Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Murphy's Law

Why is it that there is always someone driving very slowly in front of me when I am in a hurry to get somewhere?  A question I ponder often, especially since the road between my house and civilization is two-lane and twisting and generally deeply lacking in passing zones.

Today was just one of those days.  And it's my own fault.  As usual, I overscheduled--trying to squeeze in a playdate for Thing One where there really wasn't room (maternal guilt), a quick trip to the gas station on my way to pick up the kids from camp, a class this evening at the end of a long day.  I am efficient to a scary degree and can whip through a to-do list like nobody's business, but sometimes I would be a lot happier and a lot less stressed if I just took a few things off each day's list and built a little more flexibility into the schedule.  

This morning, I cursed Murphy's Law on three or four separate occasions when various things slowed me down and made me late.  But in retrospect, if I hadn't been in such a darned hurry the whole morning, trying to get so much done, I might not have even noticed all the delaying annoyances, because they probably wouldn't have made a difference. 

Wonder if Murphy's Law is still a problem when people don't notice its effects?  Kind of like the tree falling in the forest when nobody is paying attention...possibly silent as well.

I need a day off. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Yes, I Am A Dork. Why Do You Ask?

This evening, I'm feeling compelled to share an observation from physics.  Not my favorite subject (actually, the absolute bane of my existence for years), but I still think about the second law of thermodynamics every time I look around my house.

In relatively plain English, this law states that natural processes will always proceed in the direction that increases the disorder of a system.  My home is the living embodiment of this principle.  

My children are the force of chaos.  Every time I look around, something that was formerly clean is now dirty.  Some area that was previously tidy is now a disaster.  I do my damnedest to restore order, but it is a fundamentally futile effort.  The odds are stacked against me (three against one, plus the dog!) and I fall short.

But at least I recognize the law at work when I see it.

“Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius--and a lot of courage--to move in the opposite direction.”
Albert Einstein  1879-1955)

Emily Yoffe, Let's See How You Feel About Using Your Professional Title After You Earn One

I frequently read the Dear Prudence column written by Emily Yoffe at Slate.com.  Her column posted on July 16th includes a segment relating to the use of professional titles on wedding invitations (the parents of the groom and the groom are all physicians), and her advice on that subject seemed perfectly reasonable to me.  However, she went on to add the following:

"I have more of a problem with people with Ph.D.s using the Dr. title, which I think is better reserved for those with medical degrees."

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have a Ph.D. in Biology.  As you can imagine, this comment rubbed me the wrong way in a big way.   I earned the damned degree.  It was a lot of work.  If I want to call myself "Dr.," I can.  Legitimately.  I don't want her cheapening my degree by implying that it isn't worth the professional title that customarily accompanies it within the professional arena.  It is worth noting that the average Ph.D. candidate in the sciences (I can't speak for other fields) spends MORE time in his or her doctoral program than does the average medical school student in medical school.  When I was in grad school, the national average for a Biology Ph.D. was about 6.5 years door-to-door.  Med school is typically a four-year program.

Now, I can completely understand that calling yourself "Dr." in a public (as opposed to professional) context when you do not have a medical degree can cause confusion.  Especially when a medical professional is needed in a hurry.  For this and other reasons, I actually don't use the "Dr." title in general life.  Most of the people with whom I regularly interact probably have no idea that I could.

According to Wikipedia, Ms. Yoffe is a journalist.  If she has earned a doctoral degree, the entry does not include it.  But I would venture to guess that if she had, she would be less dismissive of those of us who earned the right to use the title "Dr." via an avenue other than medical school.  Even if we don't.           

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Ultimate Expression of Love

Hopefully Himself will never read this post. He is very modest and absolutely hates it when I brag on him. Which I do regularly because he is a wonderful man and father and all-around human being. (He won't read my Facebook posts about him either.) I figure that if the worst thing I do as his wife is embarrass him because I have so many good things to say about him, he's doing pretty darned well in the grand scheme of things.

