Friday, June 29, 2012

Pet Peeve: Chain...s

If there was one thing I could remove from the universe, it would be those feel-good pictures with the cute little poems on them. Not because I hate pictures of cats or am not sympathetic to anyone who happens to have cancer, but because of what always goes along with them: the insinuation that if I do not pass it on to every single person that I know that I am a totally terrible, horrible, person and that I don’t care about anyone but myself.

I hate that kind of thing. Sure, I also hate bullying. I hate the fact that so many people in this world are dying from diseases. I realize that there are children starving on this earth. But me posting about it on facebook or forwarding it in an email is not contributing anything useful to anyone.

It’s surprising how many people feel the same way I do. But for some reason, we never seem to do anything but complain to other people and whine on our blogs; we never confront the person who tried to get us to share or send the post/email/letter. The closest I have ever seen anyone get to telling off a person to their face is my mother, though at the time she didn’t realize that she was.

I don’t know if anyone remembers actual chain letters (snail mail, to clarify, for those of you too young to remember), but the procedure to send them was to write out however many copies you wanted and then send them to your friends, leaving off a return address so that they wouldn’t know who sent the letter. My mother recieved one once, and thought it was ridiculous like the other 97% of the population. She was expressing her amusement and bewilderment at it to myself and some acquaintances, saying that she didn’t know who could have sent it to her; she didn’t think she knew anyone who would actually pass on a chain letter. Several days later, she said to me, “Do you remember when we were talking about that chain letter I got?” She reminded me that one of the women who had been present for the conversation was usually very chatty, but while we were talking she hadn’t said a word. “Now that I look at it a little closer, it looks like it’s probably her handwriting,” she told me.

As much as I love my beautiful cousins, the drawback of being friends with them on facebook is that at least one per day I get to see one of them share a photo or a copied and pasted status that insinuates that if I do not share it too, that I am a terrible person. Today’s has a picture of Jesus with a thought bubble containing the words “Is there a place for me on your wall?” At the bottom it said “if yes share this photo on your wall” and underneath, it urged again to share the photo, in addition to the admonition: “keep scrolling and ignore if there is NO place for JESUS...”

I had had enough. I thought, “There’s no way my cousins can feel my annoyance by the fact that I don’t share every single thing they post that urges me to.” In fact, I don’t think any of our mutual friends share these photos either, except my other cousins.

I resolved to never again stay silent when something like this annoys me. I’m sure that my comments against it won’t deter my cousins much from sharing things like this on their own facebook walls, but it will let them know that I don’t appreciate it, and maybe that will motivate them to cut back a little.

If not, maybe I’ll try a facebook status like this: “97% of people hate chain statuses, but 99% of them will stay silent about it. Repost this if you hate copied and pasted statuses!”

Thursday, June 28, 2012

One Ring to Concern Them All

This is a true thing that happened.

Forty-seven days ago, it was a cool, crisp Saturday in May. My husband and I were busy with household chores and chasing children. It was getting a bit late in the day for lunch, and neither of us felt like making anything, so we decided to go into town for lunch and to pick up some groceries. He corralled our daughters into the car, and I stopped in our bedroom on my way out the door to put on my rings: the one I wear on the ring finger of my right hand (a blue round cut stone with two round diamondish stones on either side of it, set in a plain sterling silver band), and the two I wear on the ring finger of my left hand.

I walked out of our bedroom and into the storage/laundry room to toss one more thing into the washing machine, which I had turned on a few minutes earlier. Then I stepped out the door, locking it behind me, and went out to the car quickly, holding a couple of things in my hands. It was a lovely day, a bit chilly, but not chilly enough for a coat. I hurried to where my family was waiting in the car, knowing that my husband was hungry, and I don’t like to keep a grumpy, hungry husband waiting.
My husband took my purse/diaper bag from me when I opened the passenger’s side door, setting it in the back seat for me. I sat down and he revved the engine, moving the car forward around the garage/storage building. I pushed my hair out of my eyes and started to talk about what we would eat, and glanced down at my finger. All that was there was my wedding band.

My engagement ring was gone.

The first time I saw it was when my husband (then boyfriend) pulled it out of his pocket at our table at the Melting Pot in Omaha, Nebraska and asked me to be his wife. We had gone there with some friends, and while one of the girls and I were in the bathroom, he had shown off the ring and made the rest of the table aware of his plans. Before dessert, the rest of the girls in the party trooped off to the bathroom, and Sam just kind of... wandered off. The first person to come back to the table was our server, so he was the first one who got to hear the news: “we’re engaged!”

