Friday, December 31, 2010

Trivial tidbits, New Year's Eve edition

Get out your pointy, rubber chin-strapped, party hat.  Warm up your paper blow horn.  Dust off your dancing shoes.

It's New Year's Eve!

Regardless of how you celebrate:  watching the ball drop in Times Square (or from your couch), partaking in all you can eat and drink offers at a local bar, or staying safe at home, surrounded by friends and loved ones (or completely alone), odds are you will end the evening with a toast and a kiss and a song.  More precisely, this song:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

In honor of acquaintances, old and new, I bring you today's trivia:

Who wrote the 10-stanza poem from which the above verses are drawn?

And today's bonus trivia:  Which Young Guns movie includes a scene where the boys return home from a New Year's Eve celebration to find one of their own murdered?

I will drink two tequila rose shots in honor of the winner of today's trivia questions.  Good luck! 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Any other name

Braden and I saw Gulliver's Travels starring Jack Black with some friends this week.  All-in-all, the movie was good.  Of course, it took poetic (and oftentimes dramatic) license to the novel written by Jonathan Swift in 1726, but Swift may very well have appreciated Black's unique flair.

What bothered me about the movie was the leading lady's name:  Darcy Silverman.  Each time another character spoke her name, it caught me off-guard.  Because Darcy is rather unique, it is always odd to hear it used frequently in public places by someone other than my family and friends directing it toward someone other than myself.  In my life, I have known one other real Darcy; we worked together in college and have invariably lost track of each other since the employment ended oh so many years ago.  I occasionally hear tales of "a Darcy I knew in high school" when people learn my name, which further supports how unique it is to be named Darcy.  (I hardly imagine that Sarahs are often met with a similar response.  After all, who didn't know a Sarah in high school.)  Literary Darcys don't bother me so much.  Maybe this is because it is common for me to see my name written, but hearing it repeated in movies and television shows is odd.

And so I wonder, does anyone else feel this way or am I alone in this peculiar trait?

(And yes, I am aware of the name theme of the past few blogs.  That's just what's on my mind right now.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The TBR Dare

My friend C.B at Ready When You Are, C.B. has challenged his followers to a reading dare to start the new year.  It's a non-threatening resolution, of sorts.  No grueling counting of calories consumed or burned.  No daily search for inner peace and acceptance.  No unattainable goals of any kind.  Instead, you simply read.  Confused?  Seek out the details here.  But I'm all in.  You should be, too.

Trivial tidbits, week eleven

My parents named me after Darcy Farrow, the tragic heroine of a John Denver song by the same name.  My brother after William B. Travis, commander of the regulars who defended the Alamo against Santa Anna.  My sister's name was a favorite from the dictionary.

I don't know about other parents, but I felt a lot of pressure when it came to naming my son.  Everyone, even strangers, rang in with their favorite suggestions.  His middle name, Samuel, was known with certainty.  Finding a first name that was unique, yet not bizarre, fitting of a future Senator or musician, equally masculine and poetic, that flowed with Samuel Cearley, proved more difficult.  Momentarily driven by a family pattern connected to the alphabet, Braden was almost Eldridge or Eli.  Eldridge lost out when my mom suggested we call him Ridge for short.  (I've always believed that you name your child what you wish him to be called, not something you later morph into a nickname.  I believe I subconsciously learned this from my step-mom, whose kids are Mandy and John, not Amanda and Jonathon.)  Eli haunted me because of a former student with the same name.  Being a teacher further plagued the naming process because every name associated itself with another experience.  However, I decided to twist the teacher-name association situation into a positive one for naming my son.  After much creative thinking, I constructed Braden, who is named after Ben, Rashad, Aaron, Dusty, and Stephen respectively.  These students embody the very qualities I want in my son as he reaches his teenage years (and further into adulthood).  While we have encountered several boys named Braden since his birth, only one other shares his spelling, and I am certain none came by their name as uniquely as Braden Samuel Cearley.

In honor of naming rituals (and as a belated holiday blog), I bring you today's trivia:

What other names were considered for the red-nosed reindeer before his parents settled on Rudolph?

The winner of today's trivia challenge gets to listen to Braden play "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on the piano.

And if you're willing, share your naming story with me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week ten

My new guilty pleasure:  The Sing Off

I know this confession makes my friend Mr. Brame cringe, but I cannot help it.  The Sing Off compliments my Glee obsession, filling my heart with song.

In a world of reality shows where human nature displays its ugliness in shiny glory, and backstabbing, betrayal, and brutality defeat simplicity, sincerity, and sensibility, The Sing Off is refreshing.  The competition entails a cappella groups, mostly comprised of relative unknowns (not has-been performers like Dancing With the Stars), competing for the title of "The Best Music Group in the World" (or something equally hyperbolic) and a recording contract with Sony records.  The competition is brief, lasting only four weeks, but Braden and I watch the performances with racing hearts, rooting for our favorites, invigorated by the talent.  Braden aspires to sing a cappella in college like the Whiffenpoofs and On the Rocks; I wonder why I let my voice go.  (Not that I was ever truly a talented singer, but a girl can dream.)

My favorite group:  the Whiffenpoofs.  Why?  Because of their adorably geeky, unique style.  Sadly, this a cappella group, which hails from Yale, was eliminated last night. On the first episode, one member of the Whiffenpoofs claimed that the original Whiffenpoofs, established in 1909, "created a cappella".  (I believe he intended to say they started collegiate a cappella, but this is pure assumption on my part.)  Piqued about the origin of collegiate a cappella, I decided to research the plausibility of this claim.

During my investigation, I discovered that the Whiffenpoofs were not the first collegiate a cappella group; however, they are the longest running.  I also unearthed lots of juicy details about collegiate a cappella from Harvard to Berkley.  In celebration of musical geekiness, I bring you today's trivia:

Which college is home to the first all-female collegiate a cappella group?

 The winner of today's trivia gets to hear me sing!  Good luck!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reasons to love Missouri, part one

My brother loves Missouri--not just the people, but the actual territory that its people occupy.  It's a deep-rooted allegiance nearly impossible to describe in words, especially by someone such as myself who cannot understand such unconditional devotion to an inanimate object unable to return the affection.

If I were to vest Georgia the state against Missouri the state, Georgia's windless, red-clayed, pine tree-lined Southern charm wins hands down.  (I can hear Travis' exacerbated grumbles even as I type.) 

If I were to vest Georgia's people against Missouri's people, I am at a near draw.  I spent ten years in Georgia building relationships and memories with its people--relationships more formidable than a Missouri winter--and while the majority of those people are not joined to me by a DNA double helix, they are family to me.  However, I would not be back in Missouri--a state I am not sure I love--if not for the love of my brother (and the others too numerous to name).  This nudges Missouri slightly ahead in the tally.

Although I returned to the state of my youth to return to the fold,  I am in constant search of reasons for liking Missouri other than familial comfort.  One such reason presented itself to me on a recent episode of "Modern Family," a television comedy that actually makes me laugh.
Missouri's much more cosmopolitan than you give it credit for.  It's got a vibrant cowboy poetry scene.

And so, as I continue my search for reasons to love Missouri, I wonder if I have the voice for cowboy poetry?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week nine

Apple pie.  Baseball.  The Stars and Stripes.  Oh yes, these things are pseudonymous with America.  But do you know what's more American than these?

Grilled cheese.

Seriously, who doesn't love grilled cheese?  If McCarthy were still investigating Communist behavior, disliking grilled cheese might be seen as suspicious.  Plus, the numbers don't lie.  According to a NY-based research firm, 2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches are consumed annually in America alone.  Imagine the total world-wide?

