Friday, December 3, 2010

A Little Bit of Christmas Spirit

Today on the phone, my mother informed me they had gotten a Christmas tree. This immediately sparked the question: “It’s not as bad as last year’s tree, is it?”  See last year, my parents decided they would partake of nature’s bounty by venturing into the mountainous woods of Colorado to chop down their own tree. Fueled by hearty enthusiasm, they set off to the forest, intent on bringing home a little piece of Colorado to warm our hearth. Unfortunately, “nature’s bounty” proved elusive, for what came home was a little more sparse than spruce. Though I wasn’t there, I can only imagine the conversation that prompted them to make such a rash decision choosing our tree. I imagine it went something like this, 

Mom: “This is fun, we’re gonna cut down a tree-- we don’t need the girls here!”
Dad: Laughs
Mom: “I wish we had some grandkids”
Dad: Begins to look off into the distance, somewhere in the echoing expanse plays the haunting chorus from Fiddler on the Roof “Sunriiiise, Sunset, Swiftly flow the days….” 
Mom: “Maybe we should set one of the girls up wi-”
Dad: “THIS ONE! THIS TREE RIGHT HERE!” Begins sawing it down.

And that’s how we ended up with a tree that even Charlie Brown would look down on. 

When I came home to help decorate what I thought was going to be a tree, I was understandably shocked. My dad had tried to warn me on the phone saying, “Now it’s a little thinner than some of the trees we’ve had before. It’s a mountain tree.” Unfortunately that description did little to prepare me for what I saw when I stepped through the front door.
I took one look at it and said,  “Where’s the tree?”
Mom: “Well...that is the tree.”
I pointed at it in disbelief, “That?! There are barely enough branches to make a WREATH!” 

After I collected myself, I managed to pose a question, “So, mom… many other trees did you pass by before settling on this particular tree?”

Dad: “Plenty.” 

Me: “Are you sure they were trees, not, you know, pine cones?”
 At that point, though they were laughing, my parents still felt compelled to explain their choice. My mom offered the justification that it, “looked different in the woods.” 
My sister, who had been silently shaking her head in the corner, piped in with “Did it look like a real tree then?” 

Their defense of the tree is something I can only attribute to classic underdog syndrome, some people are just hardwired to root for the down-and-outs. My dad defended it for a good 40 minutes, claiming it just needed some decorations. After positioning it at an angle that hid the more gaping bald patches, we set about putting lights on the tree. Unfortunately the addition of lights did little to mask the raw material. (It’s the classic pig-in-a-dress scenario, you can put it in a dress, but it will always be a pig).  In fact, the lights seemed to comically highlight our predicament: 

Refusing to lose hope, mom and dad insisted that putting on the ornaments would make all the difference. Unfortunately, the thin mountain air produced equally thin branches, which would bend completely under any kind of ornamental weight. But even after the young sapling dropped a few of our more mediocre ornaments, my dad still steadfastly defended it. The turning point came, however, when dad attempted to grace the tree with one of the ornaments from his “special horn collection”. See, somehow we’ve managed to collect a bunch of ornaments that look like this:
Most people would streamline the horn collection into say one or two...or just one.  But for some reason dad has developed a particular fondness for this variety of ornament. And for that reason, we are not allowed to throw any of the horns away. (Although they do take a lot of verbal abuse each year). So when one of the horns dropped onto the ground, emerging with a scratched bugle, the tree suddenly found itself without a defender. 

At that point, the gloves came off (along with a few more ornaments) and we effectively roasted our tree. When it came time to name it (as is our yearly tradition), we aptly settled on Karen Carpenter. It seemed appropriate at the time. Somehow, Karen made her way into our hearts that Christmas season-- maybe it was the rum-nog speaking, but we eventually came to appreciate her. We all agreed that, in her offbeat, unashamed ghetto-ness she was uniquely characteristic of our family (a family that once had a broken car window during a rainstorm and drove down the road with an umbrella sticking out the window hole). 

I think it brings to mind the idea that Christmas spirit is not about the tree, or what’s under it. Christmas spirit is about taking what you have and celebrating it with the people you love. (Even if you only have a quarter of a tree to celebrate with).  So with that in mind, Happy Holidays all-- and for those of  you thinking about cutting down your own tree, remember, “They look different in the woods!"

