/befuddlement/consternation to the twenty-somethings of my acquaintance. Not my own kids, for the most part, just because that's the way it's always been in this family. (Kind of like some people see nothing unusual in Granny smoking cigars or Uncle Joe having imaginary friends.) But other people.

What's funny is that for somebody my age, I'm fairly tech-savvy. I'm comfortable with blogging -- not just in Blogger but in WordPress as well. I know how to edit and resize photos. I'm comfortable with the bare-bones basics of HTML. Hey, I can even program my own DVR.

But still I stick with AOL.

Oh, what?!? It's just a habit, okay? I can quit anytime I want.

Not everybody takes this well. Once I was getting informal tech support from a guy I know for something that was showing up onscreen differently from what should have been there based on the HTML code I was seeing. He says, "What browser are you using?"

Me: "Uh... The one that comes in AOL."

There is a long silence as he processes this. Finally he says, "AOL?" Like he's hoping he misunderstood.

"AOL," I say. "''s...uh... It's where all my bookmarks are?"

And then the change comes. It's not that they're, condescending, exactly. It's more like... You become their grandmother.

For the record, yes, I do use FireFox. It's even my default browser. And I do have a gmail address. But... I can't remember what it is, and even if I could, I'd forget to check it for days at a time. In AOL, it's all right there in front of you. All you have to do is log in, and then you don't have to think anymore.

Not sure I should like that, but... I do.

Recently, however, I discovered a benefit of AOL! Really, I did!

My laptop was attacked by an ugly virus that my virus software didn't recognize. It got into my software and somehow (this is technical, so pay attention) disconnected all my program thingies from the icon thingies I clicked on to get into them. So the programs are there, and the icons are there, but one does not lead to the other.

The one exception? AOL. Which still worked perfectly.

I told this to one of my twenty-something acquaintances. "See?" I said. "There IS a benefit to AOL! The virus didn't affect it."

His response:

"Yeah? Pretty tough to bird flu give a wooly mammoth."

P.S. I linked to this post on Facebook, and my daughter immediately responds, "Hate to break it to you, Mom, but your family judges you too. :D"

I said, "I know, honey. I was just being polite."

Sunday, December 05, 2010

I Love Teenagers, Part III

My fifteen-year-old son did his actual standup comedy routine the other night. Hilarious. Some parts were a bit raunchier than I would have liked. Butut you would expect a mom to say that, wouldn't you? I'll bet Jerry Seinfeld's mom says the same thing. My guess is that when he settles into his own, true style, he won't go for the cheap laughs, because his real talent lies in unusual observations.

My favorite part of the show was a limerick he wrote. Because, as I've said before, I love limericks. Here is what I wrote on limericks, back on 2006:

And the second [kind of poetry I love] is of course, the lowly limerick. I love limericks. Limericks are the illegitimate children of the poetry world. They are usually written for laughs by people who view the world through a warped lens. People like me. (And no, I will not be discussing the Man From Nantucket. Although Wikipedia says that he is a frequent limerick subject because Nantucket is historically a whaling town and limericks were a a genre popular with whalers. I am certain that this is truly the reason.)

But anyhoo. Here is my son's limerick:

There was a comic from Seattle
Did not know what rhymes with Seattle
And nobody laughed
'Cause his jokes didn't rhyme
And he ended up dead in Nantucket

Hee. (Because a lot of times, humor is simply about knowing the rules well enough to break them.)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stained Glass Quilt, OR: Testing Google, 1, 2, 3

UPDATE: SUCCESS!!! Google is now sending people here from the search string "stained glass quilt." This means that you may have come here looking for the pattern for Seattle Streets. The page you really want is this one:


Click and enjoy!

Oh, and since that worked, I'm going to try something else: Getting the FINISHED quilt to show up in the "Stained Glass Quilt" search


In the last few days, this blog has become the #1 source when you do a google image search for pictures of the logo of the FFF (Fédération Française de Football, or French Football Federation.) AND the picture of German/Turkish soccer player Mesut Özil getting his Bambi award. Who knows more about these things than I do?

Google is an odd thing. Two or three times a week, this blog will get a hit from "googlebot." Which is exactly what it sounds like: A bot from google. Sometimes it scans the blog in general, and sometimes it scans individual posts. And when it scans individual posts, I know that these posts have somehow, through incomprehensible means, gotten the attention of the all-powerful GOOGLE, and before too long somebody will arrive at these posts via a google search.

Googlebot's favorites, based on search strings used to get here?

This one on the French-Canadian swear word "Tabarnac."
"How to communicate with teenage boys."
Freecell win percentage. (I'm still at 100%, by the way.)
Lasagna quilt
And the heartbreaking ones with search strings like "Surviving testicular cancer."

What the darling bot has not picked up? Anything on my Seattle Streets quilt that would bring in anyone with an interest in stained glass quilts. And that's what I would really, really, like it to pick up.

So here's a test.

Stained Glass Quilt
"Seattle Streets"
Directions here

The test: "Stained glass quilt" is in the name of the photo. AND in the caption. AND in the post title. And in the tags.

Googlebot? Oh, dear googlebot? Please stop by.

P.S. Why am I feeling like I should leave out milk and cookies?

P.P.S. HA! Eight minutes after this post was published, Googlebot came to visit! The general blog, though, not the individual post. Let's hope it figures out the difference before the post cycles off the front page of the blog.

Update: Okay, since it worked, let's try the Stained Glass Log Cabin Quilt. Another STAINED GLASS QUILT. (Hint, hint, google.)

(Directions for this one are here.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Joy

My husband is in Boston this week. I am home, starting to prepare for the 25 or 26 people who will be dining at our house on Thanksgiving.

Oddly, I have realized that the stress level maxes out when you hit about 15. After that it's, "Great! What's one more?"

Just sent my husband the following email:

Wading through Mt. Paper today. I have filled the shredder bucket twice. No kidding. (Decided I really don't need to keep all the account statements from the last X years when it's all available online.)

Am also bleaching mold out of the bathtub grout. Do I know how to have a fun weekend or what?

Oh, and the funny part? Last year when your mom was here she pointed out a darkened area in the corner of the shower ceiling and saidthat we needed to watch for mold, because there might be a leak in the pipes up there. There is no leak, so I of course let it go all year -- but decided to attack it yesterday in advance of the visit. Filled a sponge with bleach, balanced myself on the tub, knocked the shower curtain rod down on my head, and then realized quite quickly that gravity + holding a bleach-filled sponge over your head is a really, really bad idea.

One ruined shirt later, (oh, and also, can straight bleach change your hair color?) I discovered that the "mold" was, in fact, paint -- in the color that the bathroom was before we had it repainted. Last person to paint apparently overshot the wall and got a bit on the ceiling. Forgot we didn't have Jason repaint the ceiling when he did the walls. Oops.

So...yeah. That was MY weekend. :-) Oddly, though, I am not hating this and am actually looking forward to our table for 26. Methinks the SAD light was money well spent.



Friday, November 19, 2010

Didn't Bambi Assimilate Well Into the Skunk-Rabbit Community?

