Thursday, May 31, 2012

Life Changes (and so do Movies)

The last movie I saw in an actual theater was the final Harry Potter film. And before that, it was the second to last Harry Potter film. It’s not that I don’t like movies, it’s just that it’s been a good long while since one interested me enough to get me out of the house and to the theater to see it.

In high school and college, it was a rare weekend that I wouldn’t be forking over an unnecessary amount of money to see a movie in an uncomfortable seat with an unnecessarily large bucket of soda in the cupholder beside me. And it was pretty often that the movie I was sitting down to was one I’d seen before. I saw Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers at least a dozen times, and more than half the time I was by myself.

I’m in a very different place in my life now than I was when I toted my copy of the complete compilation of Lord of the Rings with me to East Park to see the second movie by myself yet again in December of 2002. Back then, I could wander out of my parents house whenever I felt like it, my only responsibility being the fact that I needed to shut the door behind me. Now, if I wanted to go see a movie, I’d have to make sure my husband knew I was going, find someone to keep an eye on my children, get something ready for them to eat in case they got hungry while I was gone, and then shut the door behind me.

Movies are for dating. They’re a nice way to spend time with the person you like, and afteward you have plenty to talk about, comparing your thoughts of the movie. It’s also an interesting way to learn about the person you’re attending the movie with: do they let you choose what to see, or do they insist on choosing their favorite thing?

Now that I’m married, I don’t inflict movies that are predominantly concerned with kissing upon my spouse. If I want to watch one, I don’t force him to sit through it with me. And he’s got friends that will take him to the movies that I’m not interested in that are predominantly concerned with explosions.

Another reason I don’t head out to the theater these days is because many of the movie trailers that come out of Hollywood nowadays have all the best parts of the movie in them anyway. Also, they’ve recently all been either remakes or boring. And when a movie’s trailer is boring, how much more boring is the actual movie going to be?

My husband and I don’t have television (no cable, not even a pair of rabbit ears), so our movie news comes from the internet. One movie that has shelled out (I hope) quite a bit to be the only ad that I see recently is Battleship. I need to put it out there right now that I have no idea what the plot of this movie is. The teaser I see about 8 times per day is only about 15 seconds long, but what I’ve got from it is this: tense situations are happening that cause the characters to stare off into the distance in a concerned/astonished fashion. I would imagine that the situations most likely have to do with explosions, since the board game the movie is based off of is also concerned with blowin’ stuff up.

But talk about boring! A board game, Hollywood? Really? I have remarked to my husband more than once after watching this riveting teaser, “What’s next, Connect Four?” “Coming soon, to a theater near you: Backgammon!” “It started as an innocent river rafting trip in Africa. But what those coeds neglected to plan for was the presence of some Hungry. Hungry. Hippos."

Maybe movies were better when I was in high school, or maybe my own world has changed so that my life is interesting enough not to need the escape that movies provide. I’m not saying I’ll never go to another movie again.

After all, the first installment of The Hobbit comes out this December.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Imagination: the Best Toy

Children have amazing toys. Cuddly things, colorful things, educational things: toys designed to stimulate a child’s imagination or improve their understanding of the world.

My daughter has a metric ton of stuffed animals. She loves to play with them, sort them out, or move them from one place in her room to another. But even if I brought out every single stuffed animal that she has, she would still play with the one or two that are her absolute favorites and ignore most of the rest. And it doesn’t matter that her piggy or her blankyphant look nothing like human baby dolls, she treats them the same as if they were.

My daughter has a beautiful play tea set that she loves to cart around in a bag and set up in various places in the house. But as much as she enjoys playing with it, she doesn’t need it to play tea party. All she needs is someone to interact with: she runs up to me or my husband, holding out her empty hand, and says, “It’s some milk!” or “It’s a cookie!” and runs away happily after we make the appropriate eating or drinking sound, to “bring” us something else.

I have considered getting her a musical toy, like a Fisher Price xylophone or piano, but I’ve always reconsidered in favor of homemade toys. Her grandparents gave her an empty oatmeal container and a wooden spoon, which works well as a drum, and is also quite handy for carrying a few small items around. She is also fond of an occasional empty paper towel roll, to use as a trumpet-like instrument or drumstick.

As wonderful as toys can be, children don’t need something expensive or super-realistic to have fun. All my daughter needs is her imagination. You don’t have to worry about where to store an imagination, or feel bad for having to give away or otherwise get rid of it when your kid outgrows it.

An imagination is the best thing a kid can have. Instead of outgrowing it, it will grow with them, and help them to become a creative adult.

I’d like to see a stuffed bunny do that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Meh-kfast

There are those who worship waffles, who exhalt eggs, who savor sausage. There are some people who would order breakfast food for every meal of the day if they didn’t stop serving it at 10:30 to make way for the lunch menu. Some people even wake up extra early in the morning to make a feast that looks like one of those “complete breakfasts” that they claim that marshmallow cereal is a part of in the commercials.

I am not one of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am of the opinion that bacon is the food of the gods, but I could do without all that other stuff. I’ll eat eggs, but only on the rare occasion. I’ll gnaw on a pancake or waffle if it’s offered to me by a host and I don’t want to be rude. French Toast is right out.

Maple syrup is disgusting. I never liked it, but the first time I was pregnant, it became one of those smells that I just couldn’t stand. The one thing I liked maple syrup in was my mother-in-law’s sweet potato casserole, but now I can’t be in the same room with it.

