Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mission Accomplished

90 days. 90 blog entries. Not exactly every day—there was the one day I totally spaced and the other day I had no access to the required technology, but both times I made it up.

So I’m done. And what have I learned?

1) If I had to, like for a job or something, I could squirt something out every day.

2) If I were actually being paid to squirt something out every day, I’d like to think it would be of higher quality than some of the mental refuse I slapped up here on more than a few occasions.

3) I write much better in the morning.

4) I write much better when I actually have something meaningful to say.

5) I don’t have something meaningful to say all that often.

6) When I’m at a loss for what to write, or when I feel so overwhelmed and insane that the last thing I want to do is write, it is very, very, very hard not to rant. Ranting about idiots, incidents, indiscretions, institutions, injustices, indecencies, incompetence, ignorance and lots of other things that start with “i" would have been an easy way out for me. Even with some of the pointless crap to which I had to resort in order to avoid ranting, I’m glad I set that limitation on my subject matter.

7) I am completely, hopelessly and ridiculously in love with the written word. That said, I’m looking forward to a break.

Peace out.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Open Up My Head and Let Me Out

(little BAY-bee!)

Coincidence that a) Dan just found out he has fabulous Warehouse-member-seniority-based-butt-kicking tickets to see Dave Matthews Band BOTH nights at Alpine Valley in July AND at the Xcel in September and b) I’m feeling like the DMB song lyric which titles this blog entry pretty much sums up my emotional state at the moment?

Never mind the fact that the above sentence was a ridiculous run-on.

I had six lovely hours without husband or children this afternoon, no place I had to be, nothing I had to “get done,” no need to do more than have a little quiet me time. And in that time I managed not to get my blog written, not to nap for more than a few minutes, not to read anything interesting or even watch anything interesting. Or uninteresting. In fact, I managed not to do so many things that I honestly can’t account for the time. Except that for the entire six hours, my brain was running on one of those metal gerbil wheels (which helps explain the nap deficiency—I didn’t say I didn’t lie down. I just said I failed to actually sleep for more than a short while).

In fact, it’s still running. I’d love to share, except I’m pretty sure that if I get started, I’m just going to rant for fourteen pages which a) violates my ground rules for this blog and b) would take far too much time and energy.

This is the time to use the tools of my recovery program. Write the stuff down. Literally “open up my head and let me out.” Get on the phone with folks in my network. Pray and meditate. Do service for someone else. Just shove a giant 12-step wrench into the gerbil wheel and launch my frantic synapses into a welcoming pile of cedar shavings. Too much of a gerbil analogy? Probably.

So I apologize to anyone who actually reads today’s blog. It’s little more than half-crazed dribbling. But at least it’s honest.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In Praise of Text Messaging

When Dan and I got our cell phones, we didn’t care anything for text messaging. It wasn’t all the rage, yet, and seemed a frivolous add-on to an already pricey monthly contract. Now, of course, educators and parents are up in arms about the epidemic of poor spelling and soaring inattentiveness caused by kids sending “OMG, r u fer real? L8r!” to one another. In fact, a friend of mine who gave into her son’s desire for a cell phone was recently horrified to have half a dozen sixth graders sitting around her dining room table texting each other rather than just talking. I can see the concern.

But as for me and my house, WE LOVE TEXTING. For a few reasons.

First of all, I hate the phone. The last thing I need in my unpredictable household is one more entity suddenly bursting out with a nerve-jangling demand for my attention. I know I don’t have to answer it, and with “Opt-out” websites and “Caller ID,” we get few calls from solicitors and can easily see which ones not to answer. But even then, there’s the frustration of running around to find the portable handset just to realize it’s a “Restricted” or “Out of Area” number, which I will never answer. Or if it is someone dearly beloved to me or my family, I often feel overwhelmed with anxiety, knowing I have a zillion things to do and that this phone call will take a minimum of ten to fifteen minutes I really don’t have, but I feel like an absolute schmuck not answering when I know it’s someone I would otherwise LOVE to engage in a friendly conversation.

Don’t call me. I’ll call you.

But then, if I call you, I put you in the exact same position of having to drop anything and everything in which you might otherwise be involved to respond to my sudden demand for your attention. You probably aren’t as neurotic as I am about the phone, but I automatically assume that if it bugs me, it might bug someone else and why would I want to do that?

Enter the concept of text messaging. I need to find out whether Dan will be able to take Eiledon to Kung Fu the next day so I can schedule an appointment for Gavin. I don’t need to butt into his crazy work day. I just text him a quick note and, when it’s convenient for him, he gets the necessary information and responds. If he has a question or a piece of information for me, he can send it on over and when I don’t have my hands full or if I have a moment free from dealing with the kids or various pets, I can take a look at it. It’s just a much more non-invasive method of communication, ideal for busy parents.

Secondly, I’ve never been a big fan of chatting by phone. Whether it’s my own brand of Asperger’s or just anti-social behavior, I find the expectations for casual small-talk very difficult. It’s not like that with my closest friends or people in my recovery program, but in general, having to be spontaneously witty and mutually engaged in a telephone conversation is exhausting for me. With a text, I can quickly convey the one pertinent piece of information without having to chat about the weather or the price of gasoline. Like portable e-mail.

Third, I have ADHD. There are more unconnected pieces of information flying around between my ears at any given moment than there are on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. If I suddenly remember something important, I can text it to the appropriate party before it disappears into the far reaches of my gray matter! Even if it’s as simple as asking Dan to please stop at Jerry’s Foods on his way home to pick up the ice cream Eiledon is supposed to bring to school tomorrow. The information is in written form, the instruction is simple and clear, and Dan can receive the information when he has an opportunity to do so, on his terms. How do you not love that?

Lastly, texting offers a unique avenue for truly creative expression and a level of intimate connection on a moment-to-moment basis. I like to describe my phone’s text feature as a sort of walkie-talkie, direct to my husband, through which we can send secret messages at any time of day or night, in almost any situation (NOT WHILE DRIVING!!!! Just sayin’.) We spend so much of our time apart, and so much of the rest of our time focused on our kids, there’s not a whole lot left for the two of us. Each morning, if we’re lucky, we get about 15 minutes to have coffee together and take care of any family business. Text messaging gives us an opportunity to send love notes, share a joke, relate a funny event or ask a pertinent question and otherwise just let the other person know we were thinking of them. I’m not advocating texting as a replacement for togetherness. But when togetherness just ain’t happ’nin’, texting is a Godsend.

It’s a joy to be sitting in a hellaciously boring meeting and be able to text “I think I feel my toenails growing,” or some such nonsense to each other. When Dan and the kids are on a fun outing and something weird or funny happens, I get a little piece of the action in the form of a humorous message. Add in the camera phone and I get all kinds of bizarre pictures with hilarious captions from all over the place! I have grown so fond of this direct access to Dan and a few other friends that few things make me smile more readily than the sound of my phone receiving a text message: Casey Kasem yelling, in Shaggy’s voice, “Scooby Doo! Where ARE you?!?”

