Thursday, August 27, 2009

My biggest peeve (lately)

Fine. You can feel free to disagree with me if you want, but I'm just gonna let you know right now that you're wrong.

I've just returned to the US after living abroad for seven years, and I am appalled by the sight of so many people -- so many people -- talking on mobile phones while driving. Every other person, it seems, has their cell phone pasted to the ear, yakking it up. I mean really, what the hell is so important that you can't wait 1 minute and pull over to talk?

You always know the ones who are talking. They're weaving a little, looking in the mirror and picking at their teeth while yammering away. Taking all turns at 3.5 mph because they're steering and holding the phone and probably turning the radio down all at the same time. Unable to change lanes in a sensible way because they're actually visualising a spreadsheet in their heads while talking to some colleague about "those changes in column 7? -- it needs to be re-totaled with the new variables included!" Or talking to a best friend about what color to paint the hallway. Or blabbing about something else, equally mission-critical and totally life-changing.

What the hell is wrong with these people?

And they never think their driving is a problem. Like drunks who stagger out to their cars, stabbing keys multiple times at the door locks, they're "fine." "Oh, I'm a good driver! I really pay attention. I don't think my driving's altered at all." All that stuff about driving extra slow and delayed reaction times and poor assessment of risk? "Not me, buddy!"

I don't care if they're using hands-free technology or those dorky-looking bluetooth things or whatever. Studies have shown that you're many times more likely to have an accident when talking on the phone in the car. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

The driver’s primary responsibility is to operate the vehicle safely. This requires undivided attention and focus on the driving task.

Using wireless communications devices while driving can be distracting and increase the risk of crash and injury. Therefore, NHTSA recommends that drivers not use these devices while driving, except in [an] emergency. This recommendation applies to both hand-held and hands-free devices.

A New York Times article gives background on this study, which is one of many over the last several years. Numerous countries and US states have banned or severely restricted cell phone usage based on accident studies. And texting while driving? Please. Or rather, please don't.

This video went viral over the internet during the last several days, and for a reason. While horrible and graphic, it also shows what disasters can occur when cell phones and driving mix.

[Warning: Graphic and violent visuals]

You don't want to be these people. You really don't. Like drinking and driving, cell phone use while driving is irresponsible and just plain wrong. Just like alcohol or drugs, cell phone usage causes you to be significantly impaired if you use a mobile phone while behind the wheel.

Get it through your head: Just shut up and drive.

UPDATE: check it out...

Mission Accomplished

original art by Ally of Today is My Birthday!


You've all been waiting with baited breathe bated breath, I know, to hear about what's been happening over here at my house. Specifically with regard to... the dissertation.

After about 3 weeks of non-stop writing, researching, editing, reviewing, revising, and proofreading -- every spare moment spent thinking about "museum communities," "adult aesthetic education," "change management in arts organisations," and similarly riveting topics -- the thing is finally DONE! Sixty-nine pages, including bibliography and appendices, and my house is a mess! Poor Mr D. He's such a neatnik, and he just closed his eyes for the last few days weeks whole summer and soldiered on, weaving his way around laptop accessories on desks, opened books on chairs, scribbled upon drafts on every flat surface, and days-old cups of cold coffee lingering about. What a mec!

So I sent the thing off, pdf style, on Tuesday at noon. It's to be hard-bound and submitted to the Museum Studies Department at the University of Leicester. Yay for me! Six months five months three months 5 or 6 weeks of concentrated study. And bizarrely, I managed to turn it in a full 13 days before the due date. Impossible? You heard it here first.

But before I sent it off, I had my saint of a sister proofread it for me. Even though she only has one kidney, her proofreading skills remain intact. Who knew how "discernible" was really spelled? Do commas go inside or outside of quotation marks? Do footnote numbers go before or after full stops? Are article titles in quotation marks or italicised? Are the volume and number of a periodical italicised too? Or not? Yawn. I know. This is why she's a saint and I'm a ... tired graduate student.

Then there's the whole British English/American English spelling thing, which seems like a lark until you are spelling it "flavour" and feeling all posh and hoity-toity, and then you find you have to spell things like "programme" and "organise" and "analyse" and it's not so much fun after all.