How to Tame a Terrorist

       One of the most profound pieces of wisdom my mother ever told me was this: "Children are little terrorists. You can't negotiate with them." This fact was driven painfully home to me this afternoon on the bus when a six year old boy took all of the passengers hostage with his preternaturally loud screaming. As the mother tried to hush his rage screams I reflected on the accumulated wisdom of hostage negotiators and how these strategems could be applied to parenting. If you have or regularly babysit a little terror try some of the following tactics:
1. Turn up the heat
 One of the first things the police do in a hostage situation (according to Die Hard and other action movies) is to cut the power, especially during a sweltering heat wave. Eventually the hostage-takers get so hot and irritable that they just give up, figuring that prison at least has air conditioning. This is an ideal tactic when your child is highly energetic. By turning up the heat and forcing them to wear a sweater you'll ensure maximum lethargy, and find they'll drift off into nap time.  You can aid this descent into dreamland by another common tactic:
2. Drug Them
 Now I'm not talking about throwing a bottle of tear gas into the room to break up the riot occuring in the ball pen, but a little whiskey in the apple juice never hurt anyone.  Look at this way, when they get to their adolescent years and go on a wild binge, you'll have saved yourself a trip to the emergency room. How can your child get alcohol poisoning if you've secretly been building their tolerance for years? Now that's what I call planning for a kid's future!
3. Turn out the Lights
 One side effect of cutting the power is that you will have no electricity in your house. We all know that a child's greatest fear is of the dark, so why not exploit that? One timeout in a dark, enclosed space and little Johnnie will be gratefully shoveling down his vegetables. For those of you who are thinking "what if this causes lasting psychological damage to my child?" let me share a story with you. 
 When I was around eight years old our family lived in a neighborhood of Omaha prone to frequent power outages. One night my  mom and I were alone in the house during one of these outages, reading in her room by candlelight. My mom told me she was going downstairs for some more candles. After waiting alone for several minutes I decided follow her, and so picking up my little candle I ventured alone into the dark, menacing hallway. Just as I was passing the bathroom door my mom jumped out shrieking. Knowing that I would eventually follow, she had been lurking there, waiting for the appropriate moment to strike. I jumped a foot in the air and tried to calm the rapid pounding in my chest while she writhed with laughter. Now I could be bitter about this experience, but I've discovered as an adult that I am entirely unable to be scared at haunted houses. I laugh and gleefully throw  my friends in the path of the chainsaw wielding maniac, because I learned an important fact that day. There is nothing scarier than my mother. This is the type of priceless life lesson you can impart on your children too. 
4. The Power of the Counteroffer 
 Professional negotiators cannot give in to terrorist demands, either because they don't have the authority or because the demands are unrealistic.  Instead of caving negotiators will often give small concessions. This can work with children too. Example:
Janie: I want to go to Disneyland
Mom: We can't go to Disneyland. How would you like this bag of chips?
Jimmy: I want a new bike.
Mom: You can't have a new bike. How  would you like this bag of chips?
Always keep a good stock pile of chips around to distract the child from what they really want. Cheetos, fruit snacks, and other high-fructose corn syrup laden items will work as well. If their mouths are full of snack items they will have more difficulty hounding you for something. Just remember to keep them distracted from what they really want long enough that they forget. 
Practical Police Psychologist Dr. Lawrence Miller said it best when he said "hostage negotiation is all about psychology". So get inside your kid's head, and remember what Mama said "Never negotiate." 
-Shadow Cat

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Public Shame and Other Lessons Learned the Hard Way

There are moments in life when you have to laugh in order to keep from crying. This blog is dedicated to those moments.  

A few weeks ago I got in a little accident, which incidentally was not so little and actually resulted in the total destruction of my car. As it turns out, looking for a great song on your ipod is not a good idea while driving. Everyday I wake up and think, “Why didn’t I just use the shuffle-shake feature?!” But the immediate horror of wrecking your car is nothing compared to the phone call that has to take place immediately afterwards. Telling your parents that you crashed the car they gave you….. 

So as a punishment, my parents decided that my sister (who got punished by default) and I, would not get the insurance money back from the car, but instead, we would get to drive the family mini-van. At first I thought they were joking, but apparently the hilarity of the situation overcame them, cutting off any sympathy they might have previously had. When my mom first mentioned the idea, I laughed it off. Until they started referring to it as “my” van. 

Some background information is necessary to understanding the comedic irony of this situation. We’ve had this van since I was in the 7th grade. Everybody liked it for like, a week. Then, without the new car smell dulling our frontal lobes, we realized how stupid we looked. My dad held on to the pretext that the van was cool longer than anyone else. Maybe because he never really had to drive it. He would often defend the magenta-abomination on the sole merit that it, “was very useful” and “could cart around a lot of stuff.” 

When I was in the 10th grade, my dad’s truck got stolen from in front our house. The first thing my mom said was, “Why couldn’t they have taken the van?! Literally, it was right next to the truck!" The fact that his truck got stolen was overshadowed by our disappointment that the van didn’t get stolen. 

On the rare occasion that I had to drive it to school (after much weeping and gnashing of teeth), I would park it a few blocks away and walk the rest of the way. Because it was cooler to have nothing, than to have a van. There was always that rare popular guy who made a cult following from driving a mini-van. But it was always his choice, and somehow everyone thought the fact that he wanted to drive it, somehow made it cool. I feigned that kind of confidence, but all it took was one kid shouting “HAHAHA LAME!!!!” for me to crumple into a defeated heap of shame. 

Eventually my parents gave us their other car, and they started driving the van. Once my dad got a more hands on experience with “Big Red”, he joined forces with the rest of us and now everyone in our family hates her. I don’t think my parents really care about punishing me as much as they saw this as a convenient excuse for getting rid of the van. They’ve been angling to dump her for years now.

In the decade we’ve had her, the van has sustained some battle wounds. Someone backed into it in a parking lot once, which we never bothered reporting to the insurance company. So we’ve just had a gigantic dent in the side for about seven years now. Also, she has a pretty nasty scrape from when Lauren first got her license and brushed up against a brick wall. Once the entire transmission went out and in a glimmer of hopeful thinking, we thought she might be out of out lives forever. My dad managed to secure a brand new engine, proudly announcing that she had “Another 100,000 miles left in her!”  We managed one half-hearted “yay” before slumping into self-pity.  She is operable now, but don’t try and roll the windows down because they won’t roll back up. And sometimes the keys randomly fall out of the ignition. Oh and did I mention the heater doesn’t work?

Now an interesting set of effects arise when you ride around in a moving embarrassment. Most notably, has been the emergence of the phrase: “Oh well, it’s just the van.”. As in, “Should I take the time to make a three-point turn, or should I gently scrape up against this wall to avoid reversing…. oh well, it’s just the van.” Or for instance, “It’s really dark out here and I can’t see the auto-lock button, should I just leave it unlocked all night? …. Oh well, it’s just the van.” 