Because what I hear is, “Hey, Bek! I’m thinking of you!”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bubble Guinea Pop

(Gavin helped me write this entry :)

After a nonsensical intro in which an ill-defined ‘bad guy’ seems threatening (doesn’t actually DO anything threatening, mind you, just seems threatening) to some zoo animals, a couple of maverick guinea pigs decide to save the animals with serpents, bubble gum and bossa nova.

I’m sorry, WHAT?

It’s an online computer game, whose title is that of this blog entry. You can find it here. Gavin discovered it the other day on the computer at school. The object is to launch guinea pigs from the jaws of pendulum-like hanging snakes toward waiting zoo animals. When the guinea pigs come to a complete rest, they immediately blow a huge bubble-gum bubble which bursts, covering the targeted animal in pink, sticky goo which, supposedly, makes it so that vaguely threatening guy’s “powers” don’t work on them. You know, for their own good. In the sage words of Gavin: “It’s stupid.”

But it’s pretty darn fun, too. Each very short level requires you to click on a snake or two to release a bubble-blowing rodent at just the right time to have the proper trajectory so it lands close enough to the animal in peril to sufficiently coat it with pink goo. With every passing level, the layout of the ‘board’ is more complex, requiring advance planning as to when to release the pig, how to use other pigs and/or objects on the board to push the pig closer to its target and, in some cases, blow up bricks or pieces of wood (with bubble gum—because that makes sense) before being able to complete the task. In some screens, there are portals from one part of the board to another. In another screen, there’s a little machine that, when you launch your pigs into it, it divides the guinea pig into four smaller piglets (each of which is capable of blowing enough of a bubble to save a zoo animal). Gavin calls this the “guinea pig grinder.” Kind of a gross image, no?

He finished up to level 31 (out of 57) this morning before I had to literally threaten him to within an inch of his life in order to disengage him so he could head for the school bus. The really sad part is that we’re supposedly under a technology ban (for the kids) until further notice. But Gavin really wanted to show me this game he’d discovered and all of his attempts to explain it to me made absolutely no sense (and is there any wonder why that might be???) So I let him show me and was instantly sucked into a ridiculously silly morass of bubble gum, snakes, fuzzy rodents, assorted zoo animals, whirly portals, moving parts and mechanical switches all accompanied by a maddening synthesized overly-cheerful bossa nova.

And I think my life is crazy? My life has nothing on Bubble Guinea Pop.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Norman Cousins, journalist and editor for the New York Post and the Saturday Review from the 1940s to the 1970s suffered from a rare form of arthritis later in his life. Part of his self-created treatment for the pain involved watching Marx Brothers films. He said: "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval."

Last evening, during the family ritual of “bedtime snack time,” Gavin asked us to help him come up with a Moir-family-style ridiculous multiple name for his new stuffed Pokemon, Uxie. I don’t know what it is with our family and creative naming, but within about fifteen minutes, we were all in such hysterics, the dog started freaking out.

This is clearly a case of “you had to be there” so it won’t make much sense for me to write out exactly what was said. It’s probably enough to know that once the weird names started flying and Eiledon started writing them down, a series of errors in spelling and the incorrect re-stating of what another person had just said quickly escalated me to tears. I think the kicker was when Eiledon said one thing with her mouth full, I said back to her what it had sounded like to me, and then Dan, who misheard my misinterpretation asked, “Did you just say that Brubeck looks like a hamburger that came out of someone’s nose?”

Tears, I tell you. And acute abdominal muscle pain. I thought of the Norman Cousins quote: “Laughter is inner jogging,” because this was some workout.

After the recent days of wandering around in frustration, confusion, self-pity and the like, this was the best medicine anyone could have prescribed. For the first time in a week, I went off to bed in a good mood, grateful for my wonderful family and for all the gifts we truly have.

Keep those endorphins comin’, y’all: Spend some time LYAO!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Emotional Traffic Jam

After driving in the Twin Cities metro area for fifteen-plus years, now, I’ve come to expect, and generally accept, a certain amount of unpredictability in traffic patterns, driving styles, and the amount of time it will actually take to get from point A to point B. It’s also the only metro area in which I’ve driven extensively, so I can't say for certain that it's different than any other. Well, there was Des Moines, which I was semi-familiar with for about three years, where I referred to the locals’ overall driving technique as “freestyle” and joked about starting a foundation to repair the thousands of turn signals which appeared to be non-functional in the average Iowan’s car.

But back to the Twin Cities. Now, I’m not going to rant about city traffic: a) I don’t allow myself to rant (too much) on this blog and, b) it would be way too easy. Instead, I want to relate my own contribution to today’s random highway insanity.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m under a great deal of stress. I won’t go into it here: you can find musings on the current turmoil in my life in other entries. Just know that, when I left my house this morning for my weekly meeting, I was probably not in the best frame of mind. Therefore, when traffic on 494 east unexplainably came to a near stand-still at France Avenue at 9:05a.m. I was a little annoyed. Here I had actually left home with enough time to get to my meeting and now it looked as if I would be late as usual. When the backup stubbornly persisted past Penn, I-35W, Lyndale and Nicollet, I just sort of threw up my hands. You know, ‘best laid plans’ and all that crap. But when I saw what had caused the back-up, I allowed myself a little self-righteous indignation. It was a multi-car accident with half a dozen police and rescue vehicles with flashing lights… on 494 WEST-bound. It wasn’t even on the same road. But whatever sick emotional void is filled by rubber-necking at someone else’s misfortune managed to inconvenience me terribly. (Of course I looked, too. I had plenty of time ;)

In the end I was maybe two minutes late. Big fat hairy deal. But my agitation lingered.

For two hours, I sat in the meeting, sometimes listening, sometimes participating but mostly, I have to admit, multi-tasking. I had yet to read the official report of all of Gavin’s testing at Children’s Integrative and spent the lion’s share of the time poring over the psychologist’s methodology, observations, interpretations and psychological diagnoses. No surprises. Still painful.

I bolted after the meeting, unwilling or unable to engage in the social niceties of fellowship, and headed home. After following an extremely slow driver all the way down Cedar (It appeared as if he was trying to find a specific address, yet he just kept on heading south), I breathed out in relief when we hit Highway 77 and I could pass him. In the next five minutes or so, I witnessed an unusually high incidence of irresponsible driving, from tailgaiting to speeding, to excessive lane changing, all seemingly without reason. I got on my auto-safety high horse and started mulling over all the stupid choices people make when they get behind the wheel of a car.

And then I glanced down at my speedometer. Um.

So I slowed way down and gave myself a bit of a talking-to. There was absolutely no reason in the universe that my general sense of stress and unhappiness should endanger myself or others through bad driving. Especially when I’m the first one to look critically at other’s choices and judge them for not being as safe and conscientious as I like to think I am. Thereafter, I committed to paying better attention and separating my emotions from my driving.