A long while ago, a good friend gave me a book called "The Five Love Languages" by a marriage counselor named Gary Chapman. The basic premise of his book is that there are only five major ways that people express and understand love--

1) Words of Affirmation
2) Quality Time
3) Receiving Gifts
4) Acts of Service
5) Physical Touch

--and that understanding which of these is most important in making your significant other feel loved and then doing it is the key to maintaining a long-term, healthy relationship. (I am oversimplifying, but this is the gist.)

The longer I am married, the more this idea resonates with me. For example, I am a card-carrying "Acts of Service" kind of girl. Gifts and words and quality time and touch are all very nice, but the way to my heart is to do something kind for me. Someone who notices that laundry needs to be folded or beds made or dishes washed or recycling taken out (etc, etc) and then takes care of it (without me asking) might as well be screaming "I LOVE YOU" to me. No words needed. It is worth noting that Himself is not an "Acts of Service" kind of guy, meaning that this is not the way he would instinctively choose when trying to express love. However, he knows me well, which brings me to the reason for this meandering post.

I am a gardener. He is not. I like vegetables. He eats only a limited few kinds. He does not have a lot of free time, and the vegetable garden is the absolute last place in which he would ordinarily choose to spend what free time he does have.

However, I have been stressing about the five cubic yards of mulch in my driveway and my lack of time to distribute it in the garden where it needs to go before the weeds take over the universe.

This afternoon, he organized the kids into a bucket brigade and did the heavy shoveling and wheelbarrow-hauling himself and it took the five of us about two hours to do together what would have taken me days by myself in the garden.

If that is not love, I don't know what is.

The message came through loud and clear, and no words were needed.

I love you too, sweetheart.

Thanks, Mom

As a kid, I didn't know how good I had it.  Mom never missed a basketball game or a band concert or an awards ceremony.  She was always active in whatever community we lived in, but she was there for my brother and me (and our dad) first and foremost.  Love, support, cupcakes...whatever we needed.  Not knowing any better, I took that for granted for years.  

Then my eyes opened, around the time I left for college.  I had friends whose mothers tore them down emotionally and friends whose mothers' dysfunctional relationships had scarred them.  Friends who could never please their mothers no matter what they did.  One particularly close friend whose mother screamed so loudly at her over the phone that I could hear every bitter word clear across the room and I would have to leave because I couldn't take it.

How many times did I call Mom after witnessing episodes of serious maternal craziness and thank her for not being like that? A dozen at least? There but for the grace of God went I, and at least by that point I had the sense and perspective to appreciate the fact. In the grand cosmic mother lottery, I hit the jackpot.

Happy real birthday, Mom. I'm proud (and grateful!) to be your daughter.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Not My Mother's Real Birthday

My maternal grandmother was born on August 8th, 1908. 8/8/08. For obvious reasons, she decided that 8 was her lucky number.

My mother is her youngest child. She was born on July 29th. For reasons that make zero sense to me (Grandma was a true character and I say that with the greatest possible love and respect) she decided that she was just going to pretend that Mom was born on the 28th. Why she did this for only the third child, I have no idea. Her second daughter did have an "8" birthday, but not the first, and the first has always celebrated her birthday on the 7th, the day on which she was actually born. Novel concept.

The way Mom tells it, she had no idea her birthday was actually the 29th until she needed her birth certificate to apply for a passport as a grown woman.

Of course, by that point, she was used to celebrating on the 28th. I call her with birthday wishes on the 28th AND the 29th. We call the 28th her "love birthday."

Happy love birthday, Mom. Your mother may have been way too superstitious about the number 8, but now we have two days each year to celebrate you. ;)

Wasted Space

The more useless the fact, the more likely it is to stay in my head for all eternity. A dubious blessing. For example:

1) Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia.

2) Dracunculus medinensis is the scientific name of the Guinea worm, which is the 'snake' wrapped around the staff in the logo of a lot of medical groups (the American Medical Association for one.) Feel free to look up why this worm is wrapped around a stick and why that image might have become a symbol of the medical profession, but I highly recommend that you not do it while you are eating. You've been warned.