Some people only drink at parties or with a certain group of friends. I am a Social Breakfaster. When left to my own devices, in the morning I will eat cereal with milk or an English muffin smeared with peanut butter. But if a big group of friends or my family comes to visit and everyone else wants to go out for breakfast, I will go along and have some too.

I like to order Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs. Toast instead of pancakes, hashbrowns, and I could do without the eggs, but that would be like ordering Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs without the chicken fried steak. I cringe when the server brings the syrup caddy for my husband, who has inevitably ordered a waffle or french toast smothered in some kind of fruit, which he then douses in maple syrup.

He wonders why I’m not overly excited about buying him a waffle iron. It’s because I know what will happen: every Saturday he will wake up early to make most of a “complete breakfast,” and he will want to bring maple syrup into my house. So far we have been able to compromise with blueberry syrup, which is still too sticky and sweet for me but at least doesn’t make me want to flee the room.

To conclude, I can sum up my feelings about breakfast foods with one word: Meh. I don’t judge you for hating mushrooms (which are totally delicious. More for me), so don’t judge me for my dislike of breakfast foods (it’s just more for you)! And I will continue to live a fulfilling life without constantly eating scrambled eggs and waffles; a happy life, completely devoid of maple syrup.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Memorial Day Run

Last night I set my alarm on vibrate so that I wouldn’t wake my husband up. Inevitably, I woke up before it went off, and with one eye open and one eye shut, tried to manipulate the buttons on my phone to turn it off. I thought I had it figured out, but either because of the fact that I wasn’t wearing my glasses or due to the early hour, it went off at 5:15 anyway. I switched it off, with my glasses on and so less blind this time, and went out into the kitchen to start making coffee.

I don’t own a coffee maker. My mom brought her Keurig, one of those fancy things that makes one cup at a time. I heated up water for tea for myself, and made my brother a cup of Starbucks instant mocha with about a tablespoon of sugar and ¼ of a cup of milk. Then I poked at the Keurig to make my mother a cup, brought it to her, then confiscated it again to give it to my father instead. I made her a second one with less water, since she likes a stronger cup of coffee than my father anyway. My brothers chomped into a loaf of banana bread, and my dad paced around the apartment, getting warmed up.

At the traffic light waiting to turn off of Jay Road onto the Diagonal Highway, my brother called out, “Prius!” “Where?” my mother asked. “Wait for it...” he said, and ten seconds later one zipped through the green light on the highway. “How did you see that?” she asked, craning her neck to look around the front seat. “I didn’t,” he replied, laughing, and we high-fived. People up here love their eco-friendly Toyotas.

I had been a little concerned about the traffic, even at 6 AM, but it wasn't a problem; we waited a reasonable amount of time to get around the corner onto Arapahoe, and by 6:25 the passengers had exited my tiny Volkswagen Golf.

The Bolder Boulder is one of the largest road races in the world, with over fifty thousand participants, run every year since 1979 on Memorial Day in Boulder, Colorado. It’s a big production for only ten kilometers. Runners and spectators are shuttled in from surrounding areas, even as far away as Denver, which is an hour's drive away. Boulder might be a well known place, but it’s really not that big: it covers barely more than 24 square miles.

Going for a Memorial Day Walk is a family tradition. We didn’t plan it that way, but it just happened that for a couple of consecutive years, on Memorial Day, my father just happened to fancy a stroll, and before we knew it, we would have wandered halfway across the city. Some years we were just on foot, others we had a bicycle along, or a pair of rollerblades that would get passed around between my brothers and I. Lincoln is quite a bit larger than Boulder, covering around 75 square miles, so it was usually quite a jaunt.

It may have been a longer walk in Lincoln than the run is in Boulder, but the effort involved is similar because of the difference in elevation. The Bolder Boulder online store sells a shirt that displays the fact that “Sea Level is for Sissies.” Boulder, in the shadow of the Rockies, is 5,430 feet above sea level, while Lincoln is only 1,176 feet above sea level. I asked my father whether he could feel the difference. “It was definitely dragging me down,” he replied.

He didn’t look tired at the finish. He rocked the last 200 meters or so with his arms up in the air, victorious. Unfortunately, he was too far away to hear my brother shout, “WE WIN!”

video

Best Memorial Day Walk (Run) ever.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Just Relax

I take my relaxing very seriously. When I have a little “me” time, I like to read books, play video games, craft something, or catch up on episodes of my favorite shows.

Because my job is rather demanding and changes based on the mood of my daughters, it’s hard to get any relaxing in during the day. If I do get a few moments because the girls decide to take a nap in unison (which is one of the better things they do in unison, I like unison crying much less), I need something that I can quickly set aside again. Reading is best during these times, or watching a movie, because I can close a book (or turn off a kindle) or pause a movie if one of them wakes up suddenly.

Crafting is something that I can do anytime, as long as I don’t mind if a little person gets into the materials. While crocheting recently I have tugged on the yarn only to find tiny three-month-old fingers wrapped around it. Card making is something I can do while watching something, usually as long as the something is being played on the computer so that I can spread my materials out on the table in front of it.