494 westbound was now completely cleared of the previous accident and traffic was moving in the usual 5-15 miles over the speed limit. In anticipation of the upcoming I-35W exchange (from HELL) I scooted into the far left lane to avoid the inevitable clog at that point. Unfortunately, once I passed the interchange, I was not able to return to a more central position on the road—traffic was just that thick. I noted behind me a sporty little BMW who was clearly irritated that I was in the left lane and wasn’t willing to drive 90 to get out of his way. At first, I was grateful when traffic loosened around France Avenue. But then, unfortunately, I had another issue. The pot holes between lanes along that stretch of road are unbelievable. There was no way I could move over a lane or two without jeopardizing my suspension in a serious way. So with the unhappy Beemer crawling up my rear end, I maintained what I believed to be a happy medium between the safety of the speed limit and the safety of avoiding a rear collision.

Finally, the yawning chasm between me and the next lane leveled out a bit and I slid into the center lane, tempted beyond belief to give the driver of the BMW a dirty look as he accelerated and roared past me in his impatience. Who was I to judge, when just twenty minutes earlier I had to dress myself down for the same vice? It was just enough, at that point, to get myself home and let go of “all the idiots out there.” It doesn’t do one bit of good to whine about other drivers and, as I so wonderfully demonstrated, it’s pretty hypocritical. Who’s to say the BMW-driver was even aware of his speed? Maybe he was lost in thought about some life tragedy. I’m not the traffic police. All I can do, just for today, is just take myself out of the equation.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Least I Could Do

At some point in the last week or so, my kids left a library book within reach of the dog. Yes, the same dog who compulsively chews to tiny bits any item that can actually be reduced to tiny bits. Luckily, I didn’t walk into a room to find a pile of unidentifiable shreds, but caught Brubeck in the act and rescued the book with only the bottom left corner partially removed. Or, more correctly, the bottom right corner, as it’s a Japanese manga book, written in English but published with the pages in Japanese, rather than English order.

Heavy sigh. I examined the damage, wondering if the book was salvageable. It wasn’t all that bad, I thought, and put it back on the shelf in the library corner, along with all the Time Warp Trio books for Gavin, books about Aspergers and ADHD for me and Dan, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, which Eiledon is reading for a book report, and various and sundry graphic novels, school library books and picture books.

Yesterday I got the e-mail reminder that I had books coming due. Among them was the damaged Pokemon book and I sighed again. Chances are I could return it and it would be listed as “damaged.” I saw, when I read the Simon Singh book on The Big Bang, a note in the front cover that said: “Condition Noted.” Later in the book, I found multiple instances where a previous reader had highlighted portions of the text. So in this case, I was guessing the condition would also be “noted” so that no future borrowers would be blamed for the damage.

Still, by the time I reached the Library, I knew I’d be paying for the book. It was the only honest thing to do. What bugged me about it was having to admit I allowed my kids to be so irresponsible with a library book that the dog destroyed it. Me! For whom books are sacred! Whose blood curdles when I see someone fold down the corner of a page to mark his place.

Suck it up, Moir. You blew it. Get over yourself and pay for the stinkin’ book.

I placed the other three returns on the moving belt and wandered up to the desk. When the librarian noticed me, I smiled, lamely, and told her my dog had damaged the book. She took it from me and looked at it, making a noncommittal sound as she noted the teeth marks. There was a short pause. “I think I should pay for it,” I said.

“You want to pay for it?” she said, without emotion.

“I think I ought to. It’s my fault it’s damaged.”

She seemed almost embarrassed when she replied, “Well, I suppose that would be the right thing to do.” Like she was trying to give me an out. Or waiting for me to argue. Or I don’t even know what. It was weird.

“Yes,” I said with conviction. “I’d like to pay for the book.”

She walked me through the transaction and checked out another book I had on hold. She handed me the damaged book. “In our system, we have to list it as “lost” so we can go through the process of replacing it,” she said. “So you can keep it.”

Great, I thought. I can reward my kids for destroying public property. “Thank you,” I managed, and wandered out with my new “purchase.”

Sure enough, when I told the kids about what had happened and how I’d had to pay for the book (and how they would be reimbursing me out of their allowance), Gavin immediately piped up: “What happens if Brubeck chews up the other one?”

I don’t think he was being devious. He really isn’t like that. But I was DARN quick to say, “I returned it. And this will NOT happen again.”

“Good,” said Gavin, with a smile.

Here’s hoping.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Crock of…

…pot roast. I LOVE pot roast. Take one large hunk of natural (grass-fed, no hormones or additivies) beef, toss into a crock pot with potatoes, carrots, onion and tomato, turn on to “low,” go about your business for a few hours and: voila! Dinner. Effortless, I tell you. If only everything in life could be so easy. But not so.

Tonight I get to go to a talk called “The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Odd: Asperger’s Syndrome.” It’s presented by a man who has Asperger’s an focuses on demystifying the condition for the general public. A friend emailed me the information about the talk and I’m terribly grateful she did, and that my brother and his family are willing to host the kids for a few hours this evening. I’m hopeful that I’ll glean something that helps me to be less overwhelmed by the task ahead.

Meanwhile, life en la Casa de Moir feels like a complete zoo. Both kids are behaviorally all over the board, trying to deal with school and church and homework and flute and natural supplements and traditional medications. The younger cat (Jack-Jack) insists on pouncing on the more decrepit cat (Perry) causing explosions of hissing and growling at all hours. Jack-Jack also has a flower fetish which means the beautiful irises I brought home today (my FAVORITE flower) will likely be on the floor in a pool of water and broken glass when we get home from the talk. Then there’s the dog, who continues to pee all over my daughter’s carpet, chew up everything in sight, knock over the bathroom garbage and just generally add to the chaos, and my husband who is unwilling to part with the dog. When I said we should, he asked pointedly if I was willing to get rid of the cats, too. I totally called his bluff, because, honey they ALL can go. Still, Dan is determined to train Brubeck to be a contributing member of the family (actually Brubeck could probably make dinner in a crock pot, it’s so easy. There may yet be a future for him here).

So I continue to cling, white-knuckled, to what passes for sanity in the belief that “this, too, shall pass.” My mom has been quoting that Bible verse to me all my life and she’s never been wrong. Here’s hoping that this time it doesn’t turn out to be a crock of…

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Glass Half Full

I’m liking this ELCA Lenten Calendar thing. Easy inspiration. Yesterday’s suggestion was to put $1 in our ELCA World Hunger Relief collection bank for every pound we feel overweight. Of course, with my food plan, I don’t feel overweight at all. At most, a pound or two, which I’m still in the process of losing. So I’ll have to put in, say, $5 bucks a pound. My poor husband, on the other hand, looked pretty chagrined at the suggested exercise. Suffice it to say that, together, we’ll put a nice sum in our little bank (which we don’t actually have yet, but you can hold me to it since it’s in print :)

Today’s suggestion is to “Smile because your glass is half full.” Honey, there are days I’m totally convinced my glass overfloweth. Even with all the craziness around parenting kids with “special needs” (and, really, don’t all kids have special needs?) by and large I’m ridiculously wealthy in material, spiritual and relational things. Oh, wait, after dealing with another daughter-meltdown, I still have to remember the part where I SMILE. So, here you go.

