July 30, 2012

Perfume Spreadsheet

I think in the Perfume post I may have inadvertently made the perfume spreadsheet sound more intriguing than it is. It is a spreadsheet. On which I keep track of what I think of various perfumes I try. Here is a screenshot sample:

All the perfumes in this section are L'Artisan so it doesn't say so in each box; a section below has non-L'Artisan perfumes, each with its brand.

The "category" section (fresh, spices, bouquets and single flowers, etc.) comes from the early days of the spreadsheet, when I was getting my list of perfumes from a site that categorized each scent that way; any perfume added since then doesn't have a category.

I use this in part to keep myself from accidentally ordering the same samples again and again ("Oh, yeah, this is the one I always think SOUNDS like I'd love it, but it's no good on me"), and so that I'll have a list ready of the ones I still need to try (I order from Luscious Cargo, and they let you choose 5 free samples with each order).

Also, perfume is something I'm interested in intermittently, so this helps me pick up where I left off the last time.

Also-also, I like to put perfume on my wish list, so this helps me prioritize which one to ask for: I might remember only that I liked both Fou d'Absinthe and Mimosa Pour Moi, and the spreadsheet tells me which one I'd rather have and which one can wait.

July 29, 2012

City Island

Now listen. This movie I am about to praise, it sells for $4.78 on Amazon. Shipped. That is, they will send it to you for less than five dollars, even though it probably costs Amazon around five dollars to pay for shipping plus the salary of the person who finds it in inventory and puts it in a box for you. That is...not a ringing endorsement for this movie, I realize. It's called City Island.

(photo from Amazon.com)

And yet, I liked it. I DID. I liked it. I laughed, LOUDLY, several times, so that my 7-year-old said to her father, "What could be THAT funny?" I think there is probably a technical term for this kind of movie, but I don't know it. Farce? Comedy of errors? Dramedy? ...I don't really know any technical terms for movies.

Part of it is that I am fond of Andy Garcia. I saw him in Ocean's 11 and found him memorable. And his real-life daughter plays his daughter in the movie, which is fun.

Part of it is that there are some interesting insider insights into what it's like to be an actor. (It does not look very appealing.)

Part of it is that one of the actors spends much of the movie with his shirt off and then acts honorably in the face of temptation (rawr). (And if that is not your thing, perhaps you will be interested to hear that part of the movie takes place in a strip club, in which a girl is genuinely working to pay her way through college.)

Part of it is that it includes, um, "plumpness admiration" in a fairly favorable, normal sort of light. Like, sure, a heterosexual teenaged boy might be using the internet to find pictures of skinny girls, or he might be looking for pictures of plump girls, why couldn't it go either way? And when the handsome grown-up houseguest discovers this internet-search preference, he isn't appalled at all. And the fatness of the neighbor isn't used as shorthand to communicate stupidity and loudness and coarseness; instead she's kind and self-confident and friendly.

Part of it is that everyone and everything is such a likeable train wreck, and yet everything comes right in the end. It's not a particularly realistic plot or resolution, but the movie doesn't seem like it's going for realism. It's going for..."Here's a jumbled plot, here's an amusing way to think of it playing out, and here's everyone jolly at the end." It reminded me of Shakespeare.

Part of it is that I had low expectations, and in fact when I got the Netflix disc in the mail I thought, "I ordered this? I wonder why?"

Part of it was wine. I really find it boosts the quality of nearly any movie.

July 28, 2012

Blink; Pride and Prejudice

I can hardly believe it, but apparently I haven't watched Blink since 2007. (Netflix link---Blink is on season 3, disc 4.) Nearly FIVE YEARS. Henry was FIVE MONTHS OLD the last time I watched it. (Happily, I've similarly gone nearly five years without finding another boiled spider in the coffee filter.)

I've seen Blink three times now, and each time I can't BELIEVE it. The first time, I enjoyed it the least because I was too scared to appreciate it. I enjoyed it more the second time, when I knew how things were going to go. The third time (last night), I pretty much cried all the way through it, including when we were setting it up in the DVD player and when I was loading the dishwasher afterward. "It's the same rain"---*BAWLS LIKE BABY.*

I just love it. It's exactly the sort of thing I like. A girl goes to an old abandoned house to take artsy photos, and she finds a message under the wallpaper, written TO HER. And then, a letter is delivered to the house for her, when no one knows she's there! WHAT THE HECK. Oh, it's so good. Plus, the first two times I saw it, I didn't realize the girl was Carey Mulligan! And no one is cuter than Carey Mulligan. (Except you. YOU are cuter than Carey Mulligan. But then it's Carey Mulligan in second place.)

