Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Mother's Music

My mother always sang. She sang while she washed the dishes. She sang while she scrubbed the toilet. She sang while she sorted dirty clothes or ironed clean ones. My mother, with her lovely voice, filled the house with snatches of music. I say snatches, because my mother never knew all the words to any song. The surprising thing is that she only sang hymns.

One of the things passed down from her mother's house to ours was a Methodist hymnal from the days when my grandmother attended said church. I am almost sure she came by the hymnal legitimately and hadn't just pinched it from the back of the pew.

So I am confident that my mother had heard and sung all of these hymns hundreds of times in her life and as she attended church regularly, she had weekly practice. Still she never seemed to know any more than snatches of them. Her versions of songs were usually one or two lines, occasionally punctuated with "da da da" or "dum dee dum" to take the place of missing lyrics.

What we didn't always realize as children was that in addition to using musical "fillers" my mother often changed the words to songs. More than once I heard a hymn sung in church that I thought I knew well after hearing it so many times at home only to find out that it bore little resemblance to the song I had learned.

I guess my mother just liked things her own way, and as she sang to the Lord, she sang what came from her heart and not what came from the hymnal. She wasn't concerned about the missing words, she sang the bits she thought were important.

Of course, to this day I find it hard to sing "The Old Rugged Cross" without doing it in her style.

"On a hill, da dee dum.
Stood an old la da dee.."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Self Discovery

I don't usually post blog quizzes (although occasionally I secretly take them). You know the ones I mean - "What Musical Instrument Are You?" "What's Your Alien Name?" or "What Personality Disorder Are You?" (I am afraid to take that one).

But this little color quiz is a nice change. Presented with a palette of muted and quiet colors, it asks you to choose your favorites and gives you a brief (and very unscientific) synopsis of your personality traits. The hard part was to choose just one as they are all so nice, but don't let anyone influence you.

Of course, I was enchanted with my first two choices:

Papaya - You are a great champion of the helpless and defender of the underdog (I loved that cartoon). You have an amazing ability to get things done, as well as to fix things (it would be nicer if things would stop breaking).

Jadeite - You love being involved with intellectual pursuits and want smart friends (although stupid friends make you look smarter). You are practical and reliable and need a great deal of security (well, if I am going to be reliable, then everyone else should be too).

I then went on to choose other colors, some of which I didn't like as well and interestingly, the descriptions got further and further from my true personality the further I got from my initial choices. However, as with most tests, none of the traits described were bad traits. No matter what color you choose, you are a great person, a great friend and an all-round decent human being.

So I went back and took the Personality Disorder Test. I was "a bit schizotypal..." Now, that sounds like me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Filling In The Spaces

From time to time, I like to keep up with the studies going on at universities and within the scientific community. I feel it is my civic duty to ensure that tax revenues and government grants are spent wisely.

Imagine my shock when I read that Bernard Engel, a professor at Purdue has produced a study showing that the country has too many parking spaces. My first thought was "sure, when's the last time you went shopping?" but I decided to read further, my interest piqued by his claim that parking spaces outnumbered drivers 3 to 1.

Naturally, his two extra parking spaces are out in the Midwest, where they just naturally have a greater expanse of land on which to lay asphalt. But it was this reasoning that really had me scratching my chin.

“The problem with parking lots is that they accumulate a lot of pollutants - oil, grease, heavy metals and sediment - that cannot be absorbed by the impervious surface,” Engel said. “Rain then flushes these contaminants into rivers and lakes.”

If only one in three parking spaces is occupied by a car, then I can't see how having a larger parking lot contributes more pollutants. The only oil, engine grease and other nasty chemical solutions that will leak onto that parking lot will come from that one car, not from the two empty spaces beside it.

Here where I live, I can guarantee you there are not too many parking spaces, in fact, every parking lot is designed to have at least 20 fewer parking spaces than the actual expected number of customers per day. This is to give the impression that this is a very popular place to shop, and it is well worth driving around the lot a few dozen times, following people leaving the stores to their parking spaces so that you too, can shop here.