It’s a gorgeous ring. A white gold band, featuring a one carat marquis cut diamond (my favorite cut), with two small marquis cut sapphires on either side, which are surrounded by three round cut diamonds. Since it’s a bit strangely shaped, my wedding band was made to fit it, with a bump out for a sapphire on one side, and its own row of three round cut diamonds in the middle. My husband chose it himself, and I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful ring. I wouldn’t want to.

We went to lunch. I fretted through the whole thing, and we decided to take the girls home and put them down for naps instead of going grocery shopping, and while they were sleeping we could retrace my steps. We did so, my husband walking on one side of the sidewalk while I scanned the grass on the other side, and when we got to the parking lot, we switched sides and walked slowly back to the apartment, searching as we went.

We found nothing.

I told myself it would turn up. “Maybe it’s somewhere in the apartment,” I thought. I made the staff of the apartment complex aware of its disapperance, then daydreamed about someone finding it and bringing it to me. Two days later, employees from the lawn care company came to cut the grass, and I ran out to one of them and explained the situation over the sound of the gigantic mowing machine he had stepped off of, and though he nodded at me, I wasn’t sure he understood. I felt sick thinking about the amount of people that walk their dogs along that same sidewalk I had walked, wondering if one of them had picked it up and given it to their girlfriend or pawned it or something.

A couple of weeks later, in a fit of frustration, I called a nearby pawn shop. The girl who answered the phone was completely unhelpful, refusing to even hear what my ring looked like to glance through their inventory for me. “Have you reported it to the police?” she asked me. “They get all our reports and we just take in so much volume it wouldn’t even be worth looking.”  Though I was sad, I didn’t think I needed to bother the police. It wasn’t like my ring had been stolen; it was just lost. It would turn up. I called another pawn shop. The kind man on the other end of the line listened to my description, saying, “No, I haven’t seen anything like that,” but added that the girl at the other place was probably right; if any pawn shop in the area got the ring, they would tell the police, and if the police knew, they could tell me.

Reluctantly, I submitted a lost item report to the Boulder Police Department through their website. I was glad to be able to just do it online, I didn’t want to bother an officer with my silly lost ring. Of course, five minutes later, I got an email informing me that I did not live in their jurisdiction and that I should call the Boulder County Sheriff if I wanted help.

It was past 5 PM, but I called anyway, thinking that I could leave a message and someone would get back to me during business hours. To my surprise, I was told by the man who answered the phone that an officer would be sent to my home. I felt a bit ridiculous to be relating the story of losing my ring to the officer who showed up less than twenty minutes later, knowing that he definitely had better things he could have been doing. He patiently wrote everything down, and left me his card so that I could email him a picture of the ring.

My habit of adjusting the rings on my fingers with the middle finger and pinky of each hand made me feel a bit silly without my engagement ring. I found the original Shane Co box that my wedding set had come in and enshrined my wedding band inside. I closed the fuzzy gray box up inside the dark red box that it had come in, and placed the ring that I wear on my right hand on top of it, determining not to wear either ring until I could wear all three together.

Last night we were driving home from getting boxes at Home Depot in town. “There’s that rental place my dad told me about,” I said to my husband, pointing at the glowing green and yellow sign, “where we can rent the metal detector.” We learned that we were going to move about a week ago, and since then my husband has been packing up boxes of books every night. I’ve been preoccupied making baby shower invitations, but I have been secretly planning to look for my ring when I start packing. I thought I would shake out sheets, look under large pieces of furniture, etc.

Today I am finishing up making the baby shower invitations for my sister-in-law. Every one I make is cuter than the last, and I love them all. The worst part about working with paper is that lots of tiny pieces of it get everywhere. There aren’t so many that it necessitates the trash can being moved over to the table where I’m working, but if I leave the tiny pieces in a pile next to me to throw away later, my two year old comes along and blows gently on it, making sure that the tiny pieces get spread everywhere. On the ledge of the window between the kitchen and the dining room, I keep a gift bag full of fancy chocolate that I won at some function. The other day I noticed the bag splitting along the side, so I decided to use it for storing tiny pieces of paper until I could take them to the garbage can, and figured that would both keep them all in one place and be less tempting for my mischievous two year old.

I removed the chocolate.

There, in the bottom of the bag, was my engagement ring.

I called my husband. He was in a meeting and didn’t answer. I texted him and then called my mother, sobbing with joy. “What happened?!” she cried, scared that something terrible had happened to one of my children. “I found my engagement ring!” I exclaimed. I told my friends on Skype, emailed the police officer whose time I had wasted, updated my facebook status, then called my mother-in-law. Tomorrow I will go tell the ladies in the apartment complex’s office.

