Thursday, May 20, 2010


It's never too late in life to learn how to spell hiatus. Good thing, because I'm taking a short one (about two weeks).

It's all for a very worthy cause. I promise to have lots to write about when I volver.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A very pink post

Guess who had a birthday this week?

I'll give you a hint. Which of my children do you think would appreciate a cake the color of Pepto-Bismol topped with a Strawberry Shortcake doll (a Shortcake-cake if you will, or as Ethan dubbed it, a Shortcake2).

That would be Nora, of course.

She loved the cake, the presents, and all the extra attention that went with her birthday. Not that this girl is ever starved for attention, mind you. She's pretty much the center of everyone's universe wherever she is, but it had been a somewhat difficult week, so she deserved some pampering.

Tuesday, she rode her bike into the road and just about got hit by a car. No. It wasn't a car. It was--naturally--a giant suped-up black monster truck with, I swear, bone-crushing teeth on the front and a smoking, forked tail trailing off the back. Nora was WAY less worried about this near-death experience than her mother, so I took away her bike. Only then did she start to cry. Unmoved, I told her firmly, "You're grounded from your bike and maybe in a few days you can ride it again, if you're lucky!" This was quite a blow to Nora the bike-a-holic who typically spends two hours a day riding back and forth on our sidewalks. Five whole minutes passed before she came up to me and, with equal parts sweetness and utter confidence, said, "I think I'm lucky now, Mom. Can I be lucky?"

Wednesday, she was playing with the boys (stairs=cliff, carpet=lava; typical goofy kid stuff) when she fell on her arm and really hurt herself. The rest of the night she cried every time anyone touched her. She wouldn't move her arm and let it hang limply at her side, a wounded wing. I figured I'd take her to the doctor if she was still in pain the next day. Sure enough, she woke up early, wailing from her bed. Her arm was still obviously hurt so I took her into the doctor, and as I drove to the office, I pictured the rest of the morning: poking, prodding, x-rays, broken bones, plaster cast, tears, more tears (poor thing).

After a few minutes of looking at Nora's arm and asking her to move it (no way!), Doctor W. took her hand, twisted her wrist slightly, bent her elbow and popped her arm back into place. It was only a dislocated elbow. What medical magic! What a relief! What an internal debate ensued in my head when Doctor W. kept calling it "nursemaid's elbow."

me: You know why it's called that, don't you? It's the kind of injury that happens when a frustrated babysitter yanks on a child's arm.

also me: Yeah, I knew that. But that's not what happened.

me: Sure. But he doesn't know that. He probably thinks you did it. I swear each time he says "nursemaid's elbow" he looks at you for your reaction.

also me: That's totally your imagination. He doesn't think I caused the injury...Does he?

me: I'm just sayin... Shouldn't you better mention again that you weren't even in the room when she got hurt?

getting defensive me: I already told him that three times. Now he's going to think I'm trying to hard to explain how I wasn't there. Or maybe he'll wonder why I wasn't there. Maybe he thinks I should have been there and that if I'm not abusive, at least I'm neglectful.

me: Hey, he's typing something into his laptop. What's he typing? Do you think he's posting a message to DCFS right now?

totally paranoid me: It's a good thing we dressed Nora nicely before coming here and combed her hair for once. At least they can see I take good care of her.

me: Or maybe they'll think she's dressed too cute. You're at the doctors for heaven's sake, not a church social. New shoes? Braided hair? You're obviously hiding something.

both me's: Aaaaarrrrggggghhh.


Doctor W. wanted to make sure she was okay before we left so he brought in a sucker and held it in front of Nora's hurt arm, "If you can grab this with your left arm, you can have it." Nora, still holding her arm at her side just in case, refused to grab it. Then Doctor W. tried the same thing with a pack of princess stickers. That did the trick. Man, I'm grateful to have a smart physician. All those years of medical school plus that extra class in Princess Psychology do pay off.

So Nora's fine. She's perfect. She's learning how to fold her thumb across her hand to show people that she's now FOUR years old.