Braden and I had grilled cheese for dinner tonight, hence the inspiration for this trivial tidbit.  His, white bread and American cheese, a standard for purists like him; mine, American and provel on 7-grain, my version of gourmet; both, meltiness that reminded me of my youth.  Last Sunday afternoon,  my mom made my sister and I grilled cheese for lunch.  It was the first grilled cheese she had made for me since I don't remember when; yet eating it, burnt edges and all, I felt 8 years-old again.

Add a bowl of tomato soup (and when possible a chilled American brew) and leave the worries of the day behind.

In New Haven, Connecticut, The Caseus Cheese Truck serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to students at Yale.  On the one occasion my Chaucerian Elizabeth and I found its location, a line of people gathered and waited in the rain for their unique twists on mom's old stand-by.  It was well worth the wait, soggy shoes and all.  (In my next life, the one where I have disposable income, I will own a cheese truck.  Don't live near New Haven, but want to eat cheese grilled in a truck?  No need to despair, you can also find grilled cheese trucks in Boston, Portland, and Chicago.)

And if you're truly crazy for the gooey deliciousness, consider attending the Grilled Cheese Invitational held every April in L.A.

But what I really want to know, however, is who do we have to thank for this slice of Americana?  Who invented the grilled cheese sandwich as we know--and love--it today?

The winner of today's Trivial Tidbit gets to make me a grilled cheese sandwich.  Good luck!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Home Sweet Home

According to the tenant living in my house in Georgia, I have squirrels in my attic.  When I learned of this, my mind quickly starting singing "Squirrels in my Pants," a fun little ditty sung by Candace, Phineas and Ferb's distrusting big sister, that always makes Braden laugh.  (This, sadly, is one of the hazards of motherhood.  Confused by this reference?  Read this blog for clarification)  After that, I excitedly decided that the squirrels were a sign that a trip to Georgia was in order.  (Not that I wasn't already planning a trip to Georgia, but the squirrels provided an excuse that seemed less selfish than "I need a best friend fix.")

So David Tatum, squirrel catcher extraordinaire, and I went to my house yesterday to assess the situation.  Either my attic is home to Georgia's cleanest squirrels or the scampering steps heard by my tenant truly come from the roof because David saw no sign of the squirrels up there.  He set a trap just to be safe, but I am optimistic that no critters will be captured.  And should the tenant call again with reports of squirrels, I may decide to hire a trained professional rather than go back to the house myself because there is little I've experienced of late that is more unnerving than seeing my home filled with someone else's possessions.

I purchased my house in Georgia five years ago.  A three bedroom, two bath Cape Cod with wrap-around porch, it symbolized my true immersion into adulthood and a home where my son and I could build our future.  After viewing nearly twenty homes, I knew immediately that this was the one.  The selling points:  fenced-in back yard, garden tub, and beautiful accent wall complete with fireplace in the living room (to name a few).  When I bought it, I never imagined Braden wouldn't spend his teenage years there.  Yet here I am, five years and 750 miles later, no longer able to call it home sweet home.

From the outside, it looked the same as when it receded from my rear view mirror in June.  (Okay, that's not entirely true given that my hydrangeas were in full bloom when I left, but dramatic license seems necessary here.)  But when I crossed the threshold into the living room, the romance faded.  Gone were the piano and overstuffed couches; gone were the kitchen table and chairs I found for a steal on Craig's List; gone were the pictures that lined the stairway wall from floor to ceiling; gone was the laughter of my son.

Even though the belongings that fill the duplex I currently rent in Missouri are the very same ones from my home in Georgia, the building itself doesn't feel like home.  The laughter and the music are the same, but my heart is not yet connected.  I know that it will take time to feel at home again in the state of my youth, and I am optimistic that this emotionality will eventually blossom, but coming back to my home in Georgia pulled at my heartstrings more than I expected.

And so, I return to Missouri today nostalgic for a home sweet home to call my own and cognisant that, as long as I continue to make decisions with my son's future at heart, we will be home wherever I hear his laughter.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When I grow up, part two

I knew with certainty at a very young age that I wanted, possibly even needed, to be a mom someday.  In my girlish fantasy, my home echoed with laughter and fighting of a child and his siblings--four youngsters in total--while my husband and I prepared dinner and alleviated the worries of our children with a smile and a hug.

Oh, the naivete' of childhood.

I have been a single mom since the beginning of my pregnancy; yet even after 8 years, I find myself continually surprised by the closed-minded, often judgmental responses people give when learning this.  First, they assume I am divorced.  When they discover that I've never been married, they presume the worst about my moral fortitude.  (No one has ever done this verbally, but such assumption is easily read on one's face.)  When learning that my son's father and I conscientiously and maturely decided that marriage was not the solution to our parenting situation, the conversation becomes slightly uncomfortable.  When I announce that my son's father, step-mom, and I get along quite well given our unique parenting roles, brows raise in perplexed confusion.  And when I explain my views about single motherhood being a part of God's plan for my life, they run for the holy water.

Those who know me well know that I believe in God, but that my faith is in many ways cumulus--both well-defined and fuzzy, much like the clouds of the same nature.  This is not to say I am a fair-weather fan, a believer only when it works for me; instead, my faith is mine--a private matter for the most part--that I do not feel comfortable discussing at great length with most people, mainly because my views on God's role in our lives is often controversial to Christians more devout than I.

I inherently believe that being a single mother is part of my path, destiny (or whatever you choose to call it) that God set out for me.  If I had waited for society's definition of the ideal family structure--living happily-ever-after with the Prince Charming from my childhood vision--to become a mom, I would still be waiting for that glass slipper.  Of course, I understand the science behind my son's creation (and give that science its due for its role), but I also know that His blessing came sublimely into my life, giving me hope and faith in something more.  His plan for me, as His plans always do, tempered mine, quieting my longing for a family of my own.  His plan for me, as His plans always do, brought me the endless joy (and frequent headaches) of motherhood.  His plan for me made me me.

And so, when I grow up, I want to be a mother.  My home will echo with the laughter of a son and I will alleviate his worries with a smile and a hug.  I will relish in the naivete' of childhood, knowing that when I grow up, I will be whole.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When I grow up, part one

Pro skateboarder (or X gamer) like Tony Hawk.  A pianist like Billy Joel and Ben Folds.  A base and electric guitarist.  A teacher.  An Olympic swimmer better than Michael Phelps.  A magician.  A special agent for NCIS (but a real one, not an actor like Michael Weatherly).  A soldier in the Navy.  President of the United States.  An inventor like Phineas and Ferb.  A singer, dancer, and song writer like Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

Aside from magician, this list of things Braden wants to be when he grows-up are consistent with his talents and interests.  With the exception of a newly discovered love of skateboarding, Braden has long voiced his interest in these careers.  (Yes, he's only 8, but he's wanted to be President of the United States since he was 4.)  The shows we watch on television, the books we read, and the vacations we take are often influenced by these pursuits.  As his mom, I don't see these announcements for his future as fleeting fancies and eagerly await his future, grown-up job.

But his varied interests prompted me to reflect on my childhood aspirations for "when I grow-up".  As far back as my memory serves, I have wanted to be two things:  a teacher and a mom.  No bold decrees about my future as a fighter pilot or aerospace engineer; instead, my desires to teach and mother stood simple, solid, and resolute.  Aside from a shift from early childhood education to secondary English education and a current longing to get my doctorate and move from high school teacher to college professor, my vision has remained steadfast.