I can wear it on a trip to a water park without worrying. I can show it off on a trip all the way to the Bahamas and back. It stays on my finger during two C-sections (not in a row, of course, but properly two years apart).

Why is it that the most stressful time for me is when my ring has hidden itself away, safe inside a bag in our apartment?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Humiliations Galore

Almost every single weekend that I was in junior high, one of my friends would come over to spend the night. We would walk down North Cotner to Topper Popper to get some kind of iced treat, and then across the street to the video rental store. We would look around for quite a while considering what to get, even though we were there the weekend before, but we would always leave with their VHS copy of The Princess Bride.

I don’t know why my parents didn’t just buy me my own copy; we probably spent more renting it a trillion times than they would have if they’d given me one of my very own. It probably would have spoiled some of the fun of it, though: spending all that time looking through all of the other movies just to take home the same one we did before. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Princess Bride was the best movie on the shelves of that little neighborhood movie place.

Years later, a friend of mine let me borrow William Goldman’s novel, the one that the movie is based on. I loved it! Goldman tells the story of how his father, a barber who could barely speak English, would read him this beloved Florinese story, translating it out of its original language as he conveyed it to his son. He relates how hard he worked to find an copy in English for his own son, and how disappointed he was when his son read only a chapter before giving up and putting it down. Surprised to discover that his father had abridged it as he read it, Goldman set out to do the “good parts” version, so that his son could enjoy the story as much as he had as a child.

As you read, you get parts of Goldman’s own story, intertwined with the next interesting scene with Westley and Buttercup, in addition to anecdotes about his frazzled editor: “How can it be before Europe but after Paris?”

Goldman makes such a big deal about the fact that the story was written by “S. Morgenstern” and talks in such detail about the chapters he removed and that’s why it's easy to believe that the whole thing is completely true.

I was taken in. Well, almost. I’d watched a “making of” on my very own DVD copy of The Princess Bride a couple of years before I’d read the book, and I could almost swear I’d heard Goldman talking about how he got the title from his daughters (who are not mentioned in the book), by one saying, “write a story about a princess!” and the other saying, “write a story about a bride!”

He had me convinced because of the little bits of reality he added in. The particular copy that I had borrowed had the first chapter of the supposed “lost sequel,” Buttercup’s Baby. Goldman told the story behind the discovery of it, and the drama surrounding who would translate and abridge it. He was upset because Stephen King, who he said was a native of Florin, had been chosen for the task instead. The two writers met to discuss it, and Goldman was crushed when King told him, “you can write the screenplay, okay?” In the end King agreed to let Goldman abridge and publish this first chapter in the re-release of his abridgement of “S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.” I don't know anything about Stephen King's heritage, and the mere fact that Goldman attached an actual person to his fictional tale had me second guessing myself.

I was certainly taken in enough to head to the internet in search of clarification. This was before Google and Wikipedia were wildly popular, so I began by searching things like “Florin” and “Guilder,” but the only things I was finding were web pages about ancient money. I glanced across the page filled with search results and saw one titled “Humiliations Galore.”

What I found there was a collection of true stories from other people who had been taken in by Bill Goldman’s book. Mostly it was anecdotes about people embarrassing themselves by talking about Florin and Guilder like they were real countries and getting put in their place by friends and family. One woman had tried to plan a honeymoon in Florin and Guilder because she and her fiance loved The Princess Bride so much.

I was glad I’d checked the internet before I went around talking about these fictional people and places as if they were real, and I admired Goldman immensely. I thought, “What an interesting device!” and wondered if I could ever write a story like that, one that completely convinces the reader of its truth, even though it’s fiction.

A week or so ago, I ran across a picture of (almost) the entire cast, taken last November by Entertainment Weekly for their Reunions issue.
It’s amazing to see how much everyone changed in 25 years (or didn’t change; Wallace Shawn will always look exactly the same), and as I watched the videos of interviews, I enjoyed hearing stories about Andre the Giant (who died about five years after the movie came out), and laughed at Billy Crystal’s hat (the original from the movie, and when asked, he replied, “Why would I wear someone else’s hat?”).

The best part about the interviews (and the picture) is that we, the fans, get to see how much the actors love the story: just as much, if not more, than we do. They treasure the experiences they had making it, just as I treasure the warm summer afternoons I spent walking down to the local video store, hoping to be able to see it.