Now while I drive, I don’t look for songs on my ipod because no matter what hot new song I’m listening to, I drive a mini-van. So I just listen to NPR now. And when I’m not exchanging knowing glances with high-schoolers at stoplights, I’m generally fantasizing about ways to get rid of the van. Usually it involves me getting into an accident that isn’t my fault, or just driving it off a cliff. That would be my fault, but watching the twisted metal contort in a heap of burning rubber would give me ultimate satisfaction. (And no, I wouldn’t die in the crash because I would tie a brick to the accelerator and jump out at the last minute). Once I asked Lauren what she thought the chances were of the van getting stolen if we left it unlocked. She too, responded with a question: “Do you know any soccer moms that participate in auto-theft? Because if you do, I think we have a great chance.” Point and Match. 

So the take-home point (besides setting up a playlist on your ipod before leaving the house), is that sometimes in life-- you just have to laugh at your circumstances. I used to drive the van and duck down every time I saw someone I knew. I would linger behind groups and then sneak away to the car when no one was looking. But now, even though this is a mortifying experience-- I’m learning to laugh at myself. More than that, I’m learning to laugh at my mistakes. I think sometimes it’s easy to become so fixated on failure, on embarrassment, or on the perceptions of others, that we forget to just live our lives. The fear of failure, or of looking stupid, becomes the thing that confines us to a life punctuated by hesitation. The van is symbolic of a life spent worrying what other people think, and more recently of a big mistake I made. But I’m learning that it really doesn’t matter. If you can laugh at yourself, if you can learn from the past-- you’ll be able to see the bright side of anything. As Al Franken said in “Oh, the Things I Know”, “Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are; precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.” So in that vein, safe driving everyone!  And if you see someone driving a mini-van with a crazed look in their eye, think of me! :) 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Adventures Growing Up

