Saturday, October 7, 2006

Published October 7, 2006
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I often like to say I don't believe in soulmates, but I do believe in kindred spirits, and I met one such spirit in the grocery store the other day. As this teenaged boy scanned my purchases, I asked him the meaning of a small medallion he was wearing around his neck. He said it represented the three faces of the Goddess: the maiden, the mother, and the crone. I sighed a wistful sigh, smiled at him, and said, "I think if we were the same age, you would have been one of my friends in high school."

I have no idea if he took that as a compliment. He chuckled and smiled, but I think they train them to do that there. If you're wondering how I came to the conclusion I did, I'll tell you exactly what kind of person would have been my friend in high school.

-If you would be tempted to name your cat after an ancient Greek mathematician or any character from Star Wars, Star Trek, or Lord of the Rings, you would have been my friend in high school.

-If your idea of a good time is sitting around discussing your favorite words or doing online research to find out just how many digits are in the largest known prime number (in the vicinity of 15.9 MILLION, by the way), you would have been my friend in high school.

-If you ever had trouble distinguishing your Dungeons and Dragons identity from your actual identity, you would have been my friend in high school.

Now, I hear you all screaming in unison: NERD! I must disagree. I am not, nor have I ever been a nerd. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being a nerd. It's just that if you shout, "Hey NERD!" in a crowd, I will not look up from my scientific calculator/book of Transcendentalist poetry (whichever the occasion demands) and answer you, because I am not, nor will I ever be a nerd.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a GEEK!

In case you're unaware of the subtle differences, or you ate your lunch with the cheerleaders and the jocks, a geek is not a nerd. A geek is cut from the same intellectual cloth, certainly, but a geek is a few more steps along in the evolution of high school popularity. In other words, nerd is to Australopithecus as geek is to Cro-Magnon Man. (Of course, being a Christian geek, I'm still not sure I believe all of that).

To put it in layman's terms, a geek is a nerd with contact lenses. A geek is a nerd with some understanding of fashion and style (not much, but some). A geek is a nerd with a sense of humor and a desire to enter the outside world every now and then. A geek is a nerd who is always on the verge of "crossing over" and becoming a popular kid (albeit smart), but who would rather bask in his unabashed geekiness than sell out.

These days, I am choosing to spend as much time as possible embracing my inner geek. My name is Sarah Wilson. I am a geek, and I'm proud. So please, don't ever call me a nerd. For that matter, I'd also rather not be called a dweeb, a dork, or an egghead. Freak, however, is fine.

After all, a freak is just a geek who's found a way to entertain the masses with her geekiness and get paid for it.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dancing with my stars

Published September 30, 2006
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Being a single mom on a tight budget, I've found that after paying for essentials there isn't much money left for fun. In the event of a surprise, like car repairs or doctor visits, the monthly entertainment budget is the first to be sacrificed on the altar of fiscal responsibility.

So what's a mom of five kids in need of fun to do? Well, she's got to get creative, that's what! For my own mother, the answer was found in a game called, "Let's see where THIS road goes!!!" which basically amounted to her packing my siblings and me into the minivan and getting lost on country roads...with lots of scary hills...in the dark. My sister, Gina, to this day, is not amused.

It seems I've found my answer a little closer to home. On any given evening, you will find the six of us in the front room, CD player blasting showtunes while we dance around in unbridled enthusiasm. If you've never had the opportunity to dance with kids, I suggest you try it, post haste. There's just nothing like letting go of your inhibitions and cutting a rug with a bunch of giggling, rugrats.

And when I say "unbridled enthusiasm," I mean complete, unabashed twirling, jumping, and flailing. Yes, I said flailing. You haven't danced until you've flailed around in total disregard of the rules of propriety and the laws of physics. We Wilsons are nothing if not exuberant...and in our exuberance, we'll all arms and ninja kicks.

Since instituting these nightly fits of frolic, I've noticed a remarkable thing. I have lost 8 pounds. It seems dancing around like a maniac worthy of a mental institution is an excellent aerobic activity! I guess it helps that when I dance with my kids, I break out all the tricky moves no fat woman should ever do. It's not pretty, but it's working!