I also keep finding those darn stickers on odd objects all over the house. I guess it's about time we got ourselves a princess phone.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Zen and the art of art

Gabie has a hard time concentrating during prayers. To be fair, he’s a typical 8 year old and he has a hard time concentrating in general (with the notable exception of when he’s reading a Percy Jackson book and then he sits spellbound on the couch for so long I have to locate him and check his breathing because the house seems too quiet). But it’s a special kind of torture for Gabie to close his eyes, keep them closed, and DO NOTHING but listen to someone else pray. At the dinner table last night, Gabie dutifully folded his arms and, as I said the blessing, he slouched down in his chair and began slurping the juice out of the cup of fruit he had deliberately arranged at the edge of his plate within neck-stretching distance. After the prayer, I made him demonstrate proper Prayer Behavior for one minute before he could eat. Even worse, I forced him to squirm through a mini-lecture on how prayer is a holy act of talking to God and—using an analogy I hoped he'd appreciate—I suggested if a Greek hero had insulted Athena by slurping his food while talking to her, he’d be in big trouble.

Maybe I was a bit hard on Gabie. I mean who doesn’t find it hard to focus sometimes? Especially when we’re basically praying for the same things over and over with little variation? One prayer, to Gabie, is much like another, but this fruit cup in front of him…this is something entirely new, and syrupy and seriously in need of tasting.

Coming off the tails of a semester in which I had to multitask every moment to fit it all in, I’m finding new joy in focusing on one thing at a time. What a concept! Sometimes it’s hard to set aside distractions and think about only the task at hand (admits She of the iPod Addiction) but when I’m able to do it, I feel far more peaceful. I admire Zen philosophy for its emphasis on mindfulness. Everything we do, no matter how mundane or repetitive, deserves thought and care. As Zen master Dogen said, when you’re washing the rice, wash the rice.

Or maybe, since I don’t wash my rice, if you’re making the bread, make the bread. And maybe it's a joke trying to be totally single-minded with a Gabie by your side offering assistance and advice, but I made whole wheat bread this week for the first time in months and it was a true pleasure. I enjoyed the whole process especially the part where we ground the wheat and got to smell the warm, fine dust that rose from the drawer each time I pulled it open to peek at the little mounds of flour forming under the stone millwheels. Gabie helped me load everything into the mixer and flip the switch to knead it (I’d like to say we went all Zen and kneaded it by hand for several minutes, but sorry, the Bosch just makes it too easy). Gabie checked back every couple of minutes between chapters to ask “Is it dough yet?” And then we shaped five big loaves and Gabie made his own mini loaf, which still sits on the counter, two days later, in its pristine condition, wrapped in plastic, like an offering to the gods of bread and childhood, too beautiful and precious to be consumed.

I think my love-affair with art can at least partly be explained by its ability (its demand, really) to make me focus. A good painting forces my attention. It expands my experience by temporarily limiting my vision. (Jasper Johns’ famous paintings of targets take this point to an extreme) And what is art, anyway, if not a process of narrowing the scope of life in a way that asks us to look very carefully at a privileged moment, or a face, or a pattern? It’s not just painting that does this. Theater frames a couple of hours’ worth of cause and effect on a stage, well-lit, boxed-in and elevated for our consideration. Literature puts it all in a book that must be held close enough to the eyes to block out everything else happening on either side. I can relate to Gabie’s single-mindedness about his books because I grew up in a large, noisy household and I developed early the skill of tuning everything out with a good book. But paintings especially make me focus. And not to put too spiritual a point on it, I think the correlation between the evolution of framed altarpieces and framed canvases was no accident. Art museums are pseudo-sacred spaces. Don’t you think they’re even church-like sometimes? The quiet voices. The meditative staring. Lots of people with their arms folded.