I’m 21 (and a half) years old. I guess that makes me an adult? I can drive, I can vote, I have a credit card, I pay bills. Somehow I always thought I would feel like a grownup by now, but I still feel like the little girl that tried to show off at her dance recital and ended up falling off the stage. Besides prompting an abrupt and permanent shift from dance to contact sports, little has changed since that literal fall from grace.  I still feel like I’m spinning out of control from time to time. Part of the problem, I think, is that sometimes we assume growing up happens all at once. If you consider yourself an adult, it’s easy to assume you don’t have any more growing to do.  I’m starting to realize that growing up is an adventure, one that happens in episodic lessons.
Sometimes these lessons come in a funny way. For example, my sister and I often disagree about how to handle our shared expenses. Now I admire my sister’s frugality for the most part-- she’s no frivolous spender, people. But sometimes, we can’t help but disagree about which type of things are really worth spending money on. For example, we have a sponge in our kitchen and occasionally that sponge starts to smell like whatever its been washing for the past weeks. The little food particles get trapped into the sponge creating a distinct smell known in our house as sponge rot. The following interaction occurred the other day:
As we’re cleaning dishes. “Lauren, this sponge is nasty. We need a new one.”
“It’s fine.”
“It smells like a dead animal.”
“It still works.”
“So does used floss, that doesn’t mean you don’t get a new pack. This is unsanitary.”
“Laine, just wash your hands off after.”
“Fine. I’ll do that…” If they haven’t corroded from whatever fungus is growing on them now.
Or consider another example, this event occurred near the beginning of fall when it was technically cool enough to roll the windows down instead of turning on the air conditioning. Now I’m the type of person who will turn the air on if it’s above 65 degrees, forget how much gas it wastes. “Roughing it” is when the air is on low. Lauren on the other hand, enjoys the wild breeze and the fringe benefit of saving money. Sometimes, however, unexpected consequences occur from this practice. We were riding in the car, with the windows down when Lauren noticed a bee right behind me in the backseat. Of course my first instinct was to smash it. The potential of getting stung increases exponentially in a confined space. You would think this reality would create an extra sense of caution. After all, it’s not like I could run away. But it doesn’t create caution, it creates frenzy. Lauren saw my hand reaching for the empty plastic water bottle in the cup holder.
“Laine, don’t try to smash it. You’re going to make it mad.”
This warning was drown out by my piercing voice screaming, “BEE!!!!!!!”
With a shaky hand, I turned around and craned my arm to the backseat window. I slowly positioned the bottle until it was right over the bee. Before he had a chance to retreat, I swiftly lowered my weapon of choice onto his poor soul. Now what I didn’t calculate was that the bottom of a bottle is not an even surface, it has convex and concave parts. This proved to be very unfortunate error.
“Did you get him?????” Lauren asked, not daring to take her eyes off the road.
At this point, I retreated all limbs to the front seat. I needed a new weapon quickly, the bee was mad and he was coming for me. I looked down the the floor: four more empty water bottles, a couple of receipts, and an old pen cap.
“Where are the weapons?!” I shouted this at Lauren expecting her to follow. “I need ammo!”
“Just kill it!!!!!”
“With what?!?! This pen cap? Should I have a little sword fight with his stinger!!?”
“I knew this was going to happen! I TOLD you not to hit it!!”
“Well you know what Lauren, this never would have happened if you wouldn’t try to  save money by rolling down the windows. Just use the AC!!! Why can’t we use the AC- no bee has ever made it through the-”
By this time the bee had made a line drive for the front seat. He was coming at me. In a last ditch effort, I grabbed the bottle again. Come on cheap plastic Kroger brand, do your job. I swung the bottle wildly, managing to create enough wind power to blow all the other receipts on the dash up into the air. One of the errant swings made contact, however, and the bee went down. I transitioned the bottle from a broad sword motion into a frenzied stabbing motion. Once I saw I piece of wing fall off, I slowly lifted the bottle back. He squirmed a few more times, and then lay motionless. Needless to say, the windows haven’t been rolled down since.
Another distinct challenge of independent, adult life is cooking. My sister has proven herself to be quite the gourmet, creating dishes like “Pan-seared Salmon with Pomegranate Reduction”. Meanwhile, in my dark corner of the kitchen, I struggle to properly operate a can opener.  My only attempt at salmon resulted in a description of “good….maybe a little dry.” This resulted in the overreaction of the century, which culminated in my vowing “never to cook again.” Who knew growing up could be so hard? My most recent endeavor in the kitchen was with chili and cornbread. I decided to make chili in the crockpot and cornbread from a box mix. On a side note, I realized that there is a very important distinction between cooking and assembling. All the things I cook, are really exercises in properly assembling the right ingredients. So if you want nachos or pizza, come over. The chili consisted in dumping a bunch of ingredients in the crockpot and turning it on. Done. I decided to stick with a box mix for the cornbread. Now all was going according to plan until the content of the crockpot started boiling over. I thought it was all just supposed to slowly simmer together to create an aromatic blend of ingredients. Instead, the contents were looking like boiling vomit lava. And the cheese I added was burning on the sides of the crockpot. I turned it down lower to stop the bubbling from pushing off the top of the pot in volcanic fashion. At this point, my kitchen senses ran out. I thought, Maybe I should taste it to make sure it isn’t burnt? Never mind that it was boiling literally one second ago. I should definitely taste it. Technically I ate the chili, although I didn’t taste any of it because my taste buds all burned off before I could register any flavor. The cornbread was slightly more of a success. My sister commented, “It doesn’t taste gluten-free. And by “gluten-free” I mean disgusting.”
“Oh good, I’m glad my allergy isn’t an inconvenience to you.” We both agreed that this meal was a marked improvement from previous attempts at domesticity. Maybe someday I’ll actually learn to cook something without burning it or injuring myself.
American actor Woody Harrelson once observed that “A grownup is a child with layers on.” This definition of how we transition into adulthood might be the most accurate I’ve heard. Each experience, each seemingly failed attempt, adds a layer of experience whereby we grow into the person we are meant to be. Most of the time I still feel like that little girl spinning closer and closer to the edge. I currently have 12 unheard voice mails and 9 text messages i haven’t responded to, my gas tank is always on empty, my room looks like a disaster-relief zone,  I routinely lose my keys, I have about eight containers of food in my pantry with less than one bite left, and I haven’t done homework in over a week. But at least I took a shower today, let’s celebrate progress. Sometimes I’m tempted to feel like I’m less of an adult because of these things, but maybe I’m missing the point? Maybe it’s not about having every detail under control all the time, or having a plan, or knowing how to respond to every curve ball life throws at you. Maybe it’s simply about letting life add another layer in the way it chooses, trusting that the ultimate plan will take its course over time. Red wood trees are known to have base circumferences of over 100 feet, and yet each ring added to the collective expanse of the tree is added one layer at a time. Over time, after many growing seasons, the tree reaches maturity. I’m learning that growing up isn’t always predictable, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes you get lucky and life’s lessons come in laughter. Sometimes they’re ushered in with tears. Sometimes you learn them with your best friends and sometimes you have to stand alone. Like the redwoods, however, each growing season serves to add another layer of experience that ultimately transforms to maturity. Maybe by the end of my life I’ll finally feel like an adult. And if nothing else, at least I’ll have a biological excuse for forgetting things!

Dogs Vs. Cats

Politics. Religion. Both things you don’t want to mention at the dinner table. But a debate exists, one so intense it has been known separate friends and families alike, and unite even the most bitter enemies. Yes blogosphere, I’m talking about dogs vs. cats (insert piercing shriek here). I recently had a rather heated exchange with a group of dog-lovers, when I mentioned that I would prefer to own a cat.  They would have probably looked less shocked had I mentioned wanting to sell my kidney on the black market for a little spending cash. The conversation went something like this:
Doglover 1 : “I LOVE dogs! Who needs a man? hahahahaha”
Doglover 2: “You said it! My dog is there for me! And I don’t have to try impress him... or even put on pants without an elastic waist! He loves me for ME!”
Me: “Really guys? I think I’d rather have a cat.”
(Looks of horror and disdain).

Doglover 1: (skin loses all color, begins to feel shortness of breathe) “Wh-what d-d-did you ju-just s-s-s-s-say????”  (clutches Doglover 2 for support).

