Sunday, February 22, 2009

Published February 22, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Whenever I’m stumped for a column idea, I check out the national news headlines for tales of the strange and outrageous. Today’s piece of news comes from Parker, Colorado, where a man heading home to Kansas from a dog show in Denver was robbed at gunpoint of $300,000 worth of dog jewelry. The local authorities, while stating they feel the man’s story is far-fetched, are pursuing the matter.

You know, sometimes the columns just write themselves. I think I could just type the words, “$300K Dog Jewelry Heist” and call it a day. Since my editor probably wants more than that, I’ll add my commentary to the one already rolling around in your head.

Did anyone here know there was actually $300,000 worth of dog jewelry in existence to facilitate a $300,000 dog jewelry heist? Does anyone else think the existence of dog jewelry itself is more far-fetched than the story of the robbery?

I am not, nor have I ever been a “dog person,” so maybe this is just a product of my overall ignorance of all things canine. As far as I know, dogs like things like bones, squeaky toys, shoes, frisbees, and soaking humans in large amounts of uncontrolled slobber. I didn’t realize they were the new connoisseurs of bling.

If your imagination is anything like mine, you probably annoy most of your friends and family. You’re also probably imagining all sorts of strange scenes right now. A poodle decked out in pink taffeta singing, “Diamonds are a man’s best friend’s best friend!” A lonely guy on one knee at the pound, presenting a scrappy terrier with a solitaire and saying, “Will you be my dog?” Manipulative advertisements on holidays: “He’s stood by you through all your ups and downs. This Christmas, give Fido the gift of gratitude. The Puppy Jewelers Signature tennis bracelet with 2 carats of our exclusive tennis ball shaped diamonds.”

See, this is why I have cats. They’re more practical. Don’t believe what you see in those Fancy Feast commercials. If I tried to offer Isis, my cuddly, little fluffball with the Fancy Feast looks, a sparkly collar, she’d scoff a t the very idea. “In this economy? Really, Sarah. What WERE you thinking? Now put that silly thing away and scratch my ears, dahling.”

I’m almost sad to say that upon checking into the story further, I have learned that the jewelry this man was selling wasn’t actually for the dogs but for the owners, themselves. Apparently, while there isn’t much of a market for doggie jewelry out there, there is a market for doggie shaped jewelry. Yeah. Because spending thousands of dollars on a ring depicting your favorite bulldog friend isn’t weird or unbalanced at all…

Whether the jewelry in question was meant for dogs or their obsessive owners, I’m hoping the police sniff out some good leads and we’ll all soon hear what they were able to dig up on this alleged crime. If they find out they’ve just been chasing their tails, the jewelry salesman will be in the doghouse for sure. I can’t imagine they’d let sleeping dogs lie if that’s the case. If you’re beginning to think I’m just one dog related pun away from the ridiculous, I’ll lay off.

I’m laying off with a hang-dog expression on my face, but I’m laying off.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Published February 15, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I’d like to address my comments today to high school and junior high school students all over Southern Utah. Gather round, my impressionable ones. I have something of great importance to tell you.

You know how your algebra teacher likes to say algebra is important to learn because you will use it extensively not only in future math classes, but in your daily life? He or she is lying. My algebra teacher, who teaches mostly 18 year old students fresh from high school, brains still bedazzled by the lies of their high school teachers, is telling her students the same thing. She’s also lying.

I know this is a serious accusation. I only make it because it’s true, and because the stakes are so high. Having lived under the delusion created by teachers I trusted, I want to free the enslaved masses in our educational institutions from the drudgery of x+2-3y=42. (Okay, I can’t really save you from algebra. I want to save you from the terrible belief that you’ll be doing this for the rest of your life. You won’t.)

I know all of this because I am not the typical, 18 year old, bedazzled student. I am a 32 year old, non-traditional student who hasn’t taken an algebra class in 15 years. If, for the past 15 years, I had been using algebra in my everyday life, I would be blowing through my algebra homework with ease, thinking, “Hey! I just did this yesterday while I was washing laundry,” or, “I’m so glad I’ve known this all along. I’d never be able to drive anywhere without it!” or, “Wow! I just used this formula last week to calculate the ratio of jazz to classical music on my iPod.”

Instead, my homework sessions are filled with frustration, tears, passionately shouted epithets, and frequent breaks for chocolate…then more tears. I represent a classic example of the maxim: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” It’s clear I’ve lost the ability to do algebra, and this can only lead to the conclusion that I never used it. And that, young people, makes liars of math teachers everywhere.

Now, I’m not personally against algebra teachers. I know they’re teaching from their own experiences. They use algebra in their daily lives, and being possessed of whatever crazy love of math led them to teach it, they probably always have. They probably also have math-lover friends working in math related fields who use algebra every day, as well. They just don’t clear the equations from their heads long enough to notice there are many more people like you and me out there.

Now that I’ve opened your eyes, I propose we start an algebra revolution. No, I’m not asking you to throw out your textbooks and refuse to turn in your homework. You can’t get out of taking algebra any more than I can. I am proposing that we share the truth with every student of algebra working hard beneath the mistaken belief that these skills will be crucial in adult life.

In your quest, you may come upon people who claim to use algebra every day, just as their math teachers said they would. I know people like that. Right now, they probably want to tell me all the ways I actually use algebra without even realizing it. Either that, or they want to tell me, in minute detail, all the ways my life would be easier if I did use algebra.

