Sunday, December 28, 2008

Universe, let's take this outside.

Published December 28, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Thursday is the first day of a brand new year, and while I know there are many of you out there wondering where 2008 went (and even more wondering where 1988 went), there’s no going back. It’s time to make resolutions, so sharpen your pencils and start making that list. I’ll go first. #1 Uhhhhhhhh.

New Year’s resolutions are kind of hard to make when you’re on year three of achieving everything on your list. I don’t mean to brag, (oh, but I do) but when you accomplish what I’ve accomplished in just one year’s time, you kind of set the bar pretty high. This year, I resolved that I would marry my best friend, move, transfer to a bigger school, bump my schoolwork up to full time, all the while working a full time job and maintaining an A average. The resolutions? They are in the bag.

This year, like every year, I’m faced with the problem of either sticking with the same resolutions, which are pretty hefty in and of themselves, or topping the previous year’s achievements. Look again at what I’ve managed to do this year. HOW do I top that? If you’re not one to tempt fate, you don’t realize the problem inherent in asking that question. I am one to tempt fate, and I still asked the question, and fate had the answer with a sucker punch to my right knee.

No, really. Fate took out my right knee. With no more than a moment’s warning, the universe said, “Sarah, I have your resolutions for this year, and they involve surgery and at least 6 or 7 months of physical therapy. Are ya up for it?” Those who tempt fate know that when fate asks a question, it’s ridiculously rhetorical. Before I could answer with a resolute, “Um…no?” my ACL snapped like a cracked rubber band and all I had to say for myself was, “Haaaaooooooly gaaaaaaaaahhh! What just happened?”

I’m here to warn you. If you actively pursue wisdom and growth, life will give you wisdom and growth, most often of the painful variety. If you decide you’ve grown and struggled quite enough, thankyouverymuch, life will NOT get the message. I blame Einstein. He theorized that an object in motion tends to stay in motion and someone in the growth department at the universe said, “Hey! That’s not half bad! Let’s see what we can do with that.”

The contrarian in me wants to rebel, but the rest of me has experienced enough growth and gained enough wisdom to let the rebellious part of me go (darn it all!). Having had enough of these character building experiences in the past tells me that I have to take this character building experience for what it is...a blessing, a challenge, and a preparation for the next character building experience life throws at me.

But I don’t have to take it lying down. If the universe wants to write my big resolution this year, I’ll let it, but the other ones are mine. ALL MINE! DO YOU HEAR ME, GROWTH DEPARTMENT? YOU DON’T GET TO HAVE THE REST!

So, this year, I resolve to have my ACL replacement surgery, work very hard in physical therapy, and climb to the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park in August, and stand there, triumphant, having overcome my injury while working and going to school full time…with an A average, to boot. I ALSO resolve to, uh, get my hair cut every eight weeks, um, use my new Kitchenaid mixer every time I make a cake, and…and…SMILE AT STRANGERS EVERY DAY! Try to top THAT, universe!

No, wait. Just kidding. We’re good.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A good Christmas

Published December 21, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I’ve been pondering over the last week what it means to have a “good Christmas.” Someone I know lectured mea week ago that the gifts I’m giving my children this year just aren’t up to snuff. According to this knowledgeable buttinsky, a “good Christmas” is what my kids want and need, and as a parent, it’s what I’m obligated to give them. For those not in the know, in this person’s opinion a “good Christmas” involves spending more money on presents for my kids than I paid for a month’s rent in my last home.

Wow…just…wow.

If the quality of the holiday is inextricably tied to the quantity of the presents I give my kids, then I’ve been a poor parent, indeed. Having been the recipient of many a good Christmas in conditions that were dire financially, I know better than to believe that. If there were a ghost of Christmas past to guide me through my life, I’d probably find my best Christmases were those in which money was more than a little tight.

Christmas 1986 was particularly lean. My parents had just divorced, and my mom and her five children had moved back to Oklahoma, the only place in our nomadic existence of military moves that seemed like home. I know we got by, because I’m here to tell of it, but I know we didn’t have much to live on, and we had even less for Christmas. But we had a warm house, a lovely tree, carols we could sing to our neighbors, a turkey someone left on our doorstep, and each other. That was a good Christmas.

I remember another year, things were looking up and my mother was even talking about buying lights for the house because we had a little extra. It was that day we realized that through a tragic but completely understandable mistake, the boxes of Christmas decorations Mom had collected for 20 years had been set next to the thrift store pile in a recent move. Everything was gone. Hearing of our plight, a group of people in charge of a dance for teenagers asked each teen to bring an ornament for a tree as admission. That tree was later delivered to our house. That was a good Christmas.

How well I remember my first Christmas as a single mom, walking through a thrift store in search of Sunday clothes that looked brand new and books my kids might like to read. How well I remember the happy faces as the kids opened those presents and exclaimed their appreciation. There were many other gifts, dropped at our door by generous and often anonymous people, but my kids seemed most excited by the inexpensive gifts they got from me. Maybe they really loved the dresses and the books or maybe they knew all along and only wished to spare my feelings. Either way, that was a good Christmas.

If spending money on expensive gifts is what makes a good Christmas for some people, I sorrow for their Christmases when money is tight. At this time, when more and more people are struggling to pay their bills and keep ahead of gloomy economic forecasts, it’s nice to know a good Christmas is really about love and good will, smiles and songs, friendship and family.

And at its most basic level, a good Christmas is about a young couple, arriving in a strange place with nowhere to stay but a stable full of animals and no gifts to give each other but the baby that was born there.

That was a good Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More pond sludge, please!

Published December 14, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Of all the holiday traditions in which I revel this time of year, my favorite will always be cooking the Thanksgiving leftovers. There’s just something magical about taking one meal and creatively reimagining its contents as another. It’s kind of like a jazz variation on a classical masterpiece. It just gets better.

Every year, I do something different with the leftovers from my Thanksgiving turkey, but I’m much less adventurous with the meat from my ham. The leftovers from my Thanksgiving hams go straight into a pot full of wonderful, delectable split peas. Split pea soup is the most tasty dish of my holiday fare, overflowing with ham, onions, carrots, spices, and the thick, green goodness of my favorite legume. Yup, split pea soup is a big pot of hearty comfort in a world full of strained broth.

Of course, split pea soup is not your most attractive soup in the soup family. It’s not even marginally attractive. It’s like homemade chicken noodle’s super ugly stepsister…the one they hide from Prince Charming because they know that even if the glass slipper fits, he’s probably not going to want to take her home. It’s harsh, but it’s honest.

I actually can’t think of a soup that looks worse than split pea. Far from images of love and comfort, the sight of a big bowl of split pea soup often evokes in most people thoughts of diseased pond sludge and three day old vomit. I apologize if I’m catching you in the middle of your Sunday brunch, but you were thinking sludge the minute you thought of the soup. I just put it into words. Don’t kill the sludge messenger, people.

It’s hard to reconcile the taste with the look sometimes. When I put out that stew pot and watch my kids’ faces contort around such articulations as , “Ewwwwww!” and, “Blech!” and, “Have we done something to displease you, Mother?” I can’t really blame them. No amount of raving about the excellent taste will get them to eat more than a few bites…the obligatory amount required before they’re allowed to make themselves a sandwich. I have high hopes that as they mature, they’ll realize this soup is actually quite delicious. Until then, well, MORE FOR ME!

Thinking about this makes me wonder about another holiday “treat” whose looks don’t exactly make my mouth water. The fact that manufacturers continue to make fruitcake leads me to believe that there are people out there who actually enjoy it. I just can’t see an entire industry surviving from sales of a product that every recipient gags over and then throws away, can you? I guess it’s possible that regifting occurs, but the fruitcake maker doesn’t see additional profits from that.

Okay. So, it looks like a bunch of shrunken, desiccated organs suspended in the gelatinous mass of a science experiment gone horribly wrong. If split pea soup is any indication, those looks could be deceiving me. And if I expect my kids to take a few bites of soup, despite what the sight does to their gag reflexes, I shouldn’t have a problem taking a few bites of fruitcake, right?

*Indistinct retching *

All kidding aside, I don’t think there’s a sandwich on earth good enough to make that happen.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stupid products of 2008

Published December 7, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Christmas is the season for giving, and for many people, that means it’s the season for buying. All over the country, people are filling carts and signing receipts, but according to government reports, not at a fast enough rate. Apparently, if you’re a “good” citizen, you’ll get out there and spend, spend, spend our economy back into the black (you’ll be in the red, but it’s for the greater good).

While you decide just how much a patriotic amount of debt you’re able to take on, I’m doing the homework regarding what you should buy. Actually, I’m here to let you know what not to buy this holiday season. The government may not like this, but I can’t let innocent people buy stupid things. It’s my duty as a human. We’ll call it The Mother Load’s Guide to the Most Useless Buys of 2008.

First up, we have Bible Illuminated: The Book. Book is kind of a misnomer, as this version of the bible has more of a magazine quality to it. Printed by a publisher in Sweden, this was the brainchild of a proudly non-religious Swedish ad exec who thought that the Good Book needed a younger, hipper feel. Alongside scripture, you’ll find glossy pictures of Angelina Jolie, Bono, and John Lennon, among others. I could go on and talk about the political interpretation of Revelations, but do I really need to? If you want your kids to read the Bible…dust off the one in the front room and have a go.

Hoping to further cash in on the wild popularity of the Guitar Hero video games (and in a possible attempt to dumb down the product for people who aren’t coordinated enough to play a fake guitar) the folks at Jada Toys have brought us Guitar Hero Air Guitar Rocker. Oh, how I wish I were joking. It’s a belt buckle/guitar pick sensor combo attached to a tiny “amplifier” that gives you points for being the best air guitarist in the room. Sure, at just under $30, it’s cheaper than actual guitar lessons, but free form air guitar is, well, free. If you want points, I’ll be happy to give them to you at no cost. I gave that guy in the intersection 1000 points just the other day.