And all the time these cars are driving around, they are spewing more pollutants into the air and possibly posing a mortal danger to the occupants of the car that just beat me to that space I had my eye on. Well, maybe I wouldn't really run them down.

Maybe they have extra spaces in Tippecanoe county because they are expecting a lot of cars to drive in from other states, having heard how nice and spacious the parking lots are.

Engel's point I guess is that this land space could be used for something else, but he doesn't say exactly what. Few people want to build their houses in the parking lot of the mall.

Honestly, if it wasn't for the thrill of victory when after circling the lot for 20 minutes I find the perfect space just two away from the front of the store, I wouldn't even go shopping, I would just order everything online. But there's something very satisfying about pulling in just ahead of that sleek, shiny new sportscar and taking the space they just zoomed over from the next aisle for. Finding a parking space is an activity that requires concentration, strategy, nerves of steel and lightning reflexes.

Plus, it's kind of fun.


Friday, September 14, 2007

I'm Batman

A study at Waterloo University that explored children's storytelling abilities has shown that pre-schoolers are able to immerse themselves into the minds, thoughts and perspectives of a storybook character. I was already well aware of this stunning ability.

During my son's entire enrollment at preschool he had a Batman fixation. He was only interested in toys if they had something to do with Batman. His desire for Batman action figures knew no bounds, and I was dismayed to find that one Batman would not suffice. Batman was no longer the predominantly black and purple caped crusader of my childhood, he came in many different outfits in every color imaginable.

Oh, and every Batman had his own accessories. A green and yellow suited Batman might have a long string with a grappling hook. Other strangely-appareled versions could have boomerangs or rocket launchers. The more strings that were attached and the more tiny missiles it could fire, the better he liked it because it made the toys much more dangerous to innocent family members who might get reeled in by a bat-hook.

You rarely got any intelligible conversation out of the Boy, most discussions ended with him simply stating "I'm Batman", an answer he seemed to think answered all questions. I was used to a lot of attention at the grocery store, as The Boy stood proudly in the cart with a towel tied around his shoulders, announcing to other shoppers "I'm Batman". They were usually quite impressed, and I achieved the rare status of being the mother of a superhero.

But it wasn't until the Christmas party at his preschool that I understood the origin of the Batman obsession. He had a particular friend who was his entire preschool world. For the party, all the parents had purchased gifts to be wrapped and given to Santa to hand out to the children. Of course, The Boy's gift was something Batman-ish. Soon after we arrived, his little chum walked in, dressed in full Batman costume. A novel sight for a Christmas party, I thought. "He won't take it off", his mother complained. Oh, how I knew her pain.

What I didn't know until the Boy and his cohort had scrounged around the hidden recesses of the pre-school, was that in the dress-up box there was a Batman cape with hooded mask attached. The Boy emerged with the cape and kept it on for the entire event, even when he sat on Santa's lap. Santa, of course, already knew that he was Batman (Santa knows everything) and The Boy was quite happy to be recognized. Later, one of his teachers revealed to me that they often had to hide the cape, or my son would wear it all day, every day.

So it was no surprise to me to find that young children can become completely immersed in a storybook character. They didn't need a university study to prove that. What would be more useful to parents is if they did a study on how to get them out of the Batman costume.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Little Boy Love

It's easy as a working mother to get caught up in the stresses of daily life, the schedules, the necessities of the moment - kids and school, mealtimes, worktimes. At times, you forget the wonderful things, the sweet joy that children can bring.

I was wandering through some earlier writings, some of which are on another blog I had started years ago and I found this story. It reminded me that the big 2nd grader who lay across my lap this morning while waiting for his ride to school, was once the little boy whose entire world was his mother. As daunting a responsibility as it can be to fulfill the role of "the world" to another human being, it is also very heart-satisfying. And so I am re-printing this story here, cause it brought a smile to my face this morning. It was called "The Appeal of Younger Men".

They strolled through the store, occasionally plucking a wanted item from a shelf and placing it in their cart.They chattered constantly in a happy banter, punctuated occasionally by lighthearted laughter. A white-haired woman leaning on her cart giggled slyly as she watched the young man reach out and take his love's hand.