This is good news for me, as my usual mode of exercise, my trusty treadmill, was rendered inoperable when a certain child who will remain nameless (Catherine Mae Wilson) decided to take the treadmill key on a field trip from which it has never returned. I was on the verge of charging her the $40 it will cost to replace it and taking it out of her birthday earnings for the next few years, but I'm so excited by the number on the scale that all I really want to say is, "Darling Cate...may I have the next dance?"

At some point, I'm going to realize that the Dance Like No One's Watching Workout is an idea ready to be pitched, marketed, and mass produced to moms everywhere. There'd be the book, workout video, and a special CD box set of all my favorite "move your flab" songs... If I play my cards right, I might never have to sacrifice my entertainment budget again!

Of course, if it means I stop dancing...I'd rather be poor.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

 Published September 23, 2006
St. George Spectrum & Daily News


A few weeks ago, my toddler decided it was time for me to get a new cell phone. I realized he had come to this conclusion when he toddled up to me (as toddlers are wont to do) holding my phone, both pieces of it, in his hot little toddler hands. I decided he was one savvy baby and took his unspoken advice, marching myself into the store for a nicer, newer, definitely sturdier flip-phone in a very girly shade of pink.

My first days with my new phone were like the first days of a new relationship. I thought about it all the time, pulled it out several times a day just to gaze at it like a beloved snapshot, and I spent as much time as possible getting to know its many fascinating features. It's safe to say I am completely twitterpated with my Sanyo SCP-2400 with Speakerphone and Optional Internet. (Sigh...isn't that a great name?)

The feature I'm most enamored with appears to be the "memo" feature of my phone. Using this tool, I can make an 18 second recording of absolutely anything. I'm assuming people use this for those all important "notes to self." So far, I've mostly used it for dorky silliness.

For instance, one of my first memos was recorded with my sister, Carla, in attendance. She was suggesting I make an alien autopsy report. I decided to go for this instead: "Captain's Log, Stardate 9703425-4...31...(giggles and snorts)...We've just entered the...uhhhh...Dalron Sector of...(more giggles) um...Channel 5...(snorfles)...SCOTTY! BEAM ME UP!"

This memo thing is kind of distracting, if you don't mind my saying. It reminds me of the little tape recorder Carla and I had when we were kids. We used to spend hours recording ourselves being goofy...then spend hours listening to our demo tapes over and over. At this writing, I have listened to yesterday's goofy memo about 42 times. And that's just in the last hour.

At some point, I realized that the manufacturers of my phone probably didn't create this feature specifically for two zany sisters who like to hear themselves make stupid jokes, so I set out to learn how I would ever put this tool to some serious use. After recording three more nutty memos, I finally hit upon it.

I use my phone to make snide remarks; I use my column to make snide remarks. I use my phone to record my goofiest thoughts; I use my column to record my goofiest thoughts. Why not use my memo feature to record ideas for my column? Ser-en-dip-ity-doo-dah! (Yes, I recorded myself saying that.)

This discovery was exciting on two levels. 1) Column ideas strike whenever they want to, often when I'm least able to write them down. Having this phone with its ingenious little memo system means never again having to scribble notes on old receipts or tissues only to lose them five minutes later. 2) Using my cell phone to help write my column makes it a business expense. HELLO, WRITE-OFF!

Currently, I have recorded 18 second memos on 3 future columns. I'd tell you what they are, but I'd hate to ruin the surprise. What I can say is that they are 54 seconds of comic perfection just waiting to be transferred onto the Mother Load file on my computer. I'll be doing that once I'm done listening to them over and over.

I've only heard the second one 87 times, so I figure it's good for another week or so.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Published September 16, 2006
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I have a new nickname at work these days. Well, to be honest, I'm not sure I had an old nickname...at least not one anyone wanted to share. The new one's not bad. It's growing on me. There are a lot worse things I could be called than "Betty Boop."

