October 28, 2011

Mixed Media

My aunt was visiting and we were having a wonderful time talking and eating hot fudge sundaes and admiring the things she and my mom bought on shopping trips, so it was a really fun week and now my mom and I have post-holiday-blues-like feelings. I've been consoling myself with hour upon hour of a game called Sonny, and I REALLY cannot explain to you why I am playing it. I mean, I CAN: it was Henry's fault, because he was DESPERATE to play it but couldn't figure it out, and so I started helping, and then somehow it was two hours later and I'd been playing a SHOOTING game all that time.

I don't think of myself as LIKING shooting games, but Paul tells me it's because I think of them all as being First-Person Shooter games, which I hate because I hate scared-anticipation and I hate being startled and I don't think quickly. When in fact some games are Turn-Taking games like Sonny, where you can take your time and figure out your move, and then when you're all set you say go, and then it waits patiently for your next move. Plus, it's not gory or gross. Still, there's no getting around the part where I'm aiming guns, shooting them, and saying "DARN it!" when they don't do enough damage.

As soon as Rob got home, Henry and I made HIM play it TOO, because we kept getting really stuck and not knowing what was going on (now we have a Striker's Helm, but how do we get it out of our inventory so we can use it? and what's a "helm" when we are not steering any ships?), and we needed someone else to play it so we could ask questions. Now Rob, Paul, Henry, and I are ALL hooked on it.

Speaking of out of character, I also watched and loved an action movie: Red (Netflix link). We watched it with my aunt one evening, and I was all "I don't know about this," but then I LOVED it. Bruce Willis plays this totally charming, deadly ex-CIA agent. I'm pretty sure the director just had him look at the camera with a wry, amused, affectionate, sidelong-glance tough-guy expression, and put a green screen behind him so he could put that expression in every single scene, and I think I speak for all the ladies in our group when I say IT WORKED.

There was plenty of shooting and action, but nothing gory. And although it got a little scary at the peak of the action, MOST of the action was broken up with humor. And almost all the characters were, like, baby boomers coming out of retirement to kick some mid-thirties next-generation butt, so this is a good movie to watch with your parents. And Helen Mirren is in it, and Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich playing on the funny/endearing end of his creepy/scary/crazy spectrum. Plus there's Karl Urban for the ladies who prefer a man in his 30s, though it was Bruce Willis who had all three of us looking up his age on Wikipedia to see if it was creepy for us to like him. AND, the female romantic interest is Mary-Louise Parker, who is only a decade younger than Bruce Willis and only LOOKS young enough to be his daughter, so that's kind of awesome too!

And I'm reading Divergent, but in my last reading session something icky and scary happened to one of the characters, and now I feel nervous that that's going to escalate.

October 24, 2011

Getting Too Big For Those Britches

Yesterday Rob and I had an argument in the car that went extremely well but was nevertheless very unpleasant. He wanted to discuss his theories that no one should be "against" anyone else, and that no one should make any laws that affect anyone else, and that if you can't prove something is untrue you have to treat it exactly as if it's true. I discussed these topics with him for over 30 minutes and didn't lose my cool AT ALL, even when I was making good/calm points and asking good/calm questions, and all he was doing was repeating his few points over and over in an increasingly upset voice and implying he considered me too stupid to follow the obvious logic.

So I should have gone home feeling good about my performance in this first of what will be many, many chances to exercise patience and restraint and the kindness that comes from having a more developed frontal lobe. One of my big worries about the teenage years is that I will lose my temper in a near-constant fashion, because I really do hate Immature Philosophizing---and I DIDN'T lose my temper. But instead of feeling cheered by this, I went home feeling logy and full of ennui. Because it turns out that even when I handled a discussion very well, I STILL hate Immature Philosophizing and having arguments with people. I felt so weary at the idea of the years and years of it I have ahead of me as the kids grow up.

I also felt logy/ennui/weary at the idea that they might not outgrow the ideas I consider immature. It is upsetting that there is so little I can do to control the children's brains so that they will grow up thinking thoughts I agree with. I already knew this was the case going in to this project, but it's bad for morale to be imagining what life could be like when he comes home with his family for Christmas and is still talking this way. Maybe all five of the kids will sit around talking about how much better the world would be if they ran it, and how stupid Paul and I are for not agreeing with them. Then we'll all sit around grimly unwrapping our presents and feeling dissatisfied with each other.

Also, he's outgrowing his pants so I went to my bins to get the next size up and found there WAS NO NEXT SIZE UP. I was going to have to buy him MEN'S sizes. Then I found that actually it's only The Children's Place that doesn't have size 16, but Old Navy and Target still do, so we have one more size to go. But after THAT, it's the MEN'S department!

October 22, 2011


In this post I am going to tell you what I think the ending of Inception is (discussed without spoilers in this post) and WHY it's that way, and so perhaps it goes without saying that this post will be RIFE with spoilers. There won't be anything else in the post: just that one subject. This is the part where you should leave if you don't want to read spoilers about Inception.


Here is the ending I demand that you believe: Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) is back in reality. He successfully completed his dream mission, Saito followed through with his promise, and Dom goes home to his kids.

Here are the reasons this is true:

1. Because Dom makes it clear again and again in the movie that he is not interested in living in dreams. He has to do a lot of work to convince his wife to leave Limbo, but he is determined to convince her of it---even though they were very happy there. When she wants to go back and live in dreams again, he doesn't want to---even to try to save her life. He tells Mal in his final Limbo scene that her dream self is an insufficient shadow of his real wife, and that that's not good enough for him. He doesn't want to interact and live with his DREAM children: he's had many opportunities to live permanently in Limbo and recreate his wife/kids there---but he wants ONLY his REAL children. It would be inconsistent with everything we know about him for him to suddenly say "I don't even CARE if this is reality or not, I'm so happy!" He might feel that way for a short time, but not permanently. They'd be shadows of his real children, and not good enough---and he'd be remembering that his own dream happiness wasn't solving reality for his real children who were still waiting, parentless.