As much as I love the suspense in drawing the story out of a video game, they are very involved and take most of, if not all of my attention. I can only play video games when backup is in place. During the week after bedime is okay, but the weekends are best. Although by the time I can get at the equipment to play AC: Revelations in the evening, it’s usually late enough that I can barely get through one section of the story before my husband starts shutting off lights and saying, “You know it’s twelve fifteen, right?"

Relaxing shouldn’t be so complicated.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 24th

Thirty two years ago today my parents stood in the front yard of my grandparents’ house, surrounded by friends and family. The picture they took is so familiar to me that I could tell exactly what is in it even though the closest copy is 500 miles away: my father next to his cousin Gerard, sporting matching brown suits and mustaches, my mother holding a bouquet with trailing ribbons that matched my aunt’s yellow dress.

They met through a mutual friend, who introduced them properly, last names and all. Since my mother’s last name was long and complicated (as all good German last names should be) and my father’s could be used as a compliment when parting, “We both thought, ‘What a weird last name,’” my mother recalled recently.

For one of their dates, they rode my father’s motorcycle out to one of the nearby lakes. My mother has never been a motorcycle fan, so she wasn’t as impressed as my father had certainly hoped she would be when he leaned back and crossed his ankles over the handlebars as they cruised down the road. He still does things just to get a rise out of her, usually much less dangerous, and it’s always amusing to see the ornery grin on his face and hear my mother’s half outraged, half amused exclamation: “Dear!"

My father has never been one for insanely grand romantic gestures, no violins or grand pianos, he has his own way of being romantic. My brothers and I love the story of the random and silly romantic gesture he made while walking down the mall near the capitol building in Lincoln. In the three decades since, many of the fountains that decorated the mall have been removed, replaced by an expanse of grass or shrubbery and the occasional piece of art. But in those days there were still quite a few, and while strolling past one, my father surprised my mother by sweeping her up into his arms and leaping into it, shoving her feet into one of the jets of water. “What did you do?” my brothers and I asked my mother once. “Screamed,” she replied, laughing. “I was more worried about my purse getting wet."

No one goes through life thinking, “okay, now I will show my kids what it means to be married,” they just live. The steadfastness and support through the conflicts of life that my parents demonstrated with their lives is what I hope to emulate in my own marriage. And maybe someday, my kids will say the same thing about my husband and I.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you both so much; thank you for everything.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Of Phones and Kittens' Whiskers

This “smaller and thinner is better” trend in the communications business is not necessarily a good thing. I am more of the “it won’t break even if I use it to prop a car engine against my leg as I lift it out of the car” school of thought.

My first cell phone was one of those flip ones, hefty, with an extendable antenna and 17 buttons. It was before texting was popular, and in fact, I don’t think I sent a single text with that phone. I used it to talk. I dropped it several times, often accidents occurred, things such as the phone leaping out of my lap when I got out of the car or falling out of my pocket. It had lots of battle scars by the time I retired it.

More recently, I have shunned the more popular touch sensitive telecommunications devices in favor of something with a button to push. For me, the best fit was Verizon’s Samsung Alias. It flips open to talk, then when closed, is able to be flipped open the other way to operate the QWERTY keyboard. I upgraded to the Alias 2 when it showed up, a slightly thinner version, the function of whose keys change depending on how the lid is flipped. It’s pretty sweet, but it’s getting old.

I need a phone that has some heft to it. Something that won’t splinter its screen if it’s accidentally stepped on (like when I accidentally crunched my husband’s kindle to death yesterday), and that will hold up if I happen to drop it from various heights onto various hard surfaces (such as concrete).

My Alias 2 is able to access the internet, but it’s kinda clunky. I wouldn’t mind having something that makes that process easier, but I’m not a businessman or a person who needs to be intravenously connected to the internet 24/7, so what I have is fine for now. My father loves to poke fun at all the bells and whistles that new phones have: “Know what I can do with mine?” he asks eagerly. “I can push this button, and then actually talk to another person!"

I love the comedians who make fun of the way electronics are slowly becoming tinier and tinier. My favorites are Zoolander with his phone the size of a thumbnail, or the SNL sketch with Will Ferrell rolling into the stylish clothing store on his motorized mobility cart, checking his email with some binoculars on a device that he wears as a ring, then crashing out again: “I’ll meet you there in two shakes of a Persian kitten’s whiskers."

Someday (probably soon), I will probably have to get a new phone. I will miss my “simple” Alias 2, with its actual buttons. I hope I can get something that won’t splinter to pieces the first time it is a victim of my electronic-squishing tendency. I hope that I will be able to use it to talk to another person without accidentally squashing buttons with my face. But most of all, I hope that it will be significantly larger than a Persian kitten’s whisker.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Skill Transfer: from Waitress to Mommy

Earlier this morning I was rushing around doing at least eight things at once, and I began to think about how previous employment prepped me for having the job I do now. I sat down and made a list:

How My Being a Waitress Prepared Me for Motherhood

  • multitasking
  • list of things in my head
  • patience with unreasonable individuals

As a member of the service industry, you learn very quickly how to multitask. I was a college student before I was a waitress, so I already knew how to multitask like a bandit, but being a server hones one’s ability. Now, as a mother, I can entertain a child while making dinner, or change a diaper while tidying up a room.