My new hair is the reason for the new nickname. After letting it grow down to my shoulder blades without so much as a trim in over a year, I decided the "sigh resignedly and twist it up with a clip" look had seen better days. I marched into a salon and gave the stylist carte blanche to do whatever she pleased.

Ahem. This is the first stylist who's ever been brave enough to actually cash the blank check. After clipping away looooong sections of my hair without letting me have so much as a peek, and then smacking my hand away any time I tried to see just how much she was cutting off, I ended up with a do that was much, much shorter than I expected, but so cute that I've just signed and notarized a contract in blood to actually maintain my haircut for once. I also liked it so much, I've decided to not press charges for her repeated assaults on my hand.

Hair is a funny thing...at least it is for me. My usual pattern is to walk into a salon, choose a picture, and say, "Make me look like that!" After a stylist finally gets her laughing under control, she explains all the reasons why "that" will never work for my curly hair/face shape/bone structure/climate/benefit of mankind (only once has a stylist said, "your weight"). Then she tells me what she thinks she should do, cuts it, styles it, and I go home feeling really good about this smart lady who didn't let me go through with what I wanted.

And then it's the next morning, and my shower has effectively washed out all the product that kept my hair looking like she made it look, and I'm again realizing that I have NO IDEA how to do hair! Let's consider this for a moment. If there's no way I can recreate the good look a stylist gives me anyway, why not just give me the look I really wanted in the first place, since I won't be able to do that one either???

That brings us back to the blank check cashing, long hair chopping, hand smacking stylist of my dreams. Not only did she take my hair in a direction it's never been before by "Booping" the heck out of it, she also took the time to walk me through each step of the styling process, using very small words, flash cards, and little songs she made up on the spot to help me remember. ("The hair gel goes before the pomade...the pomade goes before the hair spray...the hairspray works to keep the spikes up...now spike, Sarah, spike!")

The result of this second mile service is that I, Sarah "What have you DONE to your hair???" Wilson, have a hairdo I can actually DO! Is that worth a little pain and anguish over the suspense she put me through? YES! Is that worth a few bruises and welts? HECK, YES! Will I be going back for a trim sometime soon? OF COURSE!

I'll be wearing padding this time...but she's getting a good tip.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

I guess my vocabulary is showing...

Published September 9, 2006
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I remember a column I wrote about the contrast I saw between an MTV "reality" show and news coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In that column, I used the phrase, "the juxtaposition was striking, to say the least," to describe the intensity of emotion I felt in moving from one to the other.

A family member shared the column with her husband, to which he replied that I seemed to have an overactive need to use big words which probably stemmed from a desire to sound "smart." My response to this was that she should tell him that while it may seem that in my discriminating search for the appropriate words, I am flaunting my tremendous intellectual prowess, my affinity for large words is neither gratuitous nor exorbitant and certainly not founded in some pretentious obligation to self aggrandizement.

Actually, what I really said was that I am not so much interested in choosing large words, as I am interested in choosing the "right" words. In the aforementioned column, the words difference, or contrast or comparison would have all gotten the point across, but the word "juxtaposition" was simply the right word.

That being said, there are times when the right word is chosen from a list of large words that are so beautiful and perfect, so ME, I simply have to use them on a regular basis. For instance, the word "aforementioned" is on the list, and I have now used it twice. I'm giggly just thinking about it!

At the risk of inevitable flattery through imitation, I will share Sarah's Favorite Words of 2006 for those who'd like a peek into my world of words.

-Precipitous, expeditious, and accelerated. Because there's a funny irony in taking that long to describe something fast.

-Painstaking, meticulous, and minutiae, because I have a love/hate relationship with my desire to be precise in everything I do. I love it because I always have a chance at pulling it off. I hate it because I never actually do pull it off. Fortunately for me, I have the words either way.

-Ostentatious. If there were ever a word that screamed, "SARAH WILSON," this is it. Really...have you seen my hair lately?

-Melancholy. Because sometimes...you're just going to be.

As a writer, words are my life. If my choice of words comes off as pretentious or showy or, dare I say, ostentatious (double word SCORE!), just know my intentions are honorable. I strive not to impress my readers with delusions of verbal grandeur but to satisfy my own desire to say what I really mean in everything I write.