My heart was pre-tenderized, too, from watching Pride and Prejudice this past week. My dears, my DEARS, it is Colin Firth. But also, it is Jennifer Ehle, with her smiling eyes. And also, Colin Firth. "I beg you, most fervently, to relieve my suffering and consent to be my wife"---*BAWLS LIKE BABY.*

I was particularly delighted because I have NEVER been able to read that book, NEVER, though I have tried again and again. NOW I may be able to read it, now that I have the storyline and can imagine the characters. I am disappointed, though, that one of my favorite lines (the one in the previous paragraph) is reportedly not in the book.

July 27, 2012

Bringing Up Bebe

I know I JUST DID a post with books. But here is another book.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman. I think there was some very good parenting advice in here. And the author's writing style was amusing and easy to read (after I skipped the intro, which I was finding irritating)---like reading a blog rather than a manual. And I liked that she, too, notices how often United States mothers call themselves "bad mothers" in a tic-like, not-having-anything-to-do-with-being-a-bad-mother way: "I gave him a sandwich for lunch---I'm such a bad mother." "I know I'm a bad mother, but I wanted to go to the grocery store on my own." "I'm such a bad mother: I let him watch television so I could read my book."

But I have five major objections:

1. I am tired of hearing about how superior the French are, even if they are. I think cultures are wise to learn from each other---and now I would like to learn from a DIFFERENT culture for awhile. How about India? Scandinavia? Russia? Nigeria?

2. I already feel enough natural annoyance at parenting styles other than mine, and I've noticed others feeling that kind of annoyance as well, so I suspect none of us are in need of something to SUPPLEMENT that annoyance. After reading this book, I feel like everyone including me is an idiot making things hard for themselves on purpose while simultaneously being show-offs and bringing up children to be beasts. Since I can't make everyone read the book and start doing things in the superior French way, this seems like a bad feeling to cultivate.

3. It's TOO LATE: I have already reared my children past this age. (The book mostly addresses from babyhood up to the start of elementary school---and some methods are too late after 4 months.)

4. I didn't really...BELIEVE her. I felt like her sample was too small and too anecdotal. There were things that didn't make sense: everyone in France does daycare! but there aren't enough spaces for everyone! It's like if someone visited Mississippi in the United States and then wrote a book about how all United States children say "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am." And some of the French child-rearing ideas she praises are EXACTLY what I've heard here in the U.S., such as offering a child a vegetable again and again, having the child cook with you, making the child try one bite. THAT IS NOT EXCLUSIVELY FRENCH. And most telling to me: she tells how great these child-rearing principles are, but then doesn't really apply them to her own kids, even though she's living in France. She has excuses, but they sound exactly like the Typical American excuses she just finished saying had no merit. She throws herself so deeply into getting her Parental Suffering Merit Badge, she's almost losing her mind and almost losing her marriage and almost going bankrupt hiring nearly round-the-clock help---but she still delays putting the children in the subsidized flexible care she just finished telling us was so excellent and so crucial.

5. A major section covers how great it is that French mothers don't eat much. This seems off-topic, and I already read that book.

This isn't an objection, but I also felt depressed reading about her marriage. A memorable line is where she tries to talk to her husband as they're getting ready for bed, and he cuts her off by telling her that nothing she could possibly say to him could be as interesting as the articles in the magazine he's reading. Another memorable tale is where she finds he's brushing the teeth of a child who still has a mouthful of food, and he says he can't handle her picky and arbitrary demands.

But my mom and I both read the book, we both laughed all the way through it, we both found things we considered very good advice and/or very thought-provoking, and we're both glad we read it. Well, I THINK I'm glad I read it. Let's see if the Increased Annoyance wears off a bit.

July 23, 2012

Books, and a Giveaway of One of Them

(photo from Amazon.com)

Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link. I didn't know until I went to the listing to get the picture for this post that this is a young adult book. It's a collection of scary and creepy and weird short stories. I liked them, though a couple were too scary/upsetting for me: young adults wouldn't be freaked by the parental point of view ("CHILDREN IN DANGER, OH THEIR POOR PARENTS!") the way I was.

My main complaint was the same as with almost all such books: I wanted the endings to be CLEARER. When endings are fuzzy or uncertain, I feel cheated and frustrated---and I also feel like the storyteller failed to complete the storytelling job. SOME uncertainty is fine: "And when they opened the door, a HOOK was dangling from the handle!!," for example, is fine and doesn't need to then explain the whole backstory of the bad guy. But if I finish a story and I don't even know if the main character is still alive or not, or if the monster was real or not, I get mad. OPEN THE BOX, SCHRODINGER.  This collection had some where you get an ending and some where the storyteller sits there smirking at you.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell. This was a sequel; I reviewed the first book, The Sparrow, in another post. I was very, very, very glad that several of you warned me that the sequel would undo one of the major plot events of the first book; if I'd encountered it unwarned, I would have been frustrated and angry, but because I was prepared I didn't mind much and was even glad.

