Category Archives: Popular Culture

Working Girl, Guest Post

I spoke to my younger sister, Michele, about the chore girl days, trying to refresh and confirm my memories of our splendid training for the world of work, and she shared this story that I had completely forgotten. Sometimes the two of us did the chores together, sometimes we took turns, heartlessly sacrificing our sibling to the dark so we could enjoy the comfort of a peaceful and well-lit evening indoors. I told her to write the story herself and she did:

Dog and cat chores – the last duty of the day before bed. Sounds simple enough looking back — mosey on out to the clinic and shed behind the house, make sure the two dogs and multitude of cats have food and water, pull all the doors closed and make sure all the animals are locked in. Did I HAVE to wait until after dark to do these duties? No, probably not. I’m not sure that doing them earlier occurred to me often, if ever. Summer was extra treacherous, between unwitting toads waiting on the well-worn path and junebugs springing from the lights we flipped on to say goodnight to the animals. Winter time was easier, and I remember pulling on my dad’s snowboots by the back door if the snow was deep, or sometimes borrowing his slippers (with the mashed-down heels — he never put them on all the way) for chores if there wasn’t snow at all… How far was it from the back door of our house to the lean-to? Waaay too far… Especially after a scary movie…

Apparently, on Jan. 27, 1978 (if the horror movie blog I just found can be trusted), when I would have been all of 8 years old, it was my turn to do chores that night. I couldn’t yank myself away from the tv because we were watching a scary, made-for-tv movie called “Bermuda Depths.” I don’t remember anything about it other than what must have been close to the last scene, the body of a man being dragged into the ocean by a giant sea turtle… But our animals must be fed, movie or no movie. Duty-bound, that image still haunting me, I went out into the cold dark to lock up the animals.

Now, just so there is no confusion — there is no sea anywhere close to where we lived. The largest body of water nearby was the watering tank for the horses, and in a South Dakota January, there was definitely no danger of a giant sea turtle dragging me to my death… These arguments didn’t matter at all to my freaked-out eight-year-old brain. There was definitely something in the dark that was going to come out and get me — maybe the ghost of that drowned person in the movie. So, tip-toeing through the dark, bright light at my back, my own, elongated shadow leading the way across the gigantic back yard to the shed, I was telling myself “it was only a movie” while the rest of my brain was certain I was going to die.

I made it to the corrugated steel shed with a bit of relief — so close to a light switch. I flipped back the metal hook from the eye to unlock the big sliding door, grabbed the smooth, cold handle and heaved it back. As the wall of grey steel slid past and the shed yawned open, I leaned in to flip on the light and a large translucent blue hand floated out of the dark to meet me, reaching for my face.

“Gaah!!!!” a strangled gasp escaped my lips as the hand ballooned out of the darkness. I was a goner. The hand slowly wafted down again in the yellow light from the stark incandescent bulb I’d managed to turn on. Drenched in adrenaline-induced sweat, I realized that what I was looking at was an O.B. sleeve — basically an arm-length clear plastic glove that our veterinarian father would use when examining female cattle. This one, (apparently unused) had the open end tied around the top of a CO2 cylinder for welding, leaving the hand-shaped end floating in the dark, reaching out for a short, unsuspecting victim who would free it with the movement of the door.

Giddy with relief and the afterburn of terror, I finished up the chores and returned to the house in record time, just glad to be alive.

Yep. Terrifying in many ways. Image from http://www.vetprovisions.com.

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Two Things

I. I am having this kind of day, for a few days now.

This is why you aren’t hearing a lot from me…I’ll be feeling a little more extroverted and generous with my words soon, I am sure.

II. This is a cool video from youtube that my younger son wanted me to see (a. my younger son and I shared a moment–yay! and b. wow, is this video ever cool!) It appears today’s post is in outline form…

Anyway, the video is the group Walk Off the Earth, covering the Gotye song “Somebody That I Used to Know,” and I think even without the extra coolness of all five of them playing one guitar simultaneously, I like their rendition better. Walk Off the Earth, Ladies and Gentlemen! (Click Play arrow below.)

