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Saturday, April 25, 2009

If Life Is A Highway, Then I'm Due For A Bathroom Break

I'm going to be 50 soon, and while my age has never been an Issue with me, I've been thinking a little bit about whether or not I've learned anything, really, in the half-century that I've been alive. I mean, I know I've learned things, but at the risk of becoming too introspective (my mother always chided me, "Nance, you think too much!"), I wonder if, in my later adult years, I've come to absorb any Valuable Life Lessons.
I think I have. But the thing is, I have to keep at them. They're not easy. It's not that I'm a Slow Learner, or a Special Education Student At Life. It's just that, as I've said over at my other blog, I like to think that I'm on a continuous Journey Of Self-Improvement.

One of the hardest things I've learned is to accept help. I am almost compulsive about doing things by myself, always have been. I studied by myself, paid for college by myself, and being a student by nature, read every single book about wedding planning, pregnancy, child-rearing, oh, you name the lifestage, and I researched and read about it. I made sure to be an expert so that I could implement My Plan for each one By Myself. Then, I was amazed when it didn't go exactly as The Book said it would. (Damn babies. They are the ones who should read the books!) Yet, I'd soldier on and carefully refuse anyone's assistance. Finally, after my first real bout of terrible illness several years ago, it became impossible to Do It All. It was terribly humbling. But I came to realize that the most romantic words my husband can utter are these: I'll take care of it.

The second most difficult thing I've learned is very basic: Shut Up. As you undoubtedly know, I'm a woman of strong conviction and strong opinion. But I've had to learn that it isn't necessarily important to make them known all the time. I used to think, "I have to say something! I can't let him get away with that remark or he'll think that I feel it's okay" or "How ridiculous! I have to set her straight on that immediately." Um, no, I don't. Not every social conversation is life or death; not every chat has to be momentous. I'm not the world's political or moral policeman. (Or grammar officer, for that matter! LOL.) This one is still very tough for me, almost on a daily basis. Thank goodness I have the Dept. and Stuff On Our List as outlets.

The irony of these two Lessons is this: it's also important to learn the opposite lessons. One of the things I've learned along the way (to a fault, some would say) is to rely upon myself. I have never waited in my life for someone to step up and do something for me. I still think, for the most part, that it's a pretty good way to live. I (and, of course, Rick) have tried to raise Sam and Jared that way. And as far as that second one, well, if you don't speak up and stand up for your beliefs--refusing to kowtow to others just because they wield some sort of false authority or majority--then you've lost your character and integrity. The old adage is so true: If you don't stand for something, then you'll fall for anything.

Turning 50 won't change a thing, as far as I'm concerned. I hate those fakey Milestone Birthday things--black balloons, "Over The Hill" themed cards, joke gifts like Depends and Geritol and all that crap. If I had my way, I'd buy a new pair of red high heels and go out for martinis.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Which, Concerned For The Wellbeing Of My International Readers, I Provide A Valuable Safety Bulletin--With Bears


I'm not sure how many readers of the Dept. are foreign nationals--although I do know many are from Texas--but this is a post that has merit, regardless. For those of you non-USA readers who find themselves in a hurry, I can distill its salient points immediately, in order of importance, and here they are:

1. Bears are dangerous.
2. Read CNN.com.

If you find yourselves at leisure and can continue, I can assure you it is well worth your while. (My United States residents, this blogpost can vindicate your obviously inherent knowledge and perhaps make you feel better about this.)

Onward.

It was with horror and trepidation that this article was brought to my attention by a helpful Dept. reader. As soon as I loaded up the page and saw Polar Bear Attacks Woman At Berlin Zoo, I had only one thought: Elinor, aka "Flocke," the German cutie that I became fascinated with last winter. I quickly scanned the article and saw that neither Elinor nor Knut, another polar bear PR bigwig in Germany, was involved in this Unfortunate Incident, which, by the way, is captured on videotape! Good heavens. (And still, no one knows why this woman leapt into the polar bear area--over a fence and into a moat, no less--during feeding time.)

That concern out of the way, I was free to concentrate on the Bigger Issue At Hand, and this it is: Why the hell are all these foreigners so hell-bent on mixing it up with these bears? We all recall the Panda Incident in which a guy wanted a hug, and Panda Incident2 in which a dad wanted to retrieve a toy from a panda enclosure, both of which occurred in China. Now this, in Germany.

What the heck?

And people say Americans are pushy and intrusive. At least we stay behind the fence and just stare at the animals. We don't go trying to get all interactive and whatnot with the bears. We simply stand there, read the information and then spout it off to our kids as if we already knew it: "Tiffany, look! That polar bear can live to be anywhere from 20 to 25 years old, did you know that? And unlike other bears, they don't hibernate. What? Okay, come on now. Yes, Tiffany, I see it's pooping. Come on, let's go get some cotton candy."

Anyway.

My point is this, International Readers, and although I have made it before, it is obvious that it bears repeating. (Oh, ha ha.) STOP IT WITH THE BEARS ALREADY AND START READING CNN.COM!

Geeze. Here's a link, even. Add it to your "Favorites."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Barack Might See A Glimmer, But All These Idiots See Is Glamour; Spare Me--Time For A Smackdown


Time for another round of Smackdowns from the Dept. of Nance. I'm sure all of you Loyal Readers recall that, should the Dept. ever become a real government entity, one of the duties I am fully ready to discharge with all alacrity would be to hand out Smackdowns for Rampant Stupidity that I see roaming free among the residents of our fine Country.