He held it up to his cheek, guided its caress, his eyes closed, experiencing only the warmth of her touch, whispering a gentle "I love you". She drew closer to him, her lips grazed the hand that held hers. "I love you too". He was obviously so young, his face smooth and open with expectation . Her face wore a look of experience but her eyes shone with the love and purpose he had created within her. The elderly woman smiled as their carts passed, gave them a knowing wink as she remembered a life long gone by.

The scene was repeated throughout the store, young love demanding sometimes a hug, at times stealing a kiss. They were no different than other twosomes; perhaps it was his eyes and smile that drew attention to them, for he was beautiful in every way. She knew some envied her his ardor.

Shopping done, they retreated to their car. As she drove, his voice called from the back seat.

"Mom, can I kiss your hand"? She laughed and extended her right arm behind her. "Here, have at it". "Mom, you're so beautiful", he said as he kissed the hand she had given him. She glanced at the five year old in the back seat and thought "That kid is so smooth, gonna have to watch him when he grows up".

Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Mother Should Have Been a Writer.

I was clicking through a friend's blogroll and came upon this blog. The first post I read was about working amidst chaos and it really rang a bell with me, but even more so did the Word of the Day, " rapscallion".

Rapscallion was one of my mother's favorite words and she had many. Her daily speech held words that deliciously filled the mouth with rich vowels and muted dipthongs and bold words that employed teeth, tongue and lips to give them full effect. Just say "rapscallion" and tell me you don't like the feel of it as it escapes from the mouth to be sounded. Now, say it louder, as a chastisement. Perfect, isn't it? I must remember to say it to The Boy the next time he is mischievous.

My mother didn't always use words strictly according to definition. Sometimes she went for texture and effect over meaning. My mother probably should have been a writer, but I don't think she was ever encouraged in creative areas. However, she was a wonderful storyteller. I wish that I could remember enough details from her childhood stories to write them all down. They were stories that were full of childhood mischief and peppered with colorful phrases never heard outside her family.

I wonder now if her surviving younger sister would know some of these stories. I know she would tell them in the same downeast Maine accent and excited tone. Now I have a project. Thanks for that Word of the Day, Easy-Writer.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Why Dusting is Dangerous

Sometimes I think I far exceed my mother in housekeeping skills, at other times I think I am just the next-generation pack rat. Although I occasionally get inspired to finally throw away something that has been kicking around the house unused and unwanted for years, it is never anything from my mother's house. Those little knick knacks, however tacky or incongruent with my color schemes, mean much more to me than tasteful objets d'art or color-coordinated art posters designed to "tie it all in". My decor is definitely not like that, it's the most un-tied interior non-design you will ever see.

One item I cherished, although it had no place to call its own, was one of two decorative hand-painted plates, graced by red and purple grapes on one and a pineapple and some other unidentifiable but equally textured fruit on the other. My mother had bought these stunning works of art and hung them on her kitchen wall. And they hung there unmolested for a very long time. That is, no one cleaned or dusted them, they just became a way of measuring the passing of time by the inches of sediment.

One night, as my mother talked long distance on the phone to her sister, she got one of those occasional inspired urges to dust the plates. For reasons no one ever understood, at half-past midnight my mother suddenly couldn't stand the dust that accumulated on those decorative plates any longer. So with the phone in one hand and a dustrag in the other, she set about clearing the dust and cobwebs from the pineapple.

My mother had recently installed a ceramic tile floor, or rather my brother had done it for her (she complained bitterly about the hard nature of the tile for years). Anything that left your hand, was pretty much destroyed once it hit that floor.

My mother dropped that pineapple plate and it split into three pieces upon contact with the tile, bounced up and a knife-shaped shard sliced up her calf on it's way back towards the wall . I don't think she even felt it and there was no blood at all, the wound was so neatly cut. But as I came to examine it, I cautioned her against twisting around to see the back of her leg, for several layers were sliced through and it looked more like something you would see at the butcher's shop than a calf. Instead I encouraged her to go to the Emergency Room with as much calm urgency as I could manage.