If you haven’t seen this movie, (where have you been, under a rock?!) you should. If you haven’t read the book, you should do that too, even though you won’t have the added suspense of wondering if it’s all really true. It might actually be better this way: you won’t experience humiliations galore.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I love to use italics. I remember reading a scene in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Emily series in which the 24 year old Emily opens a letter she wrote to herself when she was 14 and is slightly ashamed at the superflous use of italics that she tended to when she was younger. I scoff at such things. I will use italics until the day I die and never be ashamed of their overuse: italics are awesome.

Caps lock has become the internet’s way of SHOUTING AT ONE ANOTHER. On the less popular (at the moment) social media website, Google+, users can emphasize whatever they need to, because Google+ supports the use of italics and the like. On facebook, the only way to tell the world how much you really love ice cream from Ivanna Cone IS TO SHOUT ABOUT IT.

When we speak, it’s easy to tell what is emphasized just by listening to the speaker. There isn’t always a way to emphasize what you need to online, and a sentence like “I wasn’t mad at you” could be taken the wrong way without the ability to underline, italicize, or embolden things.

“I wasn’t mad at you” could mean anything when conveyed online without the use of formatting. Most probably, it would mean that the person who typed it was not angry with the person who is meant to read it. However, if the one recieving the message had heard it instead, they may have taken something very different away from the conversation.

What if the sender wasn’t angry, but only annoyed (“I wasn’t mad at you”)? Or perhaps the sender was vexed with someone else (“I wasn’t mad at you”). Maybe the recipient of the message doesn’t believe the sender (“I wasn’t mad at you”)!

CAPS LOCK is my answer to formatting when italics are unavailable. However, there are several other ways that people use to set apart those words that they want to emphasize. Some people put *asterisks* around a word to draw a reader’s eye. Others use _an underscore_ to set phrases apart. I have seen people use >greater than< and >less than< symbols, or the occasional use of s p a c e s to show what the reader should pay attention to.

Dear Everything Online that Does Not Yet Have a Formatting Option,
Please add formatting to your website/messaging service/whatever. The users of your product are dying to make themselves better understood.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Staying Cool While Being Short

Our air conditioning system is ridiculous. If all of the vents are open, it’s boiling in the living room and freezing in the bedrooms.

My husband is tall. Six feet and three inches of tall. And I’m... I’m totally five foot six. I’m pretty sure that’s what my driver’s license says.

The other evening my husband and I were sweating in the living room while our daughters were sleeping in their rooms (but their feet were cold). He suggested we try the vent closing trick so that we would be cooler, and I agreed. He went quietly and didn’t wake either girl up when he reached up to close the vents. We were cooler. We thought, “problem solved!”

That’s not what I thought at 5 AM this morning as I squinted up at the vent in our bedroom, trying to see without my glasses whether it would be futile for me to jump up to try to open it. It was a bit too warm to sleep, but not so warm that I wanted to wake my husband up to open the vent for me.

This morning after my husband had gone to work, I sat down to write and eat breakfast in the living room, and my toes were cold almost immediately. I put down my spoon, resolved to crack the vents in the bedroom at least a little bit, and looked at my two year old, who has always been tall for her age.

I reflected that someday my daughters will tower over me, but as it is, when my tall and attractive husband is elsewhere, I will always have to be dragging a chair down the hallway.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so much of a problem if I was actually 5’6”.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Goodbye, Lucille

Our PS3 is dead.

We never had a video game console when I was a kid. My mother was of the opinion that if we wanted to play, there was a perfectly good yard outside to run circles around and that we had zillions of perfectly good toys to aid in the improvement of our imaginations. My brothers and I didn’t disagree, and I can’t ever remember us begging for any kind of gaming system.

We had friends whose parents eagerly doled out cash for the newest thing. The kid that lived down the block had a Gameboy and an NES, I can remember sitting in the basement of their house watching him play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I can’t remember ever playing it, so I probably turned down the opportunity if it was ever offered, or I wasn’t much put out about not being asked if I wanted to play.

In high school, my best friend was a writer for a small video game review website, and he had a sweet setup in his room with an N64, a Dreamcast, and his recently acquired PS2 all plugged in to one TV which was specifically for gaming. I can remember lounging around, watching him play things like Space Channel 5 (a music game sort of like DDR but without the dance pad), Seaman (a game in which the player raised a fish/man thing from the tank to walking; the coolest part is that it came with a microphone that would attach to the controller so that the “seaman” could be controlled with the player’s voice), and Shenmue (which, I was told at the time, was supposed to have been the most beautiful game ever made).

I can’t ever remember feeling jealous that other kids had these things, just knowing matter-of-factly that they had them and I didn’t.