Doglover 2: (eyes narrow) “You’re not a are you?”
Me: “Well, yeah, I guess I am. And you know, I don’t appreciate the elitist air I’m getting from you right now.”
Me: “Okay, that didn’t even make se-”
Me: “Woah, guys all I said was that-”
Me: “Okay, clearly this is going nowhere and we should ju-”
Doglover 1: “CAT’S HATE JESUS!!!!!!!!!”
Here is my problem with dog-people: they take my disinterest in dogs personally, as if every dog in the entireworld was an extension of themselves.  Cat people don’t care. You hate cats? That’s cool, cats hate you.  But if I hate a dog, then suddenly I’m considered to be among the lower echelon of human beings. If you don’t like dogs, then your parents must not have held you as an infant because you’re clearly devoid of the human capacity to love. And it’s not that I don’t like the idea of dogs. Man’s best friend certainly has appeal. But when’s the last time you were on a walk with your friend and they stopped for number two and looked up at you with a pained- though unapologetic expression- then hopped merrily to the side while you cleaned it up?  Cat’s make you clean their two, but they don’t pretend to be your friend while you do it.
Also, cats are less likely to be elevated to the status of honorary child or domestic parter. When is the last time you saw a cat wearing a satin vest and poking its head out of a bag? Probably never. That’s because a cat would claw you before you had the opportunity to disgrace it like that. (Obviously some people try to dress up cats- but look at the cat’s face- it’s planning a way to kill them in their sleep).
Or when is the last time that you met a cat owner who knew the lineage of their pet- and actually cared enough to tell you about it.
“This here is Snuffles- she’s a grey Maine coon of the Gallant line of originals, centrally located in upper Westchester. Have you heard of them? Her great-grandmother’s sister’s nephew once won best in show in the summer of ’86. Have you heard of that? Have you? Have you?”
It’s just that dog-people make the mistake of assuming that everyone else views their dog as a member of society, not as an animal - or in other words- not a person. This can create very uncomfortable scenarios, for example, if little Lord Kibbleton is declaring Prima Nocta on my leg and I, god forbid, raise my voice or have an uncontrollable muscle spasm that sends him flying into the next room- suddenly I  am a heartless animal-hater. Never mind the fact that I was being sexually harassed by an oversized furby.
The problem isn’t that one animal is superior to another, it’s just that one type of animal has received a status upgrade, which certain parties have universally forced upon everyone else.   So next time your dog-loving friend tries to make you apologize to Princess Muffincup for hurting her feelings, go ahead and indulge, only make sure you employ your rights of “friendship” on the carpet on the way out. Hopefully she has a big bag. ;)

Beating the meeting bore... Yes. It's possible.

Few things provoke my unbridled irritation like marathon-meetings. You know, the ones where they could have sent all the information in an email, that you could have promptly filed into the “Trash” folder- total time spent on this: 8 seconds (8 minutes if you have Gmail because that site is poorly labeled...). Instead, the powers-that-be decide to have a meeting, during which countless numbers of minutes are spent on meaningless agenda items.
Inevitably within these settings, are people who enjoy meetings. They like to play meeting-monopoly. (i.e- the fruitless game, with fake progress, that never ends. Ever.)  During the last meeting I attended, someone went off on an aside about how their dog was the best dog, because it made very human-like facial expressions. Meanwhile I developed a bald patch from neurotically ripping my hairs out in an attempt to keep from lurching across the table and pinching their windpipe.
Not everyone prolongs meetings by going off on asides, however. Some simply run word-marathons. They take one idea and repeat it 26 times at slightly different paces.
“You know, I’d like to weigh in on this issue if I could. Just quickly offer up an opinion... the old two-cents worth. A little idea I’ve been sitting on here, nothing life-changing really, just a thought. A miniscule thought, been pondering on it for awhile now. And let me just qualify this, by asserting that by no means do I think this thought is revolutionary. Let’s not re-create the wheel here, but anyways I’m straying off subject. Back to my point I’d just like to reiterate that this idea is nothing novel. So,  let me just start by saying that....”
And then the word-binger takes 18 minutes to reveal that the amount of information they actually communicated could have been written on the back of a stamp.
During meetings, I often take time to think of things I’d rather be doing than being in a meeting. Now, within the list is not things like, “Run along the beach and look coyly  surprised when a wave touches me!” That kind of brainstorming is reserved for the uninformed people at Kotex. Instead, I have to think of things that seem bad, but when compared to meetings, become refreshingly appealing. So, here are the Top Five:
1. Get frisked again by “Wendy” from airport security. Technically she was a woman, but the he-male could have palmed a watermelon. Also, she seemed a little too interested in frisking the belt area. Wendy, I don’t have a bomb. And if I did, I would detonate it RIGHT NOW. So kindly back up gargantuwoman.
2. Feign interest while my department head tells me how her dog reacted to the stocking she got it for Christmas.
“Oh he grabbed the snausages right out of it? Ah-ho-ho-ho what a RIOT! I wish this story would never end.”
3. Almost lose control while riding my sister’s powder-blue scooter (named Nancy Drew). I looked like Cruella Deville riding a giant Easter Egg through city traffic.
4. Willingly allow my family to use their nicknames for me without protesting. (No, I’m not being harsh. We’ll talk when your start being called “Hunny Bunny”, “Boo Bell” and “Sweet, Sweety Lips” in one sentence.)
5. Give a minute to the Environment. Last time I had to tell the guy that I hated children, polar bears, free hugs, and him, before he believed that I really didn’t have time to spend money funding his salary.
So I guess, inadvertently, these meetings are producing something valuable: A shift in paradigm. Next time you smash your finger in a car door, or someone stares blankly at you after you attempt to make a joke, or the 12-year old you babysit knows more about your cellphone than you do, don’t feel bad. Anything is better than a meeting.