Next up, Elmo Live, a walking, talking, falling, storytelling little robot Elmo. There are a couple of things wrong with this toy. First, it’s Elmo. Second, it’s live. The one redeeming quality it has is that it intentionally falls down from time to time. If you buy this for your child, I suggest a trip to the Grand Canyon…or Niagara Falls…or Mount Everest.

If your loved one likes to sing, you might be thinking of getting him or her the American Idol Talent Challenge DVD Game. This comes with a microphone with a very exciting echo effect, circa 1984, and allows its players to sing along with actual Idol contestants from past years and receive actual comments made by the judges. That’s right. Because nothing says, “I love you,” like letting your friends and family get heckled by an arrogant, talentless man before they embarrass themselves by trying to achieve their dreams or something.

Finally, and this one makes the joke for me, people, we have the Fisher Price Smart Cycle. Created as an attempt to curb the growing problem of childhood obesity, this exercise bike is preschool sized and plugs into your TV…the better to let your chubby children play video games while they ride. There are no words…except these: Might we possibly consider the influence video games have had on childhood obesity and NOT use them in the obesity cure? I know, I know. I’m talking crazy.

Call me a bit of a product Grinch, but I think there are better buys out there for you this holiday season. These products aren’t completely awful, but they’re not on par with exciting gifts like fruitcake and socks and underwear and genetically altered, killer houseplants. Now, if Elmo played air guitar while riding an exercise bike, reading the Bible, and getting heckled by Idol’s Simon Cowell, I might have something different to say.

I’d still suggest a trip to the Grand Canyon…just in case.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Published November 30, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

In my mind right now, my life is an inspirational movie about a young, female boxer about to take on the fight of her life. No, no, I’m not contemplating assisted suicide. It’s not “Million Dollar Baby.” Think “Rocky” on estrogen.

Syrupy voiced boxing announcer: “In the right corner, we have (ahem) heavyweight champion Sarah Clark! In the left corner, we have the heavyweight contender, in fresh form and ready to fight: The Holidays! This could be the fight of the century! Let’s get ready to RUMBLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!”

Crusty boxing coach: “Okay, Sarah…this guy’s big and he’s mean and he’s no stranger to fighting dirty, but you can beat him! I want you to get in there and give him your famous left hook right off. He’s gonna try and get you with the gingergbread sucker punch and the turkey kidney shot, but you know how to deal with those. Don’t back down. Give it all you’ve got! You can win this! You’re the greatest! You’re the champ!”

Me: “And we throw in the towel when?”

I’m a little stressed. Can you tell?

To say my life is busy is to say Niagara Falls is a small leak over a couple of medium sized rocks. At this time in my life, I am a wife, a mother of five, a full time employee, a full time student, and an active volunteer at my church. I’m able to keep my sanity and get things done with a interesting mix of organization, determination, slave labor from the kids, random acts of kindness from my husband, and frequent breaks in which I just sit around and stare off into space...and drool…and sometimes cry. Overall, it’s a good balance.

Enter the holiday season. Holy Juggling, Batman! I don’t think we’ll get out of this one alive!

If I had a Batplane, I’d be in Tahiti right now. Don’t get me wrong. I love the holidays. I love baking pies and making gifts and decorating the house in red and green. I just think I’d appreciate all of that more in Tahiti…far, far away from finals and field reports and time clocks and domestic violence groups and choir programs and vacuums and laundry soap and did I mention drooling and crying?

Crusty boxing coach: “What kind of talk is this? You’re the champ! You do more in one day than most people do in a week AND you have an A average! Are you going to let a little holiday knock you out in the first round?”

Me: “I don’t know. Are YOU going to embroider Richard’s stocking for the wreath and cross stitch his stocking for the fireplace? Are YOU going to finish the sketches of the kids for their Christmas presents? Are YOU going to bake up decadent treats for the neighbors and plan a Christmas program for church and keep a choir of juvenile offenders motivated until concert day? Are YOU going to take my Ethics final three days after getting your wisdom teeth out and then prepare the food you’ll need to bring to the family Christmas party? Well, ARE YOU?!”

Crusty boxing coach: “No. Because I’m not the champ. I’m just the crusty old guy who trains the champ and then dies of a heart attack to give you a dead hero to live up to. I’m just the…*gurgle* *sputter*…pain…in my…chest…Champ, win this one...for…me…” (Collapses).

Me: “Nice try, Crusty. Now bust out the embroidery floss before I give you my famous left hook.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It could always be worse.

Published November 23, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Thanksgiving during an economic crisis puts many in an interesting position. If things aren’t going well in your life, it might be hard to have an attitude of gratitude. There are probably people telling you that you should focus on what you have. I do not disagree. But in this time of economic uncertainty, when people are out of homes and out of jobs, and others are sure to follow, maybe it’s better to flip that sentiment on its head. Maybe it’s time to embrace a different mantra…it could always be worse.

Some might think that uttering those words is a classic example of a person tempting fate. I disagree. I don’t think people who think this way truly understand the meaning of fate. I mean, fate is fixed. It’s unchangeable. It can’t really be tempted. If things are going to get worse, they’ll get worse regardless of what you say, right? I’m just saying that even then, they could always be worse.

Someone out there is thinking, “I got pounded by the sub-prime mortgage debacle. I got laid off because my company made cuts. I don’t even know how I’ll manage Christmas for my kids or rent for next month or that operation I need so badly. On top of that, my wife left me for my best friend, my truck broke down, and my dog just died. I’m one tragedy away from a bad country song. HOW on earth could things possibly get worse?”

Legionnaire’s disease…that’s how. Did you ever stop to think about how much worse things would be if you had Legionnaire’s disease? Probably not. On Thanksgiving Day, if you have nothing else for which to be thankful, you can bow your head and say, “God, I’m grateful I don’t have Legionnaire’s Disease.”

And what if you do? Believe me…it could always be worse. Ever heard of amoebic dysentery? How about leprosy? The plague? I’ve bet you’ve never even had typhoid fever or even one bout of scurvy. Most people younger than I am haven’t even had chicken pox. Imagine having chicken pox right now.

When you look around at the rain of misfortune that keeps pouring down upon your life, imagine how much harder it would be to deal with if your home were overrun by genetically altered laboratory rats with really big teeth and the ability to reason. I know I’m grateful I’m not fighting off those guys right now.

And just think. Isn’t it nice that our country’s recession isn’t just a side note to a poorly timed reincarnation of carnivorous dinosaurs? Isn’t it nice to know that even if you didn’t vote for President-elect Obama, he’s probably not actually a killer robot sent to earth from the planet Zarcon to prepare for the coming invasion. I don’t know about you, but I’d take partisan politics and questionable economic policy over that any day.

If none of this makes you feel better, all is not lost. Things are still better off than they could be. If you can’t find even one thing to be grateful for, just hold out until Turkey Day and let the folks at Red Rock Canyon School find it for you. (Former employee shout out! Hi guys! Miss you!) Head on over to their location at 747 E. St. George Blvd any time from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner on them. You’ll enjoy great food, live music, and a much needed case of the warm fuzzies as you bow your head and say, “God, I’m grateful that even though my life is turning into a country song, at least I didn’t have to cook today.”

Of course, if you have Legionnaire’s Disease, you may want to call ahead.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Published November 16, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

The other day, as I was studiously working on my geography homework, I noticed I had a new email from a member of my class. This student was looking for a partner with whom she could share the work of the time intensive field report project we’re all supposed to have been working on for the last three months. I shook my head in disbelief, wondering how on God’s green (and highly geographical) earth she ever expected to complete the project with only a week and a half to go before its due date.

You know that part in movies where people are listening to music and someone unwanted walks in the room and there’s a sound of a record being scratched and then everything just stops? There are moments in my life when I hear that scratched record and everything in my consciousness just stops and I’m left saying, “A-buuuuuuhhhhhhh” for a few confusing moments. This was one of those moments.

The imaginary music stopped for me when I realized I was not the person who wrote the email in question. How could this be? I am the procrastination queen! I wrote the book on procrastination. Well, I’ll write the book when I get around to it. How is it possible that I started working on this assignment only a week after it was given and will be turning it in nearly a week before it’s due? Who am I and what have I done with myself?

Being someone who thrives on personal change and progress, it’s always disconcerting when I realize I’ve made some big change for the better without even meaning to. The more I think about it, the more I realize I’ve been treating all of my schoolwork like this since going back to college in 2007. Not only that, but I also registered to vote immediately upon moving here, and I registered my car on time, and I got all the kids registered for school a month before the start of classes.

Somewhere during the last few years, I hit and surpassed a milestone, and I haven’t even been able to brag about it until now!

When faced with a situation like this, I do what any normal, American woman would do. I embrace denial. If I developed the maturity and organizational skills to stop procrastinating without even realizing it, the only thing to do is to start procrastinating again and grow and progress again…but this time on purpose!

Yeah, that’s not going so well. I decided to start by procrastinating while I wrote this column, visiting other websites rather than write. So what did I do? I ordered my husband’s Christmas present…with 42 days to go before the big day. Then I sent an email to my Ethics instructor, to get a head start on studying for this weekend’s big test. It seems even when I try to procrastinate, I avoid procrastinating.

I don’t know what this means for the future I dreamed about. Now that I finally have it in me to organize meetings of Procrastinator’s Anonymous, write my definitive work, Better Left ‘til Tomorrow, and go on a procrastinator’s support tour, I’m no longer able to represent procrastinator’s at all. Nobody’s going to believe a procrastinator who actually meets deadlines.

I know I should take comfort in the fact that my book, Organizing for the Reformed Procrastinator, is already halfway finished, but I’m too busy accomplishing things to notice.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Choosing battles

Published November 9, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I write this, there is a lovely blanket of snow on the ground and much more than a little chill in the air outside my house. My school-aged children are bundled up against the elements, the better to make the quick walk around the corner and into the warmth of their elementary school. That is, all of my children except my oldest.