The next time I’m involved in some math-related, daily life catastrophe whose only solution involves the careful application of the principles of algebra, I’ll be sure and call those people.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Published February 8, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Valentine’s Day is Saturday (you’re welcome, all you men who forgot). Being a student , I find myself fascinated with the origins of just about everything, and holidays are no exception. Unlike certain people in my life (*cough* Mom) who would ban the Easter bunny because of its origins as a pagan fertility symbol, I’m not on my quest to do away with holiday traditions whose origins I find personally objectionable. I just want the information so I can feel smarter than your average Valentine.

Looking into the origins of holidays is not unlike cleaning out your fridge. The more you dig, the less sure you are of what you’ve actually discovered. There are several versions of the Valentine story. I’ll let you decide which you prefer.

Version 1: Early Europeans believed that February 14th was the day all birds began to choose their mates. This belief has its origins in Chaucer, who wrote that Europeans believed this. Europeans, embarrassed that they didn’t already know they believed this, began believing it and pretending that they had always believed it. This led to mass expressions of love as a distraction from the fact that nobody actually knew what they really believed.

Version 2: The Pagans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia every February to honor the Roman God Lupercus and thank him for saving their flocks from wolves. Girls names were drawn from a box by the boys in attendance and the couples were considered partners for a year. The Christians renamed this celebration Valentine’s Day and encouraged the pagans to draw the names of saints instead. The pagans weren’t having it, probably because dead saints weren’t very good kissers.

Version 3: Emperor Claudius, annoyed that the men of his empire were less than willing leave their wives and fianc├ęs to fight in his wars, placed a moratorium on marriages and declared all engagements canceled. Saint Valentine secretly performed marriages and was thrown into prison, where he died. It’s unknown whether any children of those secret marriages were named Valentine in his honor, because, well, they were secret.

Version 4: St. Valentine was imprisoned by Claudius for helping Christians. While in prison, he cured a jailer’s daughter of her blindness and/or fell in love with her and wrote her letters signed, “From your Valentine.” Claudius didn’t like the idea of his prisoners performing miracles and/or writing love notes and had Valentine clubbed and/or beheaded on February 14, 269 A.D. It’s unclear whether or not this Valentine is the same as the one in the previous version because they’re both dead and can’t be reached for comment.

Version 5: St. Valentine, upon being rejected by his mistress, cut out his own heart and sent it to her, still beating, as a token of his love. According to some scholars, we give heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and send heart shaped cards in the mail in remembrance of his passion and suffering. I would add mental illness, but I’m sure there’s another holiday set aside for that (it’s called Black Friday).

Whichever version you choose, it’s obvious that this holiday is steeped in tradition and rich with history. When you look into the eyes of your love this Saturday, remember wolves, wars, disembodied heads, and bloody, beating hearts sent through the mail.

If you’re now too disgusted to give that heart-shaped box of chocolates to your sweetheart, do feel free to send it to me via The Spectrum.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Laundry: An Inner Battle

Published February 1, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

A few years ago, I wrote a column about my inner struggle over letting my kids take over the task of doing their own laundry. Hearing from an instructor in the parenting class I was attending that kids can be responsible for their own laundry at the tender age of 7, I entered in to an epic battle between Rationality, the part of me that wants my kids to learn and grow, and Emotion, the much larger part of me that wants them to stay young forever.

As battles go, it was pretty exciting. My rational brain, swords at the ready, charged with a cry of, “They have to learn sometime!” My emotional brain responded with a deadly volley of flaming arrows and a barely intelligible shriek of, “But they’re just BABIES! And I’m the MOM! It’s my job because I’m the MOM!” Suffering heavy casualties, Rationality retreated to some remote portion of my left brain and the laundry continued as it had in years previous.

Last week, my kids started doing the laundry on their own.

You’re hoping that over the course of three years Rationality regrouped, recruited Sense and Pragmatism, and made an alliance with True Parental Love to defeat Emotion in the rematch of the century, aren’t you? I’m sorry to say it wasn’t like that at all. Apparently, Emotion was no match for post knee surgery Desperation. Flaming arrows are to Emotion as nuclear warheads are to Desperation. It wasn’t a very long fight.

It’s interesting to me to realize that it took a complete inability for me to walk to finally let go and allow (force) my kids to have the opportunity (drudgery) of doing their own laundry. When you think about it, it’s not really that hard a job. You put the laundry into a machine and push some buttons. You move it into another and push more buttons. You fold it and you put it away. (Or you fold it and it sits in baskets until the next laundry day…What? That’s not what you do?)

Of course, after some initial resistance, the kids did a great job and their second round of laundry this week was even better. Watching my eight year old skip out of the laundry room after pulling her load from the dryer, a smile of triumph and confidence on her face, has done wonders for Rationality, which gets stronger every day. It seems that even when the need for Desperation has passed, the laundry will continue as a full family effort.

This is not to say Emotion is completely gone. It’s nursing its wounds in some right brain dive, muttering things like, “But I just want to feel needed,” while its new buddy, Control Freak, cut down by surprise in the crossfire, mutters, “I just wanted to make sure it was done right.” Every now and then, they’re joined by Inner Child, crying a timid little, “I had to do my laundry as a kid and it still hurts.”

They’re all much more bitter than their counterpart, Hero Complex, which is happily washing the dishes.