If I sound smart in the process...well, can I really help it?

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Coming out of the single mom closet.

Published September 2, 2006
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I will begin this column with the note that this is the column I was supposed to write last week. This fact led to a fairly funny situation at the youth treatment center where I work. I had shared with a colleague ahead of time my plan to write this column, so she expressed surprise at not finding it published in the Spectrum a week ago.

"Hey, I missed your 'coming out of the closet' column on Saturday," she said. "I looked and looked for it, but it wasn't there. I thought what you wrote was cute, but it wasn't what I was expecting."

I shared with her that I had chickened out and had written the column on silly high school mascots as an easy replacement, but that I planned to write the "coming out of the closet" column this week. This was the point in the conversation that I remembered I had a student with me and noticed the VERY interested questioning look on her face.

"Not THAT closet!" I said with a chuckle.

Today, I take my first, very public steps out of the single mom closet.

This announcement comes as no surprise to friends, neighbors, and coworkers who see me every day. I've been living the life of a single mom for the last 8 months, having joined the ranks in January. I've spent those months waiting for the "right time" to write this column. Apparently, that time was not last week, so here we are.

Being a single mom is a somewhat surreal experience. It's this "thing" you carry around with you...kind of like being a soccer mom or a PTA mom, only the single mom label is often spoken in hushed tones of either disdain or reverent awe.

This dichotomy of views on single motherhood has become very intriguing to me since stepping into this role. In the black and white of our nation's mind-set, I am either reviled as the downfall of society or revered as some superhero bound for glory. And here I am, somewhere in the middle wondering when I simultaneously grew horns AND a halo.

The statement I hear most often is, "I don't know how you do it." Sometimes those words are tinged with pity over my "plight" as a separated mom of five kids under ten. Other times, the person speaking it is looking at me as if I am the ultimate embodiment of modern day miracles. I start to wonder myself, "How DO I do it?"

In my day to day existence, not much has changed. I still wake up every morning and juggle the various responsibilities of life: family, work, church, bills, school, etc. Sure, I don't have that second pair of hands backing me up anymore, and yes, that can be a challenge.

The greatest truth I've found on this journey is that I am enough, and I am not enough. The key is knowing when I can dig deep and face a challenge alone and when it's time to call for help. Whether it's a mundane request for help setting up my swamp cooler or a frantic late-night call to my sitter for a spare pacifier, what I've found is people care. And that's how I do it.

Freed from my closet, I'm sure some will wonder if I'll consider changing the title of my column to "The Single Mother Load." Not a chance. I may be a single mom, but I'm not willing to let that define me. I'm not looking for pity or well intentioned accolades. I'm just a mom like any other, making do...

...as mother's do.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Go Beetdiggers! Dig! Dig! Dig!

It's back to school time, and high schools all over the country are in session or soon will be.  As I remember it, high school was a time of self discovery...that impressionable season of finding out who I really was.  According to the schools I attended, my greatest, most cherished identity came in the form of a hyperactive, costumed student terrorizing sporting events, doing cartwheels underneath an extremely disproportionate foam head.
 
The high school mascot is a funny thing.  I was one of the lucky ones.  From freshman to senior year, I attended three different Texas high schools: Rider High in Wichita Falls, H.M. King High in Kingsville, and Del Rio High in Del Rio.  At those high schools, I was expected to identify myself as a Raider, a Brahma Bull, and a Ram, respectively.  It could have been much worse.  A great deal of research has led me to the conclusion that when it comes to choosing mascots, some schools are completely out of their disproportionate foam heads.
 
Native Utahns knew I would start with Jordan High School, right here in our neck of the woods.  They're home to the famous fighting Beetdiggers.  Yikes.  I'm scared!  They might...I don't know...harvest my crops or something!  Equally intimidating are the Robstown Cottonpickers in Robstown, TX and the Mellen Wisconsin Granite Diggers.  But hold on...they're no match for the Cornjerkers, Appleknockers, Muleskinners, and Sheep Herders scattered throughout the U.S.  These teams mean business...agribusiness!
 