I actually have a regular habit of smiling at other drivers when I’m out and about in my car. I think it’s funny to see how genuinely surprised most people are when you make eye contact with them and smile. Ninety-eight times out of a hundred, the other driver

will eventually smile back, once he or she is over his/her shock. The other two times out of a hundred, I’ll chalk up to the fact that the other driver is too distracted to smile back, has a genuine reason not to smile, or thinks I’m a raving lunatic and is afraid if they smile back I’ll turn my car around, follow them to a secluded spot and eat them with fava beans and a nice chianti. Actually, now that I write that down, I’m suddenly questioning my decision to smile at strangers.

No, seriously, I’m not.

So unless you live in an area where eye contact will actually lead to bodily harm, I challenge you to smile at other people for a few days. I guarantee it will lift your spirits and help you to feel that we humans are all in this together, cooperatively, rather than trying to just claw our way to societal dominance to ensure the perpetuation of our genes through the next few generations. (Where did THAT come from?!?)

And you never know: you might be on Candid Camera!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Disability vs. Personality

I’m trying to be accepting of my children. Unconditional love is, as I’ve written before, the most important part of any plan to help with ADHD or other challenges. Acceptance is a cornerstone of 12-Step recovery, but a dicey one when it comes to parenting. There are things in life I can’t change. There are things about my daughter that I can’t change. But there are things that, as a parent, I must change. Well, let me put that a different way: It’s my responsibility to teach my daughter a basic level of appropriate behavior and the tools she might need to get along with her fellow human beings. But it’s at just these teachable moments when I completely blow it in the unconditional love department.

The truth of the matter is that it is sometimes impossible for me to discern which aspects of a particular behavior are her disability (e.g. Tourette’s causing uncontrollable outbursts or anxiety causing uncontrollable outbursts or ADHD… causing… uncontrollable… out—well you get the idea) and which aspects are her personality (as children are often generally willful, defiant and self-absorbed). I can accept that she has greater challenges to her serenity than some other children. I can accept that I need to take these challenges into consideration when structuring her routine or establishing discipline. But in the moment when she seems completely incapable of performing the simplest task, I can’t seem to accept that she might not be entirely willfully misbehaving. She may be willfully misbehaving in part, and that’s the part I’m supposed to lovingly discipline but I can’t tease out what’s what and, in the end, three out of five times I wind up losing it and yelling, sending her to her room, or revoking various privileges.

Mind you, three out of five times is a vast improvement over my natural instincts. Having to report my own melt-downs to my sponsor each day has helped a fair amount in delaying my outbursts at least long enough for a few rational thoughts. And I’m ridiculously proud of the few times I’ve managed to navigate a behavioral mine-field without blowing off any body parts, hers or my own.

Come to think of it, maybe I oughtta cut myself a little slack if I’m dealing with my own self-diagnosed ADHD. I should look at my own behavior and ask which parts I can easily control and which parts might need more intensive intervention. Where can I develop alternative coping mechanisms that would allow me to approach my daughter without going off the deep end? Aren’t those just the things I’m hoping to develop in her? Wouldn’t it be easier to teach her out of personal experience rather than mandate out of my own need for order and quiet?

Uff da. I’m off to do my daily 10th Step inventory. Luckily I get to write down the good things I did, today, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Living Simply

I have a print-out of the ELCA’s 40 Day Lenten calendar focused on hunger taped to the dining room wall. There’s an activity for each day designed to help me stop and think about those in need, to remain aware and prayerful, to discern where my own choices can make a difference and how I can be of service to the greater world. For today, the suggested activity is to write about the struggle to live simply. Since I’m committed to this daily blog, I get to kill two birds with one stone. I’d say I’m off to a good start in the area of simplification.

Over the past five years, I have taken very deliberate steps to simplify my life and that of my family. Perhaps most drastic was my decision to quit working outside the home. Suddenly there was enough time to get everything done, including resting sufficiently. What there wasn’t any more was extra money. It’s amazing how you spend to your available income. We have to say “no” a lot more, but it’s clear we really didn’t need all that other stuff we’d been wanting.

In fact, it became clear that we really didn’t need most of the stuff we already had. With the kids in school and more time to myself, I systematically began downsizing all the junk in the house. Room by room, garage sale by garage sale, I got rid of a truckload of “stuff,” and found that I could get at things more easily in my kitchen, hang clean clothes in closets with room to spare, and see the floor of my kids’ bedrooms. I think maybe twice in the past three years have I missed something I’d chosen to part with. Not too bad. But I’m not fooling myself. I have more junk than anyone could possibly need.

This afternoon, I went to Ikea for the first time. I wasn’t terribly impressed, to be honest. Dan and I picked up a couple of things we actually did need and then just had fun traipsing through all the staged rooms. It felt good to say, “that would be nice, but we don’t need it,” a few dozen times. It felt even better to escape the place having dropped less than twenty bucks.

That being said, Dan and I treated ourselves to a very nice dinner at Red Lobster—frivolous to be sure!—and then spent the rest of our ‘date’ grocery shopping at four different places to the tune of $600. Now that’s enough dog, cat and human food to keep us for some time, but it sure didn’t feel like living simply.

I remember one staff discussion when I worked at PRISM. The case workers were wondering what a reasonable monthly grocery budget was for a family of four. The amounts tossed around the room were in the $200-$400 range. I almost choked on my lunch. Dan and I are exceptionally frugal (or, as Dan likes to say, “Scottish,”) when it comes to grocery shopping, even with my special food needs and three pets, but our monthly grocery budget is more in the level of $500 to $600 a month. Are we not living simply enough? Or is it unreasonable that a family should be able to feed itself for half of what my family spends?

I’ve no wise conclusions to draw from this exercise, except that living simply isn’t easy, but it is possible, and no matter how far I scale back, I will still have an embarrassment of riches compared with the vast majority of people in this world. So it’s worth it to continue pushing out of my comfort zone in the area of cutting back, knowing that I have more than enough.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Self Indulgence

Tomorrow, Dan is taking the day off from work and he and I are going to have some time just for us. We generally do this every year in December or January, but it’s been a bit hectic around here in the past couple months. We’ll go have coffee, maybe even see –gasp!—a movie, and top it off with dinner out. DINNER OUT. Whoa.

You could say it’s poor timing. Yesterday we could’ve chalked our excesses up to Mardi Gras but here we are in Lent, when we’re supposed to be paring things back, engaging in spiritual disciplines to strengthen our connection to God.

Thankfully, I’m pretty sure God’s in favor of our strengthening our connection to each other, too. I like to make jokes when people ask me about Dan such as, “Dan? Isn’t he that guy I see for about fifteen minutes every morning over coffee?” or “Dan… Dan… rings a bell. About so high? Dark hair? Gorgeous eyes? Yeah, I think I know who you’re talking about.”