An Exposing Paper Trail

CU Boulder has long been heralded as “the greenest campus in America”. How did we accomplish this? Shame and social outcasting mainly. For example, the trash cans here aren’t labeled “trash”, they’re labeled “landfill”. And when you open them, a mechanical voice says “WHY DO YOU HATE THE EARTH?!” That hasn’t actually happened yet, but I’m guessing it will be the next project after tuition undergoes its annual increase. Peer pressure plays a large part  in our “green status” as well. I once sat in the student center and watched an unsuspecting freshman throw her diet coke bottle in the trash...not the recycling bin. Collective eye-shaming ensued as everyone she passed tried to make eye contact with her and silently communicate that she was being judged.
The newest trend on our eco-friendly campus is to go “paperless”. Instructors are encouraged to provide reading materials online, and collect assignments via email. With this kind of college education, you can imagine how long it’s been since I’d been to the library. I never needed to! My avoidance of the library might also be due to the fact that I once saw a homeless man emerge from the basement shelves early in the morning. Oh that’s not scary? I’m sorry, have you ever been sleep deprived and looking for a copy of “Titus Andronicus” and suddenly stumbled upon a hobo nest?! He didn’t even look embarrassed! In fact, he looked annoyed at me for interrupting him. What was I supposed to say, “Oh sorry sir, I didn’t realize shelves A-D were reserved for hobo lairs.”
Anyways, I needed a specific book for an independent study class (aka study hall for college students)-- and they only carried this book at the library. So I had to brave the deep dark labyrinth of Norlin Library in search of this particular book. My adoring sister decided to accompany me because I had the keys to the car and she needed a ride home. The call number of the book proved to be our first obstacle, I looked it up just fine. Deciphering it was the problem. So I decided to solicit the help of an underpaid library worker:
Me: “Um hi, I have a question”
Bored library guy: Blank stare
Me: “uh… I have a …. question”
Slightly annoyed, bored library guy: “mhm go ahead”
Me: “Oh okay, well I have this call number- PX90.12 H345- 69F.0012- yeah, where exactly is that?:
BLG: “Upstairs in the stacks”
Me: “Upstairs? Okay…. so how many other books would you say are up there?”
BLG: “Probably like a million or so”
Me: Now slightly annoyed “Okay so based on your description, I have a one and a million chance of finding this book”
At this point bored,annoyed library guy is becoming angry library guy. He grabbed the book from my hands,
BLG: “See this code?  This code is like a treasure map.  It will give you directions to the book...It’s really quite simple.”
Me: “Okay thank you…. Captain Hook” Maybe you should use a map to find yourself a better personality.
My sister Lauren and I then walked upstairs into the massive collection of books known as “the stacks”.  After searching in vain for the PX row, Lauren was starting to get restless. She picked up a title off the shelf, Raccoon Living, “Here how ‘bout this one”.
Fatigue was setting in and we were starting to get at each others nerves. “Wow, thank you for that suggestion. As much as I’m sure my professor would love to read an essay on the unique challenges of raccoon life, probably written by the hobo I saw earlier, I would really prefer to find the book I need.”
Apparently Lauren had picked up a psychology book along the way, because after a brief silence she said “Laine, let’s talk about your feelings tree. What’s growing on it?” After clenching my fists several times in an effort to release tension, I finally managed to reply. “Violence. Violence is growing on my feelings tree.”  This greatly amused my sister who continued her Dr. Phil session. “You know, you really need to pull up those roots of bitterness and replant some happy seeds. Trim those sad branches Laine …” I started to tune her out when I saw what looked like a valium on the ground. Sweet deliverance! But it was only a wad of gum. My violence was beginning to peak when we finally found the PX row. At this point, we still needed to find the 90.12 section.
As I was searching, I heard a girl a stack over talking to her friend.
“Stacy, I don’t know if you heard- but Nelson Mandela got let out of prison… in 1990. And like, he went to the world cup. OMG!” I decided to “prune my branches of ridicule” and refrain from commenting on this situation.   After all, they didn’t have twitter back then. How could she have known? Fortunately at that point we found the 90.12 section and successfully located the book. One more minute spent in that library might have resulted in a forest fire as my feelings tree neared spontaneous combustion.  Besides, my internal monologue was starting to switch over to a British accent. I know I’m not the only person who does this, okay, I know of at least one other person who has admitted to speaking like an Englishmen while in the library. Unfortunately, she’s out of the country right now and is unavailable for questioning. No that is not convenient. I’m trying to prove a point here, so in what sense is that convenient for me? The other explanation for this sudden shift of intonation is the fact that being in the library makes me feel like I’m in a Harry Potter movie. I thought I’d have a harder time finding social support on this point, but I’m pretty sure I heard a kid say “Accio book”once…
Finally we made out way out of the stacks and into the main checkout area.  Bored library guy was looking at me with a smug look on his face.
“I see you found the book. I guess one-in-a-million odds aren’t impossible are they?”
I started to raise the pen in my hand and whisper “Avada Kadavra” when Lauren asked me what I was mumbling, “Nothing.” I told her. “Just planting some seeds of affliction- er I mean affection.”
We checked out successfully and started to walk towards the car. As I looked up, I saw an inscription on the granite above the library door. It read: “Medicine for the Soul”. In some sense, I had to admit that this trip through the library gave me insight into the heartbeat of the community- much more than a simple internet search on Amazon ever could. I guess “going paperless” has its drawbacks too (sorry environment). Maybe that hobo had it right-- after all he saves resources by living in the stacks, while still preserving the library itself as a celebrated historic tradition. Maybe next time instead of just bringing my call number, I’ll bring a pillow too!

