Friday, July 31, 2009
One thing that seems to be more and more prevalent everywhere I go (including here) is the "comment" button. And of course, 99% of comments are positive and respectful. But every now and again I come across something that is obviously inappropriate. Sometimes it's downright rude and insulting, and you don't need examples of this--we're talking about those people who spend all their time roaming around cyberspace looking for someone to insult because they (mistakenly) think it makes them look smart. This junk annoys me, but since it makes the person who wrote it look dumber than a fencepost, I don't really care. The more damaging stuff is the "constructive" criticism that goes a little overboard.
On one of the sites I visit regularly, I started noticing a pattern of long-winded, critical comments from one person. One that bugged me the most was to a little girl who had made herself a beautiful dress for her prom. She stated clearly that this was her very first attempt at making a dress, and I think that's pretty darned impressive. When I was 17, I was hanging out at the mall with my friends, complaining that the world wasn't handing me everything I wanted in life, wrapped up in a satin bow. So, when I saw, yet again, this same person leaving a list of things this kid could've done better for the whole world to see, I decided to check out her profile, in which she listed herself as an expert. Firstly, for the record, if you were born in the 1980's, you are an "expert" on nothing. Don't get me wrong here. I look at knitting, cardmaking, and craft blogs all the time in which I would consider the creator, regardless of age, an expert. I just don't think you should be calling yourself one unless you have an awful lot of experience to back up your claim.
I don't think people who do this mean to be anything other than helpful (though I do suspect they're sometimes hoping to leave an impression of being terribly knowledgeable, whether they are or not), and there is most certainly a place for constructive criticism. When I studied creative writing in university, there was a lot of critical feedback. People said things about my poems and stories that, even if it made me cringe, taught me to tighten things up and to see things from a reader's point of view. At the time, I wanted to be a professional "writer", so even blunt, insensitive comments were appropriate, if for no other reason than to prepare me for a lifetime of being brutally panned. But when you're just showing off something you're proud of on a craft site or your blog, long lists of improvements you should make are just not helpful, and they're not nice either.
As a teacher, I knew that parents wouldn't appreciate a report card full of harsh comments about their kids, even if their kids were obviously jail-bound. So I used terms like "a goal for so-and-so is..." and "something to work on will be..." and dealt with one or two issues at a time, rather than overwhelming the parent with everything that needed improvement. Putting your heart and soul into a piece of writing, or a photograph, or a prom dress and having it deconstructed at length by a so-called expert is a little like having your child deemed a failure on a report card. Of course it's fine to suggest that this technique or that colour of ribbon might be a great addition to a person's work, but no one is going to benefit from being told, all at once, every single thing that's wrong.
What seems saddest to me is that this kid may never post anything again out of embarrassment from this one incident. I've often thought the same about recipes that have been rudely reviewed. When that happens, no one benefits from what I think is the very best thing about the internet--the sharing of ideas. So, as opinionated as I am on many, many things (and I do thank you all for sticking with me even when I'm completely disagreeable), when I hit "comment" on websites showcasing other people's talent, I make sure to always ultimately leave the impression that I like what I see. When I was a kid, my Mum used to tell me that if I had nothing nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all.
Good advice, indeed.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
I have recurring nightmare, usually about Rosemary's Baby (because Firstborn is more cautious and calm than his brother). I leave him alone in the bath or swimming pool, and come back to find that he's slipped underneath. I feel a sudden sense of panic and run to pull him out, but when I get there I find him sitting underwater, playing and laughing, and I'm filled with relief. I think this dream is my brain telling me that he's fine and I don't need to worry so much about him (because I do spend an awful lot of time worrying). Last night, I had a different dream, one in which he had a terminal illness. The feeling of having zero control, the terror and the grief was overwhelming, and I was more than happy to wake up to find him grinning at me as he climbed onto my bed for some pre-6AM jumping fun.
I think I'm right when I say that becoming a parent is sort of a mixed blessing emotionally. You feel joy you never realized was possible, but it's tempered with an ongoing fear that never goes away. I have no reason to believe that either of my kids will ever get sick enough to die. Their chances of being in a car accident, or being snatched off the street by a sicko are no greater that anyone else's. But yet these are the things that keep me awake at night.
I've known a few people who have lost their children, and any time I've tried putting myself in their place, my brain has put up a barrier before I've had a chance to really get in there. It's too unbearable a thing to even think about. And every time there's a new headline about a soldier dying way too young, as much as I relate to that as a wife, my first thought is always to feel a little hope that he was predeceased by his parents, because as much as I might fear death, I think it'd be preferable to having to live through something like that.