The sequel continued the religion/society frustrations/insights of the first book. I also continued to be tired of the self-pitying main character, and of the method the author used for laughing at her own jokes (having her characters laugh hysterically at the jokes she wrote for them to say). There were a few things that didn't make sense to me still (the divided couple didn't even TRY to communicate with each other?), and there were a few boring sections, and there were a lot of sections where the author was clearly trying to Send A Message. I see reviewers on Amazon objecting to the supposedly miraculous ending, as I did: it seemed simplistic and silly (the equivalent of "Look, reading every twentieth letter of the holy book makes a SECRET CODE!!"), rather than giving me the awed reaction it seemed to think it would inspire.

But I was glad I read the sequel, and I liked reading it, and I liked getting more explanation about what happened in the first book, and about what happened to the characters and why. I'd continue to recommend both books, but I think it helps to go into it expecting some Issues.

(photo from Amazon.com)

The Taker, by Alma Katsu. This fits well into the "supernatural creatures being emotionally manipulative, physically cruel, and insatiably interested in sex" genre.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Mom, Jason's Breathing on Me!, by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D. The short version of this book would read: "Separate the bickering siblings as soon as they either start doing damage or start bothering you---but try to let it happen as much as you can stand it. Don't play judge/jury to sibling fights; refuse to listen to either side; say 'Stop it, you two,' not 'Elliot, stop bothering your sister.'" The long version explains why and gives examples.

I found it very persuasive and have started using some of the tips. But I felt like it only really works for TWO bickering siblings. There was a small section at the back that dealt with larger families, but it basically said, "You'll do the same thing, but more of it!" Except that's not true, because in larger families there are ganging-up issues and excluding issues. Still, I felt like I could apply what I read.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones. I could describe this as an early 1900s English countryside gothic romance novel, but if I'd seen it described that way I wouldn't have wanted to read it. Here's what it's more like: It starts out normal, with a family from the servants-and-horses era worried about losing their home and having some step-family adjustment issues. Then things start to get a little weird, but you're like, "...But IS it getting weird? or is this just a little creepy-SEEMING but there is a normal explanation?" And then a long time goes by and you STILL don't know. And then you start to know.

Meanwhile, it's FUNNY. There were quite a few parts where I laughed, audibly, not at a joke but at some dryly phrased sentence that just struck me as very, very funny, especially in the setting of all the creepiness and weirdness.

And it's ROMANTIC, in what seemed to me to be a deliberately predictable way: that is, we weren't supposed to be surprised, we were supposed to know exactly how it was going to end up---but we were nevertheless supposed to be pleased when it DID end up that way. (And I WAS pleased.)


It's continuing to be fun to give away a copy of one of the books mentioned in the post, so I'm going to do that again this time. For U.S. mailing addresses only, which is kind of sad and excluding, isn't it? If you're like me, you don't really even WANT to win until you find out you're not eligible and then it seems so brutally unfair. Oh, I'm not a member of YOUR SUPER-SPECIAL COUNTRY so I can't even ENTER? But if you, like, KNOW someone in the U.S., you could enter and then have me ship the book to them as a surprise present! ...Okay, that's weak consolation.

Anyway, it's the same as before: you can leave a comment without being automatically entered; if you DO want to enter, just say which book you'd like to win. I'll draw a name on Friday, July 27th.

[Update: Winner is Lippy!]

July 21, 2012


Now that we have prepared ourselves with a discussion of Startling Expenses (I hope that my brand-name tomato sauce excesses have not left you reeling), let's talk about perfume!

But first!

1. I don't know anything about perfume, and my experimenting with it has been very limited. So starting a conversation about it seems odd.

2. I realize this whole topic will seem a little odd. I mean, you've seen my Target clearance labels, you know I am not particularly glamorous, you'd probably rightly suspect that I don't even own a pair of high heels. So if perfume came up in conversation, you'd probably picture me with, at most, a clearance bottle of Charlie, right?

Well, and you'd be right. I like Charlie. And it was on clearance.

3. Sometimes I go a long time not wearing perfume at all, not interested in wearing it. Then suddenly I'm back in a Perfume Phase, wearing it every day, trying samples, filling out my perfume spreadsheet, feeling like my perfumes are A Treasured Collection, etc. So you could easily get the feeling that I'm interested in perfume, and later be surprised to find me not particularly interested.

4. When you hear that I am interested in perfume, you may want to discuss perfume with me. But see #1. I know...a handful of perfumes by L'Artisan. And a very few others---like, literally a few, like three.