Keep Boulder Weird

Yesterday I ordered a matte latte. In my fridge currently? Soy milk and green-algae enzymes. Pantry? Organic trail mix. A week ago I openly judged someone who mixed plastic bags in with their recycling. I find myself starting to hate Whole Foods because it’s becoming the organic equivalent of Wal Mart (the place we all pretend to hate, but secretly shop at because the deals are unbeatable. And if old people didn’t want to work there they wouldn’t look so happy to see you in those little blue vests...). I even agreed with someone who referred to Jamba Juice as “corporate juice pimps”. I have hemp pants. The evidence is startlingly clear. I’ve become a Boulder-ite.
Now Boulder is interesting because the territory of the Barefoot hiking-Subaru driving- Granola eating- “Grow yer own”- Liberal-Hippie-Native is now being infiltrated by four new types of Boulderites:
The Convenient Hippy
How do you identify the convenient hippy? Hmmm, well you’ll be able to tell when they finish a long-winded discourse on how much they think people should all just stop hating each other man. And just give each other anything because we’re all just part of this human race. And we’re running this race man. And then they’ll excuse themselves because their Blackberry just rang and they need to go plug the meter because they’re about to get another ticket and if they do they’re dad is going to take the Range Rover away.
The West Coast Transplant
Clues that they’re from the west coast? They rep modern-vintage 80s gear: Ray bans, neon-lettered tanks, headbands across the forehead. Also, they have a look of misery after the first snow wears off and it just becomes cold. They will be really happy at first. Then when the snow is there the next day, and they have to be outside for 7-8 minutes instead of just looking at it from inside, they will sink into misery and continually tell you what the temperature is in CA right now. The really smart ones will have already bought a line of puffy jackets and Ugg boots. The others will insist that they can wear Rainbow Sandals in any weather. Then when the snow-water touches their feet, they will immediately buy Ugg boots like their smarter friends. They will always bring this story up, to remind you of how hardcore they are.
The East Coast Transplant
Unlike their west-coast counterparts, these coast-dwellers know how to handle harsh weather. In fact, they’ve adapted their personalities to fit the weather. How to identify an East Coaster? Observe them in conversation. Within 30-40 seconds they will have brought up the Celtics and how stupid you are for not liking them, the fact that no one here uses ‘wicked’ to describe anything and how stupid you are for not using it, what a bad rap Jersey gets even though it’s much better than New York and how stupid you are for not knowing that, or how anyone who knows anything, knows Dunkin’ Donuts is better than air or water. Truthfully, anyone who knows anything will look for an opportunity to run away.
The Conservative
This rare person came here by accident because they thought it was CSU.
Now I’m not saying that we’ve completely lost our edge-- it’s not like my grandma joined the 10,000 person Qweed team on Norlin Quad to smoke last 4/20. But still, we’ve all got to do our part to reclaim the weirdness that used to characterize Boulder. Some people are contributing. Like Top-Hat-Guy, who wears a top hat and coat tails to every class (although I hear he’s switches to a bowler every once in awhile). Also, that professor who rolls to his next class on a razor scooter-- briefcase in hand. That girl who wears rollerskates and rides a broomstick is doing her part. Or consider that guy on Pearl St. who fits his body into a little glass box-- Never mind the fact that last time he talked to me it was to ask me if I “smoke the medicine”. Wether its demanding hemp milk in your coffee or handing out those frightening packets with pictures of cage-bred animals, we can all do our part to keep Boulder weird.

Sweat the Small Stuff

“Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren't really that big of a deal. We focus on little problems and concerns and blow them way out of proportion.” -Author Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
The words of Richard Carlson can evoke groans of reluctant agreement. Yes, we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff” and “it’s all small stuff”-- yet we are all susceptible to those little insignificant annoyances. You know, the thing your roommate does that makes you want drop-kick them off a balcony. And forget trying to bring it up- tactfully or not- it will unfailingly make them do it more boldly and more frequently. The more conscientious, or perhaps just pretentious, among us pretend not to have pet peeves, but we are all unjustifiably irritated at some point. Instead of trying to pretend that our pet peeves are insignificant, we should bring them into the light and wave the peeve flag proudly. I’m not advocating blatant recalcitrance, but pet peeves have been wrongly labeled as triflin’ matters. In an attempt to normalize pet peeves, I’ve included a list of mine. I realize this will open myself up to those who find it funny to purposefully aggravate me (hmmm this is strangely remeniscent of the “Five Texts You Should Never Send" blog-- after which I got massive amounts of “Are you mad at me?” texts, closely followed by “You there?”). I’m going to proceed, however, because someone has to take that first step. To be fair, I’ve included a list of things I do to annoy other people, just to show that no one is perfect. ;)
The List:
  1. On the top of the list, is people who chew loudly. It’s not petty when it incites violence. I had a very intense moment with some guy who tried to finish a bag of corn nuts during a test. Fortunately he put the bag down before the situation escalated.
  2. People who find out that I hate people who chew loudly and decide to become that person.
  3. People who refer to God as “that big guy in the sky”, “the man upstairs”, or any other variation that could also be used to describe a peeping-tom.
  4. People who literally pause for your laughter, forcing you to either A.) look like a jerk or B.) use precious energy trying to conjure up a realistic sounding laugh.
  5. People who say “That is SO funny” instead of actually laughing. If it compliments a genuine laugh, that’s one thing, but if it is used in place of a laugh--we have a problem. Like, was it really funny? Because if it was, I feel like you would have laughed. But you didn’t. At all. It’s the equivalent of saying “I know you can’t see it on my face, or in the tone of my voice, but I am so amused right now. Take my word for it”. (These people can be sympathized with if they are with “pausers” for an extended period of time.)
  6. People who tell you you look tired. I wasn’t. I just didn’t shower. Why do I look scary? Because now I feel scary-looking. If you have a pillow and a bottle of valium, go ahead and ask me if I’m feeling tired- because you came with a solution. If not, then assume I’m perfectly rested.
  7. People who will bypass the 6 open stalls in the bathroom and take the one RIGHT next to you.
  8. People who judge you for using the courtesy-flush approach. I’m sorry I wasted water flushing when I didn’t need to because I had stage-fright and didn’t want to spend 23 minutes waiting for the girl fixing her hair to leave. I hope mother nature can forgive me.
  9. People who clank the utensil on the bottom of the dish so they can scrape up a microscopic amount of whatever they used to be eating. Just lick the plate. Quietly.
Things I do to trigger other people’s compulsions:
  1. Put back the container with one sip/bite left. Yep. I’m that person. And um...technically, there is still some left...and you finished it... so you have to throw it away. . .
  2. Spend the night at your house and don’t bring anything with me. Can I borrow your pajamas? toothpaste? hairbrush? shampoo? ... toothbrush? Yeah. Toothbrush.
  3. Speed up when I see you trying to get over, then immediately slow down when you get behind me. I KNOW! But is so funny to watch the reaction in my rearview. I once played this game for a good 10 miles, much to the horror of my passengers.
  4. Use profuse “lol”’s while texting. Those of us who are not elitists, realize that just because you didn’t actually laugh out loud, doesn’t mean you can’t use it. A well placed “lol” really adds a level of friendliness, and smoothes the conversation along. Example:
“I think you’re a dirty”
5. Use texting language in real conversations, even if it is more invoncenient or is nonsensical.             Example:
>“Hey guys I need to answer this call, brb”
>> “ARG! don’t use texting language in a real conversation!”
**old people note: “brb” = be right back
This list serves to remind us all that pet peeves are just part of who we are-- a part of our unique makeup. So friends, the next time someone clacks noisily on their keyboard, taking breaks only to slurp up giant swigs of coffee from a never ending cup, don’t suppress your instincts to politely remind them that they are dangerously raising your blood pressure and need to stop immediately. I think if Richard Carlson ever heard how loud they were being he would sweat, profusely.