2. Because Lynn linked in the comments section to this Inception FAQ, and there are assorted mentions of the writer and actors believing that Dom IS home in the end. If MICHAEL CAINE thinks Dom is home to reality in the end, then DOM IS HOME TO REALITY IN THE END.

3. Because if he's not home to reality in the end, the movie isn't over. See #1: Dom is not interested in living in a dream. So if this is some wonderful dream, he'll soon figure that out and then he'll have to start a new quest to get home. There would need to be Inception II. (This would be the only situation in which I would go with the "It's still just a dream" ending: if it will lead to a sequel in which he tries again to get back to reality.)

4. Because the spinning top at the end is the perfect dramatic/non-sappy end to the movie. Fading out on Leonardo DiCaprio hugging small children would have been okay, but kind of sappy after all the shooting, and it would have left us all in the theater feeling a little awkward with each other. I can just SEE someone working on the movie saying "Oh my god, you know what would be AWESOME?" and everyone else going "WHOA. YES."

5. Because if he's not home to reality in the end, I hate the whole world and everyone in it, and especially everyone who makes movies.

October 21, 2011

Inception; The Leftovers

I just finished Inception (Netflix link), and I loved it.

(photo from Amazon.com)

I know I'm not literally the last person to see it, so I'm not going to do any spoilers, but I wish I could because I want to hear what you thought about the ending, by which I mean I want to convince you that I am right about it. And I would like to say also that I hate it when there is uncertainty about the ending. Would it have killed them to make it clear? Because I know I know what happened, because it is the only possible satisfying ending, but I want THEM to know I know, and to admit THEY know too, and not for them to tease me like we all might not know and/or as if "not knowing" = "deep and meaningful." I KNOW WHAT I KNOW.

Anyway. Netflix thought I would like it 3.2 stars, but I gave it one of my very rare 5-star ratings. To get 5 stars from me, I have to love it AND it has to make me think "WHAT just happened to my BRAIN?" I can see why Netflix couldn't predict my rating: there was a LOT of shooting in it, and I dislike shooting. But it wasn't the kind of shooting that distresses me (i.e., in war movies where young men are cut down in slow motion to sad opera music, or anything where it's scary and/or gory), so I didn't mind it much, though I did turn the volume way down. It also helped that I watched it while exercising, not only because I could burn off the adrenaline/stress as it accumulated, but also because that means I watched it in four chunks and could process each chunk for awhile before moving on to the next.

Man. I cried so hard at the end I gave myself a headache. If you watch it, remember: there is no uncertainty about the ending, because there is only one possible ending.


Speaking of reviewing stuff, I finished The Leftovers.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Here are the things I didn't like:

1. I couldn't tell the guys apart. Their names and their personalities seemed mostly the same, and very bland. I had to figure them out from context: oh yeah, this is the dad, because here's house/breakfast; oh yeah, this is one of the guys in that group, because here's bottle/kissing; oh yeah, this is the son because here's that girl.

2. I'm trying not to give anything away, but there is a ritual in a cult, and the ritual would have worked perfectly well without a certain relationship element. Tying it to the relationship made it sadistic and mind-gamey, which made no sense. Definitely it made the plot more thrilling---but it SEEMED like an element to make the plot more thrilling, as opposed to seeming like it fit.

3. At the end, I didn't feel like I'd been given enough information about the characters to get a feeling for how things were going to go. It's not that I needed every plotline finished (though I do enjoy that), it's that everything was still swinging wildly back and forth for everyone (and for the whole disappearance plot itself) and then the end just snipped it closed randomly, like the book wasn't going the way the author thought it would and now he was sick of it and wanted to be done with it. I felt like I knew what was going to happen with a couple of the characters (one was probably going to be okay; another was probably not), but the others could have gone any direction. And yet I felt like the last scene was meant to imply a sort of resolution.

4. I would have enjoyed more talk about the disappearance itself. What percentage of the population, for example? Or perhaps I missed that part. I'm always nervous I'll criticize something and it'll turn out I was just dim and missed a page or something. And was not one single person an actual eyewitness to the disappearance of so much of humanity? We heard two eyewitness stories, and neither one actually witnessed anything with their eyes. I would have preferred a more Stephen King-like approach for this section: more glorying in the surprising horror.

Just OVERALL, I felt like the book fell flat. It felt like reading the second book in a six-book series.

October 20, 2011


Today is the day to wear purple to visually demonstrate that you think that gay teenagers shouldn't be bullied or beaten up (non-gay teenagers shouldn't be beaten up or bullied either, but the emphasis here is on what motivates the bullying/beatings), and to show overall support for those teenagers. Problem: finding purple shirts, particularly for those of us who didn't hear about this in time to clearance-shop. Elizabeth and I had no trouble, though my purple shirt was in the laundry so that caused a scramble. Rob had a purple plaid shirt he coincidentally chose last year on clearance, so I snipped the tag off of it and he wore it. But the three younger boys---none of them had purple shirts.