This latest Series O' Smackdowns was prompted by an article I read in my Mighty Cleveland Plain Dealer this morning before tackling the crossword puzzle (avec le stylo, naturellement!). At the risk of upsetting anyone, allow me to first state that it involves discussion of The Economy, which, for those of you just tuning in, is having a Bit Of Difficulty At Present. In that It Sucks.

Okay. So.

Here is the headline, which is just irritating enough that I had to put my coffee down in order to be certain that it did, indeed, say what I thought it said: Some Are Spending Less For The Fun Of It.

I immediately had to read this article. In a state of highest dudgeon. Because I live in Ohio, a state which was in Recession long before it was declared that the country was in one, and in a metropolitan area where our tax base was built on steel, shipbuilding, manufacturing, and automobiles. So you tell me. (Michigan, I feel your pain. You know?)

In this article, Becky Martin, age 52 (and old enough to know better) has gleefully cut up 10 credit cards, begun borrowing library movies rather than renting them, and put in a garden. "It's fabulous!" says this real estate investor and wife of a plastic surgeon, whose home sits on the 12th hole of a Cincinnati country club. "I'm enjoying this!" she says, even though her family is "comfortable."

Oh, Becky. Becky, Becky, Becky. Come over here, Becky. I have something for you that's also quite fabulous. It will give you a brand new perspective on Life In General. It's called The Reality Tour, and there are no golf courses at all. At the end of it, there is a Little Surprise.

The article goes on to chat about Cooper Marcus, age 36, of San Francisco, who has gleefully cancelled the family Netflix, his premium cable package, and his wine club membership, too, all in his quest to be part of The New Frugal For Fun Movement. He even uses an app on his iPhone to find cheap gas! Oh, that Cooper! He just laughs it all off, saying, "I'm frugal and loving it!" Imagine, having to go and get your wine yourself! Now that's cutting back!

Hey, Cooper? That iPhone? How much are you paying for that, per month? Wanna feel even more frugal? Here's a phone for you! And a little something extra.

I don't know about all of you, but I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

Like the auto executives who showed up, palms upturned and tin cups at the ready, on Capitol Hill after alighting from their private jets, ready to beg for a bailout, these pseudo-skinflints Just Don't Get It. Whereas they're cutting back on fancy coffees and manis and pedis, some families are cutting back on college and a car and medicines and rent. It's not a little contest and it's not a hobby. It's survival.


Some people, the writer of the article included, need to Get Out More. The tint on those limo windows must be awfully dark, or those lenses awfully rosy. Either way, get in line! I'm all warmed up.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hostage Crisis Ends Without Bloodshed, But Casualties Are Dignity, Sanity, And Intellectual Capacity


Seriously, I wasn't going to do this, but after seven hours of Parent Conferences (aka The Tuesday/Thursday Hostage Crisis), my intellectual state is at...oh, let's say, Tepid Oatmeal. I want you to imagine putting in a full day of Teen Wrangling at The Rock from 7:40 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. and then facing a gymnasium full of parents from 3:30 until 7:00 P.M. Yes, 120+ staff members, two per table, all herded into the gym, where cattle-call conferencing takes place. Twice.

Le sigh.

Anyway. I had planned to post something far more cerebral and witty and sophisticated, but frankly, it's just not there. So instead, I will regale you with this stunningly illustrative anecdote from my second evening at conferences. It will make everything in my professional life so abundantly and magnificently crystalline for you that you will never again wonder why I manage only to post about once a week.

My roommate Andrew and I shared a table. We try not to listen to each other's conferences, but of course, with such close proximity, it is difficult. The parents, however, don't usually seem to be too worried about their privacy. At one memorable moment, I had a parent at my table whose lovely daughter was expecting a B+ on her report card in my sophomore honors class. She had taken a dive from her usual "A" due to a particularly rough outing on her test over The Great Gatsby. Uncharacteristically, I decided to boost her the 5 points and give her the A-. Here is how the conference went, pretty much verbatim:

Me: Did you get a chance to pick up your daughter's report card?
Mom: Yes. No. I don't know.
Me: I see. Did you stop at the tables at the front?
Mom: Oh, yeah. Is it in here with all this stuff? I don't know anything.
Me: Yes. At any rate, she got an A- in English.
Mom: Oh, she'll be happy. She was upset 'cause she thought she got a B.
Me: Well, I looked at the body of her work this quarter, and she really is not a B student. She had one tough test, but the rest of her work is excellent. And she was only 5 points away, so--
Mom: Oh, I always knew she was smart. She was smart the minute she first came out.
Me: Oh?
Mom: Yep. They gave her right to me and she started nursing right away. It wasn't three minutes and she was nursing.
Me: (sideways glance at Andrew who is blushing furiously, head down, trying to read or write something)
Mom:...oh, she just (makes exaggerated "chomping" demonstration with mouth and head) got right on and nursed away! She knew right what to do! Now, my other ones, they had all sorts of trouble. They couldn't get on and I had all kinds of problems. But not her! (Smiles proudly; waits for my feedback)
Me: (at a loss) Well, there you go! Anyway, she has her "A", but this next quarter, she'll need to step it up and work hard to maintain it.
Mom: Oh, she will! She's a smart one! Well, thank you. (gets up and leaves)
Me: Andrew?
Andrew: (looks at me, face red, shakes head uncomprehendingly) I'm...what...?...that's it.
Me: This is one for the Dept.
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