3) There are four pairs of sinuses in the human head: maxillary, frontal, sphenoid and ethmoid. And I remember where all of them are.

4) A group of gnus is called an "implausibility." Not making that up. A group of peacocks is called an "ostentation," too.

As I get older, I am coming to believe that we all (or at least I) have a limited amount of brain space. Once it fills up, forget it: no more is going in. Even if what is there is left over from a Parasitology class taken in 1994 or so (see point 2 above) and will never EVER be needed again, it will not be replaced with new and actually USEFUL information. The neurons are engraved, and that's it.

That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it. Why else would I be able to remember that the forint is the currency of Hungary, but not that Thing One has soccer practice on Wednesdays??

Don't bet against me in trivia games, though.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Received unexpected words of praise from a person I deeply respect today. Floated out of the class on a cloud.

This particular class reminds me constantly that learning never ends and that the journey is as important as the endpoint. I can only do the best that I can do, and today I was reminded that my best is valued and recognized even if it is in no way perfect. And it isn't, believe me. But I will keep trying, and inch closer if I can.
“...a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?”
Robert Browning

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Hound

A good friend devotes what must be just about all of her free time to an animal rescue group. Dogs are saved from kill shelters, nursed back to health, fostered out and eventually found good, loving homes.

Himself and I had a cat for about 11 years. We took her in when she was four or so...she was a rescue who hated other animals, so she was our only pet. She had some significant health problems toward the end of her life, and passed away last September. We were devastated. Around the end of October, I got a note from my friend: "If you are ready to think about another pet, I am currently fostering the dog you always said you wanted." She attached a picture of a black and white puppy, about five months old.

Now, this friend knows dogs. And she knows me and my family. I had told her that we wanted a dog that would not be huge, with a good temperament and good with kids. Breed unimportant. We trusted her to pick for us.

I visited her house a few days later. The puppy had my heart within minutes. I called Himself from the driveway and told him to stop over on his way home. He couldn't resist her either. She came home with us four days later. The kids were beside themselves with joy and she fit perfectly into the family.

About three months ago, I had the opportunity to meet the woman who actually rescued her from the kill shelter, which is in another state. I took the chance to ask about her history, since almost no information came with her. I was sad to hear that she was in such bad shape when rescued that it took several months for her to recover enough to be fostered, and that then nobody wanted her at the first two adoptions she attended. She's such a sweet and smart and loving dog that this latter fact absolutely blew my mind. What were these people thinking?? Our gain, their overwhelming loss.

The Hound loves Himself and the kids, but she is "my" dog. I am her primary caregiver--I feed her, I walk her, I pet her, I brush her teeth and give her medicine and clean her ears. So basic and mundane, and yet she keeps one eye on me at all times and follows every time I leave a room. I can only hope to remain worthy of her devotion. It humbles me.

Turn Those Ears On!

As the mother of three children, I repeat myself a great deal. Unwillingly, let me just say. I tell the kids to stop arguing and stay out of each other's personal space and pick up their dirty socks and FOR PETE'S SAKE PUT THE EMPTY YOGURT CUP IN THE TRASH NOT ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER RIGHT ABOVE THE TRASH CAN what feels like every day of my life and the proverbial twice on Sundays. Perhaps something will sink in some day, but most of the time the prospects of that seem doubtful at best. I sure get tired of hearing myself say the same things over and over.

Every year, the pediatrician checks the kids' hearing at their annual checkups. Every year he tells me that all three hear just fine. He once commented wryly that hearing and listening are completely different skills and that modern medicine only addresses one of the two.

A damn shame, I tell you.

"If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear."
Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Almost Nine Years

On November 11th, I will have lived in this house for nine years. We've been in this state (incidentally, one which I never in a million years thought I would ever visit on purpose, much less live in, which only goes to show that God has a good sense of humor) for more than eleven years now.