Consistency ≠ expateek

So anyhoo, we're done. And when I say "we," I mean me and my husband and my children and my parents and my sister and her partner and my friends here in town and all the people I badgered with phone calls for interviews and probably the postman/lady and the people who I owe money to but have forgotten to pay and maybe ComEd and the gas company now that I think of it and oh gosh.

Who else? Anybody else out there needing acknowledgement*? Because that's another word that is just feckin' difficult to spell!

* Don't even start. It's spelled both with and without an "e."**

**And I still think punctuation inside quotations marks looks silly.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Comment FAIL

Okay, I was getting all bummed out. You know, no comments and stuff. Thinking, gah, here I've flippin' bored everyone to death with posts about homeschooling and vomit and blah blah blah.

Maybe everyone is sick of me. Maybe they forgot I even exist.

Maybe they aren't paying any attention and I'm disappearing into a black hole that is the internetz.......


Existential angst! It's all over! Kill me now!

But then, just now, when I was just talking to Aphrodite (the now 21-year-old vomit-carpet-bomber) she commented about her comments. I was all, "Hell, no one comments on my blog at all any more! Not even you!"

She assured me that she most definitely did, and I had a sneaking suspicion... Remember the other day when Mr. CHINESELANGUAGESPAMMER left comments all over my blog? Yeah, I turned on comment moderation. But neglected to put in a notifying email address, so all the comments were hung up out there in cyberspace, waiting for approval, without letting me know they were there. They might have waited FOREVER. Good Lord! And I would have continued feeling all huffy and you all would have been all insulted, and it would have been a blogging disaster!

Thanks for all the wonderful comments, guys. Now I'm off to read through them over and over again, until I have them all memorized and I've worked all my giggles out. xxx!


I hate surprises, but I hate suspense even more

Years of navigating the treacherous shoals of motherhood have given me a serious case of the nerves. Expecting the unexpected? It's all in a day's work for a parent, and to be honest, I've come to hate it.

You think everything is cooking along just fine: laundry's drying on the line, dinner's simmering on the stovetop, radio's playing your favorite song, and then: BAM!

"Mom! MOM! Aphrodite just threw up all over the livingroom carpet! MOM! Come here quick!"

See what I mean? It's awful. So much for those dinner plans. You're scrubbing vomit out of ancient Berber wall-to-wall, all the while knowing that this is just the beginning. Stomach flu has a way of traveling like lightning through a family of 6.

So the suspense! The suspense could kill ya! Who's next? When and where? What kinds of containment policies do we enact, effective immediately? Throw-up buckets distributed throughout the house? Draconian hand-washing policies? Child isolation tactics? The mother's brain immediately shifts into overdrive, formulating and reformulating plans of action, all the while knowing that resistance is most probably futile, and that the next few days are going to be a living, breathing (or holding-one's-breath) Hell.

I've been noticing over the last few years that my tolerance for suspense has diminished dramatically. So dramatically, in fact, that I have no tolerance for suspense at all. None. Perhaps it dates back to the robbery in Johannesburg, but I think it started before that. Years of mini-traumas having to do with vomit on carpet, lost school-outing permission slips, and teenaged temper tantrums have rubbed my nerves down to their last raw end.

Detective stories? Fifty pages into it, and I'm reading the last chapter because I can't stand the suspense. Who the heck did it? I can't STAND this!

Movies? No way. We watched Valkyrie with Tom Cruise on pay-per-view the other night (I know, don't ask, I didn't choose it) and in spite of Cruise's calm demeanor throughout, I was squirming in my seat after 20 minutes and had to eventually leave the room. Could have been Tom Cruise's wooden acting too, but mainly it was the soundtrack that got to me.

Every. Single. Second. Ominous music. More ominous-er now. Even more ominous. And damn, he's just raising one eyebrow in a meeting with Nazi officers. What will happen when he raises both eyebrows? God, I feel sick with anxiety! Time to leave the room and do some crack cocaine play Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.

To prove what a wimp I am, I only need describe my behavior during Robert Downey Jr.'s The Ironman. I watched it with 23-year old Tarquin and his friend. Despite the deliciously calming effect of RDjr's chocolatey brown eyes, I was whimpering within 10 minutes. "Oh! No! Tarq! What's happening next? Are they going to be okay? Tarq!! TARQ!!! Ooooo, I can't stand it! Oh no! Don't go in there! No! No don't! Oh no, he went in! Oh, oooo! AAAAAH! Oh NO!!! What happened? Is he going to live? OMG!"