However, Braden's battery of options and hopes and talents made me question myself.  What does it say about me that I've only had two career aspirations during my life, even during my childhood days when my imagination could have encouraged anything?  In search of the answer to this question, I did what every self-respecting 35 year-old woman does--I called my mom.  My mom, like moms are supposed to, alleviated my worry:

"Knowing so certainly what you wanted is a gift," she said.  "Many people spend years finding their niche.  You were fortunate to know and to heed it.  I always wanted to teach, too, but people told me I was too smart, that I should be a lawyer or a doctor or something else.  And believing that, that I was too smart to be a teacher, led me down the wrong path for many years.  Smart people can be teachers, should be teachers--people like you and Travis [my brother] and me.  And for the really good teachers, the ones who do it right, it's the hardest job a person can have.  It's perfectly okay that it's all you ever wanted."

And so, when I grow-up, I want to be a teacher, just like my mom and my brother and both of my dads and Stephanie Tatum and my Chaucerians (and a long list of other smart people I know who are teachers).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week eight

Mr. Jones.  Rain King.  Round Here.  A Murder of One.

These hits propelled The Counting Crows from relative obscurity to top twenty ranking on multiple Billboard charts in 1993 and 1994.  August and Everything After, one of the few albums I can listen to from start to finish without tapping the fast-forward button on my iPhone, spoke to my poetic, optimistically melancholy spirit.  Song after song, lyric after lyric, I devoured every allusion, every minor chord, every whimsical statement and in the process blossomed my love affair with The Counting Crows.  And Adam Duritz.

Adam Duritz.  This is no accidental love.  Adam Duritz fashions language in a manner that makes this wannabe writer envious.  The populace knows the lyrics to the hits above and A Long December, but Duritz's true magic unfolds in lesser known songs.  Sullivan Street.  St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream.  Holiday in Spain.  We're Only Love.  Color Blind.  Within these ballads (primarily), Duritz illuminates love and lust and longing and loss with hues of blue and gray and yellow as reflected in lighted mirrors and billowing clouds in a style reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  But the most beautiful song in the entire Counting Crows' library:  Anna Begins.

I cannot divulge much about why I adore Anna Begins without ruining today's trivial tidbit, but in my opinion, Anna Begins embodies unconditional love better than any song.  The speaker struggles to accept the love before him, for fear of giving up too much, for uncertainty of reciprocation, for all the reasons we all hesitate to love.  But then his love does something simple, a slight gesture, a common behavior, and he knows that this is love.  So what is it?  What does she do to solidify his love?

Braden, maybe 6 months old, with my other great love

The winner of today's trivia gets 99 cents to download Anna Begins from iTunes.  Good luck!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Please come again

Several years ago Braden and I started a tradition fondly titled Doughnut Friday.  Doughnut Friday was born in celebration of Braden's first green week during Kindergarten.  (For those of you not immersed in elementary school behavioral strategies, students are monitored like a traffic signal in steps of green, yellow, and red.  Braden, who is a chatty, know-it-all, busy-body--traits that obviously don't come from his mother's DNA--lives on yellow.  In hopes of positively reinforcing green week behavior, we established Doughnut Friday.  As he has gotten older, Doughnut Friday has transitioned from a celebration dependent upon school behavior--primarily because Doughnut Friday would have been short-lived if based solely upon being green--to a mommy and son custom.)

When we lived in Georgia, we got our doughnuts at Publix.  Braden's order:  two doughnuts, usually covered in chocolate icing, occasionally with sprinkles, and a chocolate milk; mine: a Starbuck's mocha frappuccino (bottled).  Here in Missouri, the doughnut selection at Mosher's is not as appetizing so Doughnut Friday became McDonald's Friday.  (Yep, McDonald's trumped Mosher's doughnuts.  However, this week we discovered the doughnuts at Casey's General Store; Doughnut Friday returns in all of its splendor.)

Three weeks ago, when we drove through McDonald's for breakfast, we pulled to the window to learn that the credit card machine was down.  Upon learning that I had no cash--I never carry cash--the manager allowed us to leave with our breakfast, requesting that I return at a later date to settle the $14.00 tab.  (Yep, you read that correctly--$14.00.  Braden eats two sausage McGriddle meals by himself.  Food purchases are the only thing that make me long for a daughter.  Feeding a growing boy is expensive.)

Today I returned to McDonald's to take care of my much delinquent bill.  When I explained my situation to the manager, not the manager on duty that morning, she kindly and discretely slid my card back across the counter to me.  "Thank you for your honesty, but there's no need to worry about the bill.  Have a fabulous weekend."  I must have looked painfully perplexed for she nodded me toward the door with another, "Really.  You can leave."

Indeed I plan to have a fabulous weekend.  I hope you do, too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dear Mrs. (Bad) Manners:

At my previous school, teachers were assigned parking spots based primarily on seniority.  During my final year there, the administrative staff decided to assign teachers slots in a lot behind the building in hopes of keeping teacher automobiles safe from student vandalism and theft.  While I sincerely had no issue with these assignments, many of my colleagues felt gravely injusticed by this action, a complaint I understood even though I did not support it.  From this minor issue grew a grave rift between teachers and administrators.

At my current school, teachers park where they wish on a first-come, first-served basis.  This flex parking does raise the blood pressure a bit on days when one is running late for work, but it also assures that you never have to contact the office in complaint of someone violating parking assignments.  I can select my parking based on weather and attire, moving closer to the building on days when my feet hurt or further away on days that I need to beat the traffic out of the lot.  All-in-all, it's a positive situation.  My sole complaint with the free-for-all parking philosophy is directed at one teacher--Mrs. Blue Minivan.

Mrs. Blue Minivan parks on the left-hand curb each day.  Instead of pulling all the way forward, leaving room for Ms. Red Fusion and Mr. Brown VW Van to pull up behind her on the curb, Mrs. Minivan parks in the back slot of the curb space that should be able to hold three vehicles.  Most days, Mrs. Blue Minivan's rudeness is followed by that of Ms. Silver CRV who follows Minivan's lack of parking etiquette by pulling up to the curb two car lengths in front of the minivan.  These mirroring acts of selfishness leave one open spot against the curb--a spot sandwiched between them that requires left-hand parallel parking finesse, a skill that most drivers cannot perfect when rushed by a 7:30 contract start time and a line of parents in the student drop-off lane.

I do not understand why my colleagues lack the modicum of common sense and respect it takes to best utilize the parking for all teachers.  By simply pulling forward 10 feet, two other cars could enjoy the prime location afforded on this left-hand curb.  We have complete control over this situation; yet some never fail to ruin it for others with simple thoughtlessness.

So far, current ranting blog entry aside, I have been quite calm about this situation.  However, I'm starting to wonder if it would be rude to leave a note on Mrs. Blue Minivan's windshield? 


Mildly Irritated Saucy Wench

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week seven

Addiction.  Groups all over the globe devote themselves to aiding people through addiction.  Those who abuse alcohol, narcotics, crystal meth, and even sex can join 12-step programs dedicated to recovery.  And did you know that there is a special group dedicated to Pagans in recovery?  Yep, there's program for nearly every addiction you can name...except for penguins.