So, that's my irrational fear these days. It has replaced all the pre-parenting fears of dying, or losing my job, or getting arrested. Though I did also recently have a dream that I was dragged away at the airport for drug smuggling, and just before I woke up, I had a panicked look back at my kids standing all by themselves with the bags. Goodness knows where the Captain was--probably on course or exercise, as usual!
But I'm trying to beat this fear down in my mind. I don't think I can destroy it--there's too much primitive biology going on for that--but I do know that for every minute I spend worrying, I lose a minute that could be spent enjoying my time with them. Sooner than I'd like, they'll be all grown up, out of my control and making decisions for themselves.
And that'll usher in a whole new era of irrational fear.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
A few days ago, a family member publicly commented on the use of profane language in other people's status updates, and it caused a fair amount of feedback from many directions, including mine. While I can't say I'm actually offended by profanity, I prefer not to use it, and seeing it pop up on my Facebook page does take me aback a little. It's probably safe to assume I'm a fuddy-duddy.
There are, of course, some arguments "for": half the world talks this way these days; we live in a free society where speech and expression are constitutionally protected; it's only a big deal if we make it one; we need to be more tolerant etc etc. And I don't disagree with any of this--though the free speech defense has been severely abused by good old boys and city rednecks alike in defending their rights to call their fellow citizens racist, sexist and homophobic names, so I'd personally never use this argument myself. But I do agree that use of language is a choice.
I just wish everyone would choose to put more thought into it.
I've rarely been bothered by someone throwing a naughty word into a conversation. As long as it isn't excessive, or repeated by my kids, it doesn't much phase me. It's seeing it in writing that throws me for a loop. It isn't potty mouth that bothers me. It's potty keyboard!
In university, I had a wonderful creative writing professor who told us that the real reason to write is to uphold the language, because it is being slowly corroded by the masses. I agreed with him, and took his advice to heart. The real reason logging in and reading "F#*! yeah! I'm drunk!" makes me cringe is because it reminds me that there's an easy way to write something provocative and a hard way, and all too often, like with everything else in our society, we take the easy way.
It's a lot harder to express anger or excitement using words that won't offend anyone (except maybe the person you're mad at!), but in the end I believe that those are the words that will stay with people. The passion that inspired those words will be what remains with the reader, not the choice of specific words. Obscenity is a fad, something that stands out for five minutes and is then tossed aside and forgotten. Real, thoughtful language is the classic that comes out again and again to make that true, lasting impression.
I know we're not all writers, and I'm not bothered enough by saucy updates to remove anyone from my friends list. If you like to spice up your language a little, I won't love you any less for it. I just wonder where the state of our language and literature will be a few decades from now, when our kids have grown up with it, when it's normal to them, and no longer packs the punch it does today. What kind of crazy new words will they have to make up to shock their friends? And how many of them will be able to recognize the short-lived, cheap thrill in throwing out an obscenity?
Will any of them want to take the road less travelled? I sure hope so.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
We hit the road at around 9:30 AM and argued a little over which radio station to listen to. The Captain prefers what I like to call "unnecessary noise" at an ungodly hour of the morning, and I like something a little more mellow, like 80's new wave, or disco from the 70's. We compromised with classic rock, and the trip was off to a merry start.
On these trips, I like to pack snacks for the kids, and coffee for us. Less than an hour into the drive, I realized too late that this coffee thing was a big mistake. The Captain, being of a military mindset, wanted to be on time for his flight (AKA two hours early). I didn't want to stress him out by requesting a bathroom break, so when it became clear that my bladder was moments away from exploding, I just shifted in my seat every three seconds in the hopes that I'd find a more comfortable position. By the time we were approaching Capital City I was gazing longingly at trees on the side of the road, wishing I could jump out of the car and pee behind them. Finally, to my immense relief, the Captain got the hint and pulled into a gas station, saving me from an embarrassing accident two hours from home.
After dropping him off and getting behind the wheel, I promptly realized that I was completely turned around and had no idea if I was driving north, or west or any other direction, real or invented. I have a fairly decent sense of direction (you know, for a girl) but I swear, I have never made a trip to Capital City and not gotten utterly lost at least once. In retrospect, I suppose buying a map might help.