“Haters start ya’ engines”: A Thought About Kanye West

Recently at the 2009 VMA’s, Kanye West again made a fool of himself. He interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech in order to shamelessly plug Beyonce’s video as being “one of the greatest videos of all times”.  Taylor Swift stood there, speechless, evoking the sympathy of everyone in the audience.  Although as far as  tween idols go, Kanye picked the right to mess with.  Consider if he had done this to Miley Cyrus for example. Cyrus’ hit single would have come to life in a real “Hoedown Throwdown”.   While the act would have been appreciated by a large faction of cynics (who realize that Miley Cyrus is on the fast track to becoming the next Disney star to end up in rehab), it would have ruffled several feathers.  Dozens of fans, composed primarily of 12 year old girls and white people, would think about writing very strongly worded letters.  The Jonas Brothers would also likely get involved in defending their Disney co-star, revealing the little-known fact that Cyrus is actually the fourth Jonas Brother. This would account for questions about her unnaturally low voice.
Maybe we should all have more compassion on Kanye. After all, his self-appointed role as “the voice of this generation” must be a heavy burden to bear.  Like pretty much all of his songs, the entire quote makes little sense:
“I realize that my place and position in history is that I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade, I will be the loudest voice. It's me settling into that position of just really accepting that it's one thing to say you want to do it and it's another thing to really end up being like Michael Jordan."
Your right Kanye, I’m sure your voice will be ringing in our ears long after you’ve checked  into Promises Rehab Center. After all, timeless truths like “Take your diamonds and throw 'em up like you bulimic” cut straight to the heart of the issues.  Sorry Barack Obama, but if you want to be the voice of this generation maybe you should follow in Kanye’s suit and change your name to Martin Louis the King Jr.  And then tell the American public to “address you as such”.   I know the “Vote for Change” theme won you the election, but if you want to ensure your place in history maybe you should adopt Kanye’s slogan:“George Bush doesn't care about black people.”  Although it might be safer just to stick with self aggrandizing messages like, ““Come on now! How could you be me and want to be someone else?”, “There’s a thousand you’s, there’s only one of me”, “Bow in the presence of greatness”...Just to name a few.
So maybe we should all stop blaming Kanye for speaking out.  I mean, clearly he’s an artistic genius.  Let’s all think about these inspirational words for a minute (which is probably longer than he took to come up with them) :
Y'all bridesmaids catch the garter
On nights when ye romance
Cameras flash so much
That I gotta do that yayo dance
That fact that you, and the rest of the American public, don’t know what that means is only an indication of your limited mind. Thanks  to translation from, a website that white people read to feel cultured, we learn that a yayo dance is “ A dance performed by tony yayo from g-unit in which he flails his hand in front of his face”. This only brings up more questions like, what kind of measurement is a g-unit?

Kanye fulfilling his quota of embarrassing moments.
Kanye fulfilling his quota of embarrassing moments.
After further research on Urban Dictionary, we see that g-unit is not a term of measurement, but is a group of rappers organized by 50 cent.  This definition is problematic because it assumes that you know who 50 cent is. And so the cycle continues until you’ve spent hours trying to figure out one question, becoming thoroughly ashamed that you know so little about pop culture, until you finally come to the conclusion that Kanye himself doesn’t even know what he meant.
Next time, skip the research. It’s impossible to understand great minds. Especially ones that have been enhanced by illegal substances.  Appreciate the gift that Kanye has given to the world, after all, his “music isn't just music- it's medicine.”
Well get me that prescription.