I was not panicked about this, because it is pretty clear that just because WEARING a purple shirt is meant to show support for a cause, NOT wearing the purple shirt doesn't mean THE OPPOSITE. It can mean "supporting the cause, but not owning a purple shirt." Or it can mean "supporting the cause, but didn't know about this because it was so poorly publicized." Or it can mean "supporting the cause, but forgot when I got dressed." Or it can mean "supporting the cause but thinking it's stupid to show support for any cause in any way except by personally becoming a research scientist who personally solves the problem." Or it can mean "supporting the cause, but not choosing to demonstrate it via clothing." Still: I DID want to demonstrate it via clothing, and I was hoping the kids could too---especially with all the kids old enough this year to understand about bullying being wrong (Henry would like me to clarify that anti-bullying does not apply to white blood cells, which are allowed to bully and ostracize germs).

Fortunately, all three boys had shirts that contained at least a suggestion of being rainbow-striped. For example, Edward had a shirt striped in red, yellow, blue, and green. It's not RAINBOW-rainbow, and it's not purple, but I think there's room to interpret it as participation in this event---or at least not as active non-participation. If I was out today and saw a sea of people wearing purple and a few people wearing rainbowish stripes, I'd assume we were all on the same wave-length, intention-wise.

(I also changed the blog color for today, in case you read this in a reader and so have not yet been freaked out by it.)

October 17, 2011

Swistle Cards for the Holidays

I have been very busy and flustered this morning, because I got an email from Zazzle that holiday cards are 50% off today and through October 20th (code is CARD4HOLIDAY) [edit: new sale is 60% off through November 4th with code UPTOSIXTYOFF], or 75% off if you order more than 75 (code is JOY2THEWORLD) [this one I don't know if it has a new code/expiration, but I don't think so] and I've been meaning since LAST Christmas to update the Holiday Card Scoring System card (it ties in to this post), so that I'd be poised to order more for THIS year as soon as a deal like this came along. LAST year I made the "Swistle's Holiday Card Scoring System" card---but then when I ordered some, I realized it didn't really make any sense to have my name on there. So on the new version I've taken that out. (The old version is still in the shop, so don't get confused.) Here's the new version:

The inside says "Happy/Merry Holidays," and between the word Merry and the word Holidays is a list of holidays. I went back and forth on whether to include Eid, because it's not always at the same time of year as the others---but then I thought, really, I've already got things kind of messy by having the "pre-Dec 1st" and "post-Dec 25th" part in the rules (hmm, I wonder which holiday Swistle herself celebrates!), and leaving it out might look like exclusion for reasons other than timing, so perhaps this is a time when inclusiveness can be prioritized over making sense accuracy.

I ordered some myself, and because I bought more than 75, I got them for 76 cents each including the shipping, which I'd say is PRETTY ROCKING considering they're $2.95 each without the sale.

And I'm posting it in case you are still looking for holiday cards for this year, because I think we all have some people on our card list who could stand to review the rules.

October 16, 2011

What I've Been Up to This Weekend

• Watching Breakfast at Tiffany's (Netflix link) for the first time. I had NO IDEA what the plot was (I'd expected it to take place mostly in a restaurant), but it seemed like the sort of cultural literacy I should acquire. I think of it as being mostly famous for Holly Golightly's fashion style, and I'd say that is what I most enjoyed about the movie. I didn't feel any romantic chemistry between the stars (they seemed like good friends who had to force themselves to kiss) or any hope for their future romantic relationship (as with As Good as It Gets ((Netflix link)), I thought a far better plot resolution would have been for the stars to form a non-romantic family unit), but I did weep openly over the cat storyline. The portrayal of the upstairs neighbor is embarrassing but historically interesting. I loved the clerk at Tiffany's.

• Ordering another 3-pound box of Russell Stover Bloopers. It went SO WELL last time and, like a gambler, either success or failure makes me feel even more intrigued. Will the next box be as good? or will it be a TOTAL BUST? It's due to arrive Thursday. It is fun to have something to anticipate.

• Starting Divergent, which I'm trying ONLY because of all the talk on Twitter. For Twittercultural literacy. The cover doesn't look like my kind of book at all, and I think of young-adult stuff as not my thing either, so I let it sit on the library pile for two weeks. I kept finishing a book and taking another book from underneath it. But this morning I sighed and thought I'd just get it over with---and 5 pages in, I was hooked enough that I had to rip myself away from it.

And now I have to STOP reading it, because writing the above paragraph reminded me to renew it because it's due tomorrow, and I noticed The Leftovers was also due tomorrow so I tried to renew that one too but I couldn't because it's on hold for someone else. So I need to read THAT, and THEN I can go back to Divergent. The Leftovers is another one I have been putting off reading, because I'm still not sure if I liked Little Children (that's weird: the one I read had goldfish crackers as the cover art, but the one I just linked to has cookies; I wonder if Pepperidge Farm complained?), and because fiction that involves a religious plot element can be dicey: sometimes it's helpful and thought-provoking, sometimes it's good for recreational anger, sometimes it's just kind of tiring and upsetting.

• Painting my nails with Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear in 130 Blue Me Away.

It is difficult to get a photo of fingernail polish that looks good and represents the color accurately. But this is a polish that looks exactly the same on the nails as it looks in the bottle, so if you pick up the bottle you will know what it looks like.

October 15, 2011

Soldier Care Packages

When I posted about the frustration of not knowing what to send to soldiers, jennie w. commented that there was a site called Any Soldier, where people could find actual lists from actual soldiers. I clicked over there and I am a little dazzled. For someone who likes to send care packages but gets anxious about overdoing it and/or sending someone a bunch of stuff they don't need/want, this is like some sort of heaven.