5. And my knowledge of these is...sparse. I don't have a nose for it. I'll say, "That smells like a plasticky car air freshener," and there will be blank faces and "...No, it's rum and vanilla." And I say, "OHhhhhhhh. I see." And I use the word "perfume" to mean "scented stuff I put on"---I don't differentiate among eau de toilettes, colognes, perfumes, whatevers.

My first bottle of perfume was a present from my aunt when I was about ten. I think it was called Blue Jeans, or Jeans. In high school I wore Avon Soft Musk, Chantilly, and Charlie. In college I wore Sand and Sable, a pear scent that I think was from The Body Shop, and vanilla extract. By the time I was having children, I think I had a bottle of Charlie, a white gardenia scent, a bottle of Ciara, and a bottle of Tea Rose, and I wasn't wearing them.

Then I was reading a celebrity magazine, and it was one of those sections where they ask celebrities what they're currently reading/buying/wearing, and it was a perfume theme. And one celebrity said she was wearing L'Artisan La Chasse aux Papillons, that it smelled just like fresh-cut flowers, and that she was getting compliments on it wherever she went.

Something about that description caused me to go on a complete perfume freak-out. I started madly researching---and quickly discovered I couldn't try or buy that perfume at any store near me. I wanted a sample, but HOW?? I found it a little shocking that I would need to PAY for a sample, but quickly adjusted; after some research online, I placed an order for a sample of La Chasse aux Papillons plus a few others, also L'Artisan---I think the deal was something like six samples for $12 which, since that's what I HAD been paying for a WHOLE BOTTLE, was kind of weird.

I loved La Chasse aux Papillons, but the surprise success of the samples was L'Eau de L'Artisan, which made me want to stuff my wrists up my nose to smell them more thoroughly. For Christmas that year I got the La Chasse from my parents and the L'Eau from Paul. I also got more samples to try.

I've tried samples from other perfume houses, but so far I've never liked one enough to want to buy it. Most perfumes seem too sharp/nose-burny to me, or there's a scent element I dislike, or I think "Eh, it's fine, but nothing special---no better than my $12 perfumes." I still use Charlie, Tea Rose, and a bottle of Avon perfume by "mark." (annoying brand name) but I don't know the name of it and they don't carry it anymore.

My top favorites from L'Artisan, in the order I'd save them from a fire, are:

Fou d'Absinthe - I don't know what it smells like, but I LOVE it; could be for boys or girls

Tea for Two - it's like all the good parts of pipe tobacco with none of the bad parts; could be for boys or girls

L'Eau de L'Artisan - fresh, herbal, lemon verbena; could be for boys or girls

La Chasse aux Papillons - bouquet of flowers

Navegar - I think of it like a sharper and even less feminine L'Eau de L'Artisan; could be for boys or girls

Oeillet Sauvage - dressy floral, violets; discontinued but my parents found me a bottle

Right now I'm trying a sample of L'Ete en Douce and I really really like it; that might be my next purchase. It's soft in a way that reminds me of a musk, but it doesn't smell like what I think of as musk; it's a little bit floral but not flowery; there's a bit of a fabric softener scent. I'm not sure what it smells like, I just like it.


Now I would be interested in hearing YOUR Perfume Situation. Do you remember your first bottle? What did you used to wear, if anything? What do you wear now, if anything?

July 19, 2012

Domain Name Distress

An extremely spammy site is using my (very unusual) first/maiden name combination as their domain name. It's the first hit for my name, and then there's page after page of hits for it. They're using KristenMaiden.com as their site name, too, and saying that things are "copyright KristenMaiden.com."

Paul bought me that domain as a gift quite awhile ago. I used it for awhile, but then we let it lapse. Someone else bought it up, apparently.

And I realize this holds no weight, but it's the name I theoretically use professionally: that is, if anyone needs a "real name" to publish with my writing, that's the name I use. The reason I say this holds no weight is I haven't needed to do that yet. I gave it to Milk and Cookies when they needed a name, but then they went with just first names. My "plans to use it" aren't worth anything. But it's one of the reasons I'm so upset.

Can anything be done, SHORT of lawsuit? I'd thought of just...emailing them and asking them to stop, but (1) no contact info on the site and (2) they are VERY ESTABLISHED there, and I suppose it's incredibly naive to think they'd go away because I asked them to.

But can things really be like this? That if you EVER purchase your name as a domain name, you then need to pay for it for ALL ETERNITY, including leaving instructions in your will for your heirs to continue paying for it? Or else THIS happens?

July 17, 2012

Startling Expenses

I would like to talk about perfume a little bit, because I just made an exciting (for me) perfume purchase and so it is on my mind, but here is the thing I need to get out of the way right up front: perfume is one of my Startling Expenses. And it turns out THAT is what I actually want to talk about, so the subject of perfume will wait for another day.