Then, when I was a senior in high school, there was a raffle held at school for homecoming or something of that nature. I remember sitting in the middle of the gym floor with the pep band, a tenor saxophone on my hip, as they announced the prize, a PS2, and it’s winner: my brother.

We weren’t sure what to do with it. My dad bought us some games. We figured out how to plug it into the TV. I asked my video gaming friend if we had to have a DVD remote in order to use the PS2 for that purpose.

Once we figured out what to do with it, we liked to play RPGs. Racing games and puzzle games were all right, but the best thing about an RPG was the story, and the fact that we could all enjoy it together.  Our favorites were (and still are, in our hearts) Jak and Daxter, Rachet & Clank, and Sly Cooper. We’d help each other out on the puzzle minigames, I would always hand over the controller during a racing minigame (I hate those), and if one of us would get stuck during a level, there was usually a sibling nearby to call in for backup: “Can you do this part for me? I can’t get it.”

A year or so after my husband and I were married, the hubbub in the video game world was the new generation of video game consoles, which were competing for the attention of gamers everywhere. Neither my husband or I are huge fans of the Halo series (and that’s the only way to be with the Halo series, either you’re an insanely huge fan or you couldn’t care less about it), so we weren’t terribly interested in owning an XBox 360. The PS3, with its capacity for gorgeous graphics, was too dauntingly priced for a newly married couple who needed to spend their time studying instead of gaming anyway. The family friendly Wii looked like it would be fun, and it was not only more reasonably priced but looked like it was going to have the kind of games we’d want to play.

We didn’t rush out and get anything the night it came out, like some people we knew. We leisurely purchased a used Wii on ebay for pretty much what we would have paid for a new one. The greatest thing about the Wii was that you could spend hours playing the little minigames that it came with: golf, tennis, baseball, boxing, and bowling. You could also spend days and weeks primping your “Mii,” the little avatars used to represent you during these little minigames. There were online contests to make Miis, and you could watch every one you made walk in a little parade.

Then my husband and I graduated from college. There was no more studying to be done, so we were free to pay attention to other things. One of the things my husband began to want to give his attention to was football (NFL football, to be specific). Beginning to pay attention to football again was a ritual for him, and it began with purchasing the most recent copy of Madden. And for some reason (perhaps this was part of the ritual) he was determined to have the PS3 version.

The biggest problem with this was that we did not have a PS3 at the time. We didn’t have any other games for it, and we already had a PS2 (which was on the fritz) and a Wii. I didn’t see why we needed to purchase yet another console just for his silly sports simulation game.

One of the selling points of the PS3 when it first arrived was all the shouting about how it would be backward compatibility, that is, they would not only be able to play games produced for the PS3, but also games produced for the PS2. A big draw for me is replayability. A month or so ago I broke out our dusty copy of Jak and Daxter and played it for a while (I even got through the Fire Canyon by myself, Jas!). My husband was able to talk me into getting a PS3 with the majority of his argument weighing on the fact that I would be able to play my old PS2 games on it, too.

We skipped off to Best Buy to purchase a PS3 of our very own. We were saddened to discover that though the price had been slashed, the backward compatibilty had been, too. Sony’s definition of “Slim” is apparently “less awesome.” Retreating to a nearby fast food joint in tears, we discussed our options.

One of our friends had purchased a PS3 when they were being swept off the shelves and twice the price. He’s one of those people whose gaming area looks like a museum of fun. He probably still has a working Saturn.

We devised a plan, in which my husband would be able to enjoy his silly football video game and in which I would also be able to enjoy my games. We marched back over to Best Buy and left triumphantly clutching a $300 piece of amusement. And upon our friends’ next visit, we switched the new one for the old.

Even though it sounds like it’s trying to launch itself into orbit every time we turn it on, the enjoyment of this video game console has been immense. We played the Assassin’s Creed series on it, the new Batman games, any old PS2 game I could want, and of course, every Madden game since the one we got it for.

But the other night, disaster struck. My husband switched it on and was getting ready to exercise while playing yet another round of pretend football. He was bustling around, getting out the stationery bike, and the PS3 was puffing along, playing the intro to the game.

And suddenly, it stopped.

My husband forgot what he was doing and went to poke at it. He unplugged it and devoted himself to opening the case and taking a can of compressed air to its insides. Pieces of it were spread all over my dining room table until he applied himself to putting it back together the next evening.

“Beep, beep, beep beep,” it reported, when he tried to turn it on. We translated this as: “Goodbye, cruel world, argh,” and pronounced it dead.