When I was a young girl, I went through a phase during which I was obsessed with penguins.  But given that it lasted for over a year (more like ten years to be exact), phase doesn't accurately describe my penguin love.  Thus:  addiction.  My room was adorned from floor to ceiling with the waddling wonders.  Penguin ornaments.  Penguin towels.  Penguin posters.  Penguin figurines.  Stuffed penguins.  Mechanical penguins.  Helium balloon penguins (deflated and preserved in a frame).  Sticker penguins.  Eraser penguins.  I wore penguins on my shirts, socks, and hair ribbons (and even a pair of penguin footy pajamas).  I visited penguins at both the St. Louis Zoo and a zoo in Germany.  One year for my birthday, I even had a penguin cake.

I don't exactly recall when the penguin love dwindled.  Mostly likely it had something to do with the painful realization that high school was horrible enough without the added pressure of being a penguin freak.  Whatever the catalyst, the penguins eventually lost their thrones of adoration in my room.  But my love for penguins still remains in my heart.  I can't help it.  I find them cute and cuddly, just like the catch phrase spouted by Skipper during the title sequence of The Penguins of Madagascar.

One of my least favorite things about being a mom:  kid television.  I take an active role in what Braden can and can't watch on television which means I am way too familiar with the line-ups of Nickelodeon and Disney.  Most of what he is allowed to watch is just sheer annoying, but not questionably inappropriate for kids his age, thus he can watch.  It shames me to admit, however, that I anticipate new episodes of a few of the shows--some of which have been topics of trivial tidbits in previous weeks--just as much as he.

In The Penguins of Madagascar, my second-favorite kid show, I can laugh along as four adorable penguins muddle their way through the episode's conflict (which usually involves stupid lemur King Jullian) under the guise of being skilled spies.  It's just enough penguin to satisfy my craving without sending me off the wagon.  In effort to share a little penguin love with you, I bring you today's trivial tidbit:

What are the names of the four penguins who star in The Penguins of Madagascar?

The winner of today's question will get to see a picture of me taken during the awkward penguin phase, penguin sweatshirt and all!

Good luck! 

p.s.  I do not actually believe I had an addiction to penguins.  I understand that addictions are serious.  This blog is intended for entertainment purposes only.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Karma, please

Divine providence.  Kismet.  The way the cookie crumbles.  Destiny.  Luck.  The way it is written.  The roll of the dice.  Serendipity.  Moirai.  Predestination.  The way the stars align.  Fate.  Chance.  Happenstance.  The way the ball bounces.

Call it what you want.  But known with certainty that it exists.

In recent weeks I have experienced a number of small inconveniences.  Nothing serious or life threatening, thankfully, but the running string of irritating occurrences like broken dishes, unplanned car repairs, and nasty gashes inflicted by a rogue pug, to name a few, led me to contemplate how I had offended the universe and to rectify the wrongs.

Often intensifying the negative, I forget to live efficaciously.  And as a result, the negatives of life burden my soul. After silent reflection.  Supplication.  Entreaty.  Benevolence.  Prayer.  (Call it what you want, but know with certainty that it works.)  My conscious whispered gently to me:  be calm; be thankful; be gracious; be glad; be confident; be tenacious.

Be you.  And all will be right with your world.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week six

I proceed with today's trivial tidbits with trepidation, especially since one of my followers is more loyal to Missouri than almost everything else in the world, but after attending Braden's first Boy Scout meeting, during which the Den leader inaccurately taught the Cub Scouts about Missouri history, I feel it's my duty to forge ahead.

A universally alarming experience of my encounters with residents of Georgia, and other Southern states, during my decade away from this Missouri life was their lack knowledge about their state--its history, its geography, its resources--everything.  Unless the fact related to football or the Confederacy, most Georgians seemed to know very little about their state's role in America's foundation.  And if something happened north of the Mason-Dixon line, it never actually happened.  This is not to imply that people in the South are unintelligent; in actuality, many of the smartest people I have the pleasure of knowing are Southerners.  However, on the whole, they lack depth in their knowledge of state and American history.  In light of this, I bring to you (Missourians, Georgians, and Americans alike), a bit of Missouri history trivia.

Was Missouri a member of the Confederacy or the Union during the Civil War?

The winner of today's trivia challenge wins a postcard of the St. Louis Arch.  Good luck!

Monday, October 11, 2010


One of my goals with this blog:  get published.  Given the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of blogs in the world, I know this goal is ambitious.  None-the-less, publication of my writing motivates these ramblings.

I do not know if being a guest blogger for my friend, C.B James counts as being published, but it works for me at this stage of the game.  C.B. and I met this summer at Yale where we both toiled over Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales.  During our six weeks together, C.B. and I became good friends  and I greatly respect his role as an educator.  (C.B. was also my tour guide through NYC on more than one occasion.  Aside from the unnerving modern art installations at The Whitney, I enjoyed each trip immensely and appreciate C.B.'s knowledge of The Big Apple.)

C.B. blogs about literature, reviewing books that he and his dog, Dakota, read and eat respectively.  A voracious reader, his reviews offer something for every interest.  You should check him out at Ready When You Are, C.B. not only because he asked me to share my experience with Cormier's The Chocolate War in recognition of Banned Books Week (thus making me a pseudo-published author), but mainly because he is an excellent blogger.

Thanks for the opportunity, C.B.!  I'm honored.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The moon over Missouri

For a fleeting moment this evening, somewhere along I-70 between St. Louis and Columbia, the moon over Missouri was reminiscent of a moon one fall night of 1992.  Tonight's moon, a sliver of a crescent, hung lower in the sky than the moon that night, which shone as an ever-fixed mark in full Harvest glory.  No, the moons' similarities don't lie in their silhouette on those two nights.  Instead, the reflection of light which displayed itself in bold hues of orange impress my memory to that fall long ago.  The events of that distant night have been long forgotten, but the impression of that moon has remained a compass to this Missouri life during my years away.  This luminosity is not solely limited to Missouri, but even when fully at home in Georgia, this moon made me think of the state of my youth.  So tonight, as I drove back to Ashland from a day of family celebration, the moon lighted the path of this wandering bark.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week five

My friend Hans started a crusade I would like to share with you.  His cause addresses the face of the nation as we know it.  Literally.

You see, Hans' work raises social awareness of the moustache.  Allow his public service announcement to explain:  
The Mo, slang for moustache, and November come together each year for Movember. Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st clean-shaven and then grow a moustache for the entire month.
Do you want to: Grow luxurious facial hair? Be more sexually appealing? Not shave (as much)? Help raise money for an important issue? Sign up for McGeorge's Glorious Mostaccios and grow a Glorious mustache this November! Just go to to become a champion of this growing cause.

While we were in Connecticut this summer, the Mark Twain House in Hartford held its annual Mark Twain Moustache Party and Contest.  A few of us briefly considered attending, but felt ill-prepared for the soiree.  Donning a fake moustache for one short day in honor of Missouri's shining star was a feasible commitment to make; I am not as comfortable devoting thirty days to the accessory.  However, Hans' passion for this cause is infectious, making it impossible to sit idly by.  So in honor of mostaccios everywhere, I bring you this week's trivial tidbit:

To which Mexican artist does artist Trek Thunder Kelly allude in the above portrait?  Check out Trek Thunder Kelly here:

Today's winner gets a round of Huckleberry Vodka Lemonade, a Twain favorite.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lost and found, part two

I have never been lost between the moon and New York City.  (Though if not for my Yale traveling companions, I would definitely have gotten lost in New York City several times this summer.)  However, I recently realized that I did get lost between the Blue State and the Show-Me State on my journey to this Missouri life.