There is a set of "media prizes" in Germany known as The Bambi Awards. Yes, that Bambi. Apparently the guy who wrote the original, pre-Disney version was German? Who knew?

But anyhoo. The awards appear to be kind of random, in an "Okay, we want to give an award to THIS guy! What did he do so we can create one for him?" kind of way. So this year you have one guy getting a Bambi for his charity work, another getting one for his work in German reunification (wait, what year is it again?) and the entire German National Football Team getting an award

Yeah. About that World Cup. Who says a bronze medal only matters to your mom?

But the one I found most interesting went to Turkish-born German footballer Mesut Özil for "successful integration into German society."

Yes, that's gold. Quick, hide it from Glenn Beck!

Quick background: A soccer player can choose to play for the country of his birth or his adopted country. (The rules are a lot more complicated, but not in this situation.) Özil could have played for Turkey but chose Germany and was an integral part of their World Cup team. Also, Germany has a huge problem with Turkish immigrants who don't assimilate. Hence, the award.

I think it's great that Özil got an award. He seems like a good kid. May he be a role model for immigrants everywhere.

But this award puzzles me. Because if you're going to give an award for integration/assimilation, it means that somewhere, someone is keeping score. ("Ooh! You! YOU'RE assimilated enough for a trophy! The rest of you, eat more bratwurst! See you next year!")

Imagining the scoresheet if we did that here in America.

100 point for learning the language!
500 points for giving up your unAmerican religion!
Oh, and 50 bonus points for naming your firstborn "Bubba."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In My Life, FFF is "French Football Federation"

(What he was REALLY looking for.)

A friend and I had a Skype conversation recently about the France national soccer team's switch from Adidas jerseys to Nike. He decided to search out a federation photo.

Friend: I just google imaged FFF, hoping for the logo.

That is NOT what I got.

I didn't even know cup sizes went that high.
Oops.  Hate when that happens.  (I think Google needs a mind-reading function.  For those times when there are multiple things answering to the same name.) 

Reminds me of the time I was writing about a cocktail recipe and inadvertently image-searched "Sex on the Beach." If you need a photo as I did? I would highly recommend adding the word "cocktail."

P.S. I'm really sorry I put these things in your head. Truly, you do not need to do the search yourself to see what I'm talking about. Remember: Curiosity killed the cat.

Or maybe it was Mr. Cat's wife who did it, after he forgot to clear his browser history.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hospital Musings, Part II

(This is part 2 of my hospital thoughts. Too lazy to reiterate why we were at the hospital, so Part 1 is here.)

A couple more thoughts that have occurred to me since I wrote last night's post.

1) My son is a university student, so he went to the University Hospital. What does this mean? It means all of the doctors are REALLY, REALLY YOUNG! I wasn't sure whether to shake their hands or burp them.

(I kid, doctors. I kid. In truth, I am grateful for the freshness of your knowledge.)

My upper-end guesstimate for the anesthesiologist is about thirty. And that guess is an outlier. He was a very nice, personable young man whose eyelashes were wasted on someone of the XY persuasion.

As he was talking to my son about the procedure, I noticed a book in the hip pocket of his scrubs. And not a little book, either. We're talking 5" x 7" and probably two inches thick.

I asked him what it was, and with mild embarrassment he pulls out a well-thumbed anesthesiology manual that contained all of the different cases and scenarios he might run into when anesthesia was needed. Just in case.

I was glad he had it, of course. When you're dealing with something as important as breathing, you don't want somebody guessing.

But in the twenty-first century? I'm kind of surprised there's not an App for that.

2) So there's a new Representative from Maryland, name of Andy Harris. He ran on the platform of repealing "Obamacare," or, in other words, he ran on
wanting to take away healthcare from people like my cancer survivor son.

He just went through House freshman orientation. Want to know his biggest beef? The fact that he has to wait 28 whole days for his government-provided healthcare to kick in!! How, he wants to know, will he survive without health insurance?

Good question, Andy. The thirty million people you want to steal healthcare from would like to know the same thing.

But of course, it's all about you.

(For a good anaylsis on the hypocrisy and ignorance of Andy Harris as regards our healthcare system, go here. This is all the more appalling given that the guy is an anesthesiologist who makes his living from the US healthcare system.)

P.S. The version of "healthcare reform" that will take away healthcare from these thirty million is now officially to be known as "Boehnercare."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hospital Musings

When is appendicitis good news?

When it's prefaced by, "The abdominal pain has nothing to do with any return of the cancer." So, yeah. There's that to be grateful for.

As you have probably gathered, my college senior son ended up in the ER on Friday with appendicitis. At the hospital at 10:30 a.m., no official diagnosis till 4:00, no room available till 8:30, surgery at 9:30, done by midnight. (My husband and I did shifts, but his wonderful girlfriend was there the entire time.) He was home before 10:00 the Saturday, after which he slept pretty much the rest of the day. Back to his own apartment on campus on Sunday afternoon, and life continues on.

So that was our weekend. How was yours?

Did you know that hospitals at night are CREEPY? They are. Seriously, Stephen King should set a novel in one. You can wander and wander and wander, and the only people you run across in the hallways are the rare janitorial staffpeople.

About 10:30, while my son was in the middle of surgery, I decided to try to find the vending machines, which I knew were near the (closed for the evening) cafeteria in the other wing. I walked through hallway after hallway after hallway, past one closed, deserted area after another, knowing that there were hundreds of people around me, somewhere, but... Everywhere I went was empty. (If I were writing the Stephen King novel, the main character would keep turning corners and almost-but-not-quite seeing people up ahead as they ducked into rooms or down random hallways. Not that I myself imagined anything that delusional. Or anything.)


And then I got completely lost going back, even though I thought the directions were straightforward... Turns out they were straightforward, but somebody had put up a "this section closed" sign at one of the turns I was supposed to take. They must have assumed that nobody could possibly be waiting for their loved one's surgery to conclude at 11:00 at night.

I thought it was kind of funny that on the bulletin board outside of the OR, they have a sign up that says, "Days Without Retained Foreign Bodies." Which means, of course, the number of days where they haven't left things in a surgery patient that didn't belong there. Like, say, 13-inch-long retractors. When we went in, the number was 204.

I sincerely hope that when Michael checked out it read 205.

Mike's girlfriend and I left the hospital at 12:30. One of the security services they offer, for which we were quite grateful, is an escort to the parking garage. They literally drive you across the street to your car and wait while you get inside. And if you're there that late at night at this particular hospital, you're in luck. Because they've apparently decided it is not cost-effective to staff the parking booth after hours, so the gates are up and your parking is free.

Almost makes up for the creepy deserted Stephen King experience. Almost.

When I arrived at the hospital, it was the Thanksgiving season. When I left, it was apparently Christmas. Two of my favorite radio stations had switched at midnight to an all-Christmas-music format.

This time shift kind of added to the surreality of the hospital experience.

I am grateful for hospitals, and hope I don't need to see the inside of one again for a long, long time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

There Are Not Words for How Disgustingly Uncool I Am

So last night, before handbell rehearsal...

