Thursday, October 30, 2008

The purpose of life

Every now and then, I take a step back and ask, "Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life?"

Or rather, I ask those questions of my blog.

What is the purpose of this blog?

The purpose of last year's blog was easy. We were living far away from family across an ocean. The blog neatly chronicled strange cultural experiences, travel, accents, and toilets into an online journal that could be shared immediately with family, friends, and weird blog stalkers like You and Bob the Enemy. I was reading over last year's blog recently and Remembering and also appreciating every well crafted post (both of them).

But what is the purpose of this new blog?

I guess I could say again it's for family and friends, and to chronicle all the interesting things we do. Like go to the dentist, chop down grape vines, and commit not to be like Bryan. Um. Wow. Pretty exciting.

I've been pondering this question on the purpose of my blog for a few days now. Thora and Hans-Juergen seem to have gone through recent blog introspection as well, although I don't know that my purpose matches theirs.

Then a couple of days ago while walking to work, it came to me. The real reason for this blog.

Bear with me a moment while I share a couple of seemingly unrelated stories.

At the end of my high school years and the beginning of college years, I took up piano. I had taken lessons before, but at this time I finally started playing regularly. I could sit and practice for a couple of hours each day. I learned all sorts of music I had never learned before, and picked up enough confidence that to this day I will happily play in church meetings with no advance notice. What inspired me to suddenly start playing? Stress. I found that twisting my fingers into knots or pounding out chords really helped me decompress. Just writing about that makes me want to go play the piano again. Alas, I don't yet own a piano.

I haven't owned a piano for over ten years. In grad school, I took up painting. Nearly all the paintings that hung on our walls in our high ceilinged Texas home were created by me. Nearly all the paintings that are stored under our stairs to wait out the remodel here were created by me. What inspired me to continue painting? Stress. I found that slapping paint on a canvas and smelling paint fumes helped me decompress. Just writing about it doesn't actually make me want to go paint again, because alas, I'm suffering again from a mild migraine, and I don't think I could handle the paint fumes.

But now jump ahead a couple of years. I find myself living in England, away from piano and paints, in a strange land where words like "pants" don't mean what you think they mean (so you might want to double check what you're saying). My husband is working nights. So I take up blogging. And enjoy it. And then a year later, back in the US where "pants" means just what you think it means, but still makes me snicker, I am still blogging. Why? What for?


Of course, I don't think I'm getting the same benefits as I would from banging on the piano. My laptop keyboard can't take banging quite like a piano. On the other hand, my son is currently asleep, and that probably wouldn't be the case if I were hammering out concertos at this time of night.

So there you have it. The purpose of this blog. Maybe it's not what we expected. But somehow, it's still nice to know.


Footnote: This post leaves us with several unanswered questions.

1. Newcomers to this blog are asking, "What is this old blog you are referring to? Why don't you include a link?"

I would link to the old blog, only I like this blog to have the semblance of anonymity. My last blog had my name slathered all over it. Therefore, I can't put in a link to the old without giving away my Secret Identity.

However, if you are really really curious, do a Google search for "English commode". Yup. That's my blog entry at the very very top. (And still my all-time-favorite post ever.)

2. Old readers (both of them) are asking, "Newcomers? Do you really have blog newcomers?"

Someday someone may do a Google search that leads them to this post. If they are still reading this far, then they will be a newcomer.

3. "What happens after blog death?"

Well, Google analytics reports that after the death of my last blog, the regular readers have stopped visiting. Yet the blog still receives at least as many hits as it did during life, due to search engine traffic. The most popular keywords, after my name, are "cheeky in a sentence", "cottage names", "English commode", and "how to pronounce Tintagel." Thus a blog never truly dies, but lives eternally through Google. I've decided I'd better remove the link from that blog to this one, in my quest to pretend to be anonymous. Ha ha.

4. "Did you notice this is the 12th post in October?"

Yes. Yes in fact, I did. I guess that means I have broken away from 11 posts per month. At least for now.

