Tuesday, October 24, 2006

where is the soul?

The setting is in my Sienna minivan on the way home from the ballfield tonight. The hour is fairly late. The air outside is cold. The children are (for once) both in pretty good moods and have been chatting away about E's last baseball game and such.

Q: Mom, does this song have soul?

Me: Uh, it's the Village People, honey. I don't think they have soul.
(Do not judge me for listening to disco with my kids. If you must judge me, accuse me of being a bad mom because I spent 2 hours tonight sitting in the van with the heater going listening to "Shake your Groove Thing" while E was out playing baseball in the freezing cold. So I am not only a bad mother, but I listen to disco. But do not judge me for the disco!!)
Q: Why not?
Me: Honey, the Village People are singing YMCA. Do I really need to explain further?
Q: Mom what does it mean for a song to have soul?
Me: Uh. I don't know, honey. I guess it's a feeling.

*silence* (I'm thinking I'm not going to be able to get out of this line of questioning after all.)

Q: Do you mean the words and music have a lot of emotion in them?
Me: Well, I guess so. Yeah.
Q: You mean like this?

And at this point the floodlights came on and the orchestra struck up and Q and E simultaneously broke out into a rendition of Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield. My previously drab and cold and baseball centered life was suddenly transformed into the middle of a musical - I cannot tell you how incredibly odd it was. They knew every single word and nuance of the song and it was so unrehearsed yet so perfectly executed that it HAD to have been the result of living in a musical. Plus, the sudden appearance of the orchestra was disconcerting. And the floodlights were making it hard to drive. They sang it perfectly. The only reason they weren't dancing in perfect synchronicity was because they were strapped by seatbelts in the van. I do so wish I could have recorded it and put it here. Weird, weird, weird. I have no idea how they knew all the words. I was so shocked that I forgot the whole subject had been about what "soul" in music means.

Speaking of which, I still don't know how to explain what I think it means for music to have soul. I've spent the last 30 minutes surfing the internet on soul sites looking at examples of "Soul Singers." I've read the definitions and read about Blue-eyed soul and Philadelphia soul and Deep soul and Neo soul, but I still don't have the right words. I guess I don't need to anymore, since my Natasha Bedingfield-loving musical-living kids have it all figured out. I'll let you know when the tickets are on sale.

By the way, my personal musical presentation was especially poignant for me because DH has decided that song is perfect for our kids.

I am unwritten, can't read my mind, I'm undefined
I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Monday, October 23, 2006

my friend pete

For the love of Pete!!

...as an aside, my college intramural volleyball team had a mascot named Pete, so we would always try to win for Pete's sake. Don't remember what our name was. (Mare?) In grad school (the New Jersey portion of it), my team was the Barking Geese. Didn't have a mascot, though. Certainly not Pete.

photo from here.

So again, as I was moaning, For the love of Pete!!

You know, I sometimes call myself an anal person - I'm really not, though. I'm not neat enough or orderly enough to be anal. What I really like is mostly order, and I like when things work out as expected. I like coming home to a clean house with a roast in the crock pot, and having that smell just totally suck me up into itself when I walk in. I like going to work and working my ass off all day until my shoulders ache and my eyeballs hurt and my brain is so tired that I smile. I like going to watch the kids play baseball and cheering their good plays, I like chatting with the other parents, I like bringing snacks on my assigned day and having Q tell me they were "perfect."

I like my life to move along the tracks, clickity clack, just as it should. I like working on the PTA board and helping earn money for the school and planning extra activities. I like tackling difficult tasks and working through them.

I do not, however, like stupid, petty bickering and personality clashes and misunderstandings and adults who suddenly turn from reasonable, dependable folks to sneaky, underhanded manipulators. Again, I say, For the love of Pete!!

Gah. I have worked on my school's PTA board for 4 years and never have I encountered such a nasty feeling doing so. To all of you eye-rolling judgemental people out there with nothing better to do than to complain: Those of us on PTA boards are volunteering for this stuff. That means we are not paid for the hours of work and worry. That means we are taking time away from hanging out with our precious kiddos because we believed (at some point) that this kind of work reached beyond our personal needs or the needs of our family and had an impact on a larger group of these amazing new young people we call students. In truth, most of the time we are doing these jobs because people like you didn't want to.