My Naughty New Tweeps

One of my new things in 2011, that didn’t quite make my list of Best New Things, was Twitter. I know I’ve said this on more than one occasion, but I am not a dunce when it comes to technology; I do the facebook thing, and text, obviously I blog and am all over my smartphone. I can figure out how to get most things done on my laptop and the computer at BRX and even on my mom’s computer which I can’t even see. So even though you still seem to be skeptical, let me assure you, I can function with the technology. I was slow in finding my way to Twitter, though. First, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted say that was worthwhile and could be expressed in 140 characters. Loquacious me. Then, I was intimidated by all the @ and # going on. It seemed important though, so I begged Kelly to help me out and she took my by the metaphorical/virtual hand and led me through the setup. Then I ignored it for a few months, because I was still intimidated. One more tutorial with Kelly and I was hooked. I was tweeting like a little bird hopped up on espresso. But no one was listening. Because it takes time (unless you are famous or super popular, alas, not me) to build a following. So following me I had only Kelly, and some people I knew through freelancing, a couple of friends and my cousin (YAY!) I was following all of them plus some famous and/or super popular people who don’t know or care who I am, but they say entertaining/interesting things once in awhile and make my world seem bigger.

I tweeted out into twitterspace, and tweeted @ people, and used the #, mostly for laughs, and to my surprise and pleasure, people started following me! It was so nice! Obviously my wit and brevity were appreciated and I was aglow. And then I started checking up on my new “tweeps.” And, ummm, most of them seem to be adult internet porn folk? Nearly ALL of them?! Their names look normal, but their websites, my WORD! Not that I went there–as I said I am not a dunce, but when a person’s website is named…let me find one that I can use without going to hell…topwhores, you can kind of infer the content. And these people don’t tweet, except for one who actually had me thinking she was for real. This particular girl/woman/businessperson had five tweets; four inspirational quotes and one funny one. Clever, clever, I expect she will get LOTS more hits on her oral sex pictorial website than the others who just randomly follow naive mom bloggers but don’t actually have any words on their twitterfeeds. So, I have had to come to the conclusion that these people do NOT think I am interesting, or want to be my friend, but are only hoping that somehow I will be persuaded to buy access to naughty pictures of them. What floors me is that this must work to some extent, or why would they bother? Not that this has been a total waste of my time. Once my delicate sensibilities shattered around me, some of the website names were kind of amusing. Still gross, but sometimes you just have to laugh.

I am not thrilled that my first post of the year is about twitterporn, but I haven’t been able to get past this topic as I sit here at the computer. And it’s been a GREAT day! Church and big dinner, and photo organizing and I am reading a new book…and this is what I bring here to share with you. I think we are both disappointed in me, and yet, in order to move on, I needed to work through this. In apology, at least let me offer you the first thing I did today; a picture I took of the first sunrise of the new year. Older, wiser, and more ready to handle the strange new world we live in, I wish you the best in the remaining days of 2012.

Hey Moms! Let’s Put On a Show!

After completing two trips to the high school and two trips to Target today, all before 9:30 a.m., I found myself in the car, singing, “This is just how I’d hoped my life would go!” I was being ironic. This kind of morning is not at all what I thought my life would be like, back when I was young and life was ripe with possibility. However, the experience did open my eyes a little. I have realized that what we need in this country right now is a musical devoted to the humorous and painful life of the at-home mom. I don’t have a title yet, but here are some titles for songs that I think would work:

Tears in the Dishwater

Morning Chardonnay

(When You Say Bland) You’d Better Mean Delicious

A Letter From the Teacher

A Small Dose of Prozac

There’s Poop Where?

Dog’s Haircut “What should I think, when the bill makes me blink, and I see the dog’s haircut cost more than mine?”

If God’s a Woman, She’s Got a Quirky Sense of Humor

I envision all music genres used here. “Tears” could be a ballad, “Chardonnay” kind of a boozy waltz. “Bland” I see as a  powerful rock anthem. I keep hearing “A Spoonful of Sugar” when I think “A Small Dose of Prozac,” so it is good that I won’t be writing these songs myself; I’d only get into trouble.  Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and their Hollywood-cast pals would put on a show to raise money to save something or get something…I don’t know the details; that was before my time. My point is our musical could raise money, maybe for therapy! Or a retreat that moms on the edge could take turns in. I’m flexible. I’ll help with the writing and the set design, and I don’t think we’ll have to worry about refreshments; someone will bring cookies or muffins. Are you in? What job do you want?

Technical Difficulties…Please Stand By

I have been working on an important post but it’s not done and I have to go pick up a kid, there’s shopping to do and dinner to cook (do we seriously have to eat every dang day?) and I just picked up a post from Word Press about how to enhance my blog with extra special tweet functionality! So I am setting the real post aside to vent a little about how I AM TRYING to keep up, but am STILL NEW to this tweeting business, not to mention that I still don’t KNOW what a blog pingback is or if it is a problem that I do it to myself once in awhile I think by accident but I’M NOT SURE? Here is how the super tweet post starts:

“As an update to our ever-popular Tweet embedding functionality we’re supporting Twitter’s new embed API to enable richer, better looking, and more functional Tweets inside your blog posts. To embed a Tweet just put a permalink to it on its own line or use our new shortcode that allows for extra formatting.”