Several stitches and a few weeks time healed the leg wound. The empty wire plate holder still hung on the wall next to its twin, which still held grapes securely in place. Many more years would pass before the application of new wallpaper necessitated the removal of the two fixtures.

I still have the grape plate, although it suffered a similar fate as the pineapple by falling to the floor. It only got chipped but enough so that it isn't suitable for display. Some would say, thank goodness, as it wasn't very attractive. But I keep the plate because it will always remind me of my mother, her aspirations to cleanliness and her complete acceptance of her failure to achieve it.

Or maybe, I just want an excuse not to dust.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Skinny on Genes and Fruit Flies

I read today about a study at UT Southwestern Medical Center. The researchers there claim to have found the "skinny" gene. I was thinking - they could look through my entire DNA closet and not find one pair of skinny genes. But apparently, they have discovered what makes the body decide to accumulate fat or burn it off. What's more they claim to have isolated this gene they call adipose and can switch it on and off.

In fruit flies. They can switch it on and off in fruit flies. Okay, I have had my bouts with fruit fly infestations (there were some questionably brown bananas that sat a bit too long). Fruit flies live on and on regardless of how many you kill and months later you still find them in the strangest places, like the bathroom. After having personally disposed of several colonies consisting of thousands of fruit flies, I can say without fear of being contradicted, that I have never, ever seen a fat fruit fly and I don't know of anyone who has. A fruit fly is a tiny little pest who can slip through the teensiest gap between the fingers of hands that are clapped together to kill it.

But anyway, back to the study. According to the report, the idea is that only some of the individuals of a species have the adipose gene and others don't. This way, it ensures the survival of at least some of the species in case of hard times or natural disaster. Fat specimens survive famine, skinny ones get modeling contracts.

There was nothing in the article that promised they could or would locate this gene for overweight people and switch it off. I don't know if this is even the point - some of these researchers are just curious little people who need to know everything but aren't necessarily interested in doing anything about it.

However, someday, when the Designer Gene Shop opens up next to the storefront Botox place, I will definitely know what kind of gift certificate the kids should get me for my birthday.

Monday, September 3, 2007

How To Be a Slacker Prepared

The countdown to school begins. We now have less than 48 hours to the first day of school and preparations are proceeding at a fevered pitch.

The Girl has started out well. She is organizing all her notebooks and folders well ahead of time, even preparing labels for each section of her mega-binder so that all homework and class worksheets can be placed in their rightful category. To watch her, one can't help but be impressed with her organizational skills and her responsible approach to schoolwork.

However, school often starts this way. It doesn't take long to degenerate into a mad search in the evening for the math worksheet and hastily placed phone calls to classmates wondering if they know which words she is supposed to study for the vocabulary quiz. I have had teachers tell me of homework that arrives crumpled with chocolate fingerprints and other,less easily identified stains. Other work may still be damp from having been placed under her wet bathing suit in her backpack. Books needed at school are left at home, books needed for homework are left at school. Miscellaneous items are scattered throughout the cars and homes of relatives and friends. The urgent plea to buy her an item needed for a project due on Friday is usually made on Thursday night.

Yes, The Girl is organizationally challenged, suffering from impaired preparatory skills, lacking sufficient organization motivation. In other words, she's a little lazy.

I can understand this, as I was the child who did homework in front of the TV and wrote five page reports the day before they were due. The difference is, that I got away with it. If you are going to be lazy and unorganized, it's imperative that you turn in what appears to be a well thought out paper, a report full of references or at the very least, pass the pop quiz. These are the real skills that she is lacking. It's hard work to be prepared, but if you are going to be a slacker, then you need to learn how to deliver the goods under pressure and at the last minute.

I think a lot of this is dependent on maturity. This is the child that didn't like first grade because they didn't play as many games as in kindergarten. If you find first grade to be grueling, then middle school is bound to be like being taken from a warm, comfortable bed and dunked into a tub of ice water. But as she grew to accept that first grade was about learning and not about socializing and fun, so she will accept that middle school is about responsibility and preparing for the future. It just might take some time.

At least that's going to be my line when I get to the first parent/teacher conference. I hope they buy it.