So I ask you to take your whining, your complaints, your pettiness, and eat them.
(stop laughing...I never claimed to be great in the insult department...give me some better ideas here.)

I am unhappy with our current PTA "ickiness (for lack of a better word)". Our president is a dear friend of mine who has taken on this most thankless task in the universe. The other board members are dear people who have also taken on thankless tasks. Instead of the smiles and the thanks yous and the flowers and champagne that should be flowing for these women, they are learning the need to put on enough emotional armor to withstand the attacks.

Absurd. You want the definition?
As a noun:
The condition or state in which humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people's lives have no purpose or meaning. Used chiefly with the.

Gah. Yep, THE absurd. This is where I am for a little bit.

But you know what? We really are touching lives of some amazing new young people. I know that sentiment sounds like touchy-feely fluff, but it's true. So in the big scheme of things, this awesome earth keeps turning around and the universe keeps expanding, and the fall air is sweet and cold and the leaves still crunch under my feet and the moon still fills up my soul. That doesn't leave much room for the stupid stuff. So it's all ok.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

perks of autumn

It's that time of year again. And once again, the weather was on our side. It was a little cold up in the mountains, and it was quite windy, but it was FALL, and it was gorgeous. (I took this picture while standing inside the hay maze and holding the camera up over my head to snap it. Gotta love auto-focus.) The trees were full of golds and deep oranges and reds and yellow-orange pumpkins were everywhere along the roads. The browns of straw and hay were stark agains the blue sky as we drove down little roads with the quilt of colors draped over us. We drove through tiny towns full of antique shops and diners. We listened to bluegrass and listened to the shouts of the kids as they pounced on each other in the hay mountain and shrieked through the hay maze. We only lost a couple of children, and they were wet from the stream only up to their knees, so it was a good day.

The kids throwing rocks into the stream, after attempting to build a dam across the entire span of it. Didn't work.
We filled up on brunswick stew, warm cornbread smothered with fresh apple butter, applesauce, hot dogs, barbeque, peanut brittle, and caramel apples. Ah, appalachia. Survey question: do you eat CAR-mel or car-a-MEL?

Kids on the hay ride. They took the shocks out this year. Don't know how one of us didn't end up flying out into the orchards. I fear I'm getting too old for hayrides. How sad is that? But I'll keep going as long as the kiddos want to. I'm bringing a pillow next time though.

And look what I came home with!!
It was such a nice day I'm not even overwhelmed by the half-bushel of apples sitting in my front room. Well, not really. Not much.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Before I begin:
Oh the joy, the celebration...Oh the wine that floweth, the shortbread cookies that disappeareth. High is the level of joy at this household on the occasion that youth league baseball games are cancelled. The rain, it falls. The hot chocolate, it heats up. The Pokemon cartoons, they blareth forth from the TV. I am faced with an ENTIRE EVENING with no plans. I am already in my PJs with a glass of red wine and listening to itunes in front of a blog-entry-in-progress, and I think I may cry from pure joy.

The bane of my existance, the definition of my existance and all existance. Sigh.

Mom and Dad still laugh at me over the fact that when I was little, I would cry when an episode of Lassie would end. I couldn't help it. Lassie was such a nice dog (wasn't she?) and I wanted to live in her happy world. There were always had happy endings, and it would upset me to no end that her world was gone, no matter how fictional or temporary it all was. The phrase "Lassie is going off the air" became synomonous with "change" in my family.

Well. Lassie is going off the air. Again.
Please excuse the following egocentric whining, but I'm sad about the whole Lassie thing. Again.

I've spoken several times of WONDERBOY, my team leader at work, and how amazingly happy I am at my job and my little research team there. I work with two other guys who are very very smart and very funny people. We enjoy banter, we enjoy research, we share curiosity, we share life-stories, we all three went to Ga Tech. It reminds me of grad school in a way - that excitement about SCIENCE and the debates that start with science and end up at all ends of the philosophical spectrum. We all have children approximately the same ages and patiently listen to and laugh at each others' children stories and go to events featuring each others' children. We work, we enjoy work, we work, we enjoy each other. For the last 4 years, I've been at that place in my career that I have always imagined as perfection. I love going to work. I walk into my office and spontaneously smile and joke with the guys. I am excited. The three of us debate and get LOUD with each other and always understand that it is science and not personal. We get off on science. We disagree. We highly respect each other. We are clearly all out here for the science more than for ourselves. We write awesome papers. We are what I think is a very powerful team. One of us, WONDERBOY, is clearly the team leader, while the other two of us are very good at being team members. We're not necessarily followers, but with a little big-picture guidance, we take it and run. WONDERBOY has the big picture and keeps us on the right path. It's the best work situation I could have ever imagined.