To hell with that–what does that even MEAN? Are they MAKING FUN OF ME?  I think they are.

I helped my mom fix the volume on her laptop yesterday. At least she still thinks I am a techno rock star. Pbbbbthh.

Christmas Tree Complexity

Christmas Tree day started off with the High School Band fundraising pancake breakfast at the VFW, which, I am sorry to say, nobody wanted to go to. It is a fine event and supporting the youth and community is SO important, but as a family, we don’t tolerate potlucks and community meals well. I was dragging the family along when a donation would have made more sense because imposing awkward social experiences on reluctant children is a hobby of mine. To top it off, Mr. Wordtabulous had developed a “stomach ache” and couldn’t come with us. I just bet he has a stomach ache, I thought as I watched volunteers sweep by with carafes of coffee and trays of orange juice in little plastic cups. I felt guilty for not volunteering, which added to my social wrongfootedness as I greeted the band moms I know, but who intimidate me. There is a metaphoric mask I wear on these occasions, much like the mask you might remember from the cartoon The Jetsons, the one Jane Jetson wore on her early morning video phone chats to hide the fact that she hadn’t done her hair or makeup yet. My mask is supposed to hide the fact that I am not relaxed or comfortable and that I suspect the person I am speaking with thinks I am an utter doofus. In the cartoon, the woman with whom Jane video-chats sneezes and her mask flies off to reveal that she isn’t made up for the day either. I didn’t sneeze, but I could feel the mask cracking a little around the edges, and I think the other women saw it, too.  The music, the people, the place: what was probably cheerful and energetic for most of the other people there knocked me a little more off kilter. I hadn’t quite slipped off the shoulder of the road into the ‘bad day ditch,’  but I could feel things inching in that direction.

Leaving the VFW, with the strains of “Soul Man” escorting us on our way, I could have cut my losses. A reasonable woman would have said, “this is not your day to get a tree, honey; go home and read a book or take a nap.” But I had decided that Dec. 4th was Tree Day, and stubborn adherence to what has been decided, especially when it makes no sense at all, is an inherited insanity which I was not strong enough to overcome. Mr. W. was still claiming sick tummy, so it was up to me and the boys. We had decided to go back to an artificial tree after many years of Boy Scout tree sales and cut your own experiences. Still discombobulated from breakfast, we went to Menards’ Enchanted Forest, which I propose they rename Menards’ Enchanted Forest of the Damned. I like Menards, except for the fact that I can never find anything, including employees to help me find things. Enchanted Forest is basically an artificial tree lot, big enough to be found easily even in Menards. It had a pretty good variety of sizes and types of trees, which was where the decision became complicated. Pre-lit or standard? The boys voted pre-lit, openly voicing a preference to NEVER having to help me deck the tree with lights again. I don’t think it is unreasonable to try to space lights evenly, but evidently I am something of a Captain Bligh about it. 7 foot, which would fit nicely in the front room, or 9 foot, which would be lovely in the vaulted family room? Flocked or unflocked? Short or long needles? Hinged vs. hooked branches? I was feeling rushed, overwhelmed and burdened by my self-imposed need to make a decision without having done any research. Also, and here is the thing that was driving me right over the edge, there was a boombox nestled in the center of the trees, playing zippy synthesized Christmas carols at a nerve-scraping volume. That was bad enough, but in the background, you could still hear the more orchestral Christmas carols playing over the store’s sound system. The combination was unspeakable. After checking and re-checking the tree options I had to exit the Enchanted Forest to calm my auditory system and catch my breath. The boys were completely unphased by the noise, but nonplussed by my wild-eyed reaction to it. We had narrowed the choices down to two, but still needed to find out if the trees were available, which meant going back in and systematically checking fifty or so tags until the right boxes were found. I suggested that I might sneak into the copse of artificial trees, within which the demonic boombox was still spewing tin-can melodies and turn the thing off. Younger son looked down at me and calmly informed that if I did so, I would have to figure out where in the store was the furthest point away from Enchanted Forest and look for him there. I was lectured about the inadvisability of “turning off other people’s appliances,” and no rebuttal was allowed. My whole argument for bringing the boys along was that I wanted their advice and needed them to carry the tree for me (I can totally carry the tree, but was angling for some family teamwork.) Mutiny. Fine. I took a deep breath and we dove back into the Enchanted Forest. After some frantic sticker surfing, I gave up looking for option two and the boys grabbed the only one of our choices we could find, the 7 foot pre-lit Norfolk pine with hinged branches. Good-bye, Enchanted Forest. Of the Damned. Forever.