In the Blue State, I felt challenged and inspired--valued for my academic mettle and roused to go beyond my limitations and comfort merely for scholarly edification.  During the six-week seminar, surrounded by peers (who eventually became friends) of awe-inspiring intellectual giftedness, I wrote, read, researched, planned, and analyzed endlessly.  I absorbed every aesthetic I encountered--art, literature, history--and I thrived intellectually and spiritually.  I found myself in the Blue State.

And then it ended.  And I came home to the Show-Me State--the state of my youth--to begin this Missouri life.  And I got lost.  I have speculation how it happened, how I got lost, but really the story isn't about being lost--it's about being found--so I will leave the catalysts of my losing unnamed and instead focus on the finding. 

Oddly enough, I found myself again in the forward to Stephen King's Night Shift.  While I respect King's talent and voice, he's not an author I turn to for inspiration or beauty in language or character development.  Yet in the forward, his words about why and how he writes, something stirred in me, summoning the zealous spirit I lost when I left the Blue State.  And in those words about words, I found my own.  Some of them, primarily the ones about this Missouri life, will be shared with you here.  As for the rest--well the rest of them are for me.  For now.  But rest assured that they will be used to keep me from getting lost again.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lost and found, part one

I've never excelled at Name that Tune.  Ask my siblings; they'll shake their heads in a low, disappointed manner, indicating just how terrible I am at this game.  My standard answer for all songs from the 70s: CCR; all 80s rap: Run DMC (How could I not go with DMC?); all hair bands: Guns n Roses; all boy bands: *NSync.  Occasionally I surprise even myself and pull out a buried lyric or artist, but on the whole, I suck at this game.  Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that I also hum lyrics incorrectly.  I'm not so inept as to think "there's a bathroom on the right" or that Elton John pays tribute to Tony Danza, but for the past three days, I have been humming the unfathomably terrible lyrics to "Arthur's Song (Best That You Can Do)" incorrectly.  Why in the world does all of this matter?  First off, I'm humming a Christopher Cross song; I may not be a music savant like my siblings, but I know that, despite his multiple Grammy wins, Christopher Cross isn't exactly cool.  (No offense to Cross fans, or Cross himself for that matter.  80s adult contemporary just isn't my thing.)  Plus, my version of the lyrics, "if you get lost between the moon and New York city" served as my inspiration for today's blog; imagine my surprise when I learned that the song actually says "caught" and not "lost."  It's thrown me off my angle a bit, so I'm going to take a day to regroup.  I will be back tomorrow, but while I'm gone, try not to get lost.  Or caught.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week four

Welcome back, trivia fans.  I know you missed me and my riveting game last week, but I was preoccupied with a Dexter marathon in preparation for Sunday's season premier.  In honor of Dexter, and an uproariously funny incident involving Braden and a scrapped knee and a maxi-pad band-aid, I bring you this week's trivia question:

When, and by what company, were the first disposable maxi-pads available in America?

This week's prize:  a year supply of feminine hygiene products.  Good luck!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week three

Braden pulled a loose tooth yesterday before school--his second tooth lost this month.  The tooth fairy, feeling a little strapped by the recent activity, did a little research about tooth loss to see if she needs to seek part-time employment to support this new habit.  In celebration of Braden's two teeth, this week offers two trivia challenges.

How many years does it take most teeth to cycle from first eruption as a baby tooth to final stage of permanent tooth?

This little tooth fairy reminds me of my angel tattoo.

On average, how many baby teeth does a child lose per year? (Braden, being the over-achiever he is, has lost more teeth this month than the average child looses in a year.)

On the upside, Gigi--my mom, who informed me this evening that I earned whatever change was on hand when I lost a tooth as a child--has promised to match whatever the tooth fairy leaves Braden on his next tooth.  Actually, this isn't the upside; even with half of the pot sponsored by an outside source, the tooth fairy would still have to scrounge for $2.50 in order for Braden to earn the average income left by the tooth fairy under each pillow.  (For those of you not following the awkwardly worded word problem, this means the average child earns $5.00 per tooth.  Outrageous!)

If you know the answers to tonight's trivia questions, you will earn $2.50 per question.  Or you can yank out a tooth and wait for the fairy...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

There's no crying during a water gun fight

Shortly before coming in from playing for the night, Braden and several kids in the neighborhood started a water gun fight.  Actually, it wasn't even a fight.  Braden had a large water gun that he refilled several times, allowing four other kids to squirt him until it was empty, making him the only child in soggy shoes for most of the "fight."  Excited squeals echoed off the sides of the carbon-copy duplexes on our street indicating that a good time was being had by all...and then a cry broke through the twilight.

I looked around, assuming that someone had tripped and scraped a knee.  When I noticed Ava kneeling on the sidewalk, I moved closer to see if she was okay.  "I'm not allowed to get my clothes wet," she wailed in agony.  I inspected her shirt, which was a little damp but not drenched and promptly coaxed her back into the giggling mob that was now running down the cul-de-sac away from Braden.  She followed suit, and sprinted down the block...for a moment...and then she crumpled to the ground, sobbing even louder.  Again I sought the source of her anguish, and again she wailed, "I'm not allowed to get my clothes wet."

At this point, I lost my patience for the cute, doe-eyed doll.  While Braden should have considered the other kids before barrelling after them with watery furry, I have a major issue with a child who knows her parents wishes--in this case that she not get her clothes wet--yet actively participates in an activity that defies said wishes.  I understand that she's a child, but she was eagerly and happily involved in the fight when the gun was pointed at Braden, but the moment the tables turned, she became a loud, accusing tattle-tale.  Had that been Braden with the crocodile tears, I would have said to him what I said to her:  "If you know that you are not supposed to get wet, why in the world would you play with the boy with the water gun?"

I know this is harsh, even bitchy, but kids need to be held accountable, even at eight, for their actions.  Yes, Braden was holding the water gun that got Ava wet (and he went to bed early because of his role in the drama), but Ava knew better, as evident in the fact that she cried.

Ava's mom shot me that "how dare you let your child be so cruel" glance as she gathered her up to take her inside.

Oh well, I don't want Braden playing with someone who cries over a damp shirt anyway...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week two

Braden has been sick for the past several days.  It's nothing serious, just some annoying bug that presents with a fever slightly over the "infectious" level and some potty habits not worth discussing.  Some people assume this means I've had a break the past few days; that life is easier with a sick boy than with one that is well.  If only... Unlike most kids (or what I assume to be the case with most kids), Braden's activity level does not decrease as the fever increases.  I do the best I can to subdue him, claiming that too much movement will irritate the fever, but fighting with him about abstract concepts such as how skateboarding can negatively impact his upset stomach takes too much out of me.  Cabin fever set in shortly after the first dose of Children's Advil took hold and we spent five days fighting fever and each other.  The only thing that brought either of us solace:  a Shrek marathon.

There are thousands of gems hidden among the ogre's caustic, but compassionate, quests with Donkey, Puss, and Fiona which lend themselves to trivial trivia.  After all, nearly every movie in the Disney library is alluded to in some fashion in the movies.  However, my favorite moment can be found early in the original when Shrek and Donkey cross the swinging bridge into Dragon's castle.  That scene provides the inspiration for today's trivia.

After crossing the bridge, Shrek pats Donkey on the head and says, "That'll do Donkey; that'll do."  From which movie does this line originate?