Every once and a while during a busy shift, my body would try to go to two places at once and I would have to stop and rearrange the list of things in my head. Servers have to remember lots of things at once: which tables need what things, when food needs to be taken out of the kitchen to waiting patrons, and how to assemble various drinks or desserts. Instead of taking the time to write them down (which would just be one more task that there is no time to do), I used to balance these things on a list in my head, which had the added bonus of being able to shuffle them around depending on their changing priority, but the drawback of forgetting some things if there were too many to remember. Several times I had to apologize to customers: “Sorry, it just fell off the list of things in my head.” As a mother, I treasure being able to make a list of things in my head: “laundry, dishes, prep dinner, stop everything to clean up a mess, go back to laundry again, stop in the middle of that to make sure dinner is not overflowing, check on child to avert possible mess, more dinner prep, wasn’t I doing laundry a while ago?"

It is amazing how much a two year old has in common with a fussy guest who thinks that every single person that serves them is the worst server that they’ve ever had. When trying to please them, you occasionally get the same overwhelming urge to scream, “JUST TELL ME WHAT IT IS YOU WANT!” A server can always ask a co-worker to do them a favor by taking the next round of drinks out to the fussy guests. The difference with being a mother is that you love the tiny unreasonable individual, and won’t give up after being rebuffed several times for no reason.

Then I began to think about what would happen if I ever decided to get a waitressing job again. It wasn’t my favorite job ever, but waitressing is pretty lucrative if the restaurant is busy and you can “turn the tables over” quickly enough. I decided that being a mother probably wouldn’t help me make the big bucks as a waitress.

How My Being a Mother Would Be Detrimental to Being a Waitress Again

  • “No, you may not have another bowl of chips and salsa. Your dinner will be here any minute.”
  • “Did you see the guy at table 32? He’s had 4 refills of soda; drinking too much of that stuff is so bad for him!”
  • “I see that you would like something but that you don’t need it right now. Please wait patiently, there is a mess that I need to clean up immediately.”

The biggest difference in these two jobs is when you get paid. As a waitress, I collected a tip after every table of customers left the restaurant, and got a paycheck every couple of weeks. As a mother, I get a “tip” every time I see my daughter being polite without first being prompted, or putting a book away on the shelf when she’s finished reading it instead of tossing it on the floor. But I won’t get my “paycheck” until my kids are old enough for me to see the results of my hard work and to be proud of the people they become.


I definitely like being a mother better than being a waitress. It’s usually slower paced, and I can occasionally sneak a nap in during a “shift.” I am grateful for the things I learned as a waitress that help me do my job as a mother.

It’s time to go on break now, and get some rest before the dinner rush.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Good Times

One of the best things about having kids is the ability to do things as an adult that you would normally be ridiculed for.

I guess the excuse you could make while sitting in the children’s section of your local bookstore reading various things for three hours could be, “Oh I am totally shopping for someone. And they’re very particular. Yes.” But if you have a toddler in your lap, nobody looks at you twice.

The age limit for playing on a playground is late teens- depending on what time of the day the equipment is being used. But if you’re encouraging a 3 year old down the slide, nobody scoffs at you for being a weirdo.

Unless you’re an artist, sitting in the break room with a box of colors and a My Little Pony coloring book will cause various muttering about your maturity level. But anyone meandering past while you sit with a small child, crayon in hand, will not be able to tell whether you’re coloring or coaching.

There’s a reason we like to do these activities: they’re fun. It’s too bad that society tells us it’s not okay to have fun like a kid once we reach a certain age. Good children’s books are cute, informative, amusing, and a good time to sit around and read. I am one of those people who can spend three hours in the children’s section (in fact, I enjoy it more without my children). And swings are a good time (I’m not usually terribly excited about slides, though, it depends what they’re made of; I have opinions of slides). My mom still has various crayon collections from when I was in elementary school: including the 96 piece crayola set, used lovingly and arranged according to shade. My daughter’s coloring books have her two year old scribbles on every page, but lots of the pictures are completely colored (if you ever want to get me a cheap gift, get me a coloring book; coloring is a good time).

I am very thankful that I get to teach my children how to have fun like a kid. They’ll be able to have a good time on their own until they’ve outgrown it... and then again when they have children of their own.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Coolest

On a sunny Saturday in May ten years ago, I was sitting on a folding chair in my high school gymnasium wearing exactly the same thing as the people sitting on either side of me. Well, probably not exactly the same thing; I had refused to put anything on my hat. Someone took a shot of my classmates and I from above, where you could read the PCS class of 2002’s slogan, “We are the coolest."

When I graduated from college I felt much differently sitting with my classmates; I wished I had put something distinct on so that my parents could find me sitting on the floor of the Devaney Center among the tons of other Arts & Sciences students, but in high school I had apparently found myself too cool to be a part of the message. I didn’t feel the need to make myself stand out at my high school graduation. There was only one me among the 22 other graduates there.

At one point during the ceremony most of us trooped up on stage to join the choir to sing “I Hope You Dance,” by Lee Ann Womack. This was highly amusing, since the school had been founded by a Baptist church, and these particular Baptists did not want, much less hope, for anyone to dance. In fact, it was part of the teachers’ contracts: no playing cards, no drinking, and no dancing. Me and a younger friend of mine (who was cool enough that I promoted her to the status of “honorary senior”) would giggle about it, singing, “I hope you coreograph” at each other.