I think this ties in beautifully with Doing My Best's Crappy Day Presents idea (see the upper-right of her blog for more about CDPs, with examples), and it's another outlet for those of us who love to do things like that. It is extremely fun for me to buy things for people, especially when I can find those things on clearance (GOOD things, not cheap ugly things---but at 1/4th the price). Looking through the lists of soldier wish lists, my heart was pounding. They need twin-sized sheets, and I OFTEN find twin-sized sheets on 75% off---and in fact, I have several sets still in their packages for when the current sets wear out, and so have had to pass by many a nice clearance. And they want things like snack foods, and I often see those on clearance. And vitamins, and I sometimes see those on clearance. And really, I now see the clearance sections in a WHOLE NEW LIGHT. I'd been thinking, "Oh, that's such a great deal on cute stationery, I wish I didn't already have more than I can ever use," and "Oooo, gum on clearance, but that's not the flavor Paul likes," and "Wow, all those DVDs for only $5 each, but I use Netflix now." BUT I CAN BUY THEM FOR THE SOLDIERS.

And I subscribe to People magazine, and there are GIRL SOLDIERS WHO LIKE PEOPLE MAGAZINE. In fact, you can send a package specifically to "any FEMALE soldier" if it seems more fun to put together a package of nice shampoo and tampons and hair elastics and People magazines and Maeve Binchy paperbacks from the library 25-cent book sale, instead of a box of SpongeBob DVDs and car magazines and Speed Stick.

And I can just buy an item here (box of caffeinated fruit-flavored water enhancer, $2) and an item there (set of twin sheets on 75% off, $6.24), and set them aside until I have enough for a box. I think one of the best parts is knowing that if something in the box is something that's needed by the recipient, they can definitely find someone else who will want it.

It's hard to CHOOSE someone, though. There are SO MANY. SuperJules and I were wishing we had more filter options: you can already sort by service branch, where the unit is from, number of women/men---but we'd like to be able to sort in other ways. I'd like to be able to search for specific items, so that I could find areas that specifically want books, or specifically want People magazines, or whatever. Jules wants to be able to double-filter, so that we can find, for example, a larger team that has received fewer packages. I'd also like to be able to sort by pitifullness, so that I can give priority to the lone female asking for hair elastics and wishing the base store had pads instead of only tampons, and ignore the group looking for a mini-fridge for their PlayStation area. Just clicking through one request link after another is overwhelming, and makes it feel like it's not even worth it to send a single-drop box into the need-ocean.

By the way, the USPS has free flat-rate boxes for this, and I lovvvvvvve flat-rate boxes. I can get a little squirrely about mailing stuff, otherwise. But with a flat-rate box, you just fill it up and you know exactly how much it will cost to mail. And it's pretty amazing to be able to mail a box across the world for $12.95. It's not like $12.95 is pocket change, but I can come up with it now and then---and it's nothing like the cost it would be if it weren't APO/FPO: I once mailed a very small package to Norway and it was so much money I nearly blacked out, something like $30 to mail a baby outfit and a rattle.

I'm a little nervous about the customs forms, though. I don't know how to do those, and new things make me fearful and avoidant. I will hope that the fun of mailing the first box will motivate me to plow through that experience, and after that I will know just what to do and won't have to fret about it anymore.

October 14, 2011

Light-Headed Sentimentality

Whenever I donate blood, there is a nice wide range of other people also giving blood. But last night was a particularly good mix, the kind that a writer might well take liberties in INVENTING, just to make a story about the milk of human kindness a little more touching. But no, these were my actual companions:

1. A goth girl, late teens, looking like she wanted everyone to know this did NOT mean she cared about HUMANITY or anything, she was JUST trying to increase her PALLOR.

2. The classic cheerful, loud, tall, balding, beer-bellied, beer-logo-baseball-cap wearin' man, also wearin', I am not even kidding, a United States flag shirt where the entire shirt was made of flag design. With light-wash jeans and high-top sneakers.

3. A petite churchy Midwestern-type lady in slacks and a turtleneck and a little blazer all in appropriate dark neutrals, sitting with very good posture and ankles crossed, using reading glasses to study the book she was holding up right in front of her face to avoid curving her neck down.

Oh, it is SO TEMPTING to make this list EVEN BETTER. Like, I could add a guy in a suit and tie, right? And another guy from a messy trade---a painter, maybe, or a car mechanic, with paint/oil all over his clothes. And then I could add a party-type woman, and perhaps a geeky high school boy. Or at the very least I could add a necklace worn over the petite woman's turtleneck.

But I will refrain from embellishing. Those three people who were actually there, plus me as the "plump make-up-less mother-type in jeans and a not entirely clean t-shirt and sporty mary janes" made a FINE tear-eliciting, we're-all-in-this-together assortment. More would just be pushing it.

October 13, 2011

Swistle Accent Vlog



I wish it had included the words people remark on my pronunciation of: comfortable (which I say as four syllables: com-for-ta-ble, not comf-ter-ble) and always (which I say OH-wees, to Paul's unceasing amusement).

Here are the notes:

Say the following words:
Aunt, route, wash, oil, theatre, iron, salmon, caramel, fire, water, sure, data, ruin, crayon, toilet, New Orleans, pecan, both, again, probably, spitting image, Alabama, lawyer, coupon, mayonnaise, syrup, pajamas, caught

And answer these questions:
What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
What is the bug that curls into a ball when you touch it?
What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
What do you call gym shoes?
What do you say to address a group of people?
What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
What do you call your grandparents?
What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
What is the thing you use to change the TV channel?