I remember learning about Startling Expenses back in elementary school, when a friend's Christmas haul was ten times the value of mine. I was indignant and jealous and upset, and I think what I wanted was for my parents to make condemning remarks about how out of line the other family was to spoil her so badly, and maybe also to apologize for not doing the same to me, or at LEAST take a satisfyingly superior tone about how our family was Keeping Christmas Simple.

Instead I got a Reasonable Explanation about how different families make different decisions with their money: one family might love Christmas and really have fun going all-out, so they skimp on other things all year to save for it; another family might go light or medium on Christmas and spend on a vacation; another family might go medium on Christmas, skip vacations, but go out to dinner, or buy new school clothes, or pay for private school, or save for college, or have parties, or make home improvements, or donate to charity, or get their hair cut at salons, or have a housecleaner, or get portraits done, or buy organic food, or have smart phones, or have cable, or replace cars more frequently, or have a gaming system, or live in a more expensive area of the country, or take more time off, or go back to school, or take music lessons, or buy casually throughout the year the things Family #1 saves to give at Christmas---or do any number of things the next family was not doing and so would consider a Startling Expense.

The things WE don't prioritize almost ALWAYS seem like crazy things to spend money on. And at this point I have a flashback to my late mother-in-law, who would literally gasp when she saw me getting a can of Contadina tomato sauce ("*gasp* Oh! Swistle! Don't you want the STORE brand??"), but would express equal astonishment that someone WOULDN'T pay the extra hundred dollars for sheets with a DECENT thread count.

It's important to realize that although such things seem like RIDICULOUS CONTRADICTIONS, they are not: thoughtful consumers save money where they don't care, so that they can spend it where they do care. The annoying thing about my late mother-in-law is not that she'd spend $100 more on sheets while not wanting to pay 15 cents more on tomato sauce; the annoying thing is that she would think everyone who didn't make the same set of decisions must be an idiot.

It might seem like this would only apply to well-off families and luxury items, but in my experience it happens nearly across the board: even my verge-of-financial-crisis acquaintances will periodically startle me with what they will pay for a product or experience, and education and cars and foods and homes can qualify just as the purer luxuries (perfume, make-up, liquor) do. Even though my starting example of perfume puts us in the mindset of total unnecessaries, notice that to my late mother-in-law, my Startling Expense was a can of tomato sauce. Other people's Startling Expenses seem like a foolish waste of money whether you're poorer or richer than they are, whether the item in question is a pint of ice cream or a college degree; it's the way Startling Expenses ARE. The instant temptation is to think that WE would not squander money that way if WE were in their shoes, and GOODNESS what a waste that spending seems to us when we can barely afford to buy our own Item That is a Good Value and Certainly Not an Equally Startling Expense!

If it is hard for you to think of what your own Startling Expenses are, because they just make so much SENSE you don't notice them or think of them that way, you could ask a frank friend (a friend who doesn't spend money the same way you do) to tell you. Or, think of times when you've said "You should never skimp on _____!," or "Well, it COSTS more, but it's WORTH it," or "I'd rather spend money on ____ than on something that's gone in ten seconds!," or "Well, TIME is valuable, too," or "Well, I think it's important to TREAT yourself," or "But it's important for the kids to grow up where...," or "But you can use/wear it forever!," or "Well, the per-use price isn't really...," or "EXPERIENCES are the really valuable things!," or "Well, it's IMPORTANT to ____," or "It's an INVESTMENT," or really any expense-justifying remark.

Such reasons are often TRUE; they also helpfully mark the areas where we know we spend more, and/or where we are hoping to persuade other people that they should do so too. And such are the things I say about my perfumes. Which we can talk about later.

July 15, 2012

Cherry Stem; Skirted Swimsuits

I admit that being able to neatly de-pit a cherry in my closed mouth is not the same kind of talent as being able to tie a cherry stem into a knot under similar circumstances. But aren't we getting tired of the cherry stem trick anyway? What is that trick intended to communicate? "If there is any sense in which you can compare your proportions to a cherry stem, have I got an experience for you"?


Elizabeth has gotten it into her head that two-piece swimsuits ALWAYS have skirts, and that if they DON'T, that they are extremely embarrassing. A one-piece doesn't have to have a skirt: that's fine by her. And she doesn't like any two-piece suit that shows any skin between the two pieces, so her two-piece suits are basically just one-piece suits cut in half for bathroom-break convenience. BUT THEY MUST HAVE SKIRTS. Otherwise ICK!! She was a little startled by me not knowing this already.

I was a little annoyed, because I bought her a number of suits last year on good clearances, and none of the two-piece ones have skirts. But I am not fully annoyed, because when you pay $3.24 for a swimming suit, one of the upsides is that it's not a big deal if it doesn't fit or if the child hates it or IF IT TURNS OUT THERE IS AN UNWRITTEN RULE ABOUT SKIRTS.