I'll check back in 24 hours to see who wins the grand prize: a date with Braden the next time he's sick!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trivial tidbits, week one

During my time in New Haven, CT this summer, I spent every Tuesday night dominating pub trivia with my favorite Chaucerians.  While there are some facets of Yale that I do not miss--91 Howe, EXPLO, modern art installations, the ill-timed ringing of a cell phone--I have noticed a void in my life during these past few trivia-less Tuesdays.  And so, in honor of brain stimulation, I bring you Tuesday trivia.  Trivia on my terms--meaning no obscure questions about which Beatles' song has the fewest words (the answer to which cannot be accurately researched through Wikipedia, just another reason it shouldn't be used as a valid source of information.)  Instead, you'll get questions about whatever seemingly unimportant topic I find important at the time.  I'm excited about sharing my useless information with you.  Without further ado......

Why does Ferb, of Disney's Phineas and Ferb, have a British accent when his brother, Phineas, does not?

Phineas and Ferb is by far the best kids' show on television.  Witt.  Science.  Inventions.  Secret agents.  Twirpy brothers.  Catchy musical interludes.  If you have a child, especially a boy, it's a must.

Actually, it's a must even if you don't have a child.....

Monday, August 30, 2010

The tie that binds

Braden woke this morning and said "I feel like it's a tie kind of day."  Not exactly characteristic of most 8 year-old boys, who tend to prefer action-hero t-shirts over "fancy clothes," but definitely a common occurrence at our house.  An occurrence that makes my heart smile.

Braden's love for ties started when he was quite young, maybe even as little as three.  Some may think he loves ties because of some preference of mine, but this is an interest he acquired and developed independently of my influence, highlighting even more that this energetic boy is his own person.  We shop for ties often--in honor of piano recitals, in preparation for school picture day, in celebration of holidays, in reward of other significant occasions or in mere want of a new tie.  As he has matured, so has his fashion sense.  Ties that clip, adorned with cute  embroidered animals have given way to a more sophisticated array of ties that tie, most cut from a fashionable stripped material.

This morning he wore such a tie.  Red with diagonal blue stripes.  As you can tell from the pic, he needs PaPa Curt to provide him with a refresher course in how to tie it, but you can also see his enthusiasm for his appearance (messy hair and all). (Don't worry, he combed that mop before leaving the house.) When he entered daycare, and one of the teachers commented on his dressiness, he replied, "Thanks.  I tied it myself."  He feels good in a tie--proud and accomplished--and that's more than alright with me.

I think Braden was right.  Today was a tie kind of day.  Here's hoping tomorrow will be, too.

Before Beauty and the Beast, May 2010
Uncle Travis and Aunt Cat's Wedding, July 2009

With Mr. Chris, piano teacher, December 2009

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday night lights

I love football season.  Emphasis on season.  I'm fairly indifferent to football itself.  I enjoy the game enough, preferring high school play where I know the players over college or professional, but I don't have a team (or care if you have a team) over which I would disown my son should he choose to attend school at its rival. 

Football season, on the other hand, makes me smile.   The energy throbbing through a stadium on a Friday night supersedes that of any other sporting venue.  (This is a bold statement coming from a gal who would rather watch baseball or soccer over football any day.)  This is because football season offers something for everyone. The savory smell of tailgating.  The enthusiastic voice of the announcer.  The peppy spirit of the cheerleaders.  The brassy tones of the marching band (and the reverberating cadence of the drum line).  The serious stance of the coaches.  The admired athleticism of the team.  The endless patchwork of team colors, wooing and booing in echoed support of the home team.  These things, and more, make football season my favorite of them all.

Tonight we attended our first home game as Jefferson City Jays.  I have been to more than a few season openers in my time as a teacher and I can safely say that I like the JC football tradition already.  Not only did the Jays walk away with a win against the McCluer North Stars tonight, they also gained two new fans. You might assume that I have to be a fan given that I'm a teacher, but school spirit is not a contractual obligation.  While supporting school programs builds rapport in the classroom, I would have become a Jays' fan tonight regardless of that.  Here are the reasons why:  Central Bank hosted a tailgate for the entire stadium--Stars included--prior to the game, completely free-of-charge.  No catch.  No soliciting.  Just pure community and camaraderie; each person at the game received a t-shirt with "JC Football:  A Family Tradition" on front and the season schedule on back.  Each person.  Not just the first 500 or just the JCPS faculty.  Each person who entered the stadium.  Additionally, the public relations manager for the school district, a person I have met several times since school started 20 days ago (and a person I never met in my previous district) announced the game's action from the press box.  Usually this is the job of a former coach or a high school media personnel, but at JCHS, an employee in central office (a "higher up," if you will) announced.  (And he did it better than that Mike Ditka character, in my opinion.)

So I'm a Jays' fan because of free stuff?  No.  Although I really like free stuff, that's not it.  I'm a Jays' fan because of the emphasis on community at tonight's event.  This team is called the Jefferson City Jays and they carry that name in representation of an entire town.  And tonight the town came out to support their Jays in the band, on the sidelines, and on the field.

Tonight, I felt a little bit at home in this Missouri life.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My favorite things (at Yale)

They may not be raindrops or whiskers, but these are my favorite things from Yale.  (My favorite things from my travels elsewhere will follow later.)

In no particular order:

The Iron Maidenheads, who went by many different team names (Iron Maidenheads was my favorite; Semantic Anarchy led us to victory) over the course of 6 weeks, played trivia every Tuesday night while in New Haven.  Most weeks, I was joined by James, Aaron, Elizabeth, Susannah, and Hans (but Renee and Ann each joined us once) in search of intellectual stimulation unrelated to Chaucer and the Middle Ages.  (Though we were always hopeful for a question about the Peasant Uprising of 1381.)  On our final Tuesday, WE WON FIRST PLACE, dominating the forum and beating the second place team by 50 points.  We can leave New Haven satisfied.  After all:  "There is no substitute for victory."  Douglas MacArthur

At Yale, all of the intersections on campus are set for double-crossing.  Nope, not fancy trickery, but instead the ability to cross the street on the diagonal.  (The picture above is a visual representation of that, not a tribute to The Beatles.)  This convenience makes up for the fact that you cannot make a right turn on red anywhere in New Haven.

This is my classroom.  I spend 9 hours here each week, circled around the table with my classmates, talking about history and literature.  It's just like a scene from Gilmore Girls (except it's real life).  The classroom is in a building called Linsly-Chittenden which is on Old Campus.  The auditorium has beautiful Tiffany windows and a fireplace.  It's surreal.

I shared a picture of the exterior of Sterling Memorial Library in one of my early blogs.  While the architecture is gorgeous (and inspired by a cathedral), it is what lies in the stacks--in the belly of the beast if you will--that draws me in.  The stacks, a labyrinth of knowledge, are intoxicating.  Within these catacombs one finds century-old (or  older) secrets waiting to be discovered.  4 million texts are housed within this maze and I only had 6 weeks to enjoy them.

One day during our second to last week we took a class trip to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library on the Yale campus.  These manuscripts are beautiful beyond explanation.  We viewed a facsimile of the Ellesmere Chaucer (the manuscript that holds the most completely accurate arrangement of The Canterbury Tales), The Siege of Thebes, a text of Arthurian romances, and an indulgence scroll.  (Indulgence scrolls were posted in the Church and provided sinners with specifics on how many "Hail Marys" to recite to reduce their time in Hell after death.)  It was an amazing experience.  And watching Dr. Patterson in this arena was incredible.  He manipulates the fragile texts with ease.  It was equally intimidating and inspiring.

The tintinnabulation of the bells of Harkness Tower in Branford college mesmerized me my first night on campus.  That night I arrived to Yale at the start of the 7:00 pm carillon.  The peeling chimes can be heard for miles, including the block of 91 Howe, and created, for me, personal zen.