October 11, 2011


I read Life of a Doctor's Wife's complaint department post this morning and started to leave a comment---and after four paragraphs I cut and paste it over here, because HONESTLY. But then I went and did a summary comment on her post, too, because I got conflicted: if one of my commenters took AWAY a comment because it was "too long," I'd be all "BRING IT BACK!! I WANT IT!! THERE IS NO SPACE LIMIT!!"

So anyway, these are the things making me crazy this morning:

1. My 12-year-old son keeps turning off his alarm clock, then getting in the shower---and 9 minutes later it turns out he hit snooze instead of turning the alarm off. And he shares a room, and his room is across two feet of hallway from the room of his other two brothers. So then I have three sleepy, cranky boys awake, and one oblivious boy in the shower.

2. My 6-year-old daughter has been pitching sulky fits over EVERYTHING. And I mean like LONG-ESTABLISHED rules that make TOTAL SENSE. For example, she'll out of the blue assume that even though she ALWAYS goes to bed earlier than the two older boys, she can stay up as late as they do. And then when I say incredulously that NO, she ALWAYS goes to bed at this time, she SULKS. Or, after her teeth have been brushed and it's only 10 minutes until bedtime, she asks for ice cream---and when I say no, she acts as if she had been PROMISED ice cream and then was UNFAIRLY DENIED it. This morning she is sulking and weeping and stomping because she has to GET DRESSED. As if she has been WRONGED in some way.

3. We keep getting memos from the school, filled with giant typos. The MANUAL is filled with giant typos. On one hand, big deal. On the other hand, this is a SCHOOL!! A school that has come up short on its last two state evaluations! So perhaps we could make a little effort to appear as if we know the difference between "your" and "you're" ourselves, before we teach it to children! KTHX for you're consideraton in this matter!

4. Our grocery store keeps being totally out of a few things on my list---different things from visit to visit, but with common repeat offenders. So every time I go, there are a few important things I can't get. I realize we are lucky not to have to stand in line with ration tickets or whatever, but we ARE IN FACT fortunate to live in a time and place of abundantly-stocked grocery stores and so I WANT TO BUY MY GROUND TURKEY AND BABY SPINACH, AND I DO NOT WANT TO COME BACK TOMORROW FOR THESE COMPLETELY REASONABLE THINGS.

5. Mother-in-law's estate is still not settled. In 3 weeks, it will have been 2 years. And it is a simple estate, with not much value and with only two children to receive it equally. I realize these things take time...but perhaps they SHOULDN'T.

6. I need to make a recipe, for a post. And the recipe is meant to use leftover turkey, but I don't HAVE leftover turkey. I went to the grocery store and looked at turkeys and concluded that no, I did not want to buy and cook a turkey just to get leftover turkey, so I asked the meat department guy about it and he was kind of crabby, as if he isn't really getting joy out of matching the right customer with the right meat. I told him that what I was looking for was "like, just like a package of chicken breasts, but turkey," and he said crabbily, "Well, they wouldn't be the same size: a turkey breast is much bigger." Me: "...Okay. But what I mean is 'LIKE' that: a smallish piece of turkey, without bones, in a package, not ground." So then he was willing to admit that he guessed he did have one tenderloin (me: not knowing what a tenderloin is, not really caring at that point), and then he was trying to tell me where it was and he was getting exasperated: "No, THERE. No, DOWN MORE. *sigh* Next to the ground turkey!" Me: looking at the three tiers of ground turkey, wondering which of the three shelves he means.

Anyway, I left with a 1.6-pound turkey tenderloin, and now it occurs to me that I have to somehow COOK it. Before tonight. And I don't know how, and I still don't know what a tenderloin is, and when I look it up I keep finding recipe for "turkey tenderloinS," and it shows these little discs of meat, and that is not what I have. I have a CHUNK. Somebody just TELL ME HOW TO COOK IT SO THAT I HAVE WHAT LOOKS LIKE LEFTOVER TURKEY MEAT. Or else tell me quick that I screwed it all up, and I'll go back and get a turkey and cook that sucker.

October 10, 2011


Paul has the day off today, and the schools are out too. We have William's friend Clarissa here for the day, because her parents both work for companies that don't get Columbus Day off. Every time there's an odd day off like this, I get cranky again on behalf of working parents. People can't be taking every third Monday off for non-celebrated holidays, Teacher Workshop Days, etc., just because they have children. What a huge pain in the butt for them! There has to be a better way.

One idea would be to form little groups---like carpools, but HolidayPools. Except that term makes it sound like sharing a holiday, when actually it's more like sharing an unpaid vacation day and the care of children who would normally be in school or daycare. And SchoolPools would be catchy, but sounds like a homeschooling concept. Well, let's use HolidayPool for the purposes of this post, but with the understanding that it's only a working title until we think of something better.

Let's say two 2-child families HolidayPooled: every other holiday, ONE family would arrange take a day off, and BOTH sets of kids would stay with that family. If all four parents were able to take one day off each, that means each employee would only miss one day of work for every four problem days.

Or, for example, in Clarissa's family, she's the youngest, and her older brother no longer needs care on days off. If there were four such families, each family would cover one out of every four problem days (and could be on call in case any of the four older siblings had an emergency)---but if there were eight parents, that means each employee misses only one day of work for every eight problem days.