My previous record in any city was six and a half years. My lifetime average time in any one place would probably be somewhere between two and three years. We moved a lot when I was a kid. If I wasn't moving, my friends or boyfriends were, so there was always upheaval and people to miss even if we weren't the ones moving that time. I distinctly remember telling my dad sometime in high school that when I got to be an adult, I was going to put down roots to the center of the earth and never move again.

The community in which I now live is a small rural town, largely populated by people who have lived here their whole lives. It absolutely boggles my mind that my friends could have themselves attended the same local school that our kids attend now--not that it is a bad thing, just so alien to my own experience. My high school is approximately 8000 miles away from my current home--looked it up on Google Earth a while back on a whim. When giving directions around here, people say things like "we live across the street from the feed store" or "we're just down the road from the old Johnson farm." Now, the feed store is a good landmark, but the odds are good that the Johnsons probably haven't lived at their old farm in years and that there were probably three different Johnson farms anyway! They might as well tell me to turn left where the big oak tree used to be. I'll have to live here 50 years to get it all straight. And don't even get me started on the interrelationships among the people...I learned early on (and fortunately not the hard way) that the person to whom you are complaining about your child's teacher could easily be her mother, her old babysitter, her niece, or her neighbor...speaking no evil is a really good way to keep your foot out of your mouth in these parts. ;)

The ironic thing is that, now that I have what I always said I wanted, part of me is ready to move. Force of habit. To see what is over the horizon or in another part of the US or in another country (I spent most of my childhood outside the US and would be comfortable going back overseas.) Realistically, it isn't likely, though. We are here in the first place because this part of the country is where the career opportunities for my husband are, and that probably won't change. Also, one of the kids has a language disability, and we have him in a good academic situation, one that I would be very hesitant to disrupt except in the case of a job offer that we absolutely could not refuse.

And anyway, there are too many days like today, where the sky is blue and cloudless and my vegetable garden is burgeoning and the butterfly bushes are overflowing with tiger swallowtails and monarchs and painted ladies and a neighbor invited my daughter to visit her chickens and I saw many of my friends while waiting to pick the Things up from their summer camp and The Hound had plenty of squirrels to chase on her walk and I am constantly reminded of why this place is good for my formerly city-dwelling soul. It would probably take a backhoe to drag me out of here.

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sticker Shock

I have to say that I am not really into bumper stickers. They are like tattoos in that a) I have never* found anything that I wanted to permanently display on either my skin or my vehicle, and b) they give total strangers ammunition for judging you. And they often do judge, in both cases. Sometimes leading to physical damage to either skin or car, especially if alcohol is involved.

(*I did make one exception to the no-sticker rule on my own car. Long ago, in the fire of youth. Fortunately for me, the Darwin Fish decal I applied did not lead to the car being keyed. In my own defense, I think that some so-called religious types need to refamiliarize themselves with Matthew 23:12 before they choose their bumper stickers. And that's all I'm going to say about that.)

There is a nearby town that is overwhelmingly occupied by people whose fundamental beliefs differ from mine. How do I know? I can tell by their bumper stickers. For good or bad, many people showcase their beliefs on their cars. It's a free country and you can do that if you want to.

Except that people then decide whether they do or don't like you based on your car. Not sure I want my car speaking for me. I can do that for myself.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I collect frogs. I have stuffed toy frogs. A string of frog-shaped lights. A pair of wooden frogs holding a Welcome sign on my kitchen windowsill. A frog-shaped tea light holder. Etc. Etc. For my recent birthday, my mother sent me a pair of earrings, small works of art carefully crafted from copper and other metals. I laughed when I saw the tiny frog on each. She knows me so well.

The irony is that there are real frogs only yards from my back door. Loud, hidden frogs that taunt me with their raucousness at all hours from their secret hideaways in the crevices of the deck. I would cheerfully feed every one of them to any available predator just to have some peace in the quiet hours of the night.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Notes to Self

Mulch. In May. Otherwise, you will spend an entire perfectly beautiful July Sunday pulling weeds and cursing.

Also, if you can avoid having knee surgery in May in future, that would be good. Tough to weed or mulch when you can't kneel.

