Tuesday, July 29, 2008


We’re packing for our thirty-fifth anniversary trip right now. Our bedroom is full of piles—the definitely-take pile, the maybe-take pile, the wish-I-could-take pile. What’s making it really difficult to decide what to pack is due entirely to a guilty conscience brought about by a website called www.onebag.com.

The author of this website, Doug Dyment, is a proponent of traveling light. In fact, his motto is, “There are two kinds of luggage: carryon and lost.” Doug is the king cynic of all travelers when it comes to luggage, but he has a valid point. If you trust the airlines with your baggage, you are often setting yourself up for disappointment.

The www.onebag.com theory is based on washing clothes in the sink at night and hanging them up on a "surgical rubber braid clothesline" or an inflatable hanger in your hotel room, hostel, or Himalayan base camp. Doug evidently doesn't mind doing a little laundry every night before he hits the hay. So his copyrighted list of things to bring on a trip fits neatly into one soft-sided carryon bag, no matter if he is going for two days or two months. One packing list fits all.

Doug says that we only need two pair of pants and two to four shirts for any length trip. Doug almost makes it seem like part of the fun travel experience--hunched over the bathroom sink every night, scrubbing out your travel stains.

One major error I’ve been making all these years is counting out the number of days I will be gone and putting in a change of underwear for each day. Wrong, Doug says. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Doug says that no matter the length of your trip, only bring three undergarments and three pairs of socks. I am picturing Doug’s three pairs of white Fruit of the Looms and three pairs of Champion low-cut footwear. And yes, this does fit neatly into his carryon bag. His theory might even work for younger women—three pairs of Victoria’s Secret Gauzy Elfin Whisper underpants stuffed into a tiny little corner of their carryon.

What Doug fails to understand is that women of my age need more substantial undergarments. That even the suggested three pairs of our necessary old-lady, industrial strength, white cotton, steel reinforced underpants that women over 55 are required by law to wear take up half of a carryon suitcase. If we bring along the 14 pairs we really need for a two-week trip (because even if we rinse them out in the sink at night, it takes four days for them to dry, hanging on a surgical rubber braid clothesline), our entire soft-sided carryon bag would be filled with just underwear. We’d have to wear the same outer clothes for 14 days in a row.

He does have some good suggestions: a long tee shirt that can double as a nightshirt, beach coverup, or window shade. One light-weight dark sweater can be used for warmth, a dressier top for evening wear, or to wrap around your feet in high altitudes. He allows three pair of shoes (walking, dressy, and sandals) as feet are important when you’re traveling. If your feet hurt, you might as well go home.

So here I am, Mrs. Change-Five-Times-a-Day, with the entire contents of my closet laid out before me, wishing I could take it all but knowing I should be Mrs. Onebag.Com and wear the same two shirts and two pairs of pants for 14 days in a row. And that part of my travel experience should be hunched over a sink, doing laundry in the bathroom in every major port of call on the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Ever since I read Stephen Colbert’s book, I Am America and So Can You, I’ve wanted to try my hand at writing college catalogs. On page 126 of his book, Colbert took some common college classes and wrote his version of one-sentence catalog descriptions for them:

ENG 324 Careers in Poetry. Just move back in with your parents now.

ART 331 Native Art of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Ooh, look. Somebody drew a salmon.

PHIL 101 Introduction to Philosophy. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, I hope it lands on a philosophy professor.

Although it would be hard to top Colbert’s catalog descriptions, I had an overwhelming urge to write descriptions of some of the classes that I had to take in my educational career:

GER 111 Beginning German. Spend several months and several hundred dollars, using a hugely over-priced textbook, to learn a language of a country you’ve never been to and then retain only how to count to ten (ein, zwei, drei . . .)

PHIL 513 Philosophy of Vocational Education. Explore the innovative idea of taking college classes that actually lead to employment.

ECON 110 Principles of Economics I. Learn scary information about how screwed up the U.S. economy is, but gain no understanding of how to balance your checkbook or pay off your student loans, which is why you took the class in the first place.

While there are some excellent college classes out there (i.e., the ones that I teach), others are, at best, forgettable and, at worst, post-traumatic stress syndrome material (ones that other teachers teach). But I do like the idea of college catalogs telling the unvarnished, brutal truth, even if it means no student will ever knowingly and/or willingly take those classes (except mine).

Monday, July 21, 2008


The other day, I managed to surprise one of my daughters who believes she knows everything about my rather simple, transparent life. I told her that my undergraduate college minor was library science. I am nearly as old as Dewey Decimal himself, but I can legitimately put on my resume that I have a minor in library science.