(Yes, handbell rehearsal, okay? Handbells. Glorious yet utterly un-hip musical instruments played by glorious yet utterly unhip people.)

(Also, you see what I'm doing here? I am setting the stage. Because it's really important that you know just how completely and totally uncool I am before we get started.)

So. Before handbell rehearsal, my husband and I decide to head to the utterly uncool no-frills (no pool! no Pilates! no spinning classes! not even any showers!) gym for a quick workout.

(Wait. Are Pilates and spinning classes still cool? Because if not I've totally ruined my narrative.)

But anyhoo. Se we go to the uncool gym, and I get on one of the ellipticals, and I realize that there is a woman next to me who is Much Cooler Than Me. (Not that this is hard.) And she somehow manages to be cooler than me despite the fact that she is doing Sudoku.

(Which I love. But I'm pretty sure that loving Sudoku does not make me cool.)

But the reason she is So Much Cooler than me has nothing do do with Sudoku. The reason she cooler than me is that she has Sudoku on a little screen in front of her, on this little 9 x 7 tech thingy in an truly cool black leather zip-up case. And it's thin enough that it fits easily on the teensy little 2"-wide plexiglass stand on the elliptical.

I think it looks like a little handheld video game one of my boys used to play, back in the dday. So I say, "Wow! That's interesting! Is that just for Sudoku?"

She raises her eyebrows and gives me a look of disgust. "No," she says, her voice dripping with contempt. "No. It's an iPad."

"Oh!" I say cheerfully. "Never seen one of those before!" Oh, and also? Excuse the frick out of me for not being an iGeek.

For some reason, I think I enjoyed this exchange a whole lot more than she did.

Oh, and plus? Afterwards, I got to go play handbells.

There's something to be said for being uncool.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Autumn Quilt

Look! It's a fall quilt! Actually finished in fall!

Okay, so granted, it was started in fall of 2006. And I just finished it tonight.

Still! A fall quilt! Finished in fall!

Yes, the photo's blurry.  Squint and use your imagination. 
(The pattern is "Strip Twist" by Bonnie Hunter at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Humor. Because, y'know, it's Funny

There is a scene from the old TV show Star Trek: Next Generation  that is quoted frequently in our house.

To set the stage:  The human members of the Starship Enterprise have been infected by something that creates intoxication-like symptoms. Data, the guy on the left, is an android, (i.e. not human) and Lt. Worf, on the right, is a Klingon. (Also not human.)

Data: "There was a rather peculiar limerick being delivered by someone in the shuttlecraft bay. I am not sure I understand it: [quizzical look.] 'There was a young lady from Venus, whose body was shaped like a...' "
Picard, cutting in quickly, voice tense: "Captain to security, come in!"
Data: "Did I say something wrong?"
Worf, shaking his head: "I don't understand their humor either."

Pretty sure that last line is the rest of the world, describing my family. 

We have fun, though.  Meals together are mildly manic, kind of like long games of multi-player humor ping-pong.  The ball gets batted back and forth from person to person at warp speed, (get it? warp speed? it's a Star Trek joke!) with everybody taking the opportunity to smack it around.  Nobody is left out and no topic is off-limits, from people to politics to current events to the time I was taking out the garbage at midnight and heard my divorced, sixty-something neighbor and a very vocal, you know...

"Wait," says my husband, "are you sure?  Couldn't it have been"

"  I believe I can tell the difference between live and Memorex." 

There is a table-wide silence as we digest that.  (Or maybe my kids are trying to figure out what "Memorex" is.)  And then the topic changes and the ball is airborne again.  "Oh!" says somebody, "did you see The Daily Show last night?" 

My family amuses me so much that I've long thought that any of the gang of us could do standup comedy.   And as of this weekend, the thought is no longer theoretical.  My fifteen-year-old son is now an actual standup comedian.  He made his debut on Saturday night during open mic time at the local teen center, and he apparently knocked 'em dead.  He had to print out his notes from my computer and left them onscreen after he left, and I must say that they were pretty dang funny.  (No, I'm not going to quote him here.  You'll have to wait for the live performance and/or YouTube video.  Both of which will apparently be coming soon.)  

I wasn't there, given that I'm not actually a teen, but he said that after he finished, the head of the center came up to him to get his contact information so she could call him for their next standup comedy night.  And if that's not heady enough for a fifteen-year-old, a kid he'd never met took down his name and said that he wants a live band and a standup comedian for his sixteenth birthday party.  And the comedian he has chosen is... 


My son.

Pretty exciting stuff if you're fifteen.  Enough to get the dreams flowing. 

Last night he turns to me and says, "So how old do you have to be to be on Comedy Central?"

(Hey, it could happen, right?) 

I told him that A) I have no idea, and B) yes, he does still need to finish his Language Arts report. 

Because I'm pretty sure that life-changing superstardom can't quite be reached before fourth period on Thursday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Linguistic Creativity and Cow-Related Expletives

A Skype conversation between me and a fellow soccer-loving friend.

Friend: France game is on espn 360 if you have that

Laurie: It's also on the French channel. So I can watch on my actual TV

Friend: oh la la

Laurie: mais oui
Laurie: By the way, French people actually say, "Oh la la" a whole bunch.

Friend: As they should

Laurie: In soccer it's usually more of a groan, when somebody does something bad. We were at the France-England friendly in 2008 and the guy next to me, every time somebody would screw up, would go, "Oh la la." Or "Oh la vache" (Oh, the cow) or "Oh la putain." (Oh, the whore.)

Friend: Oh the whore... What a great saying.

Laurie: I know, huh?
Laurie: I was kind of fond of "oh, la vache," though. Because who would be creative enough to think of using a cow in an expletive?


P.S.  Yes, that photo is just what you think it is:  French Laughing Cow cheese.  Or, literally, "The Cow Who Laughs." For some reason it seemed appropriate.

P.P.S. Three days after I posted this, it has just occurred to me that "Bulls**t" is also a cow-related expletive. So those Frenchies have nothing on us Yanks.

Monday, October 04, 2010

I Love Teenagers, Part II

My 15-year-old son was home sick today. (Technically he was home sick only after second period, given that once you get to high school, classes do not take a break to accommodate viruses.) After a two-hour nap, he came upstairs and made a Freschetta pizza, then walked by me on his way downstairs.

"I think it's funny how the entire pizza fits on one dinner plate," said the super-skinny cross-country runner, holding up the plate to show me.

"Yeah?" I said. "I think it's funny how you consider the entire pizza one serving."

"What can I say?" he said. "I'm a teenager."

Indeed he is. Indeed he is.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Love Teenagers

Got the following email a week or two ago from the Netherlands. Oddly, it came to my soccer-related email address. Highly amusing. Plus it hits all my language-related hot buttons.

yo Laurie,

You don't know me but
I'm this highschool student who has been following ya french blog
since I share the same french team obsession.

and I gotta do a very important exam project with my mate.
It's about inventing a super cool efficient method for 11-year-olds
so that they can learn speaking english. I heard you got experience with the english language a lot.