Of course, avoiding the knee injury entirely would have been good too. Yoga, walking and biking are your friends. Step Aerobics, running, and martial arts are not. You are not 21 anymore. You are way too close to 40 and the mother of three children. Not that you always have to act like one, but common sense, please.

In the immortal words of my aunt: Getting old is pigeon poop.

Cattiness du Jour

Dear God, the Spanish Olympic uniforms are ugly. Ours may be made in China, but at least they do not look like the aftermath of a major condiment fight.

Berets. Really, Ralph Lauren??? And the oversized Polo logo? Come on.

Went to a baseball game with my family last night. Double A, small stadium, fireworks afterward. Local choir singing the National Anthem. Hot dogs and Cracker Jack for the kids. Take Me Out To The Ballgame at the seventh inning stretch. Made me proud to be an American. So does the Olympics, but the marketing and propaganda get to me after a while. I didn't grow up here, so the small pieces of Americana make me as happy as the big. May it ever remain so.

The Face

All the women in my mother's family have it. My grandmother, mother, two aunts, female cousin. Me. Probably female forebears back to the dawn of time as well. One or two of the guys, but not many. Not so much what we physically look like, although there are similarities, but in that we all have a face that seems to say to the people around us, "Tell me your story. I am interested."

Complete strangers would tell my grandmother their deepest secrets and worries in the shoe store. In the grocery store. In the post office. My mother hears life stories in airport lounges and bookstore lines and doctors' waiting rooms. While paying a roofer, I once heard all about his wife with MS and the new baby they had because they thought the pregnancy would help her symptoms and how she was having post-partum depression. The whole conversation was over in ten minutes. He went directly to what was on his mind.

My best guess is that some people have so much swirling in their heads that they are near to exploding with the pent-up thoughts. Maybe they have nobody close to talk to or maybe the people who are close are the problem or not a good sounding board for some other reason. Maybe the fact that we are strangers is the important thing: that we provide an outlet and then are gone. No embarrassing afters.

But why us? How do all of these people find us? How do they know that we will listen as they vent?

A while back, my family was at church on a Sunday morning. The Girl was about four at the time. Midway through the service, she poked me and asked why the boy up front with the yellow hair was sad. Now, I had noticed the same thing--that child really did look like something was bothering him--but I had said nothing to anyone about it.

It occurred to me then that maybe part of the family gift is the ability to read faces. To pick up on who is upset. Who is worried. Who is overwhelmed. Who needs a shoulder and a friendly ear. Maybe our faces say "We see you. As a person. We see that you are troubled. Talk to us and relieve your burdens for a moment just by the telling." I call it a gift deliberately: sometimes it is a mitzvah just to provide an ear when someone really needs to talk. Even someone you've never seen before in your life and likely won't see again.

Incidentally, both my father and Himself deliberately cultivate faces that say "I don't want to hear your problems." Both are uncomfortable hearing about issues that they cannot fix. The jury is still out with Thing One and Thing Two, although neither are particularly perceptive with emotions, at least at this stage.

But I would bet anything that The Girl will find that she has The Face too. Welcome to the sisterhood, child.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Cast of Characters

Two sons. 25 months apart. Elementary school aged. Rambunctious, energetic, loud. I call them "Thing One" and "Thing Two."

One daughter. 25 months younger than Thing Two. Some princess-like tendencies, but so far we have been spared major drama. To be known herein as "The Girl."

Husband. Good man. Good dad. Patient. Of sufficiently Irish heritage that I can call him "Himself" with justice.

One dog. Bouncy, sweet, a rescue and a joy. "The Hound."

And of course, me. Lots of names and hats at various times but right now the Mom job is the key one, so I will be "Mama D."

The Beginning

The Serenity Prayer.

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference."

My favorite prayer and words I try to keep in my heart. Some things I can't change no matter how hard I try. Some things I can, with more or less effort, depending. Determining which are which and not wasting precious energy tilting at the proverbial windmills...an ongoing struggle for my massively Type A self. Creating this blog as a way to sort through thoughts on "paper."

Welcome to my world!

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001)  


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