“Get out of here,” my daughter exclaimed skeptically. “You?? A library science minor??”

I smiled modestly, implying that there might be many, many other surprises in my colorful background to astound her (there aren’t).

So given my library science background, imagine how pleased I was to read an excerpt from Karen Joy Fowler’s latest book, Wit’s End, when a reference is made to heroic librarians who, along with Superman, are the guardians of truth, justice, and the American way (p. 148):

“ . . . Rima’s father had always told her never to underestimate librarians. The Patriot Act, he’d said, had made the mistake of underestimating librarians, and now they were the only thing standing between us and 1984, and they [librarians] weren’t all spineless the way Congress was. They read books. His money was on them.”

The reference in Fowler’s book was to the Patriot Act following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers. It turned out that some of the terrorists’ research in planning the attacks had been done at the Paterson Public Library in Paterson, New Jersey. When the FBI came a-knocking on the library door after September 11 with a federal subpoena requesting information on two of the hijackers’ library usage, the library complied and turned over records.

But later, when the Patriot Act gave the federal government the right to track any and all library patrons’ reading habits on a regular basis to investigate cases regarding foreign intelligence and international terrorism, the librarians rose up in indignation. You see, their library patrons come to the library when they have questions about funny rashes in embarrassing places or family issues or legal questions—sensitive issues they maybe don’t want the whole world to know they’re researching. And those quiet librarians feel like their patrons have the right to do research at the library without every Tom, Harry, and Dick Cheney knowing their business.

I’ve seen pictures of some of these rabble-rousing, flag-waving, civil-liberties touting librarians who protested the Patriot Act. And guess what. They look like you’d think librarians might look—mostly bespectacled, flat-shoed, sweater-wearing ladies with hair cut in sensible bobs.

But you’ve got to love that they’re out there fighting for our right to satisfy our curiosity at the library about any subject we want without fear that the FBI will come in and try to make something of our eclectic taste in reading material. They’re out there fighting for you and me—and a guy named Ahmad Abduhl—and our right to check out a book about cures for groin rash without the Department of Homeland Security knowing about it.

So maybe it’s a stretch that I feel a sense of kinship with these brave librarians out protecting our rights to privacy. Maybe a minor in library science doesn’t give me a membership in their club. But a small part of me, the part that suffered through Cataloging and Classification (LIBS 421) and the interminable Intro to Reference Materials (LIBS 431) in Spring Semester of 1969 feels it has a right to be considered part of the brother/sisterhood of librarians.

Yes, it’s true, that the closest I’ve ever come to working as an actual librarian is checking out my own books using the automatic bar code scanner at the public library. But I, too, would be willing to march and testify before Congress to protect John Q. Public’s right to access library materials on any topic without fear of public disclosure.

In spirit, I want to be one of the librarians described by Karen Joy Fowler in Wit’s End—the strong, patriotic type. The kind you should never underestimate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Lord knows I hate to be a cynic. Cynical people are not attractive and they hardly ever get invited to parties. (Come to think of it, it’s been a long time since I’ve been invited to a party . . .)

Anyway, I hate to be a cynic. But when I read an Associated Press story that the U.S.Navy is planning to name a nuclear submarine after the state of North Dakota, I experienced one of those cynical moments that I sometimes have. Come on! A nuclear submarine named the USS North Dakota??!!?? When was the last time you saw a nuclear submarine docked anywhere near Bismarck? Or Dickinson? Or Fargo, for that matter? Can you see a submarine docked on the Red River, waiting to debark sailors for shore leave in Grand Forks?

It seems that after intensive lobbying by two North Dakota Democratic senators and a representative, the governor of North Dakota personally convinced Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter to name the new nuclear powered submarine currently under construction the USS North Dakota. Since the only other nuclear submarines named after states that I could find were Virginia, Texas, and Hawaii—three states that actually have water on their shores—this might be a stretch.

The governor’s delegation finally persuaded Secretary Winter to name the submarine after their state when they promised that North Dakota was "not just after a name on the hull" (how rude to even imply that). North Dakota would be “a supportive community” to the sailors on the ship. I guess that implies that the next time those sailors dock in Fargo, the city fathers will throw a picnic in Lindenwood Park. Brats and potato salad for everyone and free admission to an NDSU Bison game at the Fargo Dome!