The first two photos were taken on High Street, the campus view of Harkness Tower.

Check out information about the Yale Guild of Carillonneurs.  This is where you will find me next summer!

The last two photos were taken inside the courtyards of Branford college.  You get this view on the campus tour or if you live in this residential college as a student.  The residential colleges provide everything the students needs:  dorm sleeping, cafeteria, buttery (snack bar), library, common room, gym, dance studio, music labs, and much more.  There are 12 residential colleges at Yale and students are assigned to them as Freshmen.  It's like Hogwarts without the sorting hat; I would want Branford as vehemently as Harry doesn't want Slytherin.  Get more information about the residential colleges here:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Let's hear it from the boys

In my previous post I discussed the view of Medieval motherhood presented in "How the Good Wife Taught her Daughter," a view that I like despite its trite proverbs and anti-feminist doctrine.  When I "discovered" the poem in my research on motherhood, I learned that it has a mate entitled "How the Wise Man Taught his Son."  The author of this lesson, which is written in prose as opposed to verse, is also unknown, but it is believed that it was published for the first time in 1470.  It does not seem to be written in response to "the Good Wife," but it does share some interesting parallels.  Since it's about parenting, I consider it close enough for my purposes, so I'm going to share it with you.

Like the good wife, the wise man begins his prose to place God before all else; he does not, however, emphasize the importance of tithing.  (He does spend a great deal of time discussing finances later in the prose.)  He keeps with the wife's organization by continuing on to dismissing gossip.  (Gossip is something that has come up time and time again in The Canterbury Tales.  In the Manciple's Tale, a crow meets his end for gossiping.  Usually the tales assert that women talk too much; I won't argue that this is untrue, but obviously men could spin-yarn, too, given the man's advice to his son.)  Both parents now emphasize the elements of countenance, with the man's primary concern being truth.  As truth is a principal theme of The Canterbury Tales, it seems appropriate that the son should learn of its importance.  The man's lesson to his son diverts from the path set by the good wife at this point.  Instead of moving on to marriage, he discusses work.  Seeing as how a woman's work revolved around her mate and her home and a man's would have been outside of it, I can see how these topics, though different on the surface, are the same upon analysis.  The attention given to tavern behaviors is slight, especially in comparison to the wife's, but I already ranted my views on that.  He closes, as does the wife, with details about maintaining the home, though his focus is primarily financial whereas the wife's is functional.

Both pieces identify the role of each gender within their society so I am not bothered in any "I am woman way" by the presentations or implications of each piece.  The "Wise Man" reads a little sexist, in today's voice, but it's appropriate for its Medieval audience.

Plus, the poem about the mother came first.  I think this is evidence of a mother's superiority!

Source:  The Babees' Book.

She's no Rosie the Riveter

In my attempt to understand the role of mothers during the Middle Ages, I frequently encountered a poem entitled "How the Good Wiif Taugte Hir Dougtir" (How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter).  Written by an unknown author, it is believed to have first been published in Codex Ashmole 61:  A Compilation of Popular Middle English Verse in 1430.  (Its authorship is dated nearer the beginning of the 14th Century.)  Touted as a piece of instructional literature or advice text for the Medieval mom, I narrowed my investigation to this piece of poetry in hopes of more clearly defining motherhood.

Seeing as how the poem is over 200 lines long, I've included a few of my favorite stanzas:
(Good luck with the Middle English!)

Be fayre of semblant, my der doughter;
Change not thi countenans with grete laughter,
And wyse of maneres loke thou be gode.
Ne for no tayle change thi mode,
Ne fare not as thou a gyglot were,
Ne laughe thou not lowd, be thou therof sore.
Luke thou also gape not to wyde,
For anything that may betyde.
Suete of speche loke that thow be,
Trow in worde and dede — lerne this of me.
Loke thou fle synne, vilony, and blame,
And se ther be no man that seys thee any schame.

Now I have taught thee, my dere doughter,
The same techynge I hade of my modour.
Thinke theron both nyght and dey,
Forgette them not if that thou may.
For a chyld unborne were better
Than be untaught — thus seys the letter.
Therfor, Allmyghty God inne trone
Spede us all bothe even and morn,
And bryng us to thy hyghe blysse,
That never more fro us schall mysse.

(Or read it in a Modern translation found in The Babees' Book:  Medieval Manners for the Young.)

Be of seemly semblance, wise, and other good cheer;
Change not thy countenance for aught that thou may hear.
Fare not as a gig, for nought that may betide.
Laugh thou not too loud nor yawn thou not too wide.
But laugh thou soft and mild.
And be not of cheer too wild,
My lief child.

Now have I taught thee, daughter, as my mother did me;
Think thereon night and day, that forgotten it not be.
Have measure and lowness, as I have thee taught,
Then whatever man shall wed thee will regret it naught.
Better you were a child unbore
Than untaught in this wise lore,
My lief child.
The blessing of God may'st thou have, and of His mother bright,
Of all angels and archangels and every holy wight!
And may'st thou have grace to wend thy way full right,
To the bliss of Heaven, where God sits in His might!

One of the major arguments against the poem regards its tone.  The mother's role in the poem is to prepare her daughter for wifehood (oh yeah, I totally made that up) and eventually motherhood.  This is really no different than the role of a mom today.  (My mom always said she was trying to mold us into respectful, self-sufficient adults.  This is a very reasonable parenting goal; I hope I can do that well with my son.)  In my experience and philosophy, mothers are teachers and nurturers and the "Good Wiif" does not diverge from this ideal.  However, when read with modern, feminist eyes, the poem is a little off-putting.  Given that it was not written for bra-burning, liberal activists, I think it provides the glimpse of Medieval motherhood I set out to find from the beginning.

The mother begins by advising her daughter to be attentive to God and church (including specific execution of tithing and direction in prayer) as would be expected of all Christians, not just the females.  She then moves to suggestions about finding a husband, encouraging the daughter to receive any man humbly, without overt behaviors that could lead to sins of the flesh.  The daughter's countenance--fairness, honesty, composure--are the mother's next topics of heed, followed by several stanzas regarding tavern behaviors.  (This passage of the poem sounds as if the Pardoner wrote it.)  According to the good wiif, the  "tavern bring[s] thy credit low" and the daughter should avoid them for fear of "fall[ing] into shame."  The tavern behaviors are followed by admonishment of sports and hunting and any other such pleasurable things and an intense recommendation for the daughter to just stay at home and "love thy work much."  (These four stanzas most incite my feminist wiles.  I know they speak to female roles in Medieval culture, but if one can assert that these hobbies are bad for women, they must be equally bad for men.  Women are not more easily imbibed than men merely because they are women.  And men have spent decades sitting on couches, wearing a butt imprint into the cushions, in worship of the "big game," yet we have cautioned women against sports since before poets thought to sign their names to their work.  Annoying!) (However, if you regard the passage from the position of traditional gender roles, it makes a lot of sense.  As addressed before, women worked within the home, men without.  Women weren't forbidden from sports initially out of some masochistic control, but out of balance of domestic roles.  Maybe many of society's issues with marriage come from the blurring of those lines.  But I digress...)   After encouraging the daughter to love being at home, the good wife devotes the rest of the poem to maintaining the home, including specifics about raising children with a firm hand.