July 12, 2012

Family Size, and How It Influences Family Size

Caitlin and I were emailing more about the decision to have children, and something came up that I want to talk about with a larger sample.

I was mentioning how people often cite their own families of origin when explaining their reproduction decisions---but that those decisions can be completely opposite. For example, one sibling from a six-sibling set can say, "Well, I came from a big family so that feels natural to me"---while someone from the same sibling set can say, "Well, I came from a big family and I don't really want that; we're planning one or maybe two kids."

And it's hard to know how much we're affected by society. When we say, "There were two kids in my family so that seems right to me," how much of the "seems right" is from growing up in a family with two kids, and how much of it is from growing up in a society where two kids is the norm?

And we're probably also affected by what's typical in our extended families. Did everyone have two kids except your family which had six? Or did everyone have five or six kids except for your family of two kids? Or was your family with the majority?

Here's what I would be interested in knowing: How does the size of your Growing-Up Family figure into your thoughts and decisions about how many children to have (including if that number of children-to-have is zero), if at all? That is, would you say a sentence such as: "Well, I came from a family of ____, so I _____"? Or wouldn't you do that? (In which case I would still want to know the size of the family you came from, and the size of the family you're making or intending to make.)

July 10, 2012

Close Call Haiku

Water cup at lips
Just in time, movement noticed
Ant and me, both saved.

July 9, 2012

Clothing Overage; Soothing Plumpage Idea; Henry at Home

I placed a few orders for kid clothing to fill in some gaps in our supply. Then I got caught up on the laundry of one of the 2-kid rooms and realized my folly. Whoops.

Well, the drawers don't really NEED to close. And also, how often do I get caught up on laundry? So I don't think it'll be an issue. There. Rationalized it.


If you are of a plumpish persuasion, may I suggest taking up cooking and/or baking? A career would be ideal, but even as a hobby it works. Just as the sentence "It's a family name" seems to settle people's agitation about a peculiar baby name, being a good cook/baker seems to settle people's agitation about plumpness. "Ah, that makes sense, then; we LIKE that combination," they think, and their brains send them some soothing chemicals.

Additional benefit: if you cook or bake and you're plump, people make assumptions about your good nature. Even if you are a bit of an anxious mess, people persist in thinking of you as having a cheerful and generous personality.


Henry is missing another day of his Expensive But Worth Every Penny summer program, and it is driving me nuts. I just HATE "losing money" like that. I'm using the quotes to show that I understand that the money is spent either way and I'm not actually losing anything. Nothing except SIX HOURS OF RELATIVE PEACE, that is.

I don't know what he has. He has a sore throat and low appetite, and his fever has gone over 102 but mostly stays in the normal-to-101 range (known as the "He's kind of warm" range). He has a rash on his legs, especially at the knees, and it's also on his arms, his ears, and his upper buttular region. I'd thought strep, but both the short and long strep tests came back negative. So maybe the rash is a reaction to something he encountered outdoors, and then he's just got a cold? I don't know. Kid illness is baffling.

July 3, 2012

Paramecia and Butterflies and Rabbits and Us

I remember learning in one psych class or another that the human mind insists on things making sense. If we do something that doesn't make sense to us (we act badly, we act nicely to someone who doesn't deserve it, we act kind of crazy, we act against our own best interests), our minds will scramble to FORCE it to make sense. Maybe our mind decides that we didn't actually do it and so we just kind of forget about it, or now we label it "no sense dwelling on the past [because it makes us look bad]," or maybe our mind decides that we did do it but under circumstances we've cleverly reinterpreted. Maybe our mind decides that we did do it, but that it wasn't our fault.

Our mind tells us a story in which the action now fits our view of the world and of ourselves in it---and if it the story doesn't fit, we don't feel comfortable until it does.

A classic example is relationships. How do we explain attraction? Definitely it isn't our genes calling out for reproduction! No, attraction is fate, it is love, it is two people recognizing something special in each other. We aren't attracted to someone's appearance but rather to that person's SELF. The mind tells us a story in which our love-loopy behavior makes sense.

But then the relationship ends, and how can we explain being so wrong? The mind scrambles to fix it. We were deceived. The other person changed. We changed. We were on the rebound. We thought we wanted something it turned out we didn't want. We were never really in love in the first place. Our upbringing messed us up so we make bad choices in a mate. It's not that our minds finally won the arm-wrestling contest with our genes; it's not that our genes had had time to accomplish their goals, and so let us free.

And because humans ARE more complicated than, say, paramecia or butterflies or rabbits, it IS more complicated than just genes. Well...probably it is. We don't really know yet, but it seems safe to assume that when it's common for people to meet and fall in love and marry long after their genes have given up the reproductive goal, or to gladly stay partnered long after there is any chance of reproduction, that there is more than one thing going on here.