We get 45 minutes to teach those kids english..
we can make use of all cognitive skills, like animations, sounds, books and everything.

Do you have some advice on this?
if yes, thank you a lot! if not, thank you as well but 1% less than if you would :P

I responded with my thoughts on teaching foreign languages -- things like the difference between immersing students in the new language vs. allowing them to translate between new and old, the importance of using all modes of language (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and some thoughts on how to structure a lesson.

Got this back. Made me smile.

Thanks for the great advice! it's certainly not late since we have work 6 months on this biology project

Well I like french football team but I actually only know that it is some sort of circus in the footballing world.
It's thanks to this french kid (he has his agenda full of zidane headbutt stickers) at school Pierre who advised me to mail to you and I was kind of sceptical at first.
But me and my friend have mailed to 18 native English speakers in Britain and America (we only got 7 replies)
which we showed to our bossy teacher. And he thinks your mail is one of the best and calls it "a reliable source".
By reliable he means pretty good because ne never uses words like good.

but really thanks for your 'reliable source'-thoughts. we will do the immersion thing :)

I love teenagers. They are...they are... They are so much who they are. And this makes me smile.

P.S. I am "a reliable source." Who knew?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Welcome to the Family!

My daughter and her boyfriend have been dating since high school. We adore him. Tonight they stopped by our house on their way back to Seattle. The conversation as they were leaving went something like this:

Me: Wait, you're taking an onion?

Daughter's boyfriend: Yeah. And what's funny? We mentioned it two times, but you missed it because you were engrossed in the soccer game.

Me: Really?

Him: Really

Me: Wow. You know what this means? It means you're now family! I feel just as comfortable tuning you out for soccer as I do my own flesh and blood!

Daughter's boyfriend: Uh...thank you?

The Magic Place

Look! Right there! Off to the right! Is that a trailhead? It is!  It is a trailhead!

And this is what it leads to:

And within five minutes, this is where you are. In The Magic Place. Minutes from my front door.

I discovered this series of trails accidentally a few years back, when I was hiking through some trees by a subdivision and saw a trampled area in the grass. I went to check it out and found a path to...heaven. Trails that wander up and down and in and around steep ravines, crossing and criss-crossing, meeting up and diverging, branching and reconnnecting. My dog and I can leave and be back home in half an hour if we choose, or we can wander around for an hour or more. You can't get lost, because no matter which way you turn, eventually you end up back in suburbia. But until that happens, it's easy to pretend you're in the middle of nowhere.

What's funny is that nobody outside of our area seems to know these trails exist. They're invisible to the real world, even though they're bordered on two sides by parks and everywhere else by suburban development. I never, ever pass anyone else when I'm out. (And on the very rare occasions when I do, it feels almost like a violation.)

Most of the wildlife I see here is birds. An owl with a five-foot wingspan, once. And the only red-headed pileated woodpecker I've ever seen in real life. (He looked just like Woody. For those of us of a certain age.) And once there was a great blue heron -- a water bird! -- who perched awkwardly on a tree branch nearby and squawked at me until I'd moved on.

There are rumors of other animals in the area, too. I saw three deer, once. And there are coyotes obviously, as in most rural-suburban areas --but they're never out when I'm there. There have been rumors of a bobcat and a black bear. And the other day I nearly twisted an ankle when my foot went through this rabbit hole.

Like I said: Magic.

Not sure how long we'll have these trails. Development is encroaching, little by little. In the past couple of years I've had to find new ways to access them, as houses and townhomes are built across old entrances.

But right now, for the moment (and with perhaps a bit of help from the recession), my dog and I still have our Magic Place.

May it live forever.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Nautical Stupidity, + The Joys of Having Friends Who Make You Smile

From a Skype conversation with a friend after watching this video:

Laurie: Also, just watched the cruise ship video you sent yesterday. Surreal, especially since the camera is mounted and you can't really tell the extent of the sway.
Laurie: Except by the degree to which people and things start sliding.
Laurie: Also x 2, how stupid is it not to affix furniture to the floor in a place like that?

My friend: I've wondered if the people who run that cruise company have ever been on a boat for that very reason.

Laurie: When we were in Ireland we took a day trip out to the Aran Islands in seas like that, but in a small boat. I loved it, but the urban New Yorkers were pretty green by the end.

My friend: It's often an acquired taste.
My friend: I went on a similarly rocky whale watch in elementary school where they served a soup of the day....twas chili.
My friend: I think I was one of three who managed to hold it down.

Laurie: The people who served you chili deserve the special place in hell next to the people who didn't bolt down the tables and chairs in the video.

My friend: I assume there's some sort of Boating Oversight Committee responsible for both, but it's located in Omaha and they're jealous.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Unbearable Cuteness of Baby Otters

I love baby otters. By which I mean: I LOVE baby otters!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finally, a Conspiracy Theory Worthy of Fox News

I'm not sayin', y'know? I'm just sayin'...

After years of silly Fox News conspiracy theories (Shirley Sherrod hates white people! Barack Obama is Muslim! Women are having terror babies!) we finally have a conspiracy theory that's genuinely worthy of Fox News.

See, for months, Fox has been telling people to follow the money for the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." (And the fact that it's not at Ground Zero and not a mosque is totally irrelevant. As is the fact that Fox News' coverage has caused a vicious degree of Islamophobia across the country that's affecting Muslims who have as much to do with terrorism as my Christian-yet-non-Catholic self had to do with pedophile priests.)

But anyhoo. Follow the money, they say? Guess you should be careful what you wish for. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show followed the money trail Fox News told him to follow. And it led back to someone Fox claims has known terrorist sympathies: Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who is Saudi Arabian, like Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorists, and who follows the fundamentalist Wahhabi Sunni sect of Islam, like Al Qaeda.

(See? He's guilty in your mind already, isn't he? Even though there's not an iota of proof. That's how Fox News conspiracy theories work. Keep in mind that it's Fox News claiming this guy's got terrorist sympathies, not Jon Stewart and not me. Fox News. My assumption would be he doesn't, but for the moment let's just see what happens when we take Fox at their word.)

Jon Stewart decided to dig a little deeper into this, so he followed Al-Waleed bin Talal's money trail back beyond the "mosque" and got to... (Oh, you'll never guess!)

He got to Fox News' parent company NewsCorp, where bin Talal is, yes, no kidding, the #2 money guy behind Rupert Murdoch.

(Watch the episode of the Daily Show where Stewart discovers this. It's hilarious. Unless you're a Fox News fan.)

Or, in other words, according to Fox News logic, if you're watching Fox News and giving their owners the ad revenue they get from your viewership, you're funding the terrorists.

I'm not sayin', y'know? I'm just sayin', in my current role as a conspiracy theorist: If you watch Fox News, why do you love the terrorists more than you love America?