We never gave it a name, but if we had, it would have been something like “Judy” or maybe “Lucille.” We’ll never be able to find another PS3 like it. We can get a new one, but I won’t be able to bust out The Sims Bustin’ Out; we’ll have to make our fritzy PS2 work if I ever want to play that again. I guess Slim Jim the Reasonably Priced but Less Awesome PS3 is probably in our future.

So here’s to you... Goodbye, Lucille.

Slim Jim with Lucille

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Disinclination for Veneziane

I have always wanted to visit Venice. It’s an architecturally gorgeous city with tons of interesting history and lots of things tourists love. Although there is one thing about Venice that I absolutely cannot stand, and that is: its blinds.

Yes, this is a blog post about window hangings. You may have thought it was going to be an informative and interesting piece about St. Mark’s Square and gondolas, but it’s actually about my preference for curtains.

I never really worried about what was on my windows when I was a kid. The house that we lived in was built in the late 1920s, and I would not have been surprised if the shades that I had on my bedroom windows were the ones that were originally installed in the house. They were antique roller shades, yellowed with age, sometimes damaged in places, but they were generally in good working order, opening when I wanted them to and closing (and usually staying closed) when I needed them to.

The bedroom I had in the house we lived in when I was in high school was in the basement, and a peeping tom would have been hard pressed to spy on me, nothing short of walking up and obviously peering through the window would have worked. During the winter I usually had a blanket stuffed up in the window well to keep it warmer (not that it worked, it was a basement, after all), and in the summer the window was blocked with something dark to keep my room cool.

But in every apartment I’ve ever lived in, the primary way to cover the windows has been with the dreaded Venetian blind.

The reason for my dislike of this style of window covering is threefold: they are ugly, they are terrifically challenging to cleanse, and the unnecessarily tedious bits used to operate them are also rather dangerous to any small children who may happen to be wandering about.

The curtains that my mother in law favors in her house are much easier to operate. One push and you are able to see the world outside; one tug and the world outside can’t see you. They get dirty? Take them off the rod & toss them in the washing machine. And as long as the rod is on the wall securely, your kid can adorably hide behind them and tug on them all day and there’s very little chance of strangulation. Finally, they can be any color, any style, any fabric you want.

As much as I admire Venice for its beauty and its intruguing past, I do not appreciate its contribution to the window treatment industry. They may know war and art and poetry, but in my opinion, the Italians know next to nothing about covering a window.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The State of the Sky

Often times we don’t pay much attention to the weather. If we do, we pay attention to the state of the sky in our general vicinity and don’t think about anyone else’s sky, be they several states or several cities away.

I’m not one of those people who watch the weather channel constantly, so when I go on a trip I pack clothing that will work with the season. June in Nebraska demands shorts, maybe a pair of jeans, no long sleeved shirts, and no jacket. Some days, it doesn’t matter what kind of clothing you wear (or don’t wear), you’re going to feel like you’re about to melt into the ground.

Recently one of my friends was complaining in her facebook status about the apparent heat wave we’ve been having in Colorado: “So... hot...” she moaned. “It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a breeze,” commented another friend, “but it’s just stifling.” I read these comments upon returning from Nebraska, where we had stepped out of our car in Ogallala to refuel. “You weren’t in Nebraska yesterday,” I commented, which completely failed to convey my contempt. I’m not sure how hot it was that day, but there was a brisk wind blowing which did not aid the disgusting state of the outdoors. I’d almost rather there hadn’t been any wind; it almost made it worse.

Nebraska is terribly humid, on top of the fact that its summers tend to be terribly hot. I never knew how repulsive they were until I traveled to New Mexico once for the weekend. It was certainly warm there, but the weather was very comfortable all weekend. The eastbound Amtrak train gets in to Lincoln, Nebraska every morning at around 4 AM, and when I stepped off the train that morning, it was like walking through a side door into a swimming pool. I regarded the train behind me, and would have gotten back on, except that it wasn’t going back the way I had come.

It was certainly warm when we got back from our visit to Nebraska this last weekend, but compared to the weather we had come from, it was a delight.

As much as I might miss my home, the places and people that are there, I definitely don’t miss the weather. Today’s weather in Boulder is overcast, with a light breeze. I’ve got the windows open and the air conditiner off. I am perfectly content to be ignorant of what the weather’s like in Nebraska, or in Aurora or in Sterling; except I may be a bit sad for their residents that their sky today isn’t as pleasant as mine.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Husker in BuffaloLand (or, Learning to Care About the NFL)

Some people are sports enthusiasts. They watch every sport available, are fans of all the local teams and are up on the names and stats of all the players. My family enjoys sports, both playing and watching, but the only thing I can remember getting really excited about as a kid was Husker Football.