But here is the thought I had this morning, which is flooring me: if the mind scrambles to force things to make sense (even if it has to lie to us to do it), and if we feel uncomfortable and weird and keep-lookingish if it doesn't succeed---I wonder if a lot of the struggles we have with parenting are because our minds are trying to force things to make sense. And repeatedly failing, because it's something that doesn't entirely make sense on a personal level, and isn't going to.

What if the only reason to have children is to continue the species---just as it is for rabbits and butterflies and paramecia? But what if our complicated minds can't leave it at that, especially considering how much more of an investment it is for us to reproduce than it is for rabbits/butterflies/paramecia? And what if natural selection favors the humans who are good at coming up with justifications for things that otherwise don't make sense, so that they continue to do what is beneficial for the species even though they have the mental ability to see that it doesn't make sense for them personally? If all those things are the case, what would our minds try to tell us about something as time-consuming and labor-intensive and resource-draining as parenting? What stories would our minds tell us about that?

We already know that baby faces and baby scents and baby cries have evolved to appeal to something ANIMAL in us. We already know about hormones and how they make us panicky and anxious so that we protect the babies who can't protect themselves. We already know that our bodies want sex because our genes want to reproduce. What if there are MORE THINGS TO KNOW---and pretty much all of them are biological, not logical, and our minds are having trouble figuring out how to resolve that? We like to think we are calling more shots than that.

What if the reason we talk about how FULFILLING and IMPORTANT and MEANINGFUL and WORTH IT parenting is (but then feel like terrible parents for not always liking it or wanting to do it) is that our minds MUST find a way to justify something that is not in our personal best interests at all? Our genes want to reproduce, but all they can do is create a craving; the genes must convince the mind that IT wants that TOO.

But it's a fragile construction. Our minds are pretty good at convincing us that our biological urges make sense, but they're also pretty good at seeing flaws in the logic, at sniffing out things that don't quite fit, at giving us an unsettled feeling until everything clicks naturally into place. When we think we're in love with someone unsuitable, we might hear something about it: "Is it a little...weird...that he does that?" We brush it away, but we heard it. It could be the same with parenting: the voice speaks up anxiously and this time it says, "Does this...make SENSE to do this? I don't know that this...WORKS, as a way to 'live,' in the modern, non-animal sense of the word."

But here we are, doing it! It MUST make sense, or we wouldn't have done it! It HAS to make sense: we're already no-turning-back invested. And so our minds quickly build up better construction to repair the doubts: Of COURSE it makes sense! It's fully worth it! We LOVE this! It's the most important work we've ever done! Sure, we don't ALWAYS love it, but that's NORMAL! In the long run, this is important and valuable! And if it doesn't feel that way, we will distract ourselves with new parenting concepts, new parenting methods, anything that seems like it might make everything fall into place and explain to us why we spent a good two decades of a short life doing it.

I wonder if some of us would be happier with a different approach. Instead of driving ourselves crazy trying to force parenting to make sense or feel personally worth it, what if we...DIDN'T do that? What if we shrugged and thought, "Yeah. Well, the species sure does a good job making sure it gets continued, doesn't it! It sure roped ME in! And I don't mind playing my part, now that I don't have much of a choice! Gene continuation is nice, in its way! And this child isn't half bad, in her way!" And then we could try to take from the experience anything enjoyable we could, but without expecting for it to make sense in a cost/benefits sort of way.

The cost of reproducing and parenting is huge. The benefits to us personally are...uncertain. But it could easily be that the benefits to us personally were never the point of any of this.

July 2, 2012

Marks of Old Age

My mom has started fumbling with her wallet at the register, counting out exact change and trying to unload half a dollar's worth of pennies and so forth. We both joke that this is such an "old lady" thing to do. (I laugh more.) It's not so much the USING of the coins as the FUMBLING with them: "Oh, wait, I think I have another penny somewhere in here...*rummage rummage rummage drop other coins*...Oh dear!...Now how much did you say that was, young man?"

Considering how smoothly and effortlessly I find myself saying and doing "mom things" (those things seem so sensible now, why would I WANT to avoid them?), I don't see much hope for avoiding an equally smooth and effortless adoption of "old lady things" next. Surely generation after generation has rolled their eyes at "mommish" and "old ladyish" things to say/do, and yet each generation in turn has gone on to do those things. (I'm using the feminine to represent both the female and the male, but of course I mean men JUST AS MUCH. No one will mind that, I hope! Why, when I was a child, we all learned that one gender-specific pronoun can easily be used to clearly represent both sexes, and WE turned out okay!)