I know it’s just the nature of life at this stage. I’m not the only one out there who is so focused on raising children that it’s hard to remember when it was just the two of us. That’s why I can joke about it instead of simply complaining or wishing it were different. But that’s also why it’s important to take these days now and then, to spend time (while the children are in the safe care of loving family members) not thinking about the kids. Or talking about them. Or dealing with them. Which isn’t to say they won’t come up: we’ve had hardly a moment to really talk about what’s going on with Gavin’s anxiety and Asperger’s and Eiledon’s ADHD and troubles in school. But at least we won’t be interrupted every fifteen seconds if we do discuss it.

Heck, even the DOG is going to doggy daycare so we don’t need to come home every couple hours and walk him.

Unattached. Unencumbered. Unrestrained.


Maybe I’ve inspired you to set aside some time for just you and your significant other. I’d be glad to have done so. Meanwhile, I’ll be hanging out with my best friend, Dan and enjoying the time to its fullest while I have it.

Because baseball season starts in a few weeks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tired Snots

When the four of us Fergus kids started to demonstrate that bed-time, punchy, crabby, obnoxious behavior that all children display now and then, my grandmother referred to it as “the tired snots.” Well after two full days and two nights away from home with a bunch of 10-year-olds, my snots are exceptionally tired, and so are my daughter’s. She actually skipped choir and took the bus home from school today without consulting me first, apologized half-heartedly when I expressed my annoyance at her choice, and then immediately dragged herself up the stairs to her bed and crashed for an hour.

After reviving a bit, she managed her math homework and a little reading, but that was all she managed. From about four o’clock on, she just whined ad nauseum about how Gavin was lucky because he got everything and she never got anything fun. Gavin got a really cool new Nintendo DS game and got to see the Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeakquel, and got to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s, and stay overnight at Grammie’s house and the whole Girl Scout weekend wasn’t any fun except for the dance and the movie and pizza party and playing with Megan and the Comedy Sportz theater improv workshop, but that was all that was fun about the weekend and Gavin had much more fun than me and I don’t want to be in Girl Scouts anymore because I had to miss all the fun stuff that Gavin got to do…

Oh, for the love of Pete, can you just get OVER yourself?!?!? said the Mom with little sympathy. After biting Ledon's head off about practicing her flute, it took a quick phone call to a friend to settle down a bit. My friend lovingly pointed out that I wasn’t picking my battles all that wisely and if it came down to a choice between being compassionate toward my daughter or bullying her into complying with my mandate, which might be the better choice at this point? Breathe in. Breathe out. Thank goodness for the voice of reason.

Due to unfortunate timing, we had a Girl Scout meeting this evening. I left Eiledon at home. We needed a time out from each other and I had the distinct feeling I’d be a bit more able to contribute to the meeting than she.

Now, I have to admit, I think Dan may have gone a little overboard on compensating Gavin for Eiledon’s fun weekend away. True, the boy did use his own Target gift card (a Christmas present) for the new DS game, but the Chipmunks movie and Chuck E. Cheese’s? On the other hand, I think Dan’s just a lot more ambitious than I am. If he’d been gone with Eiledon, Gavin and I would have rented a DVD and sat on our butts for two days. So kudos to the doting papa. But would it have killed him to swear Gavin to secrecy until Ledon caught up on her sleep?

By the time I got home from the Girl Scout meeting, Eiledon was in better spirits—well fed, more rested, and watching her favorite cartoon, Teen Titans. It was a relief not to be subjected to another round of circular moping a la paragraph 2, above. It was also a good reminder to me that she really is overtired, and that this rather severe case of “the tired snots” will eventually run its course. I’m hoping my own tired snots pass quickly so I can show more compassion to her in the morning.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Unexpected Graciousness

On Sunday evening, one of the Girl Scout troops at Winter Fun Camp threw a dance for all the older (5th grade and up) girls. There was an Oscars theme complete with red carpet, film-strip decorations, foil stars, and a dozen mini Academy Awards statues to give away. As the dance got underway and the 75 or so girls from 10 to maybe 16 started to bounce around the floor, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in entire troops, I was touched by the sense of innocence. The girls were dancing because they liked the music and were with their friends and were dressed in their prettiest dresses, not because they were trying to attract boys or impress anyone. It was sweet.

I was a little disappointed when they started handing out the awards. Every so often, one of the girls in the sponsoring troop would turn down the music and announce an award category: Best Attitude, Most Sparkly, Coolest Hair, etc. and then another girl from that troop would wade out into the crowd of hovering girls and escort the winner to the front to announce her name. Lots of old memories of sham popularity contests popped up and I hoped the girls’ sense of openness and fun wouldn’t be dampened by the introduction of a certain level of competition, no matter how frivolous.

As the evening progressed, I grew to be more impressed with the troop in charge. While, at first, it seemed only one or two troops of mostly older girls were supplying the award-winners, it became clear that it was my own discomfort and suspicion that had led me to the premature conclusion that the race was fixed. As more and more silly and fun categories were announced, a wide variety of girls, some in dresses, some in pajamas, one in a wig and a cowboy hat, some older, some younger, and even one leader were led to the microphone to announce their names as they accepted their awards.

I watched my daughter during this process. She stayed on the dance floor the whole evening, sometimes dancing with her friends, but most often alone. She was quiet and focused on the music, dancing with very small, but deliberate moves. Every time the music would stop for the next award, she would push forward with the surge of dancers clustering around the front table. I could tell, even from across the room, that she was tense with anticipation, hoping beyond hope that she might snag one of the golden plastic statuettes. But each time another girl was led to the microphone, she simply stepped back into her former place and resumed dancing with the music.

I joined her on the floor toward the end, spinning her around and offering her a dance partner, but she still seemed more intensely focused on doing her own thing, clearly lost in her head, not really looking at me. I’d only been out there with her for a song or two when the radio was turned down for the final three awards of the night. The last was, they said, the most important award. It was for “Best Dance Moves.” The announcer said they’d been watching the dance floor the whole night and the winner of this award had not stopped dancing except to eat. She was focused on the music and her dancing and deserved to be recognized for her participation. The presenting Scout wandered around the perimeter of the crowd and then plunged in with a hand extended for Eiledon.

At first, Eiledon didn’t get it. She looked at the other girl and said, “Me?” When the other girl nodded and took her hand, my daughter’s face just shone. She walked to the microphone and said her name, accepted her statue and everyone applauded. The dance was over. The crowd broke up. Eiledon wandered over to me in somewhat of a daze, a sleepy grin on her face. “Mama!” she said, “you always said I would win an Oscar!” I laughed: we both knew I said that to her when she was having a melodramatic melt-down over nothing. But here she stood, statue in hand, tired eyes, beaming.

I recalled a scene from the prom episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in which her senior class gives Buffy a special award after all the other popularity-based awards have been distributed. The character of Giles, acting as a chaperone at the dance, says to her, “I never knew children, en masse, could be so gracious,” to which Buffy replies: “Sometimes people surprise you.” This was a surprise Eiledon is likely to remember for a long time.