I say, “Husker Football,” because for some Nebraskans, there is no other kind. By this I mean that they are aware that there are other teams, but that they have no interest in watching these other teams play, unless they are playing the Huskers.

If you ask a Husker fan, “Who is your favorite team?” they will answer “The Nebraska Cornhuskers!” without first stopping to check whether you meant professional or college football or if you were perhaps referring to a different sport entirely.

We love our team. We love to watch them win, and though we don’t like to watch them lose, that won’t stop us from watching (just to gripe to one another about the officials or the coaching staff).

There are other sports teams in Lincoln. Our USHL hockey team has some rabid fans, and it was always interesting to work food service on a Friday night after Omaha’s team had been in town for a game. Stars fans in blue and white would glare across the restaurant or trade friendly insults with the orange and white clad Lancers fans. We also have an AAIPB team, the Saltdogs. (We were and are still baffled about the name, at least the hockey team has a Lincoln-esque name.) And then there’s the No Coast Derby Girls, who never seem to be having a bout when I’m in town & available to go and watch.

I have known NFL fans who were born and raised in Nebraska. Of course, they’re always also Husker fans, but they have found it in their hearts to love another team as well. My high school boyfriend was a 49ers fan. There are amazingly quite a few Patriots fans around, for whatever reason. And my cousin loves his NFL team so much that the colors at his wedding were yellow and red, with his groom’s cake covered with Chiefs logos and crowned with a football helmet.

The easiest way to explain our fanatacism is simply by looking at a map.
Florida, California, and New York each have three NFL teams. Missouri has two! It has been proposed that the reason Nebraska doesn’t have one is because we are quite satisfied with our college team, and probably wouldn’t pay attention to one if it were in town. Those who do want to pay attention are generally fans of nearby teams, like the Broncos or the Vikings (and I’ve even known a Packers fan or two).

We have been paying attention to the NFL recently since we’ve had a few of our seniors drafted. We’ve been excited about the Lions picking up Suh (though disappointed at his behavior as of late, he was never that rude when the played for us), Alex is kicking for the Eagles, and though he had to sit out for the first half of the season with an injured foot, Amukamara actually went with the Giants to the Superbowl!

I’m not sure if there are any other college teams that have a following like ours. I’m sure other teams have crazy fans like we do, but I’m not sure anyone has a complete lack of interest in anything other than their college team like the fans of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

My husband and I were rather baffled at one another on first discussing football. I was ready for a fist fight: he’s from Colorado, and I expected that he would try to shout me down with the stats of CU’s Buffaloes as I shouted the years that the Huskers won National Champions at him. But to my surprise, he showed a total lack of concern for whatever was happening or had happened up in Boulder. He was a bit taken aback by the fact that I seemed to know next to nothing about the NFL, aside from the fact I could tell him that “Da Bears” were in Chicago, but only because I had seen it on a SNL sketch.

He couldn’t understand why I would be bothered by college football while I couldn’t get why he would care about the NFL.

He decided that I must be taught. My lessons came in the form of football games playing in the background of household activities happening on a Sunday, and paying attention to them when I felt like it. Supplementary lessons happened while sitting in the same room as the guys played Madden and ignoring them while I did something else. Eventually, I picked up a few things.

The first professional football culture shock I got was the fact that a fan does not just watch his team’s games, he watches everyone else’s. Who cares if you like the Chargers, you’re going to be watching the Bengals play the Ravens anyway.

I could never understand why anyone would want to get NFL Sunday Ticket until I began to learn how NFL teams are interconnected between North, South, East, and West, and the interaction between the NFC and the AFC. As I understand it, the Chargers fan from the AFC West is watching the Bengals and Ravens because the winner of that game may be going up against his team for the AFC Championship to compete for which goes to the Superbowl.

Another reason to pay attention to someone else’s team is that professional football players get traded around to play for different teams all the time. You want the best quarterback in the NFL to come and play for your team, no matter how many seasons he’s got left.

Also, since professional players are usually around a lot longer than four years, fans get to know the character of the player, on and off the field: is he a loving father, a party animal, a morale booster, or a drama queen? This leads to some people liking (or not liking) a certain team because they have a certain player on their roster.

My own support of certain NFL teams is completely irrational. Last season I developed a distaste for the Titans (for no discernable reason), and the Texans (because they seemed to be winning quite a bit). I have a special place in my heart for the Browns (who have won NFL championships, but it was almost sixty years ago, and way before the Superbowl was born) and I’m pleasantly surprised whenever the Bills win.