And now, since we're creating a conspiracy theory worthy of Fox News, let's take this a little further. And let's look at this not from a liberal's point of view, but from a conservative's -- someone even more extremist than Rupert Murdoch, WorldNetDaily's Joseph Fara:

There's a flaw, a real compromise in Fox that you need to understand. And if you care about national security, you especially need to be attentive to it. And that is that Fox News parent company is NewsCorp., [which] has a significant ownership by a Saudi prince ... [who] was basically blaming America for what happened on 9-11. Well this guy owns a very significant percentage of the NewsCorp. and has let the world know that he can get things taken off Fox News when he finds them objectionable and has in the past. And I really believe this is very dangerous for America.

I'm not sayin' I agree with this guy, y'know? I'm just sayin' that if I were a terrorist and wanted to do the most possible damage to a country and create anti-Western hatred in the Muslim world, would I fund a community center? Or would I invest in a news organization watched by millions, where I could not just affect but create news and crises that would, among other things, cause huge, televised crowds of people to become what Bin Laden always said Americans were: loud, vicious, ugly haters of Islam?

(And let's not even talk about the political aspect of things, where someone who truly wanted to damage a country could use his/her media company's standing to buy politicians and influence policy debate in ways that will eventually rot the country from the inside out.)

I'm not sayin', y'know? I'm just sayin': If you're watching Fox News, do you really know who's choosing your agenda?

Think about it.

(Disclaimer: I have nothing against people who are conservative. Our country requires thoughtful, intelligent people with well-honed critical thinking skills from all perspectives to counterbalance each other, and I have known a number of conservatives who fit the bill. I do, however, have a lot against the irrational, dishonest, unethical fear-mongering of the people at Fox News -- an organization which long ago stopped even pretending to tell the truth. Our great country deserves better.)

P.S. Can bin Talal really influence Fox News content? Apparently so. This may not be as far-fetched as I had thought.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Quilt on My Bed

It's funny that even though I'm a quilter, I've had the same quilt on my bed for close to four years -- this one, a "brick quilt" done in bright colors set off by black. (Because as anyone who knows my quilts knows, that's what I love -- bright and black.)

This quilt is the reason I make my bed every day, just so I can see the colors, each like an individual jewel placed in its own setting, separate from all the others.

Four years on, this quilt is still making me smile.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Relearning Normal: Surviving Testicular Cancer as a Mom, One Year On

If you or somebody you love has been diagnosed with testicular cancer and you have googled something along the lines of "Surviving Testicular Cancer," chances are that Google has sent you here, to this post.

Stupid Google.

This was originally not that kind of post! This post was a mom's somewhat maudlin reflection on how having a son who survives testicular cancer changes lives. It does NOT start out as the kind of post I want you reading if your diagnosis is so new you're wondering about survival rates!!!

So here's what I want you to do: Read the first part. This part here, in italics, that I'm going in and writing after the fact. Don't read the last part. Read down to the *** and stop. Then come back in a year and read that section then. Okay? Because chances are incredibly, amazingly good that you will still be around then, and not just then, but much longer. Actually, you can come back in five years. Or ten. What the hell, bring your kids and your grandkids when they get here.

Because your chances of survival with testicular cancer are good. Really good. Really, really good. One of the best, as far as cancer is concerned. (I know that feels like a very relative statement, especially now. But that doesn't change your good odds.)

Want numbers? Here you go. As I understand it, if the cancer is caught when it is still localized in the testicle, survival rates are close to 100%. Even when it's spread to the abdominal lymph nodes, where it generally goes next, you're still at about 96%. And even when it's spread to the lungs and/or brain, which are the next destinations, it's close to 80%. These are good odds, okay? It may not feel like it when you're newly-diagnosed and trying to wrap your mind around the numbers, but they are good. This is a very treatable, curable cancer.

And know that every time I see one of you stop by after googling anything relating to cancer (whether it's "Surviving testicular cancer" or "mom son testicular cancer" or, most heartbreakingly "I am a 14 year old with testicular cancer"...) Know that every single time this happens, I cry a little bit, because I can still feel what you're going through and I know it's scary. And then I pray for you and your healing.

Okay. Stop reading now. See you in a year.


I dreamed last night that all the young men who had had testicular cancer were lined up together, standing in a rolling countryside and captured in a panoramic sepia-toned photo. As I watched, the ones who had survived stayed still and photo-like. But the ones who had died came alive. Inside the photo they began to run together, and to dance. And, yes, to play soccer.(Several of them were even wearing US Men's National Team shirts. Because, yes, even in sleep that's how my mind works.)

I watched their faces as they ran by, and they were all so young. And so alive.

I woke up and permanently warned myself off of 1) late dinners involving pepperjack cheese and 2) ever reading/watching anything related to Harry Potter again.

And then I cried. For these young men. And for their families. And for the fact that my son has survived (knock wood, cross fingers, say a prayer) and these young men did not.

It was so real.

I realized later that this dream must be my subconscious mind's way of telling me that I can now acknowledge and care about these young men -- the ones who, since my son's diagnosis last year, I have never really allowed myself to think about. The ones who were not as lucky. The ones who did not survive.

It's now close to fourteen months since my son's testicular cancer diagnosis, ten months since he finished treatment, seven months since his hair started growing back, two months since his most recent clean scan. Four more years of those clean scans and he's considered officially "cured."

It's been an odd year. Since Michael finished treatment, I have spent most of the time not thinking about testicular cancer.

Except when I do.

It hits me at the strangest times. Two months ago, I was at the parent's meeting about my younger son's choir tour of England and Wales. They handed out the itinerary and I realized that he was returning on the same British Airways flight I'd been on right before I learned of his brother's cancer. And I immediately got what I've come to think of as the "Cancer Mom Response:" The memories come flooding back, my throat tightens, my contact lenses mist over. I know that if I don't immediately think of something else, I will start bawling like a baby.

I don't like it when I get the Cancer Mom Response. A year on, with "cure" in our sights, it feels like an overreaction. We are the lucky ones. He is a survivor, and (crossing our fingers, knocking wood and saying a prayer) this will never again be more to him that the memory of a difficult summer. My misty eyes and tightened throat overreaction. Right?

Yet still they come. In England we were visiting with friends we haven't seen in ten years, and the topic of Michael's cancer comes up. "I can't imagine," says our friend, a very sweet and empathetic person. "It must have been awful." Cue Cancer Mom Response. Because sympathy is the hardest thing to deal with.

And so, because, again, this feels like an overreaction, I try to act normal, as if it's no longer a big deal. Yet I find myself struggling to remember what "normal" feels like. How would normal people act here? What would they say, what gestures would they use, which words would they choose...? In the end I can't figure it out, and I have to change the subject.

Because I suppose we are not normal, anymore. We are changed. We have come through the other side (knock wood, cross fingers, say a prayer), but we are changed. For the better, for the most part, I hope. As extreme heat can facilitate the forging of silver, cancer can facilitate the forging of empathy and compassion. This disease has destroyed any inclination any of us might ever have had to pretend that bad things can happen only to others, or that if you play by the rules you will be okay. Because sometimes, through no fault of your own, it's not true.