The only saving grace in all of this is that if you go to the website www.nvr.navy.mil/nvrships/name.htm, you will find that it’s highly possible that North Dakota currently is the only state in the union that doesn’t already have a Navy ship named after it. How fair is that? Apparently the other 49 states already have a namesake Navy ship—plus there are ships named after every native American tribe, every U.S. territory, former presidents, hundreds of large cities, several fruits and vegetables, countless animals, some valuable minerals, and retired admirals too numerous to mention. Even South Dakota has a ship named after it, for Pete’s sake!

So I guess it’s only fair that the central-most landlocked state in the union has a Navy ship named after it, too. I’ll put my cynicism aside and be happy for North Dakota’s new nuclear submarine, the USS North Dakota. I would rank it right up there with its bragging rights for being the geographical center of North America—at the 15-foot rock obelisk in Rugby, North Dakota, right next to the waterfront.

Monday, July 14, 2008


This is the second time I’ve tried to write about the new grandbaby we’re expecting in December. The first time I wrote about it (never published) turned into a maudlin, sentimental piece that was embarrassingly sappy. It sounded a little like we were the first people on the face of the earth to have a grandchild since Adam and Eve beamed proudly over Enos. (I think Enos was their grandson by Seth, as Abel was dead and Cain was in jail). But it honestly was the way I felt—unique, sentimental, sappy and very, very happy.

I’ve spent the last two months keeping a piece of fruit in the refrigerator to remind me of how big our grandbaby is. At six weeks or so, the baby was about the size of a raspberry with a spinal cord. It is now about the size of a really big, Grade A California grapefruit (roughly the size of its mother’s hand when held in a traffic-stopping position). It has fingers, toes—and even ears.

So here I was, feeling sentimental, sappy, and happy—and choking up every time I saw that piece of fruit in the refrigerator. But for some reason, it seemed almost disrespectful to write about the baby too soon—I didn’t want to jinx it.

BUT--all that has changed! Now I can write about a real baby because on Sunday night on the telephone, I heard its heartbeat. My daughter-in-law’s aunt loaned her a baby heart monitor, and last night, we heard the lub-DUB, lub-DUB, lub-DUB of the baby’s heart just as clear as day. Tom thought it sounded like a boy (he’s been convinced from the beginning it’s a boy). I was just relieved it didn’t sound anything like the heartbeat of a raspberry or a kiwi or a cumquat or a grapefruit.

It sounded like an incredibly healthy baby with the heart of a fighter pilot.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I’m trying desperately to use Google to locate a man known only by the name of "Al, the Detached Cat Hater." Before anyone thinks I’ve finally lost my marbles, let me explain.

The last time Tom and I went on an extended vacation, our cat Hobie, in her anger at being left in the care of a stranger, decided to punish us for abandoning her. Cats have very few tools at their disposal (no knives, no explosives, no firearms, and no chemicals). So without going into the graphic details, we had a major clean-up job to do when we arrived home.

For a few weeks after we got home, Hobie, who is a world-class expert at carrying a grudge, continued to use her natural arsenal to get even: ‘You left me,’ she meowed angrily, deliberately ignoring the litter box, ‘and you shall continue to pay.’

Even when she’s not angry, Hobie is just naturally antisocial to guests, and she has a nasty habit of coughing up hairballs in the middle of the living room carpet. Once she marked all the bathroom rugs in the guest bathroom after non-family company left, just because the bath mats smelled like strangers’ feet and she wanted to show her displeasure at their visit. It’s her house and she doesn’t want to share.

In August, Tom and I are leaving on another vacation to celebrate our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. Clouding the anticipation of two sun-filled weeks in Italy and Spain are fears of what Hobie will do to the house while we are gone.

“So, get rid of her,” I can hear everyone snapping impatiently. “Just get rid of the cat.” But getting rid of a family pet that we’ve had for over ten years isn’t that simple. It’s true that she looks like a fur-covered Jabba the Hutt, but she’s been a part of the family since the girls picked her out in the pet store back in 1997. I love that lazy old bag of blubber.

The answer to our problem just might be Al, the Detached Cat Hater. I know he’s out there somewhere because Ann Lamott says in her book, Bird by Bird, “I had a friend named Al who every so often took other people’s cats to the pound to be put down, because his friends couldn’t bear to do it themselves. They were cats, who were, for one reason or another, like sickness or incontinence, a blight on the landscape. He [Al] didn’t care one way or the other about cats. He had an imaginary company, whose business was having cats put to sleep, whose slogan was ‘The pussy must pay.’”