At this point, I think most of the people my age are still firmly "mommish" types, but the first signs of the next stage are already appearing: little things that still belong to the mom zone, but that are also the first sprouts of the grandma stage to come. (The other day, I referred to a group of people as "young people." It begins.) (Next up, I believe, is "young people today.")

Protocol requires us to joke "And get off my lawn!" after each pre-old-ladyish thing we catch ourselves saying or doing---which doesn't help, since it only causes the generations below us to roll their eyes and file that expression under "old lady jokes." And the important thing here is that we may be following each old-ladyish behavior with a self-mocking that shows we know we're doing it---but we're also CONTINUING TO DO IT ANYWAY. I say to the kids: "I remember when a candy bar was a QUARTER! Now they're 79 cents!" and Paul adds "And also, get off my lawn!" And then later he says, "We didn't even HAVE air-conditioning when I was a child!" and I say "You didn't need it, since you were still chilled to the bone from having to trudge miles through snowdrifts to get to school!" And then we both tell the children how we didn't have email until we were in college, and didn't have color television until late elementary school, and how car phones were a thing, and how computer games were text-only---and the children fail to fully appreciate how comparatively fortunate they are.

Have you noticed that each generation thinks they'll manage to avoid seeming "old," as long as they avoid the exact thing their own parents/grandparents did? A woman my age will say she doesn't want Mom Hair or Mom Jeans---but what she's thinking of are the current GRANDMOTHER hair/jeans: she's filed her OWN mom's style under "mom," but a generational shift has occurred since then. Angled stacked bobs and cute-messy twisted-up hair with side-swept bangs ARE the Mom Hair! Cute dark-wash boot-cut jeans ARE the Mom Jeans! BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT THE CURRENT MOMS ARE DOING. Our daughters will speak of such styles with distaste, and will specifically avoid them. "Don't give me Mom Hair," they'll tell the stylist, meaning OUR CUTE HAIR.

I wanted to make a list of the things that right NOW seem "old ladyish" to me, but which may soon seem like a baffling list of perfectly sensible things no one would want to try to avoid. But the trouble is, NOTHING correlates perfectly with age. Many a 30-year-old is passionate about getting the lawn perfect, and many a 25-year-old is exasperated about portion sizes, and many a 40-year-old catches herself trying to get rid of some of these COINS *fumble fumble in huge purse*. And of course many a 70-year-old is in favor of funding education, and many a 60-year-old thinks the way teenagers dress is no sillier than the way teenagers have always dressed, and many an 80-year-old is fully aware of how inflation works. And many things DO change with each generation, as issues shift and as each generation tries to avoid seeming like their own parents/grandparents.

But there are a few things that symbolize Being Elderly to me, and I would like to at least try to avoid (or downplay, or maybe HIDE) these things myself:

1. Fumbling with payment at the register, especially counting out coins. Coins go into an overflowing jar on the bureau, and I don't want to hear any more about it.

2. Complaining about portion sizes.

3. Complaining about how prices have gone up, in a manner that implies I don't understand how inflation/money works. (Aware-of-it comparison stories are still fine: I liked hearing my dad talk about 15-cent ice cream cones and my grandpa tell about buying a house for $7,000.)

4. Voting against school/education taxes. (It's not like I have to vote yes on all of them, but I want to avoid the "_I_ don't have kids in school, why should _I_ pay school taxes??" attitude I have learned to associate with the elderly in my particular district.)

5. Asking people to guess my age, and then gloating when the guesser tactfully subtracts ten years.

6. Complaining that current popular music isn't even music, or that songs/books/movies USED to be good/quality/art, but NOW are NOT. (This area may require vigilance. I have already caught myself claiming that all the current songs are about nothing but SEX and CLUBBING.) (Well!?! Have you LISTENED to the radio recently??) (Now, now, Swistle, settle back into that rocking chair. Shall I hum you a few bars of the simpler/better songs from your own youth? Perhaps "Pour Some Sugar on Me"? How about "I Love Rock and Roll"? Or "Push It" or "I Want Your Sex"? Or I could go on: remember Samantha Fox? 2 Live Crew? Prince? Madonna? Yes. That's what I thought. Simmer down there, grandma.)

7. Explaining to frazzled, exhausted, verge-of-emotional-breakdown women with small children that this is the best time of their lives. (I will find another way to more accurately convey what I mean. Maybe something like, "Oh, what adorable children!," combined with a general policy of not making things harder for the mothers by acting affronted when children exist in public.)

8. Suggesting that things are getting worse and worse with every generation---starting with the one immediately following mine.

9. Complaining about how "weird" baby names are now; why don't people use NORMAL names like the names WE used for OUR babies?

Do you have things you're avoiding, either for the mom stage or for the grandma stage? Have you already found any of those ideas....slipping here and there? (Hey! Sometimes "Because I said so" IS a good reason.)