Our speaker was the former guidance counselor/track and volleyball coach. She looked at each of us and told something that she remembered about us. The school had a policy that anyone who played two sports would not have to take a gym class. That had sounded pretty good to me at the time, but then I didn’t enjoy cross country and I didn’t like track, though it was better than having to play basketball in gym class. These days, if a strong spring breeze blows past me, I inhale deeply and remember the time I almost missed running the 800 because I was on the other side of the track playing the new card game Young Jedi with Scott. 

They called for the last time over the loudspeaker, and I looked up. “Wait, did they just call for the 800?” He nodded serenely, and I half fell off the bleachers, sending cards flying everywhere (sorry, Scott), and leaped down onto the track, flying across the middle of it while trying to pull off the athletic pants I was wearing over my uniform and change into my other pair of shoes at the same time. I barely made it to the starting line on time, huffing and puffing like I’d already run 800 meters at a sprint. I probably should have just taken gym class.

The valedictorian and salutatorian spoke, but I couldn’t tell you what they said. I could tell you about them, though. They were two of the people I was closest to in high school. I spent hours with each of them both at school and outside of school, and tons of time on the phone. I can remember giggling with Carolyn, making up sayings like, “over the phone, horses are actually cows.” And James taught me so many things. That day I told him, “I’m sorry,” but what I should have said was, “Thank you for being my best friend.” I don’t need to remember what they said at graduation; I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

The best part of the graduation ceremony was when we got our diplomas. Not just because “we’re done with high school, woo,” but because it was also our senior prank. The first person to cross the stage handed the principal a small round container. He looked a bit confused, but went ahead and read out the next person’s name. The next person handed him a cat toy: a fuzzy catnip mouse. Even more befuddled, he went ahead and opened up the container and tossed the mouse in. By the fifteenth person it had become a ritual for him: accept mouse, toss mouse in bowl, give diploma, smile and shake hands, call next person. It went on the same until the very last person crossed the stage to get her diploma. Karla handed the principal an actual live mouse. He dropped it on the podium in surprise, but luckily it didn’t get away. To this day, I can’t remember the look on his face or the grin on Karla’s without giggling.

Congratulations on making it 10 years, class of 2002. We are the coolest.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Awesomeness is Contagious

Dear All of My Friends,
I love you guys. I enjoy hanging out with you in person or online, having a good time enjoying our common interests.
High Five, Tricia

There is one man that I have to thank for introducing me to the group of very good friends that I made during my first year of college, including my husband. He’s also one of the people who introduced me to Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

As one of the only members of a tight-knit group of friends left at NCC after the others graduated, got jobs, or went home, Sam did not feel sorry for himself or hole up in his apartment alone. He sought out fellow nerds, who like himself, were proud of it: he set up a game of Risk right in front of the entrance to the dorms.

What better way to find out which of the freshmen were awesome enough to hang out with? I remember wandering past that game and glancing at the table, thinking “huh, dice,” and going about my business. I obviously didn’t make the cut. Thankfully, someone else invited me to come and watch a session of D&D being played at Sam’s, so I was able to join the group that way.

I quit my waitressing job in July of 2006 to get married. I got a different one a month later, and was being showed the ropes by a young man who would soon become a good friend. He was telling me about he and his friends being silly at a party, throwing a fake wedding for himself and a friend. “We had the box set of my favorite TV show on the mantle as sort of an altar,” he told me, grinning. “Oh, really?” I asked, “What show?” “Oh, Fox cancelled it a while ago, it’s called Firefly...” he replied. “Ah!” I exclaimed. He looked up sharply from what he was doing, clearly not expecting me to recognize the name. “Do you-” he began. “Awesome!” I interrupted. We embraced. To paraphrase Chris Farley, “Browncoats don’t shake hands; Browncoats gotta hug!"

It wasn’t long before we were all hanging out in the sunroom-turned-gameroom in the apartment my husband I shared, as Sam ran a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Today, my group of friends and I talk every day in various Skype conversations that let us connect with one another even though we’re spread across the country (the world, really, since one of us is currently studying abroad). And Sam is still awesome, continually converting people he meets to awesomeness as well.

So thank you, Sam, for allowing me to be your friend and introducing me to many of the people in my life who I have come to treasure. Thank you for lending some of your awesomeness to make me an awesomer person.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Judge Not

My fourth grade teacher couldn’t spell. It had to be more than a bit embarrassing for her, standing in front of the class writing something on the chalkboard, to have a sassy little ten year old call out, “Uh, you spelled that wrong...” She would sigh and erase it and try again. Usually she’d get it right the second time, but if she didn’t one of us would end up spelling it out for her, and she’d get asked, for the umpteenth time, how she passed the tests to become a teacher. She’d reply, seemingly unabashed, that the tests just asked which of the words in a list was spelled incorrectly, and she was pretty good at telling which words were wrong. My classmates and I would exchange doubtful looks, and whisper among ourselves mutinously about the fact that this was the woman whose job it was to test us on our spelling.

I’m not sure if the basic rules of English grammar were drilled into me by someone or if by reading so much they just became ingrained in me. By “basic rules” I mean the difference between “your” and “you’re” and things of that nature; I couldn’t tell you what a comma splice is or probably recognize one if I did see it.

In high school, my boyfriend and I would grab a copy of the “school paper” the second it came out and correct the grammar in it. (“School paper” is in quotes because it was rarely more than the back and front of one 8”x11” page.) This annoyed the members of Journalism class, especially one of my very good friends. We would apologize to her, following it with “we wouldn’t have to do it if you guys had an editor that cared enough to do it!"