4. "You can't really think of any more questions, can you?"

No, actually I can't. So I will finally stop.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Posting for the greater good

Yesterday, we were invited to go with Grandma to the zoo. It was a Halloween-themed day. All the kids wore their costumes. Some adults wore costumes, too. The zoo animals did not wear costumes, although many of them were scarier than the costumed kids.

However, the scariest things I saw weren't in costume, and were never meant to be seen by me. Very very scary.

Therefore, I am going to interrupt this post to offer the following Public Service Announcement.

There is something you should know about those low-cut, low-rider, sits-below-the-waist jeans: Any time you sit down, squat, lean over, or just barely bend at the waist, there are two bulging round pink friends who will be oozing their fat jiggly heads out above the top of your jeans, scaring the rest of us.

Alas, I think you missed the disclaimer on the jeans tag: such jeans were not designed to be worn by a moving being, but only to sit on an upright, immobile mannequin or upright, immobile sucker in a dressing room. When your day involves sitting, leaning, or climbing in and out of the car, the jeans manufacturers cannot be held liable for tuberous plumber bums wiggling out and waving at all the other parents at the zoo.

Thank you for your assistance in containing your round pink friends.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The artist

This morning, I found myself sitting in a reclined chair with a bib across my chest, my mouth frozen open, with a little drool sucking tube resting on my bottom lip, hooked under my tongue. The dental hygienist's hands were very busy inside my open mouth, moving in and out, in and out, cleaning and scraping and trying to polish off the rough edges on my Swedish filling that I picked up in England in February.

She picked up a silver tool, studied it in the light, rotated it to examine the tip, and then put it down and picked up another. This she also rotated, then gently replaced and picked up another before sticking it back into my mouth.

I couldn't tell the difference. All the tools a had a little pointy hooky thing at the end that looked ... um ... pointy. But as I watched the hygienist study them carefully, trying to match the tools to my mouth, I realized that she was an artist. She reminded me of a sculptor, selecting the perfect tool to do the perfect job. Or a painter, choosing the pigments and brushes with care. She was a true craftsman. A highly skilled worker with a practiced ability to know the difference between the pointy hook and the ... other pointy hook.

I would have relaxed under her capable hands at this point, except that I was, um, at the dentist's office with a drool sucker tube hooked under my tongue. Even so, I left appreciating the art that is tooth scraping. Wow. Didn't expect to find the artist in the hygienist chair.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New job

My profile tells you that I have a new house, new job, and new blog.

I have written several posts about my new house. I have even written posts about my new blog. I haven't written much about my new job.

My new job is strange. I am a tenure track faculty member at a private university. I've been teaching at this university for about half of a semester now, and it has been an interesting ride. After half a semester, I get the feeling that everyone walks around on tiptoe here. Why? Because people are quick to be offended and quick to crush perceived offenses at my university.

I offended somebody last week. I sent an email that was forwarded up and up and up and down to my department chair who sent the associate chair into my office for a private chat. The conclusion: I need to be more careful with my emails, because they may be forwarded to the Enemy. The Enemy is currently having a heyday with this blog of mine, saving up every post to display all over the department during my next status review.

Thinking of Bob the Enemy, with his balding head and his potbelly, really doesn't help me to feel much like blogging. It takes all the fun out of writing when you know that your words can and will be used against you -- even if this is an anonymous blog, and I haven't really told you who I am or where I live or where I work. Most of you are just really super clever and have already figured out where I work based on the clues I leave around the posts.

So what am I doing working at this university, where the administration like to pretend they are playing The Sims with their faculty characters? I am an opinionated feminist. I screwed up one job interview 1.5 years ago by offending an administrator at a university in SoCal. (Told him that I had a young family and I wasn't going to teach evenings. So there.) And then I take a position at another top heavy university. What was I thinking?