So as we plan for our long-awaited anniversary trip in August, in the back of my mind is a nagging fear that the next time we leave, a furious Hobie will burn down the house or worse. Dear sweet Hobie—she’s lived with us for over ten years and could easily live another ten. Or fifteen, God forbid (surely not twenty).

Does anyone out there know the unlisted number for Al, the Detached Cat Hater? (This must be what it feels like to hire a hit man.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Tom often tries to talk to me from the next room. “Bears fly fan sports?” he’ll call, sounding annoyed. “Bears fly fan sports?” I’ll repeat back loudly, sounding equally annoyed at the very dumb question. He’ll pop his head around the corner. “No, where’s my tan shorts?” he’ll ask, and I’ll mumble, “Well, why didn’t you ask that to begin with?” We are victims of a communication “mondegreen.”

The brand new 2008 edition of the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has just added a new word to describe this age-old phenomenon of mishearing. Evidently, mistaking words or phrases for other words or phrases is so common that Merriam Webster has finally acknowledged its existence with a dictionary entry, “mondegreen.”

According to an AP story by Stephanie Reitz, the word “mondegreen” has its roots in an old Scottish ballad in which the lyric ‘laid him on the green’ has been confused and misheard over time as ‘Lady Mondegreen.’

When I was a freshman in college, I went home for the weekend with my roommate, who lived in Glenwood, Minnesota. We got together with some of her old high school friends at somebody’s house where the radio was playing a 1960s Dave Clark Five song called “Catch Us If You Can.” The lyrics go, “Here we come again, mmmm/Catch us if you can, mmmm, etc.” One of her high school friends sang enthusiastically along with the radio, “Here we come again, mmmm/Ketchup in a can, mmmm.” I thought she was the dumbest person I had ever met in my life. Little did I know that she was just a mondegreen victim.

On cold or rainy days, when I walk on the treadmill and watch a DVD, I have gotten into the habit of using English subtitles so I can understand what the characters are saying. Otherwise, I will watch an entire movie and mistake a murder mystery for a tragic love story. (“Professor Plum did it in the conservatory with a candlestick,” becomes “Profess her love and plummet off the seven-story cliff.”)

However, I am discovering a very important fact as I am writing this entry. Every single time I write “mondegreen,” it is underlined with a red wavy line. Evidently, even though Merriam Webster recognizes mondegreen as a word, Microsoft hasn’t gotten the memo yet.

Monday, July 07, 2008


I am currently at a stage where people around me are losing their “filters” left and right, and I have a sinking feeling I’m losing mine, too.

If I remember correctly from my last Psychology 101 class taken in 1923 or so, filters are those regulating devices provided by the ego that help to repress some of those anti-social and random impulses our id likes to suggest on a regular basis. The ego is under the guidance of the well-meaning superego, our conscience and critic, which governs ideals, spiritual goals, and cultural regulations. Psychological filters work very much like a coffee filter, a furnace filter, or a car filter in that they are designed to regulate what comes in or goes out. In this case, psychological filters regulate our actions and the words that come out of our mouths.

So here’s our ego working hard to act responsibly, held to impeccably high standards by our superego conscience—while at the same time we’re being bombarded by our disorganized id (our dark side) whose only desire is to let it all hang out. The id says, “If it feels good, do it.” The id says, “If you think it, say it out loud.” The id says, “I want it, therefore I should have it.” And the id says, “It’s all about me and what I want.” No wonder we feel so tired at the end of the day—it’s from keeping our filter in place, battling that pesky id from morning until night.

As far as I can tell, there are five main id filter removers:

1) Alcohol – If you have ever had a friend walk up to you at a gathering and say, “I r-e-a-l-l-y like you scho-o-o mush . . . you’re the besht frien’ I’ve ever had . . .,” you are dealing with a person whose id filter has been temporarily removed for the evening. It will generally be back in place again in the morning, along with a really bad headache.

2) Stroke – Hang around any nursing home long enough and you will run into residents who, because of stroke, have lost the part of their brain that says, “Maybe you shouldn’t say that.” It’s why the 93-year-old former Methodist minister in Room 167 shouts at the top of his voice, “Get me out of this *&%*#@ place! Help! Save me from these *!%@^$!” The filters are gone—his id has taken charge of language and emotions.