My nearly 12-year-old boy is at what I’m beginning to refer to as the “Age of Arguing.” He’s actually been there for a few years, but now that he’s almost a teenager it’s somehow easier to take. Today, he hurried off to school in a knee length pair of shorts and nothing more than a single sweatshirt to keep out the cold, proclaiming mightily, “I don’t need a coat! I never wear a coat! It doesn’t even feel cold to me!”

Now, I’m the kind of gal who likes to walk in puddles barefoot on a chilly morning just for the invigorating rush, so I kind of see where he’s at here, but the barefoot gal gets a little more uptight when she’s thinking like a mom. I see one of my kids jumping through icy puddles and my mothering instincts kick in with a loud, “Get your hiney inside and put on some shoes!” It’s either instinct or fear of what all the other mothers will think…

I let Ray head off to school in his highly inappropriate clothing because I’ve decided to experiment with a parenting concept that’s always been very hard for me. As his shoes pounded the soggy pavement, my feet padded back and forth across my kitchen floor, keeping time with a rhythmic, “Choose your battles…choose your battles…choose your battles.”

I’m afraid to admit that I’m the kind of mom who has a very hard time choosing battles. The phrase has always been a bit of a puzzle for me. I hear, “Choose your battles,” and I think, Of course! I choose EVERY battle! I’m the MOM, aren’t I?

What I’m grudgingly learning is that there’s a lot to be said for allowing a kid to learn from experience when the experience isn’t completely life threatening. It was cold this morning, but not dangerously so. If the temperatures dip even lower, he’ll probably choose pragmatism over power struggles and decide to put on a coat. The good news is that it will be his decision at that point, not mine, and that will earn me a few points in the “trusted counselor vs nagging despot” battle.

And those are points I’m going to use. I’m not giving up these battles without the future in mind. I’m keeping track of each and every time I let something go in the name of choosing battles, because someday, there will be a REALLY important battle I’ll have to choose, and that, my friends, will call for some major ammo.

“Ray, I know you’re 16 and think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to go to Cancun with your friends for Spring Break without any adult supervision, but I disagree. If you look at the battle spreadsheet with me, I think you’ll find that I have stepped back from battling with you on your choice of friends, your hair style and color, each and every girl you’ve dated, your after school job, and your decidedly Democratic political leanings. That’s 10,873 battles you have been spared because of my herculean efforts at self control. Buddy, you owe me. You’re going to the Grand Canyon with your family, AND THAT’S FINAL!” (Cue sound of battle-ending nuclear explosion.)

Saving up non-chosen battles and using them as scores later is probably not what the experts had in mind when they came up with this parenting theory, and I’m sure it has potential to backfire if I actually put it into practice. Give me some time. I’m new at this. I’ll probably just keep tabs in my head to make me feel better about it.

But I’m totally bringing out the spreadsheet if he ever says he wants to go to BYU.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election day tips

Published November 2, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

After months of mudslinging, pandering, and begging for votes, it’s finally here. Election day is Tuesday. It’s time to “Rock the Vote.” I don’t really know what it means to rock a vote, but I’m going to vote on Tuesday, no matter what. I’ll probably wear my Aerosmith t-shirt and walk in with a hippy swagger, just in case.

There’s a lot of talk in the national media about potential disenfranchisement of voters. Conspiracy theories abound. It doesn’t help that so many of them are supported by actual cases of unconscionable behavior by political party activists and certain elected officials. Add to that the fact that existing numbers of voting machines may not be enough to accommodate record numbers of new voters, and you’ve got the makings of a debacle of Bush/Gore 2000 proportions.

Never fear. I’ve spent at least 14 minutes pondering this situation, and I have some ideas for avoiding disenfranchisement at the polls. Follow my suggestions, and I can guarantee your vote will count (unless you’re voting Democrat in Utah. There’s really nothing I can do about that.)

First, don’t believe anything you get in the mail that isn’t your actual voter registration card. No matter how official a form looks, if it tells you there’s a problem with your registration or your polling place, make sure you verify, verify, verify. Whether you make a phone call or find up-to-date information online, get the facts before you decide not to vote. The only way to know for sure if you’re on the rolls is to make an appearance at your polling place and see for yourself. If you registered in enough time, chances are, you’re on the list.

Now that you’ve made it to the polls, be careful whom you trust. There may be unsavory people lying in wait to rob you of your rights. If anyone tells you he can get you out of there more quickly if you just vote on his machine, don’t fall for it. It’s a lie, and it’s downright un-American. Everyone with half a brain knows our system of government is based on a longstanding (heh) tradition of waiting in lines.

Once you make it to the election judges, you will have to verify that you are, in fact, who you say you are. In this situation, less is not more. Bring every form of ID you own. Driver license, social security card, credit cards, voter registration card, wholesale club membership card, work I.D. badge, everything. Make sure you don’t forget your library card. While there are no longer laws on the books that require proof of literacy before a citizen votes, a library card could improve our chances if the election judge just happens to be a retired English teacher.

Finally, when the time comes for you to actually vote, take it slow. If you’re confused, ask for help. If the machine malfunctions, ask for help. If you are in any way concerned that your vote didn’t count, ASK FOR HELP! Poll workers aren’t just trained in checking names and giving out stickers and candy, though if you need help with your sticker or candy, you can certainly ask for help with that.

If after doing all of these things, you find yourself disenfranchised, you can take comfort in the fact that millions of new voters were able to rock the vote, and at least one of them voted the way you would have. And of course, there were probably thousands of others who were also disenfranchised who would have voted against your candidate. It’s a small consolation, but it should help a little bit.

And if it doesn’t, there’s always the candy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Put my restless legs to work

Published October 26, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Much has been said this election season about our dependence on foreign oil. Whether you’re a republican or a democrat or none of the above, this is an issue you should be worried about. For me, the issue is not only related to foreign oil, but our country’s continued dependence on all fossil fuels. Sure, they have their place, and I wouldn’t want to live without heat in my home. I just think it’s time we work a little harder on developing existing sources of renewable energy and finding new ones.

This is where I get really excited. Cue the jumping and the squealing and the collapse into smug self satisfaction.

Folks, I’m no energy expert, but I’ve got a creative brain in my head, and I’ve found what could be the most compelling answer to the energy crisis facing the world today. I have discovered a completely untapped source of renewable energy, a veritable gold mine of potential. This. Could. Change. Everything.

Ladies, and gentlemen, I’m talking about Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). This is a condition that has afflicted me for as long as I can remember (and I’m sure for even longer than that). Inherited from my mother, “Wiggly Feet Willie” Braudaway, RLS is a condition that causes me to keep my toes, feet, or legs in almost constant motion. Even as I write, my bare feet resting on the legs of my computer chair, I feel the comforting wiggling of my two big toes, beating a happy left-left, right-right, left-left, right-right cadence in the air above my family room floor.

I don’t know what causes RLS…maybe a mineral or vitamin deficiency…maybe a “Gotta Dance!” mentality. What I do know is that it’s with me nearly 20 hours a day. That’s 140 hours a week of movement. Sometimes it’s just an ankle wiggle. Sometimes it’s a full foot figure eight. Most often, it’s a rhythm between my two feet: a tap-tap right and a bob-bob left. On a bad day, it’s a very frequent need to streeeeeetch my full legs out in front of me, circling my ankles and flexing my toes.

Do I like living with RLS? No. What would make it better? Knowing my condition could help millions of Americans keep the heat on without the use of coal or oil or nuclear power. Seriously, people, with the right technology, I could power an entire city block during one hour-long training meeting at work.

Speaking of technology, you should know I have no idea how we could actually convert RLS movement into storable and ultimately usable energy. I’m a fidgety idea woman, not a scientist. Fortunately for all of us, the planet is teeming with scientists. All we have to do is find the scientist who wants to put my plan into action.

I know Washing ton politics have never been a friend of renewable energy, what with big oil companies courting politicians with campaign donations and questionable “gifts” (coughbribescough). I’m not afraid to jump into that political game. I may not have a lot of money to throw at the big wigs in the east, but I have some skills. I made a pumpkin bundt cake with a chocolate glaze the other day that would bring Congress to its knees. Throw in a few of my homemade cinnamon rolls and a mouthwatering pot roast so delicious it nearly makes my husband cry and we’re in the energy business, people.

I don’t know how long this will take to develop, but the good news is that this energy is 100% available…right now. And now. And now. Over the course of writing this, I’ve gone from the toe wiggle to an ankle shake, and hundreds of kilowatts of energy were there for the taking. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to take a good hard look at this possibility. That’s right. I want this for the children. It’s all about the children.

Of course, if it pans out, I will expect to never have to pay taxes again, and I wouldn’t sniff at a Nobel prize…

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Got lactose intolerance?

Published October 19, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I was driving to work the other day, I heard what I’m sure was supposed to be a funny commercial. In the ad, a pretentiously voiced actor playing the role of scientist reminded listeners that humans are the only animals in nature who don’t stop drinking milk after childhood. I immediately assumed it was a public service announcement intended to raise awareness about the dangers of milk consumption.

Oh, but I was wrong. Sponsored by dairy farmers, this commercial instead made the point that Mother Nature made a great, big mistake with animals everywhere, and that we humans are just smarter than nature, hence our daily milk habit. Not only that, the “scientist” in question made the additional claim that if a grown sheep were to drink milk, he just might end up smart enough to take your job.

Let’s discuss, shall we?

This sheep…would he be drinking sheep’s milk or cow’s milk? Would a sheep prefer the milk of its own species, or would cow’s milk be superior? I mean, I drink cow’s milk, and I can’t really afford to lose my job. I need to size up the milk-drinking competition and make sure I’m on the same bandwagon, or should I say milk wagon?

Let’s assume for the moment that this sheep has access to both types of milk. It only makes sense that the sheep would prefer the milk of its own species over that of another. A new question arises, then. If I want to remain competitive with a sheep, would it be better for me to drink sheep’s milk, or should I follow his lead and stick closer to home? I am, after all, a human. I’m not sure where I could find a steady supply of human milk (I mean, I have friends with nursing babies…but we’re not that close).