The Sounds of Silence

I just want to say that any attempt to wake up early, make coffee and take care of a few tasks without waking up a room full of sleeping Girl Scouts is foolhardy to begin with and next to impossible at that. I say “next to” because after the second night of Scout camp the girls were so exhausted no one even stirred when I dropped a heavy Tupperware container into a crinkly paper bag a bit more rapidly than planned. I think even the leaders kept right on snoring.

After the first night, however, my cell phone alarm went off on low volume in my sleeping bag at 6:30 a.m. and it scared the living heck out of me. Luckily I’d slept with my finger on the snooze button. After a quick squeeze, I sank back into my pillow for a few moments to gather my resources. A minute later, the coffee-maker that I had set to start brewing automatically turned itself on. Honestly, I had no real idea how unbelievably LOUD my coffee maker is. It brews in the kitchen at home and I guess there’s enough sound insulation in my house to dampen the noise. In a large, high-ceilinged, one-room cabin housing seventeen girls and six leaders, it sounded like an avalanche on the Matterhorn.

So I scrambled out of my vinyl sleeping bag (loud) on my flimsy camp mattress (louder) and tripped on my bag (even louder) before frantically turning the machine back off. The machine, for its part, took it’s sweet time realizing it had been switched off and continued to make resounding clicks along with sounds like a heavy smoker clearing her throat, for about another two minutes.

At last, all returned to peaceful quiet, but the damage was done. First in one quadrant of the room, then another, the high-pitched hiss of preadolescent whispering began to rise above the hum of the central heating like a distant rain and once it had started, it steadily swelled into a downpour.

I apologized to all the leaders a little later that morning, when everyone was up and dressed and moving about. None of them indicated they’d even heard the noise I’d made, and all were very gracious in suggesting that since all of these girls go to Oak Point, which begins at 7:40 in the morning, they’re all used to waking up around six thirty anyway. So it just may have been that their early rising had nothing at all to do with my clumsy attempts at silence. I’ll take the grace, but I gotta tell ya, I felt like an elephant at a tea party that morning! Lesson learned? I’ll let you know next year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Temporary Hiatus

I’m off to spend the weekend with my Girl Scout troop so there’s no way I’ll be able to blog tomorrow. I’ve committed to journaling tomorrow and posting two blogs on Monday. Meanwhile, I get to go run around with eight fifth graders in a gathering of zillions of little girls. Being an introvert, this is daunting. Luckily, my co-leader shares my predilection for solitude and we’ve agreed to give each other time to nap during the weekend—and write a blog entry for Monday in my journal.

Before I go, just a shout-out to my husband: if it wasn’t for his help in getting ready for this weekend, I would have had a nervous breakdown. Because I decided on a last-minute whim to make my daughter a fancy dress, I had a ton of loose ends to tie up that Dan took care of. He filled my car with gas, checked the tires, the oil and vacuumed out the back seat. He got some cash for me to carry, just in case, and helped get the kids organized for bed time. He walked the dog, cleaned up the dishes and otherwise just acted as a gopher whenever I remembered something else I needed to finish before heading to camp. Dan Moir ROCKS.

Wish me luck in the upcoming introvert’s nightmare. See you Monday!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sewing the Seeds of Love

My mom sews. When we were little, she made clothes for us all the time. When I was engaged to be married, I asked if she would make my wedding dress and at first she said “No.” She didn’t want to make a mistake, or miss a detail. But not long after, she relented, possibly because, since she was a thousand miles away, she wouldn’t be able to help out with any of the other planning. It meant a lot to me. Especially when I decided I wanted the bodice from one pattern and the skirt from another. She made it work and I still think it is the prettiest wedding dress I’ve ever seen. When mom sewed for me, I always heard: “I love you.”

Home on break, my first year of college, I made my first clothes for myself: three skirts, one of which I still have. My mom helped me figure out the patterns, let me use her equipment and offered me her expertise. Since then I have made things here and there, on and off. In retrospect, I realize I’ve done a fair amount of sewing, but I don’t consider myself an expert. Still, now that I have my own children, I’m terribly grateful for the basic ability. I’m not big on patterns unless I’m looking for the highest quality: normally, I use existing clothing for templates and my imagination for the rest. It works just fine for Halloween costumes, outfits for class performances, curtains for bedrooms and the occasional blanket. I never find exactly what I’m looking for in the pattern books anyway. So I improvise and accept the imperfections of what comes out.

I love the way my daughter takes my sewing for granted. This weekend, we’re going to a Girl Scout event and on Sunday evening, one troop is throwing a movie/dance/pizza party for the Junior Scouts and older. The theme is “The Red Carpet” and the girls are encouraged to wear fancy dresses. As soon as we heard about the plan, Eiledon turned to me and said, “You can make me a red carpet dress, right? I want a strapless one.” This was less than a week ago. “I think we can shop for one or put something together from your closet,” I responded, thinking: Don’t I have enough going on?

But this morning, I had a Jo-Ann coupon and a few hours to kill. It occurred to me that this kind of creativity was just what I needed to get out of my own self-pity. And everything was on SALE! I found sky-blue (her favorite color) satin and pale blue sheer fabric with a turquoise floral print. I glanced through kids’ patterns but found nothing ‘strapless’ for a 10-year-old, of course, and looked forward to the opportunity to make it up. In my mind I thought: empire waist, floor length, sheer overlay that opens at the high waist to show the satin underneath. Clear straps for the appearance of strapless and a Velcro closure to make sure she could get it as tight as possible (she is a toothpick after all!) Twenty minutes later and happy as a lark I headed home, whipped out the machine and a couple of Eiledon’s dresses and started cutting.

Man, was it fun! I still have to run back to Jo-Ann for some kind of sparkly ribbon for the waist, maybe even a big rhinestone accent-y thing-y, who knows. Ledon can pick it out. I’m so grateful for the ability to create something my daughter will enjoy, and more grateful for the concrete way to show her how much I love her and how important she is to me.

Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


(Unidentified Flying Emotions)

It’s unnerving to be reading what is generally seen as the definitive work on Asperger’s Syndrome and suddenly forget who it is you’re supposed to be reading about. How is it that phrases I’ve used throughout my life to describe the way I make and keep friends, the way I find solace in solitary creativity, and the way I just “don’t get” my peers, are written verbatim within the first twenty pages of this text book? Is it Gavin I’m grieving for? Or myself?

Certainly I’m not a 100% fit for the clinical profile as set forth by the psychological community. The author, Tony Atwood, describes the characteristics of Aspergers as a 100-piece puzzle. The most critical pieces to making sense out of the picture are the corner and edge pieces. After that, when at least 80 of the pieces fit, you can say with certainty that the person in question’s puzzle shows a picture of Asperger’s Syndrome. Lots of people may have 20 or even 40 of the pieces without being over the critical threshold that leads to a diagnosis. I think my edge pieces are there, but maybe not so much in the middle?