Or why don't we spin it another way? What am I doing being an opinionated feminist in the first place? Why in the world am I still working? I am happily married to a guy who is really good at his job. We are financially stable with his income alone. I have a young child. I am an active, tithe paying, fully participating member of a religion that strongly encourages its women to stay home. How did I end up in this job?

Those questions are like interesting sculptures to be handled, turned over, studied, and then replaced on the shelf. I have lots of reasons, but most of them aren't public reasons, and I'm definitely not putting them out there for Bob Enemy. Sorry Bob, you'll just have to work with what I've already given.

On a somewhat (but not exactly) related topic, here is an interesting link I was forwarded from a new-faculty listserv this morning.

These women also have young families but want tenure. It's a fight we're all making as individuals -- my paths so far have been different from theirs. But sometimes it's nice to read the thoughts of other fighters.

OK, Bob. Stopping for now. But maybe I'll work up the courage to write a few more things about my job. Good and bad. Maybe.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Our weekend

My brother Brent returned from a two year mission in Mexico City just a little over a week ago. Today he reported on his experiences in my parents' church. In honor of the occasion, my brother and his wife, who live one state over, drove in with their three little children on Friday night.

Saturday afternoon, weekend chores finally finished, we drove an hour north to my sister's house to meet them all. Tim and Jonathan and I stayed overnight in their spare room, and ate blueberry muffins with them in the morning. We headed south later for lunch at my parents' house, followed by the main event itself. My family filled up two benches, packed shoulder to shoulder in our wool suits and skirts and jackets.

Someone had cranked up the heat in the building. Our cheeks were flushed and red, and sweat was pooling in my shoes. If it hadn't been for the heat, I might have been able to listen a little better, and then I could have written you a summary... but I'll leave that for my mother.

Brent has grown in the past two years. He's a bigger guy than he was. He spoke quickly, with Mexican intonation. A month and a half ago, Tim and I would have spoken with English intonation, but we've lost that. Jonathan's English accent is also fading, bordering on gone. We are planning sabbaticals in the hopes of coaxing it back.

We left the church directly after the end of the meeting. We hopped back in the car and headed up further north to the city where Tim's parents live. They had planned a family dinner long before we realized that today would be Brent's day, but the timing was such that we were able to attend both family events. Three of Tim's grandparents, as well as an aunt, uncle, and cousin met us for food and chatting and company.

One weekend, 25 family members. And that's not even including my cousin Heidi who babysat Jonathan Friday afternoon. Most of these people we hadn't seen in over a year, and then we had only seen them infrequently in the years before.

There are perks to living where we live, including proximity to family.

We forgot our camera.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Being female

Last night I reminded Tim of an important fact.

"If I were to get a sex change, we would be a gay couple."

And then asked an important question:

"How would that make you feel about same sex marriage?"

For the record, I probably won't be getting a sex change any time soon. However, I'm leaving all my options open for dealing with my chronic migraines.

Because of my womanhood, I can expect migraines multiple times per month. I get them during my period, within a few days before or after my period, and within a few days plus and minus the mid-cycle mark. Often I can kill them just as they begin with pain killer and extra sleep. However, when they do take hold I end up spending a day or two vomiting, crying, and in intense physical pain. They are almost always accompanied by mild depression. While the pain killer can hold off the vomiting, it doesn't always block the depression. I find myself wondering, why I am so upset?

Oh right. Mid-cycle.

If I were male, I would not be getting the same migraines. I know this because of (a) the regular timing, and (b) the fact that I had no migraines when I was pregnant. My mother will interject here and say she knows a better solution than sex change: I could ensure I'm pregnant all the time! The only problem with that is that pregnancy hormones are worse. I spent all but the first seven weeks of my pregnancy with debilitating back pain, nausea, and mild depression. At least the migraines only last a couple of days each.

So maybe with some pre-migrainal depression looming on the horizon, I should cheer us all up by listing a few good reasons to remain female.

1. Females don't have to scrape a razor over their face every morning.

I like to put the most important reasons first on my lists.