Obviously, I’m taking a facetious perspective on the whole milk thing. It makes no sense whatsoever in my highly developed brain that we humans are drinking a beverage that was meant for the gut of a calf. Every argument I hear in support of milk drinking (up to 24 ounces a day?) follows the same nonsensical line into my brain and right back out of it.

Lactating mothers: Drink lots of milk so you can make lots of milk…never mind that cow behind the curtain who provides milk for millions of Americans without so much as a sip! Aging women and men: Drink lots of milk to prevent osteoporosis. Why, in Asian countries, osteoporosis is much less prevalent than in America, and they drink…uh, very little milk. Hmmmmm.
Everyone: Drink lots of milk to get your adequate daily supply of calcium. What? The more milk you drink the LESS calcium your body can absorb, you say? Huh.

I say all of this admitting that I do drink milk from time to time. Why do I drink milk? Because it’s the only thing that tastes “right” on my cereal or after a sticky peanut butter and jelly sandwich or with a couple of cookies. It’s a secondary food…an accessory, really. It’s basically a condiment. I just drink it with my eyes wide open, knowing it’s not really meant for me, and there will be more consequences than benefits with every swallow. I have much the same relationship with steak, candy bars, and talk radio.

I’m not about to buy into a load of bull from dairy farmers who want me to believe that I’m doomed without regular visits to a bovine wet nurse. Truth be told, I went dairy-free for 18 months a few years ago, and I’m on the verge of doing it again, only this time, for good. Strangely enough, I don’t at all fear losing my job to a four legged animal.

And considering all those sheep out there who are smart enough NOT to drink milk…well, maybe Mr. Dairy should update his resume.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Published October 12, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I remember back in my teenage girlhood, I used to participate in an annual, weeklong tradition called “Girls Camp.” The leaders of these well organized expeditions hoped to teach us skills for survival that would put us in line with the skills our boy scout counterparts had known since they were eight. Among other things, we had to learn to tie knots, build fires, cook outside, and give first aid.

A good experience for an impressionable youth, right? The problem I encountered with my “education” at girls’ camp was that there was no practical application involved in learning these skills. When it came time for the second year girls to build a woodpile, we’d line up, one of us would build a woodpile, the leaders would sign her off, knock it down, and the next girl would take her turn. Everything I learned was quickly forgotten, simply because I was only doing it for the signature.

Enter my fourth year leaders, hardy individuals with backgrounds in scouting. They divided us into campsites and then told us we were on our own for the first two days. If we wanted to eat, bathe, receive first aid, or otherwise avoid gruesome, camping related deaths, we’d have to use the skills in our books without help from our leaders. Our food was sent to us in boxes prior to each meal time, and you can bet we didn’t knock our woodpile down.

I learned a valuable lesson that summer. Never again would I learn something just for the sake of saying I’d learned it. If I was going to spend my time in a class, I’d darn well better have some use for that knowledge when I was through. In fact, I dropped out of trigonometry my senior year of high school for that very reason and took Theater Arts instead. (The fact that the trig teacher was an arrogant blowhard who had no concept of what the word “teach” meant helped a little, but only just.)

So, here I am, nearly midterm in my semester at college, and it’s time to make an accounting of what I’ve learned and how I plan to go about using it. For reference, I’m pursuing a degree in psychology and am currently taking Philosophy, Ethics, Evolution of Human Nature, and Geography.

Right…geography…because when we’re dealing with a troubled mind, it helps to know the climate of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The whole “well rounded education” principle involved in the pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree has me baffled. I’m going to school with the goal of advancing in my career, a career which does not in any way involve the study of weather, climate systems, rock formations, or the hydrologic cycle. I’m scrambling for a way to use what I’m learning in my ever day life, and I’m coming up short each time. I’m afraid I am, in essence, knocking down the woodpile with this class.

OK, so it’s a challenge. I can handle a challenge. Somehow, I have to figure out how to justify my knowledge of the seasonal path of the trade winds, latitude and longitude , soil characteristics, weather prediction, and groundwater collection. The only thing I can think of is the rare possibility that I might someday be shipwrecked on a tropical island and will have to survive and feed myself as well as figure out where I am and how to get back to civilization. I’m unsure as to whether or not creating just such an emergency in order to use this knowledge would be venerable or just plain silly. I might have to console myself with the fact that IF I were stranded, I COULD find my way back and just leave it at that.

Of course, once I realize that I’ll need trigonometry to actually plot my latitude and longitude, it will already be too late.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Published October 5, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

We have become a nation of text messagers. Everywhere you go, you see people, cell phones in hand, tapping out messages to friends and family. I’m not stranger to the text message phenomenon. Frankly, I love it. It’s the most convenient form of communication since talking! If you haven’t started texting yet, I highly recommend it. Just make sure you’re ready for the somewhat unsettling addition of “predictive text” to your life.

My first experience with this came at two in the morning when a former coworker (a nurse) sent me a text message that read, “Hey, I quit my job! You need to call of in the morning and tell of who did off pass.” I was perplexed. I responded that his text didn’t make any sense and received an even more perplexing reply: “Sorry. Under the influence of T-9.” I thought he was telling me he was on drugs, and I actually cried a little and wondered what I could do to help him..

A quick call to my sister the next morning set the record straight. T-9 is just a harmless program in a cell phone that predicts the words you’re trying to type based on the sequence of numbers you’ve pushed. My friend was trying to say, “You need to call me in the morning and tell me who did med pass.” Because “of” and “me” are both produced when typing 6-3, and since “of” is more often used, the predictive text program automatically wrote that when my friend meant to write “me.” Same thing with “off” and “med,” or 6-3-3.

Once you learn how to use predictive text, you’ll find it’s, for the most part, user friendly and convenient. The occasional substitution isn’t a problem if you’re vigilant. Any time I type the word me, I now automatically press the down button to avoid the “of” mistake my friend made. I also know that when I try to type “if,” my phone will type “he,” and when I try to type “no,” my phone will type “on.”

After nearly three years of using predictive text, I’ve made some interesting discoveries:

* Predictive text can not predict every word…unless you’re speaking Old English. Through extensive study, I’ve found that my phone knows every old English word I can possibly think of, including thee, thee, maketh, methinks, begat, begot, betwixt and betrothed . It seems the makers of predictive text assume its users are all texting each other about the upcoming Renaissance Fair. This fact becomes even more interesting when you realize your phone does NOT know words like spinach, pretzel, burrito, and clarinet. (When you try to type the latter two, the phone dreams up strange food item called a currito and a mythical instrument called a blarinet .)

* Predictive text does not do compound words…except when it does. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I can type backpack and backyard but not backpedal. I can type checkbook but not checkup. Cupboard, but not cupcake. Landlord, but not landmine. My personal favorite: I can type daydream. I can type dreaming. But I can not type daydreaming. Apparently, my phone wants my head out of the clouds. Any attempt at typing daydreaming produces the obvious insult, “daydreamhog.”

* Predictive text is often thought-provoking. It’s interesting to note that when typing game, you are also typing hand. When typing kiss, you also type lips. Typing book lets you also type cool. Typing good also types home. And when you try to type karaoke, your phone gives up right after it types Japan.

*Predictive text is neutral when it comes to commonly misspelled words, so, don’t think it will save you from yourself. It will let you write receive AND recieve, tomorrow AND tomorow , separate AND seperate, and even definitely AND definately. Either the makers of predictive text didn’t know the correct spellings or they thought the majority of the population would get angry when their phones wouldn’t allow them to spell the words they way they always had.

Somebody somewhere is very glad he can put down his blarinet and go have a currito.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Published September 28, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

When you marry someone, no matter how long you’ve known that person, there will always be those moments of shock and amazement when you discover something you never knew about your spouse. It’s only natural. No matter how similar they may be, married individuals are just that: individuals. Different childhoods and life experiences lead to inevitable differences. Today, I’m focusing on childhoods, but more specifically, deprived ones.

My husband and I had our moment of shock and amazement as we were traveling down the interstate to his sister Mary’s house, where she and their sister, Diane, were visiting together. Somehow (I suspect psychic, folk-singing aliens), the subject made its way to children’s music, and my husband began reminiscing about something called the “Ram Sam Sam” song. I looked at him blankly and asked what the Ram Sam Sam song was.

You’d have thought I asked who Walt Disney was. The rest of the drive was filled with questions about the kind of parents who raise a child without knowledge of the Ram Sam Sam song, how I could possibly have been his friend for so long without ever hearing it, and what the ramifications might be for our future together. Stepping a little more firmly on the gas peddle, he resolved that he and his sisters would remedy this awful situation as soon as humanly possible.

Mary and Diane reacted with much the same shock and dismay as my husband. The three of them proceeded to give me an impromptu but spirited performance of the piece complete with harmony, hand movements, and alternate versions. While I very much enjoyed the show (these Clarks can sing!), I was intrigued by the fact that there were starving children in the world, and my new relatives seriously thought my childhood was deprived because I never learned to sing “gooly gooly gooly gooly gooly ram sam sam.”

I shook my head and chuckled to myself, pondering on the weird family I’d married into and their strange notions of what constitutes deprivation. I took great pride in the fact that I had no such notions of my own.

And then it was time for some ice cream…the great equalizer. Watching a movie together, my husband and I determined, via the approved method (paper covers rock), that he should run upstairs and dish us each a bowl of ice cream. As he stood up from the couch, I said, “I’d like mine with chocolate syrup and rice crispies.” He looked at me like I’d just told him to serve it up with a side of sardines, and before I could even think about my previous pride, I found myself as shocked as a Ram Sam Sam fanatic on a Utah freeway.

“OH MY GOSH!” I gasped, checking my pulse for signs of impending cardiac failure, “You’ve never had cereal on ice cream. What…? How…? Really? How…? What kind of childhood did you have?” He looked at me blankly, no doubt distracted by thoughts of starving children and the relative strangeness of the family into which he just married.

Apparently, childhood deprivation, like so many other things, is a completely subjective subject. These situations have led to further discussions involving Mary Poppins, Disneyland, microwaved marshmallows, and great, big lollipop moons. We’re now even more convinced that the other grew up with the kind of deprivation that charitable organizations are created to prevent. Luckily for us, we both grew up listening to the Dr. Demento show on the radio, so the situation appears to be a draw.