But it also talks about how girls and women and those with higher than average intelligence are often able to compensate for many of their social inadequacies and seem to defy convention by having lasting friendships, reciprocal emotional relationships, and responding appropriately to nonverbal signals from others. Screw whoever thinks I’m conceited, but I do have a higher than average intelligence. And I’m female. Have I been “passing” for normal?

HAH! I was once at a party where the only people I knew were the two hostesses and my little brother. Completely unable to make small talk (and, honestly, not seeing much value in it) I spent the entire evening talking to my brother. After the party, one of the hostesses (now my brother’s wife) related that another guest wanted to know if she was jealous of the girl who was shamelessly flirting with her boyfriend. She responded: “That’s his sister.” Passing for normal?

I think what’s bugging me the most—you’ll appreciate this, Pete—is that the strengths and positives of Asperger’s as described in this book are exactly those things which fuel my sense of spirituality. Suddenly I’m wondering whether all of my creative and spiritual tendencies aren’t just the product of a personality disorder. Where’s God in that? On the other hand, maybe that’s just the nature of spirituality and I could spend all year dissecting the chicken-and-egg nature of this conundrum.

Atwood is clear that Asperger’s, while labeled a “disorder” or “syndrome” is essentially just a description of personality along a continuum. In some ways, it’s like saying the fact that the sky is blue is a product of Light Bending Syndrome, a continuum wherein the expressed color is dependent upon the angle of the bend.

Who cares? In the immortal words of Popeye: I yam who I yam! Waitaminute: didn’t GOD say that to Moses? Probably didn’t sound quite the same.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Someone suggested to me today that I’m grieving. I’m trying to decide if that makes sense. I’ve been clear on the fact that we knew Gavin was dealing with what was probably Asperger’s Syndrome, so the diagnosis was more a confirmation, even a relief. The ADHD piece doesn’t really bother me at all. It’s more a personality description than a medical diagnosis. I could look at AS that way, too, I suppose. However you slice it, it just means more work for me as a parent. And I’m tired. For the past week or more it’s been a Herculean effort to just handle the basics. Kids’ laundry doesn’t get put away until it’s time to do the next round. Cat boxes may or may not get cleaned out on any given day. Dog gets walked just far enough to pee and then we’re back inside.

The other morning, a friend and recovery fellow asked me what I needed. I must have looked like a complete idiot, staring at her. I realized I have no idea what I need. So I just started crying. Honestly, I can’t think of one single item or gesture or service that would help me. Nothing practical or realistic, anyway. I keep coming back to good old the Star Wars retort to the question, “Is there anything I can do?”: “Not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest or teleport me off this rock.” I mean, I think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I don’t know that there’s really anything for anyone else to do for me unless they want to adopt and raise my kids and send me off to Scotland with a million dollars.

Yeah, I’m probably grieving. It’s new. I don’t like it very much. But mostly I’m tired. So I’m gonna go to bed now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I’m working with the 3rd & 4th graders at church on a drama they helped write based on the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. We talked about different ideas of temptation and concepts of evil or the devil. I played them “Save Me” by Dave Matthews and explained how, in that song, the devil is just some guy. Any old guy. You and me, even. One student asked, “But what does it mean that he just keeps saying ‘Save Me?’” I said, “I think this guy is saying, ‘You’re God, you’re all powerful. All I have to do is believe in you and it’s all okay. Well, if you’re God, then you can make me believe in you, right? I’m not asking you to perform miracles or anything. Just make me believe.’ And that’s exactly what the devil said to Jesus in the desert.” (The kids then turned around and knocked my socks of by relating their own experiences and brainstorming a drama about a girl who’s new in school (the ‘wilderness’) and keeps getting pushed by the cool kids to go against what she knows is right. I may have written the dialogue in the end, but they get all the credit.)

In my recovery circle, fellows occasionally refer to “my addict,” that part of our own mind that makes it impossible for us to moderate. That actually revels in our addiction. I have heard: “My addict would just as soon have me dead,” and “No matter how long I’m abstinent, my addict is out in the hall doing push-ups, just waiting for an opportunity to take over as soon as I let it.” It’s not that I see my addictive tendencies as separate entity, but as a product of my own human imperfections run amok. I think therein lies the truest and most potent form of evil.

I don’t have some little red dude with horns and a pitchfork perched on my shoulder, encouraging me to make bad decisions. If only it were that obvious. Instead, I have my own voice at the back of my mind, quietly making insinuations that somehow I’m getting the shaft. Wondering why it is that I can’t just kick back and enjoy the ride. Telling myself that by this point, after all the work I’ve done, life should be easy. What’s all this with kids with Aspergers and ADHD and issues at school, a husband who’s underappreciated and undercompensated at work, a slew of money-sucking home and car maintenance issues looming on the horizon, a scad of commitments and responsibilities that I somehow allowed to build up when I swore I wasn’t going to spread myself too thin again?

That little piece of my brain tells me I have every right to be disappointed and self-righteously indignant. That obviously God has failed me, despite all that I have done for him, because clearly, I deserve some compensation for being such a wonderful person. That it’s good and right to wish for financial stability (Hah! Let’s be honest: inexhaustible wealth), happy children (more like: academic prodigies, star athletes and the most popular kids in school), sufficient rest (no need to go anywhere or do anything I don’t want to, ever), and recognition for my service (humanitarian of the year awards and glowing accolades from every segment of society). And that if I don’t have these things, then damn it, somebody owes me.

“I don’t need to you stop the sunshine. I don’t need you to turn water into wine. I don’t need you to fly. I’m just askin’ you to save me,” says the devil in the Dave Matthews song. It’s the same exact thing.

Whatever you may or may not believe about the existence of evil in the world, I think I’ve seen it. And it doesn’t necessarily appear hideous and horrifying. It’s warm and friendly and makes you feel like you’re the greatest person in the universe, supports you in your righteous indignation, encourages you in your self-absorption, affirms you for your oh-so-deserved indulgences, and forgives you when you throw up your hands and stop trying because, after all, you can’t save the whole world all at once. And in the end, we’re the ones looking hideous and horrifying, even to ourselves, and the subtle instigator in our heads thinks that’s the funniest part of all.

Grace Is All I’m Askin’

--Dave Matthews Band, ‘Alligator Pie’

Another quote:

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft agley,"

or, as often translated:

“The best laid plans of mice and men, Go often awry.”

—Robert Burns

‘To A Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest, with the Plough’

Yep. I forgot to blog yesterday. Completely spaced it. 69 out of 90 consecutive days and I blew it. So I’ll be blogging twice today. It would be too tempting to say, “Oops. Oh well. Guess I don’t have to finish, now.” But if there’s anything I’ve learned working a recovery program it’s that it’s not enough to admit your mistake. If it’s at all possible, if you can do so without harming anyone else, you have to make restitution. So you tell me: is my blogging twice in one day causing harm to all of you sane folks? :)

Another thing I’ve learned, and this is arguably the most critical lesson I have ever needed to grasp, is that perfection is neither possible, nor desirable as an end unto itself. An ‘all or nothing’ person from the get-go, I have a long history of trying something, failing, and then quickly turning around and pretending nothing happened. (“Say nothing, act natural!” –Igor, Young Frankenstein). Wrapped up in my own certainty that admitting failure would negate my value as a human being, I leaned into my obvious successes and actually convinced myself in my early adulthood that I had never failed at anything I had tried.