Although I now live in Colorado and occasionally get made fun of by friends for being a Husker, I am in good company: Husker fans seem to be everywhere. There are some who live just around the corner from my in-laws’ house, with a miniature red windmill in their front yard and Huskers mudflaps on their truck. It’s hard to drive anywhere without seeing Big Red “N”s on the back of vehicle windows or “University of Nebraska Alumni” frames wrapped around Colorado license plates. I even walked into the grocery store a couple of months ago, spotted a guy in Husker apparel, and said, “Nice coat! Go Huskers!” (He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him, he stuttered and managed to respond, “Yeah!” before I was out of earshot.)

Going back to the maps (which I claim no ownership of, by the way, I shamelessly stole them from various websites), it’s easy to see why we revere our Huskers. NFL teams may be nearby, but driving at least three hours to get to a game doesn’t appeal to many people.
You can see here clearly the reason that we love our Huskers: simply because they are ours. 

There’s something about cruising southbound over the bridge onto 9th street after being away from home for a while, and seeing Memorial Stadium shining in the afternoon sun.

Those are the times that you heave a sigh and think, “It’s good to be home.”


Monday, June 18, 2012

We Call Him Pappy

My husband and I are both the oldest of the siblings in our families, and in fact we both have two younger brothers whose ages match up: my younger brother was born the same year as his, and our youngest brothers were also born the same year. My husband and I were the first children in our families to get married, and then the first to have our own children. Our oldest daughter was the first grandchild for both his parents and mine.

There’s a lot to do when you’re getting ready to have a baby, and one thing you never really think about is what you’re going to teach your child to call your parents.

I never called my grandparents anything but “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” Both my mother’s parents are living, but my paternal grandfather died in the spring of the year I was born, so I only ever had one Grandpa. I differentiate my grandmothers by calling one “Grandma” and the other “Grandma Betty.” It isn’t just a name my brothers & I call her, my cousins call her that, too.

It never occurred to me that anyone would call their grandparents something else, and so I never thought that my parents would like to be called anything but that. My in-laws shrugged and said they didn’t mind, “Grandma” and “Grandpa” would be fine. I was brainstorming what my mother would be called when she told me, “I want to be ‘Grandma!’”

Because of the difference in location of our respective parents, it’s easy to keep the Grandmas separate. When we are with my mother-in-law, talking with my daughter about my mother, we call her “NebraskaGrandma.” And when my mother talks to my daughter about my mother-in-law, she says “your Grandma back home in Colorado.” We ran into a little snag when my mother came to visit once, so both of them were in the same house. My daughter didn't bat an eyelash, and continued calling my mother-in-law "Grandma" and gave my mother a new name for the weekend: "Naama."

It wasn’t going to be hard to separate the Grandpas, my father has a clean cut face while my father-in-law has scared his family in the past by shaving off his mustache. My father was the first one to get a smile out of my daughter when she was five weeks old, so we started calling him “SillyGrandpa.” My father-in-law has acquired the title of “MustacheGrandpa.”

That doesn’t quite work very well for keeping them separated in my daughter’s mind, not because she doesn’t realize which one is which but because she knows which Grandma goes with which Grandpa. We have a song we sing about her relatives, the first line of which is “Cora loves her ______ so, so much,” and we substitute a different name of a family member in each time we sing it. One day she was “helping” me make lunch and we were singing. We had just finished singing about her MustacheGrandpa, and I said, “Who shall we sing about now?” “Grandma!” she ordered. “Well, which Grandma do you mean?” I asked, “NebraskaGrandma, or-” “MustacheGrandma!” (Just to clarify, my mother-in-law is a beautiful woman who does not have a mustache.)

We still have trouble sometimes keeping the Grandmas separate, but we don’t get confused about Grandpas, since my father decided what he wanted to be called: Pappy. We thought it was kind of silly at first, but my daughter does sound pretty adorable calling him: “Pappy! Pappy!” This has made it easier to talk to my daughter about her grandparents. When I say, "Shall we go to Grandma's house today?" and she says, "Pappy's house?" I can say, "No, let's go to Grandpa and Grandma's house. We will go to Grandma and Pappy's house another day."

My sister-in-law found a t-shirt for Father’s Day that says “I’m on Granddad Duty.” “Too bad it doesn’t say ‘Pappy’ instead,” she said. I agreed, so I set about making one that would really work.
I can’t wait to see him wear it proudly.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Grandpas, Pappies, Granddads, Papas, & Grandfathers out there, whatever your grandkids like to call you. Thank you for loving us and for spoiling us. We love you.