Though, anyone with half a brain would agree cereal on ice cream trumps Ram Sam Sam any day.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A cautionary tale

Published September 21, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Today, I’d like to address the girls of America. Parents and grandparents, if you have a girl in your home between the ages of 8 and 18, please bring her to the newspaper. You can (and should) read this column too, but it is absolutely imperative that your daughters and granddaughters take the time to learn what I have to teach them. Why are you still reading? Go! Go! Get those girls!

Hi girls. How’s it going? Thanks for setting down your cell phones and iPods for a few minutes to hear what I have to say. I think it’s really important, and despite my status as old and out of touch, I think you’ll agree by the end of this column that my advice is “tight” and “sick.” Frankly, it’s thebomb.com/yourmom, if you know what I mean.

Girls, there are probably many people in your life who are encouraging you to continue with your education when you graduate from high school. These are smart people. They know you and love you and have your best interests at heart. Listen to these people. Go to college! Stay in college! Don’t quit! Get your degree!

You’re probably wondering why I’ve roused you from your myspace bulletins and music downloads just to reiterate what you’ve already heard many times. Well, girls, I am a statistic. I jumped into college right out of high school, full of dreams of my future as a music therapist. One semester later, I moved to Utah, started a family, and my education took a 12-year back seat to the demands of raising children.

Now, all those years later, I’ve been back in school for over a year and I’m again pursuing a degree. What’s the big deal with that, you ask? It’s the difference between a brain fresh from the demands of high school and a brain slowly eaten away by years of unfortunate exposure to the “Goofy Goober” song on Spongebob. It’s the difference between having all the time in the world and having to pencil in time to have a mini-breakdown between parenting, homework, housework, work work, and your daily “good cry.”

Let me put it this way: It’s the difference between having a cute study partner who helps you understand altruistic behavior in primates and having a three year old study partner who greatly resembles a primate with the screeching and the jumping and the hopping in your lap (all while you’re trying to take your first online test in Geography).

At 18, I never would have looked down at my notebook to see, “Why do we reconstruct phylogenies? Phylogeny is the Mater for identification and classification of the Lightning McQueen (called ka-chow).” While you may end up with an annoying roommate who watches Disney movies while you’re trying to study, chances are you won’t have to pay anyone to watch that person if you need to get away. And that person probably won’t interrupt your note-taking with, “Moooom! The DVD’s not working. Moooom! I want lunch! Mooooooooom! Let’s go to the park!”

I’m not making any judgments about when you get married or when you have children or whether or not either coincides with your schooling. I’m just saying I want you to go…when you’re young…and finish…while you’re young. Don’t be like me. Don’t put it off until you find yourself frantically reading your Ethics paper while combing your daughter’s hair, stirring dinner, and tracking down a missing turtle. It’s not the way college is supposed to be.

I know I’m taking that age old stance of “Do as I say, not as I did.” Sometimes, you have to learn from the mistakes of others. I’m like the lung cancer sufferer who tells kids not to smoke…or the quadriplegic who warns kids to wear their seatbelts. I’m a cautionary tale, ladies. I AM AN AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL! Do you want to end up an after school special? I didn’t think so.

Thank you for your time. I’m going to get back to studying how the systematics of the Simba differ from the taxonomy of the Ariel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Published September 14, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

It’s election season again, and I’m not afraid to publicly state that I’m not impressed with my choices. My apologies to all the two party system fans out there, but the choice between the “blah blah blah” of the Republicans and the “yada yada yada” of the Democrats makes me weep for the future of our country. Yes, I know I cry a lot anyway, but we’re talking weeping here. WEEPING!

Tears or no tears, I do consider myself a responsible citizen, and as such, I have registered to vote and plan to cast my ballot in November. This year, however, I will not be listening to the lowest common denominator pandering or the pie in the sky promises, because I won’t be voting for either major candidate.

An open letter to Barack Obama and John McCain:

Thank you for trying, but I’m sorry that I cannot give either of you my vote. No, it’s not your stance on abortion or health care or oil prices. I understand you were hoping I’d be swayed by meaningless rhetoric, but I’m more of a down-to-earth kind of gal. There is only one issue that interests me this election. I’m talking about balancing the budget.

Oh, I know one of you has promised to do it right after you put the government in charge of this and socialize that. I know the other one of you has dubiously promised to have it done by the end of your term. I know you say you want to balance the budget, and I think that’s great! I mean, if I can manage to live on a budget, certainly you can too.

But here’s the thing. Neither of you is really going to do it. It’s okay. I’m not angry or anything. I’m just saying I understand where you’re coming from. You have to tell me what the pollsters manipulate me into saying I really want from you in order to get my vote. I know you’re probably going to tell me not to hate the player—hate the game, and I’m down with that. I’m just asking the player to stop playing the game I hate and start doing something for America.

A few ideas for a balanced budget from a practical mom:

Use spreadsheets. They’re awesome. You just plug the numbers in and they do the math for you! It’s AMAZING! I used to budget completely by hand, and I wonder if that’s your problem. Little expenses here and there add up. If you had a spreadsheet to tell you that you’re actually spending $900 billion a year on corporate bailouts, congressional cover-ups, and bridges that lead to nowhere (I think that one’s called No Child Left Behind…but I may be wrong) we probably wouldn’t have that pesky $5 trillion national debt.

Replace those expensive state dinners with something more American. How about a weenie roast? Or you could do what my in-laws do when amassing their enormous family for a get-together. BYOP, or Bring Your Own Picnic. Maybe a potluck would be more generous when meeting with dignitaries from third-world countries, but certainly the King of Saudi Arabia could manage to stop by KFC and buy a bucket and some soda for his crew.

Consider a new Balanced Budget Amendment, incorporating some of the language of the 27th Amendment. Something like, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of Senators and Representatives, shall take effect in the absence of a balanced budget.” I really think if their raises depended on it, the men and women of the Congress would accept a balanced budget from you without an argument. It’s a simple matter of cause and effect. If I want to get my hair cut every two months, I can’t spend all our money on convenience store snacks. I know this from shaggy, unruly, and frumpy experience.

You may wonder why I’m explaining any of this when I have no intention of voting for either of you. I’m giving you my ideas because I know that one of you WILL be president. If you manage to balance the budget by the end of your term, I will happily cast my vote for your reelection at that time.

If you don’t, I’ll probably decide to run against you and put Congress on a four-year-long entertainment budget restriction.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I dreamed a dream.

Published September 7, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I remember watching a particularly funny episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry wakes up in the middle of the night, laughing at some random bit of dream and writes it down for possible use in his comedy act. Upon waking the next morning, he can’t read his own handwriting and the joke is lost. At the end of the episode, he finally deciphers the scribble and realizes it was never funny in the first place.

I had one of those moments last night. It was a dream about a “Vacuum Expo,” a strange gathering of vacuum cleaner manufacturers and collectors. Above the crowd of Hoovers and Orecks and Bissells, a large banner proclaimed, “We know! We suck!” When I asked about it, a representative from Rainbow told me it was an attempt to keep the more “witty” segment of the population from making such an obvious joke.

In my pre-dawn stupor, I thought that was hilarious. I quickly typed it up in my cell phone as a text message draft and laughed myself back to sleep (and right back into the dream), peacefully assured that I would have a killer column ready to go in the morning. A few hours later, I woke up, checked the text draft and said, “Huh?”

I guess the banner is kind of funny, but why I ever thought I could build an entire column around that is an answer that can only be found in the delirium of dreamland. I’m sad to report this sort of thing has been going on all week.

Perhaps the problem for me is my recently acquired knowledge that bestselling author, Stephenie Meyer, came up with the entire premise for her Twilight series from a very imaginative dream. (Yeah, I finally threw myself on the crazy Twilight bandwagon. Don’t judge me.) For Stephenie, the process from dream to publication took all of 6 months.

Ever since reading that, I’ve been waking up at odd hours, convinced this night’s unexpected trip back to high school math class or that night’s solo flight over ice topped mountains is my ticket to the big time. Sadly, instead of waking up and pumping out a fictional phenomenon in three months, I’m left wondering why my dreams are so disjointed, unfunny, and, well, like ordinary dreams. Shouldn’t I be able to make money in my sleep?

This is not to say that my dreams are never productive. I’m very fond of telling people about the year I made my kids toothpaste costumes for Halloween after having a dream that told me how to do it. (The next year, I dreamt I dressed one as a taco and another as a churro, but those costumes have yet to see the light of day). More than once, I’ve purchased more insurance after a dream involving the death of a spouse. I’m almost certain at least two or three of these columns in the past eight years was the result of a funny dream.

Of course, anyone with a brain has noticed that I have, in fact managed to create an entire column from last night’s strange, vacuum- themed hilarity. It’s a testament to either my brilliance or my laziness. At this point, I’m just happy I’m one step closer to my, ahem, dream of following in the footsteps of a very rich woman. I’ll let you decide what you think. I won’t, however, let you be the one to make the obvious joke.

I know! I suck!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Philosophically speaking...

Published August 31, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Way back in my Junior English class in high school, there was an inside joke among students that if you didn’t quite understand the essay topic you had been given (or hadn’t actually done the reading to fully answer the question) you could get through the assignment by writing a “Bob Smith” essay. A Bob Smith essay was just a jumble of words that sounded highly intelligent, had some sort of flow, and focused more on concepts surrounding the essay topic than on the actual topic itself (for clarity, note Bob Smith’s initials).

The rest of the story is that the teacher knew exactly what those students were up to, and Bob Smith was quickly abandoned and replaced by actual work. I never wrote a Bob Smith essay. I enjoyed wowing the teacher with my own highly intelligent writing, thankyouverymuch. That is to say, I never wrote a Bob Smith essay until today.