When I was a senior, my friends and I made up the staff for the school paper. I took it upon myself on several occasions to place or remove punctuation, change the wording of sentences, and etc. One day the teacher was off doing something important, so we were being passively observed by a substitute. The teacher’s only instruction had been: “Make sure you get the paper out today."

I still get annoyed when I remember what happened that day. The articles were laid out and ready to go, but they were rife with misspellings and needed proofreading.  My goal was to never have anyone going through my paper with a red pen to correct the mistakes I had missed, so I took it on myself to spend the entire hour fixing every mistake I could find. Five minutes before the bell rang, I turned around and found half the class missing, the other half just hanging out. I said to the sub, who was sitting there reading a magazine, “Okay, the paper’s ready to go." She looked at me, puzzled. “But they printed it out at the beginning of class and have already handed it around.” I can’t remember what I did or said, but I can remember exactly how I felt. And I can remember the look on the sub’s face, as if she was in fear for her life. 

The paper that I had spent the whole class period editing had been handed out to the entire school population before I had even started correcting it, and it had my name next to the title: Editor.

I don’t remember anyone asking me how I got to be the editor of the school paper by allowing it to be published with so many obvious mistakes, but if they did I most certainly replied with “No one said anything to me!!!” The final blow came when the teacher returned and was merely pleased that we’d gotten the paper out on time and was unconcerned with the amount of mistakes within. We didn’t reissue the paper with my fixed version, and despite my squawking, nobody got in trouble.

I just hope that none of the fourth graders got ahold of it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

*Yawn*

I have small children that like to get up at the crack of dawn, so I generally like to hang out with my husband in the evening after they go to bed, have a little ‘me’ time, then go to bed before 11 PM. I have no explanation of why, for the last three or four nights, it has been at or around 1 AM before my head makes contact with my pillow.

In high school I had to get up at an ungodly hour to drive all the way across town to get to school on time, but in my first year of college my first class wasn’t until 9 AM and the building with the classroom was 20 feet from the dorm building, so I could get away with rolling out of bed at 8:50 and still make it to class on time.

It wasn’t until I was living in an apartment off campus that I started sleeping through my first class on a semi-regular basis (and sometimes my second class, as well). At this point in my life I was under the impression that 4 AM was the best time to have an active social life. Not that I was out dancing at a club or anything. I was usually on my computer, chatting with friends who lived in Colorado or Oklahoma.

One day I had an important appointment early in the morning. I went to bed early the night before, got up at 8 AM, and made it to the appointment on time. When it was over, I looked at the time. I didn’t have to be at work until 11, and normally I would still have been asleep for several hours. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I ended up running some errands: put fuel in my car, got some groceries, etc. Then I was a good forty-five minutes early for work. I can remember standing with the manager, deciding what to eat before I started working, and commenting to her, “I never realized how much stuff you can get done before 11 AM,” to which she snorted and replied, in a tone that told me it should have been obvious: “Uh... yeah."

It’s probably a good thing that I get up so early now, I’ve got plenty of things to do and sometimes don’t have enough time in the day to do them. Tonight, I promise, I’ll be in bed at or before 10 o’clock.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Second King: Rekindling My First Love

Last night I sat down to type up a paper that I wrote during my final year of college. I had gotten an A in the class and had even won an award for the paper, third place in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Medieval and Renaissance Studies Essay/Research Paper Contest. I had been pretty proud of myself at the time, and thought that it might be nice to post on my blog. As I typed it, though, I realized that it was pretty academic; anyone who hadn’t studied that particular place and time in history wasn’t likely to understand a good deal of what the paper dealt with. Also, it wasn’t as good as I remembered it. Maybe there was a reason I got third instead of first.

Even if the paper itself isn’t worth sharing with the general public, I can share the story of the paper. It may have been the finished product, but the process of its creation is what rekindled my love of history.

Every history major at UNL is required to take a class in which they learn to write an academic paper in the style of a historian. There are many different topics offered, and I was lucky enough to land a spot in Dr. Levin’s Wives of Henry VIII class. I was excited about the class, mostly because I had taken one of Dr. Levin’s classes before and enjoyed it immensely, but that had been back in the days when I was still enjoying being a history major.

Unfortunately, I had become a bit bored with it near the end of my college career, mostly because I had been taking classes that interested me with no thought of, oh, I dunno, graduating. Since I had taken most of the interesting classes already and had recently taken three or four that I sat through while seething with anger or boredom, I had decided to change my career choice.

After a semester off, I excitedly began taking beginning Chinese and beginning Japanese. I loved it, but at the same time I was tinged with sadness because of the time I thought I had wasted as a history major. My husband (logical as always) suggested that I talk to an adviser, just to see how far away I was from a bachelor’s degree in history. To my amazement, there were three. Just three classes. Twelve credit hours. One class this semester and two the next, and I could be holding a college diploma in my hands.

It must be the best job in the world, telling various people about your favorite stories and getting paid for it. That is how I learned all about Henry VIII’s love life, by listening to Dr. Levin, who would perch on the desk, sharing all the details like she was gossiping to her friends.