Sigh. But oh, man, what a hassle to set up the groups each year, and lots of people don't know enough families with same-age children, but also wouldn't want to leave their kids with strangers. Well, it's a huge hassle no matter what. And it seems like a ton of people must be in this boat. Surely there is a market for a business to handle this? The school sometimes has partial coverage: like, during week-long vacations and Christmas break, they have a (pretty expensive) program kids can attend. (Which also provides jobs for any teachers who can't afford to take the vacation time.) But right now they don't have anything for one-day holidays or for Teacher Workshop days. And even in a household with an at-home parent (Beth Fish had an article long ago about how "never having to worry about taking a day off for all this stuff" is one of the benefits she hoped her working husband was aware of), I feel like these days happen really often---so they must seem all the more often to people who have to think of a solution every time.

October 9, 2011

The More Likely Explanation

A ladies' organization in our town is collecting letters to send to a unit of soldiers overseas. I've contributed a few cards, because I've seen the pleas in the paper and it's increasingly clear to me that the people collecting the letters are making a strong connection between "number of letters collected" and "whether anyone could care less whether these soldiers live or die," and are getting themselves very upset about the town's apparent lack of feeling/caring, and I'd like to help alleviate that. But they've failed to take into account the more likely explanation in situations like this (where one group is begging another group to take action but failing to get the desired response), which is that people care very much whether the soldiers live or die, but don't think the letter-writing thing is such a great idea.

I'm in that group, as you have cleverly surmised. If I knew a soldier overseas, I would BOMBARD him or her with letters. But I suspect anonymous letters from strangers to "Any Soldier" are less heartening/pleasing---especially when the letters are wrung from a public being pressured to send them. "Here, we've bought the cards, and we're paying the postage! All you have to do is sign your name to one of them! You don't even need to write anything! You don't even have to use your real name!!"

I'm also remembering back when I was in high school and got involved with a big Christmas-cards-to-soldiers campaign. I sent out a whole bunch of cards, and I got a whole bunch of replies, and almost every single reply took the conversation in a sexual direction right away---sometimes for pages and pages. One guy, after a couple of letter exchanges (mine: prim Christian schoolgirl persevering in my earnest attempt to bring homefront comfort to soldiers; his: continuing to ask about the color of my underwear and what size bra I wear) said that they had a bet going among the soldiers in his building to see who could get a woman to mail a pair of underpants first.

That's the sort of thing that sticks in my mind when I imagine writing a letter to build up the morale of a soldier. It's the sort of thing that makes me think a pile of earnest floral notecards from middle-aged women is a waste of everyone's good intentions---and possibly the kind of sepia-toned fantasy (homesick upstanding young man reading letter by lantern in army tent; the music swells as we see the tears beginning to shine in his eyes; he fights on with a renewed sense of the love of the homefront he yearns to protect) that shouldn't be indulged. So although I filled out a few cards to please the people collecting them, I also went out and bought Twizzlers, Skittles, a Best of Saturday Night Live DVD, foot powder, lip balm, instant energy-drink powder, an electronic Solitaire game with batteries, floss, pens, and baby wipes, to please the actual soldiers. (Though I did not include a pair of underpants THIS time, EITHER.) It's possible these things, too, will be wrong: as I was shopping I was wondering if maybe they already get lip balm and foot powder easily, and if they have whole video game systems and don't really need a primitive handheld. I think this is why it works better to mail things to people we know, who can tell us what they need/want. But either way, these things will please the people trying to do nice things for the soldiers, the ones who are nervous that lack of response to their idea means bad things.

New on the review blog: Through November 4th, Unilever (Degree, Dove, Suave) deodorant for tweens, with a $100 Visa gift card giveaway. The entry question is how old were you when you started using deodorant, and/or how old were your kids. (I like to make the prompt something that I'm interested in hearing the answer to, since I'll be reading a few hundred of them!)

October 6, 2011


Are we all still lying awake at night, going through our entire mental rolodex and trying to figure out who is a sociopath? This will pass as the information is absorbed. But in the meantime I am a little bit over-stimulated.


I propose a new term. (Aw. Remember Sniglets? Yes. We remember Sniglets.) The term is "recreational anger." Recreational anger is the kind of anger that is fun or entertaining or enjoyable to participate in. The kind of anger that people SEEK OUT because they like the exhilaration of being angry, not because the anger makes anything different. Recreational anger is not SUPPOSED to fix the anger-inducing problem, because if it DID fix the problem, there would no longer be the fun of being angry about it. The POINT is "being angry about it."

Recreational anger ties in to The Giant Internet Hand of Spanking: people who work themselves into a large and exciting froth over some small and often accidental/unintentional violation are participating in Recreational Anger. They are outraged not because the violation is so outrageous, and not because the outrage will change/fix/improve the violation, but because it is so much fun to be outraged in a group. Recreational anger is a hugely bonding and exciting and fun activity for participants, but causes a backlash of both recreational and genuine anger from others.

I am neither FOR or AGAINST Recreational Anger. Or rather, more accurately, I am BOTH for and against it, depending on whether or not I am participating in it.


Rob is 5'6" and is getting a suspicious pre-pimpley reddening around his mouth and nose. He will be 13 on his next birthday. His best friend is dating someone. One of his homework assignments this week involved asking a parent about the Gestapo. My friend's son is a year older than Rob, and his voice has changed and he is SHAVING.


Elizabeth is so shy in class, she can't talk to her teachers. I asked her what she does if she needs to ask a question, and she said she tries never to have to do that. At Open House, the teacher asked "Oh, who did you bring with you tonight, Elizabeth?" and Elizabeth was unable to answer or to even look up from the floor. At home, Elizabeth is confident to the point of bossiness; we have to say to her, "Elizabeth, you are not the grown-up." We've just learned that things are different at school. (OH NO. MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE HER TEACHER IS A SOCIOPATH!)