Among other things, cancer has demolished even the tiniest possibility that anyone in our family could ignore issues like American healthcare. I don't think we could ever have been the blythe, blasé Marie Antoinettes during the debate, (we are social justice Methodists, after all.) But if that possibility ever existed, even remotely, it was annihilated by the cancer. (That happens when someone you love faces sixty years with a preexisting condition in a country that refuses to acknowledge his right to survive and live without the terror of having his healthcare snatched away from him through no fault of his own. Y'know?)

Last September, days after Michael finished his last dose of chemo, the family went to see the play "Wicked" -- the backstory behind the good and bad witches from "The Wizard of Oz." In the end, the two of them find that their lives have become inextricably linked. They have been changed. For better? Unclear. But definiltely "for good."

I sat there in the theater, tears streaming down my face, and listened to the words:

Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better
But because I knew you, I have been changed for good

I realized that those words, describing a difficult relationship, could well describe dealing, as a family, with cancer. So much hurt, and a lot of challenges, but... But perhaps there is something more in there as well.

We have been changed.

Yes, I believe, for good.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Knew I Loved Mark Twain for a Reason

“The multimillionaire disciples of Jay Gould — that man who in his brief life rotted the commercial morals of this nation and left them stinking when he died — have quite completely transformed our people from a nation with pretty high and respectable ideals to just the opposite of that; that our people have no ideals now that are worthy of consideration; that our Christianity which we have always been so proud of — not to say vain of — is now nothing but a shell, a sham, a hypocrisy; that we have lost our ancient sympathy with oppressed peoples struggling for life and liberty; that when we are not coldly indifferent to such things we sneer at them, and that the sneer is about the only expression the newspapers and the nation deal in with regard to such things.”
- Mark Twain

Jay Gould was kind of the 19th century equivalent of the boys at Goldman Sachs.

And how did it happen that so many Christians have ended up voting for politicians who back the "Jay Goulds" and not the oppressed folks that Jesus sided with? Makes no sense to me.

Thanks, Mark Twain, for putting my thoughts into words more than a century before I thought them.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


I know my last post was kind of a rant on twenty-first century technology, but... Well, in the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, There you go again.

So y'know what I hate? I hate security questions. I mean really, really, really hate security questions. Okay, sure, they stem from a great idea: companies making your lives easier by allowing you to access your accounts online. LOVE IT!

(See, this isn't all about ranting!)

But in order for them to make sure it's you and only you who can access your account, they make you answer security questions. And heaven forbid you get them wrong, because... Well, I'm pretty sure that if you get them wrong...

It's not pretty.

I have it on high authority that after you screw up, they send the information to the people at the Security Question Headquarters. And the Security Question Headquarters people punish you for your inattention by scrambling up all the answers to all the security questions you've ever answered in your entire life. Or worse, by giving you entirely NEW answers.

"She said her favorite pet was DOG! DOG?!?!?! It's cat, you idiot! From now on, the answer to all of your questions is, "Police Academy IX!"

Fairly certain that's how it would go. So I really want to get them right the first time.

Problem is, though? They NEVER ask me anything that I have an easy answer for!!!! I don't watch TV, so I don't have a favorite TV show. Ditto movies. (Being forced to sit in a theater for two hours is my definition of torture.)

On the other hand, I have approximately a thousand favorite books and at least three favorite teachers -- but none that stand head and shoulders over the others as names I'd be able to recall under pressure.

My childhood dog went by two names -- one with an "s" at the end, one without. I'm guessing that whichever I picked as an answer, I would invariably pick the other one when I went back and tried to answer it again.

Childhood best friend? Would it be the first one, before she went off to parochial school and became somebody else's best friend? Or the one who came after? Or the neighbor girl, who was certainly my best friend whenever she let me ride her horse.

(Because I was fickle that way as a kid.)

But anyhoo. So today I'm online, signing up to make our car payments automatic. And I literally cannot come up with a question that has an answer from the questions on their list. And worse, they require not one, not two, but THREE.

And worse yet, when I signed up the first time, I did find a question with only one obvious answer -- my first school. (And there was much rejoicing.) But today, when I went back, I couldn't remember my password. So the system lets me change the password. (Because...wait for it... I knew the answer to my security question!)

But here's the thing: In order for me to change the password, it deleted that security question from my options! Their thinking: Well, if she's too dumb to remember her password, but she got the security question right? We've obviously made things too easy on her. Won't let THAT happen again!

So after much thought and swearing, I eventually picked one of the best friends, then one of the spellings of my first dog's name. Two out of three. Almost there!

For the last one, I pick "First boyfriend" -- a question I'd been avoiding because...well... He was a jerk. But desperation strikes, and it IS a question with only one answer, so I type in his name. Hit "enter." And get back,

We're sorry, but all answers must have at least four letters.

But...but... WAIT A SECOND! His name only HAS three letters! It is only THREE! LETTERS! LONG! What am I supposed to do, add a fake letter?

So now I'm sitting at my computer swearing at the mother of a guy I haven't seen in many many years for giving him a name I can't use to make a car payment.

This is what my life has come to.

I blame technology.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Open Letter to What Passes for a Customer Service Department at Bank of America

Executive Relations
Bank of America
P.O 513609
Los Angeles, CA 90051-9931

To whom it may concern:

We phoned several times trying to get an actual name attached to customer service at Bank of America, but apparently this is privileged information. Or perhaps there IS no real person attached to customer service at B of A. Based on our experiences, that would be my guess.

My husband and I are longtime Bank of America customers. We never chose B of A, but after our bank was bought out there was never any real reason to switch. Unfortunately, in the past year we have become so frustrated by the people and policies of B of A that we will be closing all of our accounts -- checking, savings and investment -- and switching to a credit union as soon as we can process the paperwork. This is entirely due to the lack of accountability and customer focus we've dealt with at your bank since you laid off our Premier Banking rep, Jennifer Gallando. (She was wonderful to deal with. If she were still with your company, there would be no reason for this letter.)

We are so frustrated with your complete lack of concern for your customers that not only will we be moving our money, we will be posting the following review online at every possible review site for your bank:

Like most people here, I wish they gave an option of 0 stars, because that's what B of A deserves. They are too big to care, and there is absolutely no incentive anywhere in their system that would cause employees to be concerned with how their actions affect customers. NOBODY should bank here. We're moving all our money to a credit union tomorrow.

We became B of A customers only because our smaller bank was bought out by them years ago and we never got around to switching. They were okay till the recession, when they laid off everybody who gave a damn.

Our experience over the last year is that at least once a month, our credit and/or debit cards will be rejected for no reason. (This has happened twice when my husband was with clients and numerous times otherwise.) This happens because a flawed computer algorithm flags normal transactions as "suspicious activity."

B of A's computers shut off cards for everyday activities like going to one restaurant for dinner and a second for drinks or dessert, or renewing an international professional membership. (The organization was located in Europe, but the transaction came from Seattle, where we live. This caused not just one but two shutoffs -- the second after a B of A reps swore the transaction would be processed.) No notification, no questions, just automatic card shutoff.