And there was plenty to gossip about during Henry’s lifetime. Our class was like a 16th century TMZ. Each member of the class picked out one of the prominent persons of the time to write a research paper on, and quickly got to work absorbing every torrid fact about their lives. (That’s a good lesson for people who try so hard to be famous: it might not be all that it’s cracked up to be, since in 500 years there might be students studying every terrible mistake you ever made.)

We were sitting in a semicircle that we’d made of the desks as Dr. Levin went from person to person, asking them which prominent Tudor England figure they would like to write about. About four people before she reached me, my first choice was taken, so when she called my name I shrugged and said, “I dunno, I guess I’ll take Charles Brandon.” She looked more excited about it than I was, but that was because she already knew all about his life while I knew nothing.

Off to the library we trekked during one of our first classes, where we were instructed in the best way to find information using the various resources available there and online, such as jstor, an index for academic journals. I enjoyed using Interlibrary Loan to find various secondary sources, but my favorite was finding primary sources. (Secondary sources: things written after the period in question, using as their sources the things that were written at the time; Primary sources: things written at the time.)

I found lots of wonderful primary sources using the online resources and on the shelves in Love Library. I would wrap a scarf around my face and plunge into the stacks, emerging with a thick, red, hardbound volume of The Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, holding my breath so that the smell of the lignin would not give me a headache as it tends to do. I would then hunch over the book at one of the ill lit tables at the end of the row, excited as I waded through the archaic language, written before spelling of the English language was standardized.

On another wonderful trip to the library, we were allowed to look at (but not to touch) a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, printed a decade or so after the events we were studying, which was written about the tumultuous religious events in England during the reign of Henry’s oldest daugther Mary. Even though it wasn’t exactly on the topic we were concerned with, the fact that it was around in those days and now right in front of our faces was extremely exciting for a room full of history majors.

As I attended classes to listen to Dr. Levin’s “lectures” about Henry’s life, I began to research the life of his best friend. I used the resources of the library to find the article about Charles Brandon in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and I’m not ashamed to admit it now: Wikipedia, not that I cited it in the bibliography when I turned my paper in. (There’s a very good reason academics do not rely on Wikipedia as a source: it is often wrong. Don’t rely on Wikipedia for actual historical information, kids.)

After I had gotten a general idea of his life: who he had married, how many children survived him, how many titles he had been given by the King, I began to think about how I would present this information in my paper. In my research, I had come across a letter written by an agent of another monarch, Margaret of Austria, instructing his liege to recieve Brandon at his upcoming visit to her “like a second king."

Probably the writer was referring to the fact that Brandon and Henry were pretty tight and that if Margaret brushed Brandon off that Henry would hear about it and be annoyed that she hadn’t treated his best friend with enough courtesy. But the phrase resonated with me, and I started to look at the life of Henry VIII next to the life of Charles Brandon, noticing the similar patterns: both were married six times, both were survived by male heirs but those heirs unfortunately died before they were able to leave heirs of their own, and both were ultimately succeeded by their politically ambitious Tudor daughters.

The title of my paper became “Charles Brandon: the Second King.” Finally I understood the look in Dr. Levin’s eye that day when I had chosen my paper topic. Brandon’s love life may not have been as tumultuous as Henry’s, but by the time the King was in a snit with the Pope over whether he would be allowed to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Charles Brandon was on his fifth marriage.

Divorce was both embarrassingly easy and insanely difficult to obtain in those days, depending upon who you were. These opposing divorce proceedings are demonstrated in the lives of Henry and Brandon. While his best friend skated through three divorces with no problem, Henry’s first divorce became “The Great Matter,” and ultimately created the first sect of popeless western Christianity.

Brandon’s first marriage was to his childhood sweetheart, Anne Browne. Since it was most likely a spoken promise of marriage, nobody minded (except probably poor Anne) when Brandon turned around and made a match with the widowed and considerably more well endowed Dame Margaret, who, to add insult to Anne’s injury, was the aunt of the pregnant and abandoned Anne.

I think that he really did love Anne, or at least was fond of her, but at that time in his life, his ambition for property and title overwhelmed his urge to act as a man should when his wife, no matter her wealth or social status, is pregnant. But after selling off all of Dame Margaret’s lands, Brandon found quite an easy way out of that marriage: he discovered a family link between his grandmother and Dame Margaret’s first husband, and so he was easily granted an annulment.

I have a feeling that Anne was quite a bit more attractive than her aunt (especially now that her aunt had no money or lands because they belonged to Brandon), so he returned to marry her, officially this time.

His fourth marriage was for title. He contracted to marry the daughter of a late Viscount, and since the marriage had as good as taken place, Henry went ahead and granted Brandon the title. It was no skin off his nose when the young lady refused to go through with the marriage to Brandon when she came of age, the title was what he had wanted in the first place, and since he had it already, another annulment was issued.

Charles Brandon got into trouble when Henry sent him on an errand to France. He went to negotiate the return of the recently widowed French Queen’s dowry to her brother, the King of England. He definitely got the dowry back, but the Queen was married again before she returned to her childhood home, so it transferred to her new husband: Brandon.

Sisters were almost as good as daughters when it came to political marriages. Louis XII was thirty four years older than Mary Tudor, but it was a very good alliance for both countries. The problem was, nobody asked Mary. And a Tudor gets their way, even if the Tudor in question happens to be a woman. Mary had grown up in the early court of Henry VIII, who had a romantic soul and treasured his first wife Catherine (until she was unable to give him a son, of course). She felt that she should be able to choose her husband, and that it should be someone she loved.