I'm supposed to help Elizabeth and Edward practice their spelling words. After three nights of practice, Elizabeth could spell all the words. Edward was still spelling them as if we'd never practiced them a single time. (Example: spelling "pencil" spelled "pesl".) But Edward is comfortable in his classroom and with his teacher, and that makes this a sub-fret to the Elizabeth shyness fret.


Henry has on two occasions bitten another student. I used to work in a daycare and I remember how serious an issue biting could be. When the teacher reported it to me, my mental circuits got too overloaded for me to say my PERFECTLY EASY AND SCRIPTED LINE ("Thank you for telling me. I'll have a talk with him"). Instead I launched into a pained, awkward, slightly-crazy series of remarks and facial expressions, in which I was trying to subtly communicate everything that was overloading my circuits ("I believe you! I am on your side! My mother was a teacher, and I will not flip out and defend my child like I know other parents do!! I used to work at a daycare and I know how serious this is and I am nervous I will not be able to stop him from doing this and he will get kicked out because you will think he might be a sociopath!") without coming out and saying any of it, so that I accidentally communicated things that were blathery, awkward, ambiguous, and hard to respond to. Now I keep going over it in my head, comparing The Way It Should Have Gone (and so EASILY, too!) with The Way It Did In Fact Go. Woe.

October 5, 2011

The Kids are All Right; The Sociopath Next Door

I've been watching The Kids are All Right, and OMG AWKWARD/TENSE.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Do you see on the cover, how the two mothers and two children are having a lovely laughing lunch on the patio with the sperm donor? NO. The whole lunch is an interview of awkward bad questions and awkward unexpected answers that go over poorly ("But I distinctly remember you said in your donor profile that you were interested in international studies?" "Nah, I just ditched all that, because college is a waste of time!" "...I see"), and I just wanted to be ANYWHERE BUT AT THAT LOVELY LUNCH.

And then throughout the movie there is all this snippy bickery unreasonable psychobabble between the two women, and then there is teenagery mouthing off from the kids. And the sperm-donor guy is all laid-back and go-with-the-flowish, and sometimes people were finding it awesome that he was like this and sometimes they were finding it intolerable, and I found them annoying no matter WHAT their reaction was.

Multiple times so far while watching it I have said OUT LOUD, "Oh no no no no no" accompanied by HEAVY WINCING, and I am only on the first hour of it. I don't like the parents or their relationship, I don't like the children or their attitudes, and I don't like how the donor is changing everything around. Also: gratuitous sex. BUT: I keep watching. Because I want to know what happens, and because this is interesting subject matter to mull when I'm not wincing.

Next! I finished reading The Sociopath Next Door.

(photo from Amazon.com)
(also, I am kind of done seeing those creepy eyes now)

As with other sociology/psychology-for-the-masses books, it seems like it's one chapter's worth of material forced by necessity into book-length. I always imagine the authors repeatedly using word-count: "CRAP, still 70,000 words to go!!!...*checking again*...CRAP, now it's 69,901 to go!! I'll take out all the contractions, that'll...I mean THAT WILL help!" I did a ton of skimming: I'd hit a section that was such a total repeat I thought I must have mis-marked my place in the book, and I'd just glide past until it got back to something new. Or I'd get to a case study that was so drawn out I felt like I was reading an actual transcription of that person's life (MUST WE read EVERY LINE of the NEIGHBORS' dialog? MUST WE read what they were EATING as they TALKED?), and I would skimmmmmmmmm until I got to the next little burst of actual material. I also skipped right past stories of animals being hurt/killed: I'm familiar with that part of sociopaths, and I don't need a several-page description to remind me. It's too upsetting to read, and not necessary.

But I strongly recommend that you read skim/read the book too, because the actual material SHORTED OUT MY CIRCUITS. I think of sociopaths as being, you know, the cold-blooded serial killers who as children tortured animals. But the author says that about 4% of the population qualifies as sociopaths, and that the definition includes a lot more than our stock image: most sociopaths aren't violent; they marry and have children; they have jobs as teachers and psychologists and managers. In fact, ESPECIALLY those jobs.

The gist is that a sociopath is someone who understands concepts like love and empathy, but doesn't feel them---and furthermore thinks those concepts are for idiots and cattle, and doesn't WANT to feel them. They tend to be bored, so they play life like a game. Sociopaths can't be "fixed," or trained to feel those feelings. It's not a matter of explaining how they're hurting you so that they'll stop, because they already know that they're doing it, and they're doing it on purpose for that very reason. Most mind-blowing to me: most sociopaths are excellent at FAKING that they DO feel love and empathy: tears, declarations of love and friendship and admiration, being charming and friendly and sweet, etc. If you accuse them of the things they're doing, they'll act hurt---while behind the scenes, they're wondering how far they can push you to believe them instead of yourself, and whether they can make you believe you're the crazy one. As in a mystery novel, such false clues are there for camouflage, and as part of the game. CRAZY.

Reading it, I recognized one of my mother's former co-workers. It was very, very odd to read each sentence and think "Wait!! That's what happened with HER!!" "Wait!! That's EXACTLY how things went!!" I told my mother about it over lunch, and she was remembering little details and pretty much every single one was IN THE BOOK. I found it a huge, huge relief to read it and know that there was an EXPLANATION for why the world seemed to go nuts for awhile there, while other people just WATCHED---and in fact GATHERED AROUND the sociopath in support. It was so perplexing and stressful, and it makes more sense now. It was all a game, a very cleverly played GAME.