3) Watching TV Reality Shows – A steady diet of TV reality shows, in which television cameras are used to record unscripted life dialogues, only sell advertising if the unscripted dialogue is shocking and crude. The more bleeps in the audio, the better. The guests on the “Who’s My Baby’s Daddy?” episodes of The Maury Povich Show know if they’re not shocking enough, they’ll end up on the cutting room floor. Bridezilla is under pressure to alienate every single member of the bridal party. That encourages the home viewing audience to believe that unfiltered ids are the norm and filtered ids are repressed and old-fashioned.

4) Aging – It all started when Jenny Joseph wrote a poem warning that when she got old, she planned to wear purple “with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” And from there, an entire revolution was born. The poem gave permission to millions—perhaps billions—of old people (even those who don’t have strokes) to run around saying and doing whatever pops into their heads. Feel like farting in church? Let ‘er rip. You’re old and you’ve got your red hat on—what are they going to do? Feel like telling the checkout clerk at the grocery store that her multiple piercings and tattoos make her look like a Gamboozi witch doctor out of National Geographic? Go ahead—stare and make remarks. You’re wearing a red hat and you threw your id filter away—nobody can touch you.

5) Blogging – “Dance like nobody’s watching; sing like nobody’s listening; write like nobody’s reading.” Who needs a filter when you’re blogging? Let everyone know exactly what’s in that empty little head of yours. Why pretend that you are deep and mysterious—just turn that brain inside out and empty out all the fluff and trivia. Sure, the mystique is gone; but it certainly feels good to let that id come out of the closet and dance naked in the streets.

OK, now back to reality. Filter in place, everyone? Time to leave this blog and go back out into the real world. Got your prim back on? Got your proper where it belongs? Did the superego and ego get the id back in its cage? Then let’s go out to face the day.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


The last two books I’ve read have been polar opposites of each other. One took me agonizing weeks to plow through and the second one took me one rainy day to read. Book No. 1 was critically acclaimed, was written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, was chosen to be in Oprah’s Book Club, and was made into a major motion picture. Book No. 2 was a first novel written by an unknown special education major from Hawaii, and was kind of a cross between Tom Hanks in Big and the classic Flowers for Algernon.

The first book I hated; the second book I loved.

Book No. 1: I cannot tell you how relieved I was to be finally done with Love in the Time of Cholera. If the author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, himself walked up to me, offered me half of his Pulitzer Prize money, and begged me to read another one of his books (tough to do since he died in 1999), I would probably run shrieking in the other direction.

I don’t remember the last time I read a book where I didn’t have sympathy for even one single character. About half way through the book, I wished that the entire cast of characters in Love in the Time of Cholera had died from that disease in the first chapter. It would have saved me slogging through the book’s excruciating descriptions of the thoughts, misdeeds, and mental health issues of dysfunctional Columbians. Then to make it worse, I was so sure that it had to be me (after all, could all those critics be wrong?) that I watched the Love in the Time of Cholera DVD. Huge mistake—the dysfunctional Columbians were not improved by actually seeing them instead of just reading about them.

Book No. 2: The other book was entitled Lottery by Patricia Wood, the very funny, insightful story of Perry L. (for Lucky) Crandall, a young man who adamantly calls himself “slow” because his IQ is 76, and his grandmother assured him he had to be 75 or below to be “retarded.” The book is written in Perry’s voice as he struggles to adjust his slow way of thinking and acting to a much faster world. His grandfather and his grandmother were his teachers and his conscience as he grew to be one of the wisest “slow” people you’ll ever meet. In Lottery, it’s easy to love the good guys and boo the bad guys. This was especially important when Perry won $12 million in the Washington State Lottery.

I suppose this proves once and for all that I don’t have any literary taste. Maybe so. But if anyone ever tries convince you to read a book about maladjusted Columbians entitled Love in the Time of Cholera, just back away slowly, and tell them to put the book down and no one will get hurt. Tell them you have a date with Perry L. Crandall in Lottery instead. I guarantee you’ll have a much more pleasant read.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Some of you may wonder, “Doesn’t this woman have anything else to do besides write in this blog?” Of course I do!

But like most women, I can multi-task. For example, I just wrote the previous sentence while I was mopping the kitchen floor, simultaneously mentally composing an email response to a student intern, while stopping momentarily to swat a fly on the kitchen wall. I simply grabbed a piece of paper, wrote the sentence down, and then went back to my thinking and mopping, taking care to not leave a soapy scum.

It’s called multi-tasking. Women do it all the time. It’s why we can write down our thoughts, coordinate student internships, rid our homes of insects, and still keep our floors squeaky clean, all at the same time. Duh!!!