Before going to marry the old king, eighteen year old Mary extracted a promise from her brother: that she could choose the partner of her second marriage. I’m sure that Henry’s promise was more like a “yeah, whatever, sis,” than anything he intended to keep, and that he began planning another alliance as soon as he heard that old Louis was dead. Dr. Levin used to say (and probably still does) that Mary “danced him into the grave;” she and the French King were married for less than three months when he died.

I never had an older brother with friends I could crush on, but I understand that it would be perfectly natural for Mary to be madly in love with the dashing Charles Brandon. I am convinced that, true to her willful Tudor temperament, Mary talked Brandon into marrying her before they left France.

Charles Brandon had already abandoned a woman for money. He had already contracted to marry a woman for the sake of a title. It wouldn’t have taken the Tudor insistence to get him to marry the King’s sister, who had both money and title. It probably also didn’t hurt that she was pretty hot. And I think he was genuinely fond of her, even though there’s no specific documentation of it. All he does to justify himself to Henry, after an apology, is to add that he didn’t want to break Mary’s heart by not marrying her.

The way that both men handled their new association is the best example of how strong their friendship was. Henry was obviously annoyed. The new couple did everything they could think of to placate him: showered him with apology by letter before coming home, gave Mary’s entire dowry to him when they got home, in addition to many of the jewels given to her by her recently deceased husband, and promised to pay him a large sum over the next several years. But Henry’s romantic heart and his fondness for both Brandon and his favorite sister quickly overcame his annoyance. Besides that, they had done what he was strenuously trying to do: marry for love. Brandon never did pay Henry all the money they had promised him, and Henry never noticed. The most telling evidence of their reconciliation was Henry’s naming Mary and Brandon’s sons next in line to the throne after his own children, even though the children of his older sister Margaret should have come first.

The best part about writing this paper was not the research (though that was fun), it was not learning things I had previously known nothing about (I enjoyed that as well), and it was not winning an award for the paper (which was supposed to come with a cash prize, but I don’t remember ever getting it). The best part about writing this paper was feeling like an actual historian while puzzing out the reasoning behind Charles Brandon’s final marriage. I had all the facts, all the hearsay, and one day while staring at my computer screen, I came to my own conclusion of why Brandon would marry a girl with little money and a title that’s barely worth mentioning, who was thirty six years his junior and had been originally intended for his son.

Catherine Willoughby was eight when she became a member of the Brandon household, brought there by the imposing lady of the house to grow up and eventually marry the nephew of the King, who was around her age. If things had worked out as Mary planned them, Catherine would have been Queen of England. Unfortunately, Catherine’s intended died when he was eleven.

The reason Catherine was chosen is a very important point. I can just imagine the evenings at home with the Brandons after the King began to earnestly try to escape his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. The two of them had been married for more than a decade and Catherine had been pregnant many times, though the only child who survived was their daughter Mary. The King’s sister, who had grown up in the court and had heard the many effusions of love spouted by her brother for his wife, could not understand why or how he could change his mind. Mary, seething with rage that her brother would even attempt such a thing and incensed, too, that her husband didn’t immediately agree with her, would have been alternating between loud outbursts and ferocious silence. Brandon, who didn’t want to upset either his wife or his brother-in-law, would have been both silently acknowledging his wife’s feelings so as not to provoke her further and quietly staying out of it.

Mary’s public support for Catherine of Aragon’s plight came when she brought the 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby into her home. Catherine Willoughby’s mother was a Spanish lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and Catherine herself had actually been named for Catherine of Aragon. What better way, thought Mary, to demonstrate her support for the Spanish Queen than to get her own Queen Catherine? This way, even if Henry succeeded in divorcing Catherine of Aragon, his lack of male heirs would mean that her son Henry would become King when her brother died, and that England would have a Spanish Catherine as their Queen once again.

Mary died one month after her brother’s marriage was declared null and void. She probably died of outrage. Though her plan for a Spanish queen was still in action, since her son Henry didn’t die until a year after his mother passed away.

What was Charles Brandon to do? His forceful Tudor wife was gone, and all he was left with was a powerful brother-in-law whose goodwill he did not want to lose and a fourteen year old ward who was the last surviving member of Mary’s plan to show the King that he was wrong. Brandon married her immediately.

Charles Brandon had married once for love, then for money, then for love again, for title, and then for all three at once. His last marriage was purely for his King and best friend. He married Catherine Willoughby to keep his friendship and status as “the second king."

It was difficult trying to articulate this concisely when accepting the award for my paper, and though it was the lowest award given, my speech was the longest. Dr. Levin understood; she laughed and her eyes twinkled the same way they had the day we picked our paper topics, as if she’d known all along that it would end this way.

I had forgotten how much I loved studying history, but taking this class, writing this paper, had reminded me. History wasn’t just learning facts and enjoying stories anymore. Now I understood that the best part of being a historian was putting all the facts together and figuring out the reason behind the actions of the important people of the day.

I enjoyed the year I spent taking Chinese and Japanese, but when my final year of college came, I was signed up for nineteen credit hours. I couldn’t fit Japanese into my schedule at all, and I ended up dropping Chinese so that I would have time to study for the other fourteen credit hours. As much as I enjoy studying language, history is my first love, and thanks to Dr. Levin’s class, it will always be.