Tarquin was rolling his eyes, laughing. "This movie's PG-13, Ma! Calm down! Do you want me to tell you how it ends so you can relax?"

In case you're wondering, the movie is described as "Rated PG-13, for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content." Maybe I need more suggestive content and less action and violence. I think this pretty much puts everything except G-rated movies off the table. Next pay-per-view? Pixar's Ratatouille or Wall-E.

Although having just read the plot summary for Ratatouille, I'm already concerned:

"Remy is a rat, constantly risking his life in an expensive French restaurant because of his love of good food..."

This might still end up being too much suspense for me. I think I'd be better off knitting.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Homeschooling, again?

Yeah, just so you know, we weren't that kind of homeschoolers.

What kind? Oh you know what kind I mean. The families with 15 children -- all the boys dressed in matching khakis and polos, all the girls in hand-sewn, modest frocks. The kind where the dad attends PromiseKeepers workshops on the weekends and the mom bakes pies for the church bake sale while supervising a home spelling bee and doing 4 loads of laundry, all at the same time. I suppose all those things might be good for some people, but none of it appealed to us.

No, we were a bit on the lackadaisical side. We wanted to make sure that there was room to enjoy life, make music, read, and spend time together as a family.

Also, we needed to make sure that eldest son had enough opportunities to dress up as Sherlock Holmes.

Because public school kids just aren't tolerant of sartorial quirks. Black t-shirt, nose rings and eyeliner? Sure. Homemade cape and detective chapeau? Not so much.

He did grow out of this phase after about a year. The library ladies and the grocery store clerks missed it when he finally transitioned toward a regular wardrobe. And we didn't have to worry about catching his cape edges in the minivan door either, which was a blessing.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Homeschooler success story

Because I'm all preoccupied with my own schoolwork, here's a quick video showcasing my oldest son's fabulous piano skillz. In case you're wondering, the sheet music on the piano has no relation whatsoever to what he's playing. All the notes come straight out of his clever big noggin.

Years of piano lessons = misspent youth.

Homeschooling for 8 years = plenty of time to fool around on the piano.

And I'll let you know when I learn to hold the videocam correctly.

Vertical orientation=fail.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Damn poor service here, miss

You'd think, as the daughter of two academics, I'd be the kind who whips out term papers and essays and dissertations with nary a whisper of moaning or complaint. You'd think my papers would get written before I even started writing. I'd be the one from your tutorial that you hated, the one who'd sit down at her laptop, typing out "the whole thing", whatever that might be, start to finish: 15,000 words, 10 hours flat. Then I'd be the one standing up, saying, "There's that, then. I need a cuppa tea."

T'aint so. I'm working on a Master's Degree dissertation, and the words are coming slowly, so slowly. It's like watching a glacier melt. (Quicker now that we've got global warming, but still not particularly inspiring.) And I can't allow myself to do anything else until this blasted thing is finished. So there's not much movement over at my place. Next summer I plan to go outside once or twice. The Vitamin D loss here is worrying.

My slowness? It's something related to perfectionism. I want this thing to be perfect. And I'm terrified that it won't be. Funny, I once (ill-advisedly) wrote a paper for someone else. He was doing a degree in an osteopathic program, but he couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. He begged me, "C'mon, it'll just be a piss-up for you. You can do this sh** in your sleep." True. I wrote the paper for him in an afternoon, knowing nothing about osteopathy other than what I could find on Wikipedia and in a couple of anatomy books, and got two A's and a B on it. Hmmm. I might be a wonderful writer, but you definitely don't want to come see me with any of your medical problems. (You probably don't want to see him either, as I think he washed out.) But it was so easy to write that osteopathy paper, because I knew the tutor's opinion wasn't going to mean anything to me. There was no possibility that I might disappoint.

But now? I'm working on a project I love, about something I've been studying for 3 years, and have been interested in my whole life. And it's just soooooooo slowwwwwww.

I so much want to be finished with this dissertation. I want to drop it in the post and bid it adieu.

Readers: Anyone have any tips, tricks for fooling oneself into writing more, better, faster?