Home again, the boys disappeared upstairs into their respective digital worlds where I could hear them laughing, (and was that singing?) while I examined the four pieces that, assembled, would be our decorative Christmas masterpiece for years to come. Twenty minutes later I was in a fetal position on the floor reconsidering my enslavement to traditional cultural practices. Also being very self-pitying. The next try went better. I figured out that I had started with the wrong piece, which had made the whole thing unstable. Now it was stable, but heavy and pinchy on the fingers, and increasingly irritating. I grumpily assembled and decorated that tree in the meanest Christmas spirit since Scrooge. By MY MARTYRED SELF. I picked out the most meaningful ornaments for everyone in my unfeeling, unhelpful family. And…it is beautiful. False start aside, it took half the time to decorate because of the pre-installed lights, and there were no dead strands to deal with. It fits the space perfectly. I had to devise a prosthetic branch to brace my angel tree topper, which I ingeniously did out of a pencil and some sticky wax (a win!) Then I took a nap. Reset. My horrible children were wonderful again, and my faker husband really did turn out to have a stomach ache which lasted well into the next day, but he still managed to tell me what a good tree we picked and how nice it looks.

After 45 years of hopping back and forth from the dark side to the bright, you’d think I would have learned more about how illusory and temporary these lapses are. In some alternate universe I am serene and confidently living my life with gracious good sense through good times and bad. In this one it appears I am a more of a cautionary tale about the  hazards of unrealistic expectations and forgetting the point of Christmas: love and giving as exemplified by the life of Jesus. If this, or any other season is getting you down, I highly recommend prayerful meditation on the true value of  all the activity in your life. Since I didn’t do that, I can also suggest hanging in there and doing the best you can until you can get a nap, but try to get the prayerful meditation in too. Support the community, spend time with the people you love, revel a little, and give to the less fortunate. Also, back away from the ‘best Christmas ever’ ideal and remember you are loved even when you are imperfect. You are in good company.

 

It Isn’t All in the Packaging

Okay, I admit, I didn’t watch the whole thing. I’ve seen it before. If I was diligent I would have watched the whole production, but about ten minutes was really all I felt I needed to establish that this year was much like the others; please correct me if I am wrong. The Victoria’s Secret runway extravaganza was on last night, complete with wings, glitter, thigh-high stockings and boots, and lots of beautiful young women strutting in various stages of undress and impossibly tall shoes. Fantasies of costuming and flesh took their turns on the runway to the acclaim of the crowd. What are we selling here? I asked myself. Underwear? No. There were times when the VS garments were completely eclipsed by feathers or what have you. The superficial ideal of bodily perfection? Closer. Of course, what they were selling was the BRAND that could, in theory, help ordinary women achieve that type of fantastical perfection. For a price. Results not guaranteed.

Young models exulted backstage,  “This is every girl’s dream!” I guess that makeup and costuming, cheers and applause, lights and music, money and SO much attention is very appealing. I also believe the models work hard and suffer to get a place on the catwalk (the shoes ALONE, I can’t even imagine,) so they deserve some exhilaration on their big night. But I hope it isn’t every girls’ dream  to be a fantasy, an image of allure constructed for the purpose of promoting a product to consumers who are only interested in physicality. I’d want more for my daughters, if I had some. I’d want them to realize there is beauty outside the dimensions sported by the models, and that living for the spotlight leaves you empty, because eventually the spotlight moves on without you. I’d want them to know that if all your assets are physical, then your house is made of cards and doomed to fall. Also, look at those people in the audience, all jazzed to see young women in their nearly bare nakedness. Ladies, these are not your friends.

If it’s just a job, so be it. A job with a lot of fanfare and sacrifices and expectations. Good and bad. Maybe I don’t like what you are selling or how you go about it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to try. While you are up there, being ogled on the pedestal, just remember to be smart. Make good choices with your friends, your money and your health. With luck, they will all still be there for you when the spotlight moves on. The rest of us (the other 99%?) can use this opportunity to thoughtfully consider what real beauty means to us.