The problem with being a WONDERBOY, however, is that the power-suckers from above inevitably recognize that and suck you into their world, because they enjoy intelligent and capable people as much as I do. But they've got a lot more to offer intelligent and capable people than I do. WONDERBOY is being sucked into the world of NASA Headquarters in D.C. He'll be doing a part-time detail up there as a program manager for the next couple of years, which means that several changes are forthcoming. (1) He can no longer work on the research projects with me and gao because he will be the funder and we'll be the fundees. (2) He will be in DC three days a week and back here with us 2 days a week, one of which I am not at the office. (3) he is moving to a private office because he will be having many phone calls of a private nature in his new position.

Well Crap.

I am happy for him that he is recognized for being such a WONDERBOY, and have never had doubts he will be our division chief and probably more one day. But the selfish part of me feels rather like the evil ones are stealing him away from me and gao. The two of us left are rather like a couple of baby sparrows that have suddenly found out they have been shoved out of the protected nest into the real world and papa sparrow has abandoned us. Sniff.

I'm so sad. I'll miss WONDERBOY's sarcastic and dry wit. I'll miss how nice he is - he loaned my son one of his clarinets for a month when the company I was dealing with flaked out on me and didn't send Q his clarinet when they promised. I'll miss his straightforward way of looking at science and I'll even miss that he's right 99.9% of the time. Gao and I will have lots of adjustments to make. I love gao and he loves not only me but also my husband who was his roommate at Ga Tech as a grad student and taught him what baseball was all about. (This was all before I even knew my sweet DH). I'm ecstatic to still be working with gao. But we will be missing our inspiration without WONDERBOY. :-(
What in the world are we going to do?

Dammit again.

Well I can rest assured that one day I'll be in good with my division chief or center director or whatever...right? :-) :-( I'd really rather things stay exactly like they have been.

But the tears that flow when Lassie goes off the air have a way of cleaning off the slate so the next episode is ready to go. Whether I like it or not, change is not really the bane of my existance, but is the definition of it. Dammit. :-)

For anyone who thinks I don't "get" change, even at my advanced age, I retaliate with my favorite song "We Said Hello Goodbye" by Phil Collins. If you want to know who I am, then take a listen to that. It's been my theme song since since the very first time I heard it, which was when I was making the decision whether to move to the east coast or return to Texas after I got my Master's degree. So despite the fact that I cry when Lassie goes off the air, I know it's all for the good. Life marches on. But it's ok to feel a little bit sad about it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

You like me! You really like me!

Stop bitacle org

Huh. They got my blog.

I don't understand all the talk about robots and crawlers and RSS feeds and such. But it seems this Spanish site is pulling (or scraping, as the lingo goes) entire blogs, including mine, and archiving them on their site. They then surround them by ads and make money off of other people's work. Trying to understand all this is making my head hurt, so I'll leave it to folks like Jonathan Bailey at Plagiarism Today and Lorelle at WordPress to keep a finger on the pulse of this. Click on the button at the top of this to go to a website dedicated to Bringing. Bitacle. Dooooown. If you're interested, that is.

I'm thinking "Hey! Someone's interested in my writing!" ...which I know really isn't the case since I figure they're pulling everything with RSS feed (or ATOM or whatever) off of blogspot. But I can pretend I'm important and have the right to be irate, right?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

fallish goings-on

The weather around here where I live has been remarkable for the last few days. The nights are so clear that I can see the Milky Way, with each star a perfect pinprick. It's cold enough to breathe smoke and my fingers and toes get chilly. During the day it warms up but I can still wear my favorite Big Dog fleece jacket and be comfortable. I love everything about this time of year from the colors to the holidays to the smell of fires to school rolling into full swing. It's here. I've been waiting for this feeling to come back, and despite turmoil and upset and general busy-ness, it has arrived, as it always has. No worries.