I wrote my Bob Smith essay in response to my first reading in the Philosophy class I’m taking at my new university. I’m having a really hard time with this class. I am a practical, logical human being, and I’m taking a college course that tells me it’s going to teach me to think about thinking without actually telling me anything about anything. There are no answers, only questions that lead to more questions. I’m lovingly referring to the class as Bob Smithology, though I will never tell my instructor that (but I’m thinking about thinking about it).

The instructor’s intro to the class told us that the readings will be the most difficult we’d ever encounter and we’d probably all have to read each assignment twice. Me? Not understand something I read? Ha! He was wrong. I had to read it 3 times, and I still don’t think I know what it said.

And then it was time to write my response and share it with the other students on the online discussion board where we’re supposed to hang out and think about thinking. I read a few of the responses already posted and felt my head swimming in the hazy, Bob Smithian word-soup of 20 philosopher wannabes. I would only get credit for my response if my response was as convoluted as theirs.

I wondered briefly if I could get away with just quoting “They Might Be Giants” lyrics and call it a day, but the plagiarism policy at the school is pretty strict. I finally settled on something about quantum physics questioning scientific certainties that ended with, “For all we know, in 500 years, people will have questioned and hypothesized and tested until they realize the earth is a conglomeration of balanced energy and matter doesn't actually exist...”

Now, either my instructor or classmates will call me to task on my lack of sincerity or they’ll completely miss the fact that I’m not really serious about what I’m saying and we’ll all have a rousing discussion about the questions inherent in questioning the thoughts we think about thinking and the logic of logically questioning the thinking of asking…and I’ll get full credit, and my inner sense of what’s right and wrong will overheat until it implodes.

I really don’t know which scenario I prefer. I don’t want to fail the class over my stubborn desire to write what I really think, but can I accept credit just for “playing the game” and pretending I care about arguments I find ridiculous and meaningless? It’s an incredible conundrum, and I’m really annoyed to be facing it.

Of course, this has the makings for one heck of an essay for my Intro to Ethical Dilemmas class, so all in all, it’s not a total loss.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

On faith and fatigue

Published August 24, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

There are things in life a mother does for the long term good of her children, even when her children aren’t sure they agree. Vegetables. Shots. In my oldest son’s case: open heart surgery. Sometimes, it’s just a judgment call. You ignore the protests and do what’s right.

This week’s “right” action has been our return to family scripture time. To their credit, the kids are the ones who asked for us to do this, bringing it up as an issue at one of our family meetings, so you wouldn’t think they’d complain too much. The protests occurred when I announced that the only time we have available to read scriptures is early in the morning. In this case, early in the morning amounts to a full two hours earlier than they’ve been rising all summer long. After some discussion, my spiritually starved brood agreed to the new wake-up time and we set our plan into motion. This wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

The answer to that question lies somewhere in the surreal meeting place of faith and fatigue. What I’ve learned about my kids this week is that no matter how much they beg for scripture time, the act of waking them up early for scripture time will invariably lead to a passel of youth who would much rather live a rested, godless existence.

Day 1: I was chipper and excited to begin anew on our journey through a long-ago land where people said things like “behold” and “betwixt” and “yea, verily.” Being chipper was my first mistake. A word to the wiser-than-I, don’t ever try to wake your children two hours early with a chipper demeanor.

Three of the kids cried. One of them hid under a blanket. One of them volunteered to read but found her eyes too tired to focus on the words. All of them grumbled. Undaunted, I pressed on, reading the chapter myself and then bribing them…I mean, celebrating their willingness to wake up early with some grocery store donuts. Later that night, at work, my supervisor offered to let me go home an hour early, saying, “You look like you’re going to pass out.”

Day 2: Only one child cried, but all of them hid under blankets and no one volunteered to read. Less chipper, but still hopeful, I plowed through the chapter, a mere 13 verses this time. Three of the kids were sleeping by verse five. Waking them up again for family prayer time, we then moved on to the business of our day. At about 8:45, I flopped down in my favorite, fluffy front room chair and saw my oldest child sleeping strangely, though peacefully, on the couch.

I looked at my sleeping son, the picture of discomfort, his body twisted into a fastastical shape only a snake or a broken tree branch could possibly copy, and I thought, Hmmmmm…good idea. Twisting myself into an equally fantastical shape on my chair, I zonked for the next 30 minutes, dreaming of ancient prophets wagging their heads at my weakness.

Day 3: I *cough* accidentally left my cell phone, which doubles as my alarm clock, upstairs and overslept until 7:25. At this writing, it is now 11:10, and I’ve been content to let them play outside with their cousins for most of the morning, rationalizing that their cousins have surely been having family scripture time more consistently than we have and will surely share some of their vast scriptural knowledge between games of hide and seek and dodgeball. I swear I heard my niece sharing her views on repentance with my youngest daughter. (“That’s not nice! You should say sorry!”)

Day 4? Well, that’s tomorrow. I think after my slip-up today, I’ll wake up tomorrow refocused and ready to keep trying. I’ve read it only takes three weeks to make a habit, so I’m hopeful the next two and a half weeks will bring good results.

If they don’t, behold, there will be no more donuts betwixt the kids and me. Yea, verily.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I call this meeting to order.

Published August 17, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

About three years ago, I took a parenting class that came highly recommended by several friends. It was free to the public, very informative, and quite a lot of fun. I worked hard to put into practice much of what I learned there. One suggestion made by the teacher—the implementation of a weekly family meeting—sat on the shelf in my brain until earlier this year. I don’t really know why I waited so long (those of you clearing your throats as if to say, “Ahem…it’s because you were a control freak who didn’t want to switch to a democratic parenting style” can just be quiet right now).

Whatever the reason for the delay, I got over it. In March of this year, the kids and I held our first formal meeting and haven’t missed a week since. Now, I find I’ve become one of those overzealous crazy people on a quest, and that quest is to get the word out on how cool family meetings are. It tends to annoy my friends a bit, but I’m okay with that. Once they start holding family meetings of their own, I won’t seem nearly as annoying, because they’ll be out annoying all of their friends too. An outline of a typical family meeting follows:

Spotlights This is the feel good portion of the meeting. Everyone gets a chance to spotlight someone else for doing something right. At our first ever family meeting last spring, Miriam spotlighted Ray for helping her get things down from high shelves. Three year old Michael often spotlights the first person he looks at for “being nice.” At a family meeting held in the weeks following our wedding, my husband spotlighted himself for “being so lucky.” (Yes, I know that was a completely gratuitous bit of cuteness. At this week’s meeting, I’ll be spotlighting myself for using the word gratuitous.)

Calendar This section of the meeting is pretty self explanatory. We pull the calendar off the fridge and fill in appointments, activities, and other events we need to remember. I want the world to know I was quite fastidious about adding Underwear Day during our family meeting two weeks ago. We observed it with a *cough* brief moment of silence. (No, I will not apologize for the corniness of that pun.)

Planning We’re currently working on our plan to make a family flag. The first planning session brought with it the task of choosing our family colors. If you’re ever planning on making a family flag, I suggest you come to the meeting with three or four colors, and let them choose two. I made the mistake of asking everyone to submit a color for vote. Our flag will now be red, gold, green, blue, yellow, clear, and hot red. I don’t know what hot red is, but Michael is very passionate about it.

Issues The Issues portion of family meeting is a chance to work out the nuts and bolts of family life. We make rules, decide on consequences, and settle arguments. Everyone has the right to raise an issue, whether it’s Ray’s recent motion that we make Sunday nights “Taco Night” (it was unanimously approved) or Miriam’s passionate plea to reinstate family prayer time. The thing I’ve learned about Issues time is that I’d better be ready for complete honesty from my kids. How well I remember the meeting in which Cate pronounced, “Mommy, you yell too much.” Fortunately for me, I was rewarded two weeks later with her spotlight of, “Mommy, thanks for not yelling so much anymore.”

This week, I’ll be unveiling the new “Extra Chores for Cash” incentive system, and I’m pretty sure one of the kids wants us to vote on a fair Playstation 2 schedule. We’ll be looking over the sample family crests I printed from the internet, and we may start breaking down the costs of going to Disneyland next summer. All in all, I think it will be a fun and productive meeting. I’m especially excited for spotlight time.

I’ve been sneaking Michael extra desserts all week to get his.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Team Edward or Team Jacob? Meh.

Published August 10, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Last weekend, I ventured out late at night with my husband and oldest child to our nearest Wal Mart for a few last-minute hiking supplies. As we walked through the parking lot toward the entrance of the store, we saw a peculiar sight. A long line extended from an emergency fire door on the front of the building, and more people (read: women) were hurrying across the parking lot to take their places in it. My husband and son looked at me inquiringly.

Breaking Dawn,” I said with a sigh.

Ladies and gentlemen, but mostly ladies, I have just described a “craze event.” The Wal Mart campers and line holders were waiting in line for the midnight release of the next book in the Twilight series. Does anyone else find it funny that a book with that title was released late at night? I’m sure most of the women there began reading on the drive home and had their books finished by the time dawn actually broke.

I’ve learned through countless experiences that I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything I consider a craze. Ever since my sisters went wild for the New Kids on the Block (along with every other teenage girl in the nation) I have avoided crazes, trends, and fads like rapidly spreading super plagues.

The content of the craze is immaterial. It’s the craze that bothers me. I actually enjoyed the music of NKOTB for all of one day…really, one afternoon. Then I saw how much my sisters liked them. My sisters…my fad testers. Like taste testers ingesting poison for a king, my sisters sniffed out the trends I ultimately avoided. When the high-pitched screaming and the giddy jumping up and down occurred, I knew it was time to steer clear. (This would be the point at which my sisters tell you I never missed a showing of their behind the scenes concert video or that I thought Jonathan was the most good looking or that I consented to perform a dance with my sisters to the NKOTB song “Hangin’ Tough” in order to earn entrance into a party of their older friends.)

The above behavior notwithstanding, I have done everything I can to avoid a craze as long as possible before I even think about giving in. I don’t do Bunco. I don’t do playgroups. I don’t shop “day after holiday” sales. I don’t race down to the local bead store so I can make all my jewelry. The fact that there are stores just for beads makes my head hurt.