Anyway, after finding myself at a deserted crematorium with a view of an overgrown field and the distant sound of planes taking off, I briefly considered making an expensive long-distance call to my father, who lived in Capital City some 30 years ago, for directions. Instead, I decided to head towards the city centre and try to find my way out from there. Meanwhile, Firstborn and Rosemary's Baby had been sitting in the back seat for close to three hours, and were starting to get a little antsy. I was, by this point, somewhat frazzled, so I irresponsibly offered them treats and toys if they just kept quiet back there for a few minutes longer. The end result of this was Firstborn taking a fancy to a game of Twister and me buying it for him.
When you're in an unfamiliar city, it's never a good idea to drive too fast in case you miss your turnoff or destination. In Capital City, you don't want to drive too fast because the place is crawling with people who like to take walks in their pyjamas. If you pick up too much speed, you miss the culture and ambience you won't learn about in the tourism brochures. So, I'm sure every car on the road was sick of being stuck behind me by the time I figured out where I was and turned into the parking lot of the Superstore.
This particular Superstore is like no other I have ever visited, and I've lived from one end of this country to the other. They have this bizarre underground parking garage with an entrance situated smack in the middle of the regular parking lot. And when you go inside, there's a strange, bus-station-like concrete walkway with a ramp leading down to the aforementioned underground lot. When you finally reach the grocery store's automatic doors, they're not marked. You have no idea if you're going in the "in" or "out" doors, so you just kind of wander in aimlessly. The layout of the place is, to put it mildly, bizarre.
But things got better when I hit the store pharmacy and proceeded to stock up on every over-the-counter painkiller you can imagine (a combination of weird weather, hormones and barking dogs sent me back to migraine territory this past week, for the first time in years.), and then I went about the business of grocery shopping for the next 40 minutes or so. The kids were great, and the one time they did start to get a little restless, a woman in a lab coat popped out from nowhere and handed us all ice cream samples. She was gone as soon as she'd appeared, but I'm pretty sure she had wings and a halo. Even going through the checkout was a treat. No long lineups, and the very nice lady in front of me in line gave me an extra bag she didn't end up needing. A pleasant experience all round!
But the pleasantness pretty much ended there. After loading back up, and having to make a second trip through the McD's drive-thru because they forgot to give the kids their happy meal toys (the kid in the window was not the sharpest tool in the shed), we were on our way home. Firstborn insisted on listening to the kids' station for most of the trip, until I finally couldn't take it anymore and switched back to mine. He is, apparently, picking up some of his father's more annoying habits.
When we finally made it home, I unloaded the groceries and proceeded to immediately break my half-assedly chilled club packs of ground beef, chicken breasts and sausages into smaller portions for the freezer. The beef, sausages and one pack of chicken were no problem. Then I opened the second pack of chicken. I am no wimp where smells are concerned. I've changed the diapers of two very stinky boys, one of whom still occasionally makes "art" with his poop. I've lived with dogs for years, and I live between two cattle farms. Smells are rarely an issue for me. But when I opened this chicken, the stench was like nothing I have ever experienced. I will save you the details, but after consulting google on the matter, I tossed it. I may be imagining it, but even after cleaning the counters with bleach, I can still smell it throughout the house.
But the day isn't over until it's over, and I'm determined to finish up on a high note. So, how do I salvage a day that included listening to music I didn't want to, nearly peeing myself, getting lost in a strange city, eating cold McD's while I drive, and almost giving my entire family a case of botulism?
Friday, July 17, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Does anyone have any idea what these are?!
So, there you are. My great plan to get up close and personal with a (probably rabid) wild animal for my hundredth post didn't quite work out. But if I hadn't started blogging in the first place, it never would've occurred to me to try. Thus, blogging has expanded my horizons. Or possibly exposed me to parasites.
Tune in to the next hundred posts to find out which!
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Aside from a few (major) issues with the health care system, the economy, and that business in Iraq, I'd say that America is one fine and dandy place to be.
When I was almost 11, we returned to North America from the UK, where I was born and partially raised. Our destination was Michigan, a state that looks like it wants to shake your hand, and at the time it felt like it too. People loved our crazy British accents, and asked adorably stupid questions about how hot it got in winter. People on TV tried to sell us watches that played songs by the Jackson Five (fifteen years too late) and the grocery stores were phenomenal--aisles and aisles of sugary, fatty, nutritionless treats. Do you remember what it's like to taste lemon Kool Aid, or a Hostess Fruit Pie for the first time? I do.