I found a few schools throughout the country whose emphasis on academics seemed to show through in their mascots.  The Annandale Atoms, the Franklin Electrons, and the Edison Inventors must represent schools with great science programs.  History buffs would love mascots like the Plymouth Pilgrims, the Columbus Discoverers, and the Normandy Invaders.  My personal favorite in this category are the Delphi Oracles.  It's a little obvious, but I can't seem to stop giggling every time I read it.  This is followed closely by the Fighting Quakers...and if you can't catch the irony in that, I can't help you.
 
Some schools seem to be priming their students for the occupations they can expect after graduating.  I wouldn't mind sending my children to become one of the Jane Adams Executives, the John Marshall Lawyers, or the Harlowtown Engineers.  I have to wonder what parents are thinking when they allow their kids to become one of the Cardoza Clerks, Newell Irrigators, or the Garfield G-Men.  If I had my pick, my kids would be Williamsport Millionaires. 
 
Some mascots are just randomly nutty.  I was quite surprised to see that Illinois has TWO high schools who choose pretzels as their mascots, as does a school in Pennsylvania.  Some school mascots left me drawing a complete blank.  I'm still researching to find out what a Hodag is.  Ditto on Orabs, Dux, Zizzers, Nimrods, and Larries.  Someday, I'll also know how anyone would ever be afraid to play the Kewpies, Orphan Annies, Alices, or the Berries.
 
If I ever have a high school named after me, I hope I get the right to choose the mascot.  I can't think of a task more appealing than determining the second half of the pep rally chant, "Gooooooooo _______!!!!!"  Rest assured, my mascot would be powerful, relevant, and extremely cool.
 
I had decided on the Wilson High School Chesty Lions, but Lawrence Memorial High in Kansas beat me to the punch. 
 

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Try it! You'll like it! Rah! Rah! Rah!

Published January 29, 2006
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

The other night, I decided to make one of my favorite meals from my childhood. It's nothing fancy, would never be referred to as gourmet, but it's comfort food for me. Just ground beef, brown gravy, and a bed of egg noodles, and I'm in home cooked heaven.

My children, unfortunately, weren't as sure. As I served my lovely, steaming creation, they eyed their plates suspiciously. Ray poked his noodles with his fork, as if afraid to wake the sleeping monster within. Miriam wrinkled her nose in her best little girl fashion. Evelyn asked what else there was to eat.
Doing my best to keep my voice light and happy, I told them all about my >childhood memories of this meal. I explained how their grandmother used to make this for me, how much I loved it, how good it tastes, and how I knew they would come to love it too. Like a cheerleader at a high school pep ally, I waved my metaphorical pom poms and practically sang, "I love noodles, yes I do! I love noodles, how 'bout YOU?"

And that's where I lost them. What I'm learning about kids, at least my kids, is that the more I build something up, the more likely they are to decide it's not worth their time at all. If my introduction goes over 15 seconds, they're bound to get smug, "The lady doth protest too much," looks on their faces and snap their mouths shut in protest.

I can certainly understand their logic, but I'm really not trying to pull a fast one at the dinner table. I genuinely like beef and noodles, and I'm sure they'd like it too, if they'd just give it a try. And my kids aren't picky eaters by any stretch of the imagination. They devour salad and beg or spinach juice and think broccoli's the best thing since cauliflower. That's why it's always such a shock when they refuse to try something >completely normal like beef and noodles.

What I'm trying to remember is that I was that kid too. I'm sure my mother >genuinely likes shrimp creole, eggplant parmesan, and granola (blech!). I'm sure she could do everything short of a three ring circus and skywriting to try and convince me I'd love them too. But if she put a plate of any of those in front of me, I'd wrinkle my nose and snap my mouth shut in protest.

I won't stop trying to get my kids to try new cuisine, but I do think I'll change the method of delivery. Instead of touting all the wonderful >qualities of a new dinner I make, I think I'll try telling them it's the most disgusting thing they'll ever taste, and I don't think any of them is brave enough to try it.

And if they fall for that, I've got a few fences they can paint too.