I’m beginning to worry about my students and wonder how many of them are really capable of this kind of focus. I’m having more and more trouble with them playing with cell phones in class. I can swallow the fact that my lectures are not captivating enough to demand their full attention, but really, it’s not even me I want them to pay attention to. It’s Van Gogh and Vermeer and the ancient Greeks who carved the faces of their gods into marble. But some of my students just can’t do it. They can’t go a full hour without sending a text or checking their mail. It’s downright painful for them. How can I teach them about art when they’re only half-listening or half-looking? There’s almost nothing you can learn about art with half your mind. The artists who created the pieces we study put their whole souls into their work; they were notoriously fixated, even to the point of sacrificing their health and, in more than a few cases, their sanity. The least we owe them is a few minutes of our undivided attention. Maybe I need to make my classroom more Zen like. I’m seriously thinking about taking a bowl of rice the first day to wash in front of the classroom just to prove a point.

How does one wash rice anyway?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Blackberry

When I got my Blackberry cell phone back in November, it was by far, the nicest phone I've ever had. I don't use cell phones much. I don't text. I rarely call people (I think it took me a whole month to figure out how to make an outgoing call). People don't call me. I get more wrong numbers than actual friends or family calling me. I use the nifty connection to the internet (for which I pay an exorbitant fee), on average, once a month. So, you may ask, why did I buy a Blackberry?

Well, besides the fact that it makes me feel like no matter what I'm doing, I'm a professional, I bought it for the calendar. After one black week in November, in which I forgot to pick up McKay (and his entire car pool, thus making one of them miss his scout trip to the Bean Museum, something I still feel guilty about), forgot Gabie's scouts entirely, missed an important meeting at BYU, and committed about a dozen other acts of flakyness, I vowed to get a phone that would help me be more organized. And the one feature that won me over in the Blackberry was its calendar system. Now, when I'm about to forget something important, the most obnoxious alert tone ever goes off for about 3 solid minutes. This is hard to ignore. It has saved my life several times since November. It's hard living a busy life and micromanaging the busy lives of my children at the same time. I'll take all the techno help I can get.

Plus it's really shiny.

Oh yeah, and it also has a pretty nice camera. I know this because I have used it to take a grand total of three pictures thus far.

Let me mention that buying my Blackberry was an agonizing decision as most decisions are for me. I debated various phones for over a month, visited my local cell phone store so many times I knew the employees' names, their phone preferences, their wives' names and their kids' favorite TV characters. I tested out a bunch of phones. I researched all the features. I fumed over the fascist dictate that you must commit to a data plan if you want a phone with a half-decent calendar function. Anyway, in the end, I bought the Blackberry and then promptly suffered buyer's remorse, which wore off about 2 months later.

I haven't named my Blackberry yet. I hear this is customary. Names I'm considering: Halle, Chuck, Wendell.

One night only a couple of days after buying the phone and signing two years of my life away to a dastardly, extortionate service plan, I was in bed, listening to music on my phone with my headphones. I had turned on my electric blanket and had it pulled up to my neck because I was chilly. I was trying to figure out the volume button on my phone when suddenly something flashed and the music stopped. I jumped out of bed, totally panicked. When I looked at the phone, this is what had happened to the screen.

You can imagine my horror. I knew I had fried the phone. It must have been the electric blanket. I was absolutely sick.

I tried pushing all the buttons to see if just the screen was burned but nothing happened. I pushed the buttons on the sides of the phone and suddenly the image of doom disappeared and the regular screen came back. This was when I realized that somehow I had just taken a picture of the edge of my electric blanket. I hadn't fried my phone after all. Being a new Blackberry owner, I have to ask: is it unusual to shed tears of joy over an electronic device?

Photo number two needs little explanation. I drove past this sign for a month before finally pulling over to take a picture.

Poor Hugh.

I'll just say about the photo I took last night that whoever designed the chairs at Coneys clearly never had a child, never met a child and maybe even never WAS a child. Can't you just see exactly where this is going?

Let me clarify that it was NOT one of my own kids who stuck his fingers into the holes and had them so securely wedged that no amount of Pam sprayed by employees, ice rubbed on the fingers, nor twisting, pulling, or yanking by parents, police or the paramedics who eventually arrived could free the poor child. A cop finally pulled the chair seat off its frame (whacking himself pretty badly in the nose in the process). Last we saw them, the family was loading the boy, seat still attached, into a van to drive to the emergency room.

I just had to take a picture of the scene of the crime. See how my Blackberry comes in handy?

No product placement bribes were accepted in the making of this post.