2. Females aren't called Saturday mornings by their church group presidents for assistance in moving pianos and washing machines.

3. ...

I'm not actually coming up with much here. Tim's help: "sexy underwear." But Tim, I could still wear that as a man.

OK, this is now a PG-13 blog. So I'll stop.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


My world is awash with words. I spend 90% of my time at work organizing words. Then I reorganize them at home into different meanings and phrases. Sometimes the words are easily organized. Sometimes they fight back and refuse to settle into place. Occasionally, once organized, they break free and attack without warning. I had some words attack me yesterday.

My little boy, seeing my distress, took my face in his hands and asked how he could help. He gave me his teddy to cuddle, and wrapped a blanket around my legs. He brought me a tissue, snuggled up close to read a story, and replaced my words with little boy words. Next we threw out words altogether and ran around the basement screaming. Sometimes sounds are best when they are not organized into words.

Do you think running around screaming would work in the classroom?

Our basement is finished, by the way. Except that the doors on all the rooms need to be shaved and re-hung. And the windows need to be finished. And there are still a couple of paint and patch jobs. But we finally got carpet, and it makes the rooms downstairs just so warm and livable! I'm down there now writing this. I love our new basement. Someday soon I will post pictures and you can love it, too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Feeling poor?

You can get free money at this blog:


It's not as though we hadn't been warned.

The trees on the mountain sides have been flaming red for weeks, waving their warning foliage in alarm. It is coming, they have been signaling.

The apples and pears in the valley, taking notice, have been leaping from their branches, diving head first, cracking twigs and branches in their rush to escape. They bounce on the lawn or splat on the sidewalk, stinking out a warning. You cannot escape either, their carcasses ooze.

Last weekend the rain pelted the valley for more than two days. When the clouds cleared, the green had been rinsed from the tops of the trees. Fading and tired, the other leaves began within days to sag and droop. The battle is already lost, they sigh.

Each morning the thermostat registers lower and lower. The mailbox fills with papers and fliers shouting out in oranges and yellows that pumpkins are selling and Now is the time to buy snow boots. Join us, they call treacherously.

I layer my windbreaker over my fleece. I unpack the box of sweaters, wondering where my wool jacket ended up. And where is my black wool skirt? It would look good with my red striped English stockings. We will not protect you, my closet derides.

This morning, a whirl of white, the first snowflakes fell. The tomato plant cowered and then shriveled under their touch. The daisies pressed their bodies to the ground in fear. The flakes laughed and swirled and mocked us all briefly. We will be back, they said.

Nine years you have been hiding. Nine years. But we will come for you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mom for President

So. I've been out of the loop in politics. I have. On purpose, in fact. I ignored the presidential primaries with the excuse that I was living out of the country. I have ignored recent presidential debates with the excuse that our TV is wrapped in plastic while we wait for the basement to be finished. I finally finally did my patriotic duty this evening and watched the SNL vice-presidential debates over the internet.

Now I know who to vote for for VP.

I registered to vote last week. And I will vote. And I have made some decisions on who to vote for. Two candidates actually knocked on my door in the last couple of weeks. We're talking real candidates here, not just neighbors with agendas. I have never lived in a place where candidates knock on doors before. I kind of liked it.

They have weird weird names, my candidates. Weird names must be a strange consequence of too much mountain inbreeding here in the West. But I am a progressive. I can look beyond the names to the policies. OK, actually I'm not so interested in policies as in making the incumbents sweat a little. They have had closed primaries, no opposition, good ol' boys politics for years in my new town. In this conservative town, all the republicans need to say is that democrats are baby killers and gay lovers and everyone lines up to vote for the Gadianton robbers. I have mocked them from a distance for years. And now this is my life. There is justice in the world.

Bryan and I talked politics over the weekend. We couldn't have a real political conversation because of the sad facts outlined in paragraph number one above. Oh, and I hadn't even watched the SNL debate at that point. However, we could both comment on the fact that our mother is politically active. She has been working for a significant amount of time on a neighborhood project in the neighborhood in which we grew up that would affect schools, zoning, taxes. She has strong opinions on many political issues, and shares them freely. And forwards them in emails. And email forwards. Which I often have to correct.