And then there were the restaurants. In England, my parents got Chinese or Indian take-out on the weekends after we were in bed, but I honestly cannot remember even setting foot inside a McDonald's the entire time we lived across the pond. When we moved to the States, it was a whole different story. My mom has never been mad for cooking (though, she always made a mean Duncan Hines spice cake!), and this worked in our favour when we moved to America. The fast food alone was an amazing discovery, and pizza was something we never had in Britain either, not to mention all those regional chains serving burgers and milkshakes. The Captain is heading to California on a course next week, and swears he will be finding an In-N-Out at his first opportunity. Jerk.
These days, when I make it south of the border, my main concern is shopping. There's nowhere like the United States for getting a deal. My best deals ever include a $9 brown suede coat I got at Dots, my $7 down vest from a Target clearance rack and my $7 black puffy down parka and $8 wool pea coat, both from the now-bankrupt Steve and Barry's. Wow. That's a lot of outerwear. Rest assured, under my coats, I am clothed in great American deals as well.
Reading this, my U.S.-based readers must think I see their homeland as a non-stop shopping-and-burger-eating experience. So let me also say this. When we visited Sister #1 in Philadelphia a few years back, we were absolutely blown away by the lushness and greenery in that city, not to mention the gorgeous scenery we got to look at on our way there. And America is as full of history as it is natural beauty. I still think combining the two by dynamite-sculpting heads into a mountain is a bit of a questionable enterprise, but I have to admit, I had fun looking at that on one of our big road trips as well. These days, if I had to pick a vacation destination, I'd rather take a historical walking tour in the U.S. than most anything else.
When I think of Americans, I think of the guy who saw our license plate in an Ohio parking lot and took time out of his day to animatedly inform us about a local golf tournament we should go see (we have zero interest in golf), or the lady whose house my parents had just bought who welcomed us in, served us coffee and donuts and chatted with us like we were old friends. Granted, if you go to the wrong side of certain towns, you might get car-jacked, and those cashiers at TJ Maxx kind of give you the impression you've interrupted their day by wanting to pay for your stuff. But all-in-all, it is my opinion that Americans are a darned friendly bunch.
So, my American friends, I wish you a happy 4th of July. Today, I celebrate with you, for the history, the hospitality and the scenery. But mostly for the burgers.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
As you may or may not be able to tell from the picture, my knitted LAV (I couldn't call it a tank because I continue to have trouble making tank treads that don't look weird with the button wheels, if you can make those out on the bottom) placed third in the Knitted Toy category. Sounds impressive, right?! What if I told you there were only THREE entries in total? Yes, it's true. Technically, I actually lost. But that's okay. My "toy" was certainly the least traditional of the three, and the other entries were very cute. And I still won two bucks!
For those who care about this sort of thing, that clasp at the top is a piece of thick jewellery wire I shaped into a hook, and an odd hoop earring I forced into a ring shape. I love making necklaces, but don't often wear them, so this will dangle from a hanger until I have the rare occasion to wear it. Next year I may enter a pair of earrings if I can come up with something funky enough.
But the best win of the day wasn't mine. Firstborn's kindergarten teacher capped off the school year by entering several pieces of artwork for each of her students, and Firstborn, whose work was up against that of 15 or so others, took second place as well. Behold:
It turns out my child is a paper-plate craft prodigy! Imagine it! Five years from now, after I've secured myself the reputation of "Paper Plate Lady" at Costco and forced Firstborn to practise his skills for three hours every evening, we could be celebrities on the paper plate craft circuit! National paper plate craft competitions! An advertising deal with Dixie! Appearances on Oprah! We'll be stars! Well, until the embarrassing public meltdown, where he exposes me for having referred to Rosemary's Baby as "the one without talent" and compares me to Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. Shudder. Perhaps we'll just stick with the town fair.
I've never much liked competing--though the Captain will undoubtedly differ here, citing several Trivial Pursuit-related "incidents"--and in all honesty, it isn't about the winning. I walked through the exhibition hall looking at quilts and photos and jars of jam and Christmas ornaments and coffee cakes, and I came home inspired to try a few new things. Firstborn was enthralled with some junior exhibits made out of LEGO, and started building as soon as we got home. It's amazing to see what other people come up with, and this little bit of competition pushed people to do some great work.
In total, Firstborn and I won $6.50 in prize money, which I forgot to collect on my way out. But that's not the point. I'm thinking we should spend our cash on some craft supplies and get to work being creative. With any luck, we'll have some fun and come up with some cool ideas for next year.
Paper plate self-portrait with googly eyes, anyone?! I sense a first place win in the making.