B of A claims they call customers to let them know this has happened, but they don't. In our case, their actual record is 1 phone call out of the double-digit number of times this has happened. And they claim that there's always somebody on duty to respond and reactivate the card when this happens and you call them. Trust me. There isn't.

The final straw was today when I had a debit transaction rejected. (Think about that. Debit. Access to our own money denied.) I went into the bank to find out why, and the cust. service person connected me to their fraud line by phone. Because apparently local people are not allowed to do anything in these cases -- they have to turn customers over to faceless people a thousand miles away. It turns out my transaction was rejected because my husband and I filled up both our cars with gas on the same day! This is apparently not allowed, and they shut off both our cards. But they didn't bother to call to let us know, so I found out when I went through the embarrassment of having a transaction refused.

(In a way, this is a good thing, as my husband was leaving for a business trip to Mexico the next day and he wouldn't have had bank access there. Of course, when he called the bank to let them know about the trip, nobody bothered to let him know that there was a hold on the card. Apparently letting customers know of bank actions that might affect them is not in the travel person's tiny little job description.)

Then, after I spent 20 minutes on the phone with the customer service rep, they STILL didn't reinstate the card, even though they claimed they had. It was denied again at the grocery store ten minutes later. I called customer service when I got home and they said the problem was an alert left over from a vacation we got back from A MONTH AGO! Even though we called TWICE with exact dates and times of departure and return -- because we knew from past experience that one call would not guarantee we'd have access to money when we travel -- they still couldn't be bothered to get it right. Now they claim they've reactivated the card and it "won't happen again." Uh-huh. Sure.

B of A does not care. They don't have to. They are staffed by people who never have to deal with the results of their actions and who get paid whether or not they're competent. Nobody in this huge, impersonal organization gives a damn about silly, old-fashioned ideas like customer service, because when people like me leave they figure others will be naive enough to take our place.

Don't do it. Don't be that next sucker. Do NOT bank at B of A.

Your company seems to believe that you're doing us a favor by allowing us to access our own money -- a favor that can be withdrawn at any time by unaccountable employees and flawed computers for no reason whatsoever.

I'm sorry, nameless customer service person, but it is OUR money. And apparently the only way for us to make that point is to close our accounts and never do business with your bank again.


me and the spouse

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strangers in a Strange Land

May 24, 2010

"Can you just drop us off at the chicken take-away by the hotel?" my husband asks the cab driver. It's 10:30 at night in Coventry, England, and we're coming home from a concert. Restaurants and pub kitchens almost universally close at 9:30, so if we want dinner it will have to be take-away. This actually doesn't sound so bad. We're twelve days into a two-week trip and exhausted; a late dinner in our room overlooking the cathedral sounds relaxed and pleasant.

The driver drops us out front, and we walk into the shop. It's not so different from what you'd see in any US city: bright lighting, a menu on the wall overhead, easy-clean formica tables and linoleum floor. Several kinds of chicken on the menu, plus a few other dishes. The "chips" are even referred to as "fries."

The customers and workers are all male, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and all of them are watching us curiously -- especially when they hear our American accents. We are an oddity here, a curiosity. Even though Coventry is an extremely diverse city, Americans are a rarity.

The man who takes our order is young, perhaps late twenties, and his accent is heavy. He watches our faces closely as we place our order, working to comprehend our odd pronunciations of the words he has probably only recently learned himself. It takes a few repetitions before we make ourselves understood, but eventually we manage it. This pleases all three of us.

He heads to the back to pass on the order to the other worker. A second later he returns, his face regretful. He has looked at the food he has left this late at night, he says, and, "Sir, I am sorry. But we do not have any...any drumstick? It is late, so we have only...legs?"

My husband explains that this is great, because drumsticks are legs.

"Is that not an expression you use over here?" I ask. "Is that just something Americans say?" It is, he agrees, and we laugh together, the three of us, at our odd American idioms.

He goes back to clarify the order, then returns to take our money. He watches in fascination as we vainly struggle to figure out the coins. One-pound and two-pound are easy enough, but this is just our second day in England and we haven't learned the smaller coins. Which are five pence, and which are ten? And can the two-pence really be so big?

In the end my husband empties his pockets on the counter and the worker points to the correct coins. We are grateful, and he looks mildly proud. I wonder how long it's been since he went through the same thing himself. I find myself hoping the shopkeepers were nice to him when he did.

"Where are you from?" my husband asks. He is an extrovert, always curious about the people around him, never afraid to ask questions.

"Afghanistan," says the man. His voice is intently neutral, as if he wants to head off the emotional charge he knows the word can carry.

"Oh," I say, "our son has a friend whose dad is from Afghanistan."

He looks surprised. "Ah," he says, "But right now it is not..." his voice trails off, and I find myself thinking of the news stories lately, of bombings and beheadings and Taliban. Of a troubled country with so much hurt...

"Not a place you'd want to be right now," I say quietly. His eyes meet mine, solemnly, and he nods. I find myself wondering about his family. I imagine a wife, perhaps a couple of dark-eyed children. Maybe, if he's lucky, an extended family, here in England, relatively safe...

And then the order is ready. I decide at the last minute that I want an orange juice, and he tries to give it to us for free. My husband insists on paying. "We appreciate it," he says, "but you're running a business here." I see gratitude in the man's eyes. And perhaps something else as well. I realize with surprise that it is important to him to please us. He wants us to think highly of him, and I wonder why. It's obvious that we're not from around here, so we can't give him repeat business. We're leaving early the next day and we won't be back again, not even once. All we are able to give him is our eight pounds ten, and a smile.

Yet as we walk out into the night, I wonder if this -- a smile of understanding from fellow strangers in a strange land -- may not have been the thing that was needed most.

Monday, May 31, 2010

We Interrupt Our Ireland Travelogue to Bring You...

...a video of a kitten getting rescued from a soccer field in an international game (best players in their respective countries) between France and Tunisia.

(I was watching the game yesterday and my heart just melted.)

All together now:


P.S. Kitty now has its own Facebook page.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ireland in a nutshell

Posted on a wall in a pub on one of the Aran Islands. Kind of captures the spirit of Ireland in a nutshell.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And Then the Castle Appears

So here's the thing about Ireland. You'll be walking down the street searching for something. Like, y'know, maybe Joe's Chinese Restaurant. (Ethnic food still isn't huge in Ireland outside the big cities. But it's getting there.)

But what happens is, you'll be walking along the thoroughly modern streets with their thoroughly modern shops and thoroughly modern apartments and thoroughly modern offices, and you'll be thinking, "Joe's Chinese. Where's Joe's Chinese?" And then you look up and...

Holy smokes, there's a castle!

Yes, a 13th-century castle, just sitting there in the middle of the city, with streets running by it, an office building on one side and apartments on the other. And, yes, Joe's Chinese Restaurant just down the street.

This is the Carlow Castle, estimated to have been built sometime between 1207 and 1213.

Or actually, techincally this is half of Carlow Castle, the other half having been torn down in the 19th century to build an insane asylum.

No joke.

I love Ireland.