Robert Burns points out in his poem that while the mouse can live in the present moment, humans are dogged by their sorrowful history and their fear of the future, over which they have no control. I am trying, imperfectly but honestly, to focus on the now and find stability and peace in whatever good I can do for others, trusting that even if my life gets inadvertently ploughed under, I don’t have to throw in the towel.

So today, I’m hanging onto the towel, picking myself up, dusting myself off and moving forward. No excuses. No justifications. Just restitution. “Grace is all I’m askin.’ ”

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I just couldn’t help it. After the last two blogs entitled “Dadgummit BLAH!” and “Verschleppen,” respectively, the word just popped into my head so I thought, why not have a trifecta of non-English (nonsensical?) titles? I might have titled the next one “Trifecta,” as my Microsoft Word dictionary doesn’t recognize the word. Thank goodness for Webster’s online!

Maybe the word popped to mind because my husband is watching the Superbowl and Brett Fahrvergnügen isn’t in it. (D’oh!) I wonder if Brett would consider changing his name if Volkswagon offered him enough money.

I suffer semi-regularly from what I term “word attacks.” Actually, I think the phrase was coined by Tonia Faenza when we were kids. It’s a condition in which a word which you’ve heard before but can’t remember where pops into your head and absolutely DEMANDS to be defined, by any means necessary. Most memorable to me was the time when I was in high school going somewhere with my mom in the VW Vanagon (fahrvergnügen!) and suddenly felt compelled to ask: “What’s a colloquialism?” My mother, having a rather expansive vocabulary, was able to define it on the spot and I have never forgotten what it means.

The condition is genetic (it is not, as I have just learned, “congenital”—I love Webster’s online!). Just the other day, Gavin turned to me and asked, “Mama, what does ‘maximize’ mean?” I was so proud!

I suppose it’s just one more sign of my boundless nerdliness (a word I just made up: poetic license, you know) that I so dearly enjoy words, word games, obscure words, plays on words, and on-line dictionary websites. At the cabin, my family would play “The Dictionary Game,” which was later released as an actual board game called “Balderdash,” I believe. But all you need is a dictionary and pens and paper for each player. The person with the dictionary finds a word that no one in the room has heard before. Then the dictionary-holder writes the real definition on his or her paper (paraphrased a bit to sound slightly less scholarly) and everyone else makes up a fake definition (and makes it sound as scholarly as possible). The dictionary-holder then collects and reads out all the definitions and the rest of the group has to guess which is correct. Points are scored for guessing the correct definition and for fooling someone else into choosing your made-up definition.

So is it any wonder that I loved Volkswagon’s Fahrvergnügen ad campaign? Or the bumper sticker which appeared soon afterwards that said “Fukengrüven”? (see “Dadgummit BLAH!” for discussion of my predilection for profanity.) Or that I can appropriately define and use the word “nonplussed” when so people regularly misuse it thinking it means the opposite of what it actually means? Or that “exacerbate” has enjoyed frequent use in my discourse since reading Food First by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins in 1989 (it seemed to appear on at least every other page.)

I will now cease and desist this pointless perseveration (also not recognized by my MS Word dictionary!) in favor of repose before I get accused of somnambulism. G’night.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


  • to carry off
  • to go off with

I’ve started a journal for each of my children during this emotionally chaotic time to remind them that their labels don’t define or limit them, that I love them no matter what, and that I’m committed to working with them to “unwrap the gifts” they have to offer God and the world. It’s not so formal. I just hope to jot down the good things that happen, the evidence of their unique beauty despite whatever lenses others choose to view them through. I wrote this entry to Gavin this afternoon and thought I should share it. I haven’t read it to him yet—I will when the time is right. But I shared it with Dan and he affirmed my decision to post it. So here you go.

Pa died in January of 2007, when you were only five years old, so you may not always remember him very clearly. He was Grammie’s dad and he lived with her for the last few years of his life. Because of that, he got to see you a lot, especially when Grammie watched you every Thursday evening while I worked late, and all summer of 2006 when Grammie and Grandpa watched you and Eiledon every day.

Pa absolutely adored you. He loved to watch the way you crawled around on your hands and knees pushing your cars and trains and other toys on the carpet. He often said how much you reminded him of himself. He said when he was a boy, he always wore out the knees of his pants and the fronts of his shoes by crawling around and playing.

Pa was a very smart man—an engineer. He loved to see how things work and made a career out of working with electrical gadgets and machines. He could fix anything. He loved to watch the way you were so curious about everything, the way you held things and examined them and wanted to know how they worked and took things apart. He recognized himself in his great-grandson and it made him proud.

He told me a story that I will always treasure about a German word: “Verschleppen.” Pa grew up in Missouri, in a village where everyone had come from Germany and still spoke German. His parents were dairy farmers, which meant they had lots of cows that they would milk, and big machines that would store and separate the milk and make cream or butter or other things made from milk.

Pa remembers one day when he was probably about six or seven years old. He was looking at one of the big machines and he was curious about how it worked. He took a piece off the machine and examined it, and then wandered off with it. It wasn’t long before he got distracted and interested in other things and set the piece down and forgot all about it.

A short time later, his dad came out to use the machine and it wouldn’t work. He noticed the missing piece and had a good idea who had taken it. “Hilmer!” he called and Pa came running. “Where is the missing piece of this machine?” he asked in German. Pa replied: “Verschleppen,” which means “I went off with it.” Eventually, Pa assured me, the piece was found and the machine was able to work. But watching you play at Grammie’s house always reminded him of “Verschleppen.”

Not long ago, at Gramma-gramma and Grampa-grampa’s farm, you saw a big metal tub of water that was set out for the farm cats. At the bottom of the tub was a plastic ring with a long cord that was plugged in to the wellhouse. You realized that the ring was keeping the water from freezing and you were very curious about what would happen if you took it out. How long would the water take to freeze in the late November weather? You set the ring in the grass and then forgot all about it. That was Wednesday evening. On Friday, you went out to find the tub completely frozen over and you had fun chipping away at the ice.

Unfortunately, Grampa-grampa was having electrical problems in his workshop and finally traced them to the plastic heating coil you had set in the grass. The coil had melted its plastic coating and burned slowly into the ground by the tub. He and Gramma-gramma got very upset because they were afraid the well house might have caught fire. You were very upset because you were embarrassed by your mistake—you hadn’t meant to do anything wrong. You were just curious. You didn’t realize what would happen if you put the coil in the grass.

This might be a bad memory for you—certainly everyone seemed scared and upset and angry. But when I stopped to think about what had happened, I suddenly remembered: “Verschleppen.” It all made perfect sense! You were just like your great-grandfather! And what a cool guy he was! You can be proud to be like him. I will always see “Verschleppen” as Pa’s legacy to you.