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, 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!