Obviously, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with avoiding the craze mentality. I firmly believe that someday my standoffishness will keep me from being killed in a freak Wal Mart campout accident. The problem happens when my refusal to join the crowd keeps me from something enjoyable and completely worthwhile. It took me years to come around to the Harry Potter phenomenon, and I’m still kicking myself for my delay.

Add to that the fact that the women I know who are going crazy over Breaking Dawn (to the point of rereading the previous three books in one day in order to be ready for the latest installment) are not actually crazy at all. They’re friends I respect and admire and whose opinions mean the world to me. They’re friends who have it together, know what they want in life and get it. They’re friends who are offering to mail me their copies of Twilight tomorrow if I just say the word.

(Someday, people will figure out I only avoid crazes to get stuff for free, but until then, I’ll keep enjoying the benefits.)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Happy panties day to you too!

Published August 3, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I’ve always been fascinated by our culture’s need to set aside a specific day in which to celebrate something completely mundane or raise awareness about issues that are equally mundane. I once wrote a column expressing my desire to be the person who gets to look at a calendar and decide which precious day out of 365 precious days gets to be Eggplant Awareness Day or Hug Your Podiatrist Day.

Browsing through a current copy of a book containing fun facts for kids, I learned the lucky holiday namer who holds the job I covet has been at it again. Everyone, your attention, please. August 8, 2008 is officially Underwear Day.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really, really excited about this. I’ve always been a fan of underwear. I wear it every day. (Shocking, I know!) I’ve long thought there should be a day set aside to celebrate the fact that under our clothes, we wear other clothes that no one else gets to see. (Except, of course, for close relatives, very close friends, and the occasional emergency room nurse whose job it is to check accident victims and make sure the underwear they’re wearing is clean.)

At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Is it me, or is there a lot of underwear on display these days? It seems I can’t turn around without seeing a thong hitched up around someone’s waist while the jeans slide down below the hips. It’s either that, or I’m looking at a bra strap with no chance of ever hiding underneath the halter top that has no prayer of covering it. And of course, we still have a near epidemic of boys and their boxers, shirts tucked in for maximum visibility.

Hmmmm…maybe Underwear Day isn’t so much about celebration as it is about raising awareness. Maybe it’s a great big, “HEY, YOU! I SEE YOUR UNDIES! COULD YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT?” to the thong-sporting/bra-revealing/boxer-tucking masses.
Somewhere, some political action group is gearing up for the Underwear Day rallies and protest marches. They’ll probably start with the official Underwear Day hymn: “I see Paris. I see France…” You know the one. The signs are being painted as I write this. “We Shall Undercome!” The chants are being composed: “Two! Four! Six! Eight! Covering up is really great!”

Unfortunately, whether it’s a day of celebration or awareness, Underwear Day will probably go the way of all holidays and become over-commercialized and impersonal. Before you know it, Calvin Klein and Hanes and Fruit of the Loom will be vying for attention and money. I’m all for people supporting the economy by spending their hard earned dollars buying panties and briefs. I just don’t want to see a perfectly good holiday ruined with commercial chaos. If or when that happen, I’ll just have to express my negative feelings through the appropriate channels.

Anyone who wants to join me in staking out a Victoria’s Secret and shouting, “IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!” is more than welcome.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thriftomania. Try it! You'll like it!

Published July 27, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As a big fan of the study of psychology, it seems I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting disorders that can explain away a few of my weirder quirks. When I can’t find anything official, I make something up, trademark it, and wait for the psychiatric community to catch up. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a psychological hypochondriac with some delusions of grandeur mixed in for flavor.

I’m calling today’s disorder Thriftomania. It is defined as a pathological need to save money.

While I’ve always known my impulse to save a buck bordered on ridiculous, I didn’t consider it pathological until last night. On a break at work, I stood before a vending machine and faced the kind of decision that makes you question your internal wiring.

At some point during the day, some poor soul had wanted some sausage. The sausage had decided to stay. There it was, wedged between the glass display and a package of coconut sprinkled, mini donut “gems.” I surmised that if I were to buy the donuts, the weight of the package falling from its slot would most likely dislodge the package of sausages, and I would be the lucky recipient of an accidental two-for-one deal. Sounds reasonable, right?

Here’s the kicker. I don’t particularly care for vending machine sausage, by which I mean that I think it’s a dry, over-spiced mixture of fat and entrails wrapped in inedible plastic and in no way resembles food. The only thing I like less than a vending machine piece of sausage is a donut sprinkled with coconut. I went to the vending machines planning to buy a soda from the machine on the right, but met with a choice between spending money on something I want and saving money on something I don’t, well, let’s just say that when pathology and taste collide, pathology wins with a one two punch to the taste buds.

I ate the sausage and the donuts, then stared wistfully at the soda machine, my mouth dry and my pockets empty. I took a long hard look at myself and thought, I have a problem.

It doesn’t only happen at vending machines. I go to the bread store planning to spend $5 and end up spending $10 in order to pick a free item from the baker’s rack next to the cash register. The rack is usually full of the same loaves of bread I’m purchasing, so I’m spending $5 to save 90 cents. (In my defense, sometimes the rack has bagels.)

One time, I bought a pair of sneakers that were a size and half too big because they were on sale for only $3. I wore them for over a year, flipping and flopping everywhere I went, retying them here and there to kind of force a good fit. Sure, that was annoying, but they were brand name sneakers for THREE DOLLARS, people! THREE DOLLARS! Who would pass up a deal like that?

Before you judge, consider how hard it is to live with a disorder like this. I’m not crazy. I just need some help. Someday, there will be treatment options for people like me. Someday, some pioneering pharmaceutical company will develop a drug that will help me think before I save.

I’ll buy it in Mexico, of course. You don’t expect me to pay U.S. prices, do you?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Crazy cat ladies aren't so bad...

Published July 20, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Every now and then, I believe the universe gives us a glimpse of what is to come. I had such an experience while my kids were visiting their grandparents. For one month, I became an “empty nester.” Yes, folks, the little chicks spread their wings and flew to New Mexico, and I stayed back, quiet and depressed, pecking and scratching around my ridiculously large collection of twigs and leaves and string, trying to find some meaning and purpose in my newly chick-less existence.

Okay, so I’m being a bit melodramatic. But only by a very little bit. My empty nest experiment was painful, to say the least…in part because I missed the kids so much, and in part because I didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t wrangling, feeding, bathing, hugging, or scolding my little brood. I began to wonder what in the world I’ll do when they actually move out of the house for real.

It was while watching the stage production of Bye Bye Birdie last month that I found the answer to that question. There was a character, a mother, so overbearing and wrapped up in her son that he was paralyzed to move forward in his life. The actress playing the part hammed it up and made it hilarious, constantly stepping on his every decision and coming between him and his love interest. She wasn’t a very lovable character and the audience roared with laughter and cheered when her wet noodle of a son finally put her in her place.

That is to say, everyone in the audience except me. All I wanted to do was rush the stage, wrap my arms around her, and say, “I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GOING THROUGH! You’re not trying to hurt anyone. You just want to be close…involved…meaningful in some way. Is that so much to ask?”

This does not bode well for my children.

If I consider their feelings and put forth a herculean effort to avoid the overbearing mother role, I could easily take the other route, and by easily, I mean I’m probably halfway there already. With three cats, each rescued from homelessness, I’m a prime candidate for “Crazy Cat Lady” status. Yeah, I know how she feels too. She’s not really crazy. She just has a big heart and a need to nurture…85 homeless cats…in a 900 square foot house.

It makes sense. When you don’t have kids around, cats do start to feel like your children. There’s even a little cat ESP communication similar to the communication a mother has with a newborn. There’s one meow for “Outside,” another for “My food dish is empty,” another for “Love me? Gonna pet me?” and still another for “Gimme some special stuff! Spoil me rotten! Some milk! A can of tuna leftovers! Anything! I’m dying here!” Yes, I talk to my cats and believe they talk back. What’s so crazy about that?

I guess it’s not really a choice between two black and white extremes. There is a third road I could take. I could be a healthy empty nester who keeps in touch but enjoys a life of her own. I could stay active, hike, write, travel, go back to school and get my PhD, set up a foundation for crazy cat ladies…anything’s possible, right? I’ll do all those things!

As long as the kids live next door, come by for dinner every day, and bring me every collar-less cat they find wandering the neighborhood.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fluffy, cuddly, heartless carnivore

Published July 13, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to tell you a story of daring and heroism, a story that will surely earn me a medal of some kind from the Audubon society. I, Sarah Clark, mild mannered newspaper columnist, saved an innocent, defenseless bird from certain death in the jaws of a terrifyingly cruel monster the likes of which no weak-willed individual could ever contend.

My cat, Isis… She’s cute. She’s fluffy. She’s cuddly. She’s a heartless carnivore.

When I saw the poor bird in the clutches of this furry villain, I leaped into action. Isis had dispatched another bird in our basement a week before, and I had been left to plug my ears and sing, “The Circle of Life” at the top of my lungs while she finished the job. I had no desire to repeat the horror of that experience. I lunged at her each time she dropped the shaken, but otherwise unharmed bird, only to have her snatch it back up and zip out of the room each time.

Getting smart about things, I closed off her exits and waited for my chance. Seeing her let go of the bird for a split second, I flew at the elusive cat, clamping my hands around her body while she fought to be free. I tossed her unceremoniously into my bedroom and slammed the door with a lusty, “NOT ON MY WATCH!” then opened a window and ushered the frightened bird outside to tell the tale to his birdie friends. It was when I went to release the beast from her makeshift dungeon that I realized my bedroom door was locked from the inside.

So, I’m standing outside my bedroom door, completely naked. Wait…did I forget to mention I was naked? I had been preparing to shower when the endangered bird caught my eye. (You’re all going to go back and reread the previous paragraphs in a new way, aren’t you? I’m deeply sorry for the visual.)