Anyway, in our political conversation, the idea of Mom running for president came up. Tim and I shared a look, smiled, and both agreed that while we love Mom, and while we know she would do her best, we would never vote for her for president. Bryan looked surprised and said he definitely would.

But Bryan, how could you vote for someone so easily swayed by email forwards?

Sorry Mom, you and Palin and Biden have all lost my vote. I'm voting for Gwen Ifill, the moderator. She was great.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A non-goal of mine

My brother Bryan surprised us with a phone call Saturday afternoon. He had flown into our area to run a marathon, remembered when it was all over that we lived here, and wondered if he could come visit and spend the night.

Sure! we said, and meant it. (It wouldn't be family if we had advanced notice. Or at least it wouldn't be my family.)

So around 6:00pm, Bryan hobbled into our house, limped over into the kitchen, and eased himself into a chair. He could barely walk. For some reason, after a 26 mile run -- in the rain, mind you -- his legs were sore sore sore.

I think Bryan ran his first marathon when he was in high school. Since then, two other brothers have run marathons. Back when I was in high school, I thought running a marathon sounded like a really cool thing to be able to tell other people that I had done once. For a while, it was on my list of things I thought I might someday like to do. My goal list, if you will.

I took it off a long long time ago.

The people I know who run marathons have more than sore legs. Most of them also work through pretty serious injuries. My siblings have had knee trouble. My friend had a stress fracture. Plus, after Bryan's second marathon, he crossed the finish line and then puked. Even if I don't get injured, I am still not so keen on doing something that makes me puke. On purpose. For fun. Fun?

However, I am happy to have family come and visit after they have run their marathons. It helps to remind me of why I keep certain items on my non-goal list.

Non-goal #1: No marathons.

Congratulations, Bryan, on finishing again. Thanks for coming to visit.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Clown and Poker FAQ's

In this post, I answer all your questions about this blog.

1. Um. Has anyone really been asking questions? Frequently?

People ask me questions all the time. Just a minute ago, someone asked me how to do a particular homework problem, for example. Technically, not many people have asked me questions about this blog. Lucky for you, I can anticipate questions people will be asking in the future.

For example, People want to know:

2. What is the meaning of the name? Is it something rude?

The Clown and Poker is the name of the pub I will never own. Nor visit. It was suggested to me as a name for a home by a very attractive man.

Although I have not yet given my physical home the name Clown and Poker, it is now, in some sense, the name of my cyber home. The attractive man is happy.

3. Have I seen that attractive man before?

Yes. Yes you have. He was a prominent character in this post. In fact, he turns up in a lot of my posts. I like to decorate my posts with attractive people.

4. Who writes the blog?

I do.

5. Who are you?

I am a young and attractive teacher/researcher at a university in the western United States. I moved to the western United States this fall from England, where I was a young and attractive researcher in England. I have a young child and an attractive husband. All my relatives and friends are also attractive, as are my three lurkers. I think that pretty much covers everybody reading this post. Who are you?

6. I've noticed that home remodeling seems to be a theme. Is that ever going to end?

No. No. I think it will never end. Alas. That adds a bit of tragedy to this otherwise cheerful blog.

7. Are you going to write 11 posts per month? I only ask because I once knew another blogger who wrote 11 posts per month, and I notice that you wrote 11 in September.

I never intended to write 11 posts in September. I was going to write 12. Or 10. Just to show the world how different I am from that Other blogger you once knew. I was going to spend September breaking through the artificial restrictions that Other blogger put upon herself and her blog by writing 11 posts.

Somehow, September ended up with 11 posts. Weird, eh? I wonder what that means?

8. Don't you have work to do?

Um yes. That's why I am now stopping.

If you would like to send more questions, I will answer them. Frequently.