The author says that one of the odd things about experiences with sociopaths is that people don't DO anything about it. They can't believe it could actually be happening, and they can't understand how a sociopath's mind works, so they keep thinking "But how could someone do something like that? How could someone have so little regard for someone's feelings? And WHY would they do something like that to someone who never did anything to them?" It makes no sense, so we conclude it isn't true. And the way a sociopath sets things up, WE'D look crazy if we said anything. So we don't, and we fit into the game.

One of the most helpful parts of the book for me was how to figure out if you're dealing with an actual sociopath, as opposed to someone kind of mean and thoughtless, or someone you just have a personality conflict with. A sociopath will (1) repeatedly do mean or inexplicable or thoughtless or inconsiderate things, AND (2) do a "pity play" so you don't do anything about it. The author says: "...bear in mind that the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning mark on a conscienceless person's forehead as you will ever be given."

Anyway. I think you should read it. I felt like after I read it, I had a very different outlook on a lot of things, and felt more aware of things around me---but WITHOUT suddenly feeling paranoid about everything. It was more like "Oh!! I felt crazy about ditching that friendship/boss/boyfriend, but this is exactly how it was happening!" And also a good reminder that just because it knows how to quack like a duck doesn't make it a duck: those of us who tend to be a little trusting of smiles and nice words can use a reminder from time to time that we can't let those things distract us from actions that don't match.

October 3, 2011


Normally my grocery cart is completely representative: three gallons of milk, five loaves of bread, two big blocks of cheese, four pounds of ground turkey, two dozen eggs, a bag of apples, peanut butter and pizza sauce and bananas and baby carrots and apple juice. You could make a pretty good guess about my life, seeing me in my jeans and ponytail at the grocery store at 9:00 in the morning with that cart.

But the other day, when I was running in to get just a couple of odd things and then doing a little impulse-buying, my cart looked totally different: diet Coke, bottle of wine, bag of baby spinach, two small individually-wrapped pieces of salmon, box of Dove ice cream bars, large bag of cat food, small potted plant. It was odd thinking about what kind of different guess someone would make about my life with THAT cart.

I know people sometimes assume certain things about me because of how many children I have. It's not common in our culture or in my area of the country to have so many, and sometimes I don't get a haircut for a long time and I have my hair twisted up in a clip, and no make-up on, and people are thinking, "Hm, religious sect? But she's not wearing a skirt. Catholic, maybe?" People are more likely to think (true or not) that I bake, that I homeschool, that I breastfed, that I'm good with other people's kids, that I believe in God, that I'm opposed to birth control and swearing, that I'm a Republican, that I'm possessed of cow-like patience.

This doesn't make me feel prickly: I know the signals I send out can be misleading, and I make assumptions all the time, too. For example, when I see a woman out with children, I almost inevitably make the mistake of unthinkingly assuming that the children she's with are (1) all hers and (2) all the children she has. If she has an infant, there's no reason she couldn't have several other kids in school or whatever, but I look at her and think, "Awww, I remember those days, just me and my infant firstborn!" She could be looking back at me and thinking, "Awww, I remember those days when it was just me and my 4-year-old, before I had the other eight kids!" Or, if it's when Henry is in preschool, she could be thinking, "She's not a mom, so she's probably feeling critical about the way my kids are acting up."

One reason it's fun that Henry is going to the kind of preschool where the parents have to wait outside to be let in at pick-up time is that over the course of the year I get to find out many of my misassumptions. I see a woman waiting with her little boy to pick up her daughter each day, and then one day when she's telling me about her pregnancy, I find out she has a third-grader, and this will be her second baby, and the boy and girl are a nephew and niece she's taking care of because her sister is on bedrest. Another woman is picking up her own son, but the baby girl in her arms is a child she babysits. One woman has what I think is late-in-life only child, and it turns out he's a caboose: her other children are in high school. A woman my own age turns out to be a preschooler's grandmother: she was a high-school-aged parent, and so was her son. The one guy in the group isn't a stay-at-home dad: he works second shift.

Do you ever feel like people are assuming something about you that's different than what the situation is? Have you learned a real story behind one of your own misassumptions? I love stories like that.

October 1, 2011

Happy Song; Gel Pack; Free Coffee

Here's a happy song Paul found:

Handheld, by Momus

It's a person singing a love song to his favorite handheld device, and then the handheld device sings back to him. The funny thing is that I can get genuinely choked up over this song. Well, it isn't funny or surprising to my family, as they have also seen me get genuinely choked up over a child's project on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.


One of the irritating short people who lives in our house took a plastic ice pack and, while it was thawed and pliable, wove it in and out of the middle bars of a freezer shelf.

I went several months thinking that probably one day we'd defrost the freezer and we could get it out THEN, and then yesterday I couldn't stand it anymore and I used a knife and a hammer. There are shards of this stuff scattered, though I got as many as I could because I see the packet says DO NOT INGEST and DO NOT GET INTO EYES and OMG PLEASE DON'T EVEN LOOK AT IT.


You know how some bags of Starbucks coffee say that you can exchange the empty bag for a coffee at Starbucks? Do the Starbuckses located within Target stores take those? I could just ask them, I suppose, but I hate asking questions like that. Sometimes the person I ask seems like their goal is to explain at length why it is outrageous of me to expect a positive answer to the question I asked so extremely deferentially and non-expectantly, and so then I end up saying over and over, "Yes, no, I get it....No, I just wondered...No, I completely understand...No, of course you couldn't...Really, you SHOULDN'T, it would be WRONG to...no, I see. Okay. Okay. Okay. YES, okay! Okay, I think I hear my mother calling me."

So I thought I'd just ask you.