So, anyway, I’m standing outside my bedroom door, naked as the bird I just rescued, weighing my options. I have two brothers-in-law living nearby who can help me get this door open. I have no clothes. There are two able bodied men out there who know this house inside and out and have probably unlocked this door at least once. I have no clothes.

My situation became quite clear. I needed to leave for work in two hours and all of my clothes (and one very irritated cat) were on the other side of a locked door. Short of calling my husband away from his desk at work, I had no option but to take a good, hard look at the door and figure it out myself (my naked self…in case you had forgotten).

A girly hairpin to the rescue! After examining the knob, skulking nakedly around the house in a fruitless search for a mini screwdriver set, I found a sparkly hairpin I had worn the day before. Thank you, Bad Habit of Leaving Stuff Lying Around. (What a day to actually put my clothes in the hamper, right?) After a few unsuccessful tries, I managed to open the door with the kind of leap of triumph one should never attempt while bereft of clothing.

A blurry ball of fur rocketed out of the doorway in search of her lost prey. I watched her efforts, wondering if she would harbor bad feelings for awhile, but I was gratified to see her turn away from her search to rub against my legs, purring contentedly. Was she merely kissing up in hopes that I would share some of the bird I had no doubt stashed somewhere in the house? Probably. Will I choose to remember it as a sign of affection and gratitude for saving her from herself? Absolutely.

Hey, a medal would be nice, but delusion lasts forever.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

It's not easy being a bag of pheromones

Published July 6, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

The other morning I walked down the stairs to the basement portion of my house and found myself enveloped in the unmistakable scent of “hot guy.” My basement always smells like “hot guy” when my husband is taking a shower.

The scent is hard to describe, but it’s certainly pleasing to this columnist’s olfactories. Taking a powerful whiff of my husband’s body wash bottle, I can say it’s very clean, slightly spicy, extremely manly, and well…the embodiment of “hot guy” in a bottle.

I remember the first time I smelled “hot guy.” And the second. And the third. I smelled it every morning at work for more than two years. The “hot guy” label was placed on the scent by the teenage girls I worked with. They were always on the lookout for the, ahem, Hot Guy who had left his sumptuous mark on the hallway we passed through. The day they realized this mysterious Hot Guy was actually a mature man with grown children and a very clean, slightly spicy, extremely manly body wash was pretty hilarious, if I do say so myself. (And since I just did, I guess I do.)

Fragrances are a funny thing. I wonder…is it a fad like any other? How did people want to smell in ancient times? I mean, was “Tar Pit” the “Obsession” of the cave man days? Did people in Medieval times want to smell like “Moat Goddess” or “Essence of Knight?” I wonder what/who determines which scents are popular and why.

For some, science is involved. According to “the industry” we’re all just big bags of pheromones waiting to be signaled by the other bags of pheromones walking around. The cologne makers of the 70’s decided to cash in on the pheromone phenomenon by including “musk” in men’s cologne, claiming this would stimulate the pheromones of women and make the man who wore it nearly irresistible.

It’s interesting stuff until you realize musk is a secretion of the underside of a musk deer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ve ever found a remote, endangered, wild animal of Siberia at all irresistible. Maybe my pheromones are broken…

According to evolutionary scientists, body odor is actually nature’s most potent agent of attraction. Believe it or not, body odor, particularly that originating from the underarm, is meant to signal a potential mate that one has passed the puberty phase and is now mature enough to bear offspring. Underarm hair is a means of trapping and enhancing the odor for maximum attraction potential and perpetuation of the species. It begs the question: If we eliminate and mask our body odor with fragrances we think are attractive, are we really just shooting ourselves in the evolutionary foot?

I don’t really want an answer to that question. Scientists be darned, I’d much rather smell like mangoes and pomegranates than B.O., no matter how mature the opposite gender might find me otherwise. I know I’m disproving my previous theory about musk here. I mean, is any man more attracted to fruit than I am to wild deer? Actually, I’m sure the answer to this is yes, and my reasoning lies in the “way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” idiom.

If they made a lasagna scented perfume, I’d be wearing it right now.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

You said breasts.

Published June 29, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I remember one day in a high school English class my teacher asked if there was anyone in the room who felt they had endured more than their fair share of trials in life. I raised my hand high and without a flinch. Thousands of dollars of therapy and a full gratitude journal later, I've seen the error of my 16 year old thinking and have learned to be grateful for everything life has thrown my way.

Well, there is one glaring exception.

This is one of those columns I write as quickly as I can because I’m on a roll and don’t want to think of another topic. I promise you that once I hit send and this sucker is on its way through cyberspace to my editor’s desk, I’m going to sit at my computer for hours wondering if I really sent it. (That happened with something I wrote back in February...a column about a yearly checkup at the gynecologist’s office in which I was too skittish to write the word gynecologist.)

I’ll put any attempts at skittishness aside with one word: breasts. Yes, I’m giggling like an 11 year old boy who just came across that word in the dictionary. I just typed the word breasts and someone’s going to print it in the newspaper for thousands of people to read just because I typed it. I’m a 31 year old woman who’s nursed 5 children without a second thought and somehow, I get all silly writing a column about breasts. Breasts, breasts, breasts! (An elderly gentleman in Dixie Downs just collapsed in his kitchen. Someone go help him, will ya?)

Breasts are funny things. No matter how much I try to believe I don’t care about the size of them, well, I can’t help but care about the size of them. No, I have not fallen prey to the fashion industry "ideal" of the anorexic ectomorph with the mystifyingly large and firm double D’s nature certainly never gave her. I just want my clothes to fit.

You see, there’s this thing that happens to a woman when she gains a little (or a lot) of weight. Her bra "cup size" goes up. Bras are sized by number and letter. The letter represents the cup size or relative size of the actual breast. (Am I the only one who thinks the cups in bras look more like bowls and should be titled such?)

So what’s my problem? I have gained a considerable amount of weight since that day in English class. My breasts? They haven’t budged. I am, I suppose, the complete opposite of the strangely disproportionate fashion model. I’ve got a rack to fit their tiny bodies, and they’re all walking around with the bosom every clothing manufacturer in the world assumes I have.

If it seems a silly thing to consider a trial in life, just try looking down the front of your wedding dress and realizing you could fit a small starter home in the space you’re not filling out...and that’s WITH a padded push-up bra. It’s a problem I’ve known well for far too many years now. If I’m shopping for plus sized tops (which I always am), I can count on a far too roomy chest and the discomfort that goes with it.

I’ve had many of my full figured friends tell me that being on the other side of things is no picnic either. They’re quick to tell me the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the bra. To hear them tell it, having a large chest makes fitting into most tops very difficult and keeping things modest nearly impossible. Add to that underwire that pinches, shoulder straps that dig, and back pain that can be debilitating, and I begin to wonder if I didn’t get the better deal after all.

Not wanting to continue cursing the gods for my brand of mammary misfortune, I’m putting these experiences in my gratitude journal tonight in the hopes that I can finally check this bra bitterness off my list. I may also include a little bit of info I gleaned from the National Geographic. Did you know many women in African countries have no bras at all let alone shirts that don’t fit them? I’m trying to decide if I feel bad for them or not.

I kinda think they’re on to something...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blaming aliens

Published June 22, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I realized today that I live my life from within the pages of an old fashioned science fiction novel. In this novel, all of my childhood friends and acquaintances have been off on an intergalactic mission, traveling at the speed of light while I have stayed back on earth in order to hold the place together. As in any good, old-fashioned science fiction novel (due to a misunderstanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity), my astronaut friends have not aged a bit though more than a decade has passed.

This realization came to the forefront as I approached the vessel (house) of my childhood friend, Elizabeth. As I climbed the platform (steps) to her receiving bay (front door), I smiled to myself, eager to greet my small, tomboyish friend in her cute, blond pageboy haircut and cheery sweater, circa 1987. When I was greeted instead by a beautiful 30 year old woman with long hair, a smiling husband, and three giggly children, I drew the obvious conclusion any earthbound character would have drawn. Aliens got her.

I would have run away in terror had I not smelled the inviting scent of barbecued ribs from the kitchen. Aliens may have stolen my friend and replaced her with some strange, grown-up version of Elizabeth, but they certainly knew their way around a grill.

The age/time paradox is like a well rehearsed rule in my mind. I am allowed to age. My children (to a lesser extent) are allowed to age. Everyone else, especially those who live far from me, are not allowed to age and therefore must escape the aging process by rocketing off to unknown destinations until such time that we can arrange a meeting. When reality hits, and I find that no one I know has been living by the rules, it’s perturbing to say the least.

Case in point: Ryan. He was 2 when I met him, a precocious boy who walked on his toes and knew his stars from his circles and his reds from his blues. Upon reconnecting with his family, I found him to be 6 feet 3 inches tall, sporting massive shoulders and a beard. I turned to his mother and said, “I don’t know if you’ve realized this, but Ryan has facial hair. I don’t know how YOU feel about it, but I am NOT okay with it.”

Ryan responded to my scolding not by pointing at my shirt and shouting a high-pitched, “BLUE!” as I would have expected but with a resonant and amused, “But my facial hair makes me look cool.” I craned my neck as far back as I could, looked deeply into his eyes and said, “That’s why I’m not okay with it.”

I think part of my problem with all of this is my lifelong desire to never be that annoying person saying, “The last time I saw you, you were only this tall!” or “You were in diapers!” or “You were voting Republican!” Rather than think of something more creative to say (there isn’t anything…believe me), I’ve been living my life in complete denial. When the moment comes and I’m faced with a much older version of someone in a past life, I’m lost.

The good news, I think, is that this phenomenon is not confined to mild mannered newspaper columnists who have a taste for science fiction. Elizabeth seemed just as oblivious to the passage of time as we reminisced about my younger brother, whom she thought she sent on a mission to the Vega system the moment we moved away from Oklahoma. I broke the news that he is now 28 years old with a wife and two children. I quickly reassured her that I suspect his being replaced by aliens, and she relaxed.

I mean, it’s sad to lose someone to extraterrestrial kidnapping, but the barbecue’s good eating.