This morning I was sitting in my home office preparing for my YRUU class, and was only momentarily distracted by the rain on the roof. Eventually, though, I became aware enough to realize it was another beautiful day with brilliant blue skies, and the sound of rain just didn't quite fit. I figured it was the heater kicking on...but those vents are in the floor and not the roof. So I shrugged and let it remain a puzzle.

Later, I decided to take Roxy out for her morning elimination ritual. I choose the word ritual very deliberately. This dog is beyond weird. Peeing is not a problem. She can do that at the drop of a hat (which has been part of the whole problem with housebreaking...she can jump to retrieve a thrown toy, drop and pee and run off before you can blink twice). Pooping, however, requires a much more elaborate structure. We must (1) be at the exact correct location, which she has chosen to be at the very base of the slide on my children's swing set. (Look, I don't make these rules, I just follow them). Next, (2) she must be able to perform an elaborate set of such back-leg-kickings and jumps and sniffs as you've never seen before. This includes her kicking dirt up onto the slide which inevitably scares her (I'm thinking she inherited the lab intellect rather than that of the border collie at this point. I'm just sayin'.). This usually results a direct violation of condition number (3) which is that she requires complete and utter concentration. Any distraction at all, which includes the sound of dirt she has kicked up herself as it thunderously hits a plastic slide, takes her attention and requires that she start the entire process over again.

So we set out outdoors in the gorgeous fall morning for the quick drop and pee and headed over to the swingset for the leg-kicking, jumping, strange gyration, pooping routine. But it was not to be. The rain that I had been confused about earlier was revealed to be acorns. A very large flock of very black birds had settled into two trees just beside the house. I'm also guessing this was a group therapy session for birds with ADHD. I was getting stressed just watching them. They would sit for approximately 0.4 seconds before flying to another branch to sit 0.4 seconds and repeat. All 2000 of them. After 5 minutes or so, I realized Roxy and I had both been standing there transfixed with mouths agape, watching the rainstorm of acorns. Once they started hitting within several inches of Roxy and myself, I worried there may be the occasional non-acorn dropping, so I decided it was time to get her to do her business and get back inside. Uh - No. Condition number 3 was the issue of the morning and was clearly not going to be met so long as the blackbird ADHD convention was going on. So being the mighty human that I am, I picked up a stick and threw it up into the trees with an enormous battle cry. Which had exactly no effect at all on the birds but did make Roxy glance up at me and roll her eyes.

I was finally able to break up the meeting by slamming my shoe against the slide, but that was in such violation of rule number 3 that I gave up and went back inside.

But these are the sorts of things about fall that keep me going. Truly. What a cool world this is - with roaming packs of birds that can make acorn rain, with cold air that makes my toes tingle, with leaves that crunch as Roxy and I wander the yard. These seasons - this rhythm that covers life and death in an endless circle - this is my spiritual core.

Monday, October 09, 2006

patched up

A quick hello and a catchup...

Our computer crashed big time this weekend. Big. Time.
DH has been toiling for 3 days, trying to recover files and reinstall windows. (He's no dummy at hardware/software, so this is not a good sign). I'm currently using DH's laptop on our internet connection to satisfy my internet needs.

So as a result, I owe several of you emails, but no longer have your email addresses. So please forgive me.

Update on my MIL - as far as I know, things are much much better than we had feared. Doc didn't think the lump in her neck was cancerous after all, and spot on her lungs is probably scar tissue. More testing is going to happen, but we are cautiously optimistic now. She is still really sick though, with rheumatoid arthritis. But IMO, that is not as scary as what we had been fearing. Ah, that roller coaster we call life.

Last few days have been, oh, let's say STRESSFUL. I'm dealing with PTA drama crap out the wazoo (basically, a bunch of grown ups acting like middle schoolers). Oddly enough, I have ended up in the role of the level-headed one that everyone seems to be looking to do bring us back around in the right direction. You KNOW things are majorly screwed up if that's the case. Ack.

So this isn't much of a post, but I'm working on half a cylinder right now. (I'm also tethered at the hip to Roxy -literally- as part of my exasperation with housebreaking, but that's really doesn't have much to do with what I was writing. Just wanted to share. We are together 100% of the time that we are both awake in the house. It is driving us both crazy. But I have reached the point where I will make her become fully housebroken simply via sheer willpower. Do. Not. Cross. Me.)

More later, hopefully from my own computer. Sigh.