(P.S. If you're ever in Carlow? Eat at Joe's.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Musings from Ireland

Currently in a little town in Ireland with my husband, just north of Dublin but far enough off the beaten path that tourists aren't taken for granted. Everybody is extremely nice, very friendly and curious about America and why we're here. People sitting at the next tables at meals invite us into their conversations. When we ran into the couple we'd been sitting next to at breakfast on Friday, later in town, they insisted on giving us a lift up to one of the town's main attractions.

("Seattle! Oh, that's where Frasier is!" is what a lot of people say when we tell them where we're from. Frasier is big in Ireland. There are worse things we could be known for.)

Last night we were at a traditional Irish music conert, held in the tiny Methodist church. (Tiny because there aren't exactly a lot of protestants in Ireland.) I'm guessing it was the first time a lot of the town residents had been inside; several of them were looking around curiously.

"I thought the Methodists didn't believe in stained glass?" said one of the women behind me.

"Yeh," a second woman responded. "I guess they need something to keep them awake during the service."

This Methodist says: Giggle.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vacation plans and gay uncles

Laurie: Heading out to go get keys made so I can leave on vacation tomorrow.
Laurie: If the volcano cooperates

c: No volcanoes cooperate. Ever.

Laurie: If we'd been leaving today instaed of tomorrow, we'd be golden.

c: that's not how the world works

Laurie: Our European flight is out of San Francisco, so we could always spend a few days there. There are worse places, I guess.

Laurie: Spend time with my uncle, who is like a senior citizen version of Sassy Gay Friend.**

c: Why does everyone have a gay uncle in San Fran except for me?

Laurie: You missed out, dude.
Laurie: Also: because that's where gay uncles hang out.
Laurie: duh

** Oh, you know! Sassy Gay Friend!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Vanity, Thy Name Is...

Yesterday I took the dog for a hike down the ravine trail near our house. (They're slowly devloping it, snatching away a little at a time. But for the moment we still have wonderful, steeply-sloping wooded trails just a five-minute walk away.)

It's been raining a lot lately, which makes the hills a bit treacherous. At one point I was making my way down a hill, slowly and sideways, edges of my tennis shoes digging into the dirt to keep from sliding, when my 80-lb. dog decided he was bored and it was time to continue forward.

He gave a jerk on the leash, my feet slid out from under me, and I was on my knee-hip-butt in the dirt.

No harm done, other than muddy jeans. But this caused me to reflect on what would happen if I broke a leg out there. These trails are mostly deserted. How long would it take me to crawl back home? Would I use downed branches to make a splint first? Would I have to rip up my jacket to tie them to the leg?

And then my brain settled on the real question:

After I crawled home, before I called the ambulance, would I take the time to shave my legs?

And the answer was: Yes. I probably would.

Vanity, thy name

Monday, May 03, 2010

Because We Don't Have Anything Better to Do With Our Money

Spotted these in a full-page ad in my Sunday paper, with this ad copy:

Tiffany Keys

An intriguing invitation.
A revealing discovery. A promise
of adventure. A whispered
romance. A question answered.
A secret kept.

Not stated: A really slick way to part people from boatloads of their money by allowing them to pretend that their lives are a lot more interesting than they really are.

(Wait. Am I being cynical?)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Google is SO Goshdarn Helpful

So I love it when you do a google search for "Search Phrase A," and google very helpfully offers up a suggestion with an alternate spelling, like, "Did you mean Search Phrase Aa?"

So you scratch your head, and then you say, "Well, Google knows all. So yes, perhaps I DID mean 'Search Phrase Aa."

So you click on their helpful link to "Search Phrase Aa" and you get back:

"Sorry. Your search returned no results."

Yeah, Google. Thanks for that. Very helpful.

Language Learning and Hardened Brains

When my youngest son was in kindergarten, there was a girl in his class who was newly arrived from Japan. She spoke no English. In September I watched her walk through her days with a panicked, deer-in-the-headlights look and thought, "Oh, that poor child! She'll never..."

And yet she did. Within months, she was functional in the classroom. By the end of the year she was nearly fluent.

So learning English is easy, right?

Well, yes. Kind of. If you're a kid.

The thing is -- and I'm speaking here as a Speech and Language major, an ESL teacher, and a person whose ongoing project is learning French as an adult -- everybody is born with the capacity to learn any language, and multiple languages. A child raised around people speaking English, Arabic and Chinese will learn English, Arabic and Chinese. No problem.

Right around puberty, though, a switch is thrown. Our brains say, "Okay! Language learning complete! Let's move onto other stuff!" From that point forward, your native language is your native language.

(This is why waiting till high school for foreign language instruction, like they do in our district, is so stupid.)

Obviously, it's not that people can't learn new languages; they do it every day. It's just that once your brain "hardens" (figuratively speaking) into its main language, from that point forward it will learn new language(s) by comparing all new language learning to its old language. Its real language.

So my working-to-learn-French brain says, "Wait. Genders? For inanimate nouns? Saying 'one does this' instead of 'we do this'? Putting modifiers after subjects? That's...that's...that's not how we do things!"

So yes, it's absolutely possible. But it's freaking hard. And the older you get, the harder it is, and the longer it takes to become fluent. (I studied French for five years in school. I read it at least a little every day. I listen whenever I get the chance. Yet I consider myself lucky to pick up 25% of what I hear.) I have students who have studied English for years in their native country, only to arrive here and be completely lost.

It can be expensive, too. The non-profit I volunteer for teaches free classes up to Level 3 -- a level which allows people to function, but barely. After that, to become truly fluent, people have to pay the several hundred dollars per quarter to go to places like community colleges -- if they're lucky enough to live near one, and if their lives and schedules can make it happen.

Add in the fact that native speakers do not speak the slow, gramnatical, non-idiomatic version of the language that is taught in classes, and the fact that many native speakers are NOT patient with people who are learning (take it from me, it's terrifying to speak to a native speaker at first), and it's a small miracle that anybody even makes the attempt.

And yet they do. I have never met an immigrant who did not desperately WANT to learn English. Sure, there are some who just can't make it happen, but the want is pretty much universal.

Must say, my students amaze me every week with their curiosity and desire. The process is slower and harder than they would like, but they hang in there, and they keep trying, and they celebrate the small victories and joys. ("My co-worker, she do not understand what a customer is saying, so she asks ME to translate!" Rapture, to be the knowledgeable one at last.)

This is why I get so frustrated with the (almost universally monolingual) "Just speak the damn language!" folks. I find myself wishing that God would just drop them down in a foreign land so they could experience firsthand what it's like to try to learn a language as an adult.

You know. What it's like to try to unharden their brains.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


So today I read a headline that said, "Dear Sandra Bullock, I can relate." It was a long and involved open letter about a husband leaving after the arrival of a baby.

The other day it was, "Oh, Kate Hudson, how can you get breast implants?!?" by someone who took it personally.

I kind of rolled my eyes, the way I did with the whole Tiger Woods thing. I mean, seriously, people? These celebrities are not actually a part of your life.

And then I realized that I consider an entire professional soccer team "my boys."

I guess overidentification is in the eye of the beholder, yeah?