This organization, from start to finish, clearly identifies the role of the mother within Medieval culture.  By focusing her attention first on God, she establishes a Christian foundation for her children that would have been customary at this time.  The importance of family is further enhanced by her encouragement to find a good mate and make a good home.  Despite the hope that her daughter entirely avoid drinking and sports, the mother establishes simple rules, presented as proverbs, by which the daughter can live.  Although the proverbs themselves over-killed the message a bit, the poem provides me with the image of motherhood I have found lacking in Chaucer's tales.  (Sorry Chaucer.  This doesn't mean I love you any less.)

This good wiif (and mother) may not embody the female persona with the same visionary power as Rosie the Riveter, but she embraces her responsibility with parallel zeal.

Chaucer's mothers could learn something from her.

Sources:  Biggs, Michalove, and Reeves.  Reputation and Representation in Fifteenth-Century Europe.  Koninklijke Brill.  The Netherlands.  2004.

Bardsley, Sandy.  Women's Roles in the Middle Ages.  Greenwood Press.  Westport, CT.  2007.

Codex Ashmole 61.

The Babees' Book.

Slow as molasses

I must take a moment to segue from my motherhood in the Middle Ages theme and share an interesting piece of American history with you.

Since this past weekend was my final one in New England (for this summer, anyway), I packed it with several days of traveling.  On Friday I went to NYC again and on Saturday I spent the day relaxing by the pool and beach at the Waterford, CT home of one of my Chaucerians.  This relaxing day was followed by a marathon trip to Boston where I saw the entirety of The Freedom Trail and a game at Fenway.  While I could spend another week de-stressing on the beach, The Freedom Trail was so cool that I'm already planning a trip there next summer.  Given his fascination with American History, my son will love Boston.

Along The Freedom Trail one encounters all the elements of American history that are synonymous with being an American:  the route of Paul Revere's ride, the Old North Church, the USS Constitution, the site of the Boston Tea Party, and the Purity Distilling Company.  That's right, the Purity Distilling Company, home of the Boston Molasses Disaster.

Evidently, when molasses overheats, it is not slow at all.  In fact, it flows quickly enough to create a flood and kill people.  Don't believe me?  Check out this link:  (I don't normally encourage the use of Wikipedia for research purposes, but it will suffice as a starting point.  If you wish, you can investigate further from there.)  Although this disaster occurred almost 150 years after Revere's heroic ride, it is an interesting snippet of Boston's history.  On a warm day, that portion of The Freedom Trail still smells like molasses (and sacrifice).

I can't begin to catalog everything I've learned this summer.  From class to weekly trivia night to local travel, these six weeks have provided me with a wealth of knowledge.

Now if only I can retain it long enough to share it with others...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Such a mom

I am such a mom.  I had just typed this sentence as the opening to this post when one of my Chaucerians texted me the exact same phrase.  Let me explain.

It's our final weekend here at Yale.  We have three class meetings (and movie night) next week, but then we disperse back to North Carolina and California (times 2) and Tennessee and Missouri.  (It seems so weird to type that and not Georgia.)  So this weekend is crammed full of traveling.  Yesterday was NYC for marathon museums; today is Waterford, CT for beach bumming; tomorrow is Boston for Freedom Trail and a game at Fenway Park.  Because I like to organize, I have helped plan the transportation elements of these trips.  (Not only does this indicate that I'm domestic, it also identifies that I'm finally a local.  I can read the timetables!)  This organization element is highly characteristic of who I am, ingrained in me like a pace-maker.  I embrace it because it brings me comfort.  This quirk has been good for me and my son, even if it irritates others, because it enhances my single-mommy gig down to a well-oiled machine.  What unnerves me a bit is that in absence of my son, I have taken to being a mom with my Chaucerians.

I've been concerned about packing since Monday.  I took inventory to make sure everyone had a bag that would easily hold their beach stuff without taking up too much room on the train.  (And I even suggested that, if needed, we could put all of our stuff in one of my suitcases.)  I fussed over how we transport beer to the beach and even considered buying a cooler that we could pull like luggage for the trip.  (How in the hell would I get a cooler back to Missouri?  But that wasn't the concern.  Immediate ease of my local family was the concern.)

In addition to checking on buses and food for the weekend jaunts, I have also provided weekend weather updates.  I just texted my Chaucerians that "it will be jacket worthy tonight."  Seriously, these people are grown men and women.  They do not need me telling them to bring a jacket to the beach.  But I suggested it anyway because this is what moms do.

The phrase "such a mom" is as vague in its definition as is "motherhood," yet we say it to people, usually out of fondness and appreciation, who behave like moms.  I wonder if Melibee ever thought to say this to Prudence?  Because, in my opinion, Prudence is the only character from the tales thus far that I would describe as "such a mom."  Her daughter is wounded by her husband's enemies.  The husband, Melibee, wants to exact gruesome revenge and wage wars over the act.  Prudence, although distraught over her daughter's attack, just wants it all to end.  Why wage wars indefinitely when we can work on acceptance and healing instead?  (I am not saying I would be this strong or logical if something happened to my son; I merely see the wisdom in handling crisis the way Prudence encourages Melibee to handle it.  Life is, after all, about trying to make each day better than the last.  You can't do that if you're blinded by grief and anger and waging wars like a mad man.)  Prudence is such a mom.

And so am I.  I hope my Chaucerians don't mind.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Martha who?

I am not very domestic.  It's not that I'm incapable or opposed or feminist or any of the like; it's that the art of domesticity is lost on an 8 year old boy.  If I ever have the pleasure of being a wife, I will be happily domestic (understanding full well that the art of domesticity may also be lost on an adult boy), but until that point, I see no need to prepare a Martha Stewart inspired meal for an 8 year old boy with the pallet of an 8 year old boy or to scour the surfaces of my home to a shine in which June Cleaver can see her reflection.  I cook and clean as dictated by the needs of my small family and to this date we have survived just fine.  (After all, my son has reached the age of 8, a ripe age for Medieval times, so I must be doing something right.  Though my mom would contend that I need to clean my bathrooms more frequently.  I guess she's more domestic than I.)

Although domesticity strays a little from my investigation into Medieval motherhood, especially since in my mind it emphasizes the role of the wife in relationship to the family as a whole not just a woman's responsibility as a mother,  I encountered some interesting facets of Medieval domesticity that I would like to share with you.
  • The architecture of the early Medieval home (twelfth and thirteenth centuries) was strongly influenced by religious and secular views of the Eucharist, placing the usage of the buttery (a room for storing wine and liquor) and the pantry (a room whose usage is so elevated that its name is changed to a spence to reflect the importance of bread) parallel to that of the grand hall.  The grand hall, aptly named, was arranged in such symmetry that it could be folded along its longest wall and form a perfect mirror image of itself.  The bread and wine held such honor that each room (buttery and spence) had its own overseer, positions of reverence within the domestic structure.  These architectural and social indulgences indicated more than just your wealth; they indicated the order and behavior of your domicile.
    • If you have seen Macbeth or The Tudors or The Lion in Winter, to name a few, you have seen an image of a grand hall similar to those found in Medieval homes.  The hall itself is not the element of the architecture that interests me.  I am intrigued by the emphasis placed on the buttery and the spence.  When shopping for a home today, many people notice the structure of the kitchen, and with that consider storage for all their kitchen items, but I think it is safe to say that most people do not place as much emphasis on pantry spaces as our Medieval counterparts.  And the idea that the bread and the wine were to be stored in separate areas, each with a separate person to oversee its contents, is enthralling.  (A side note, the 'snack bar' located in the basement of each residential college here at Yale is called 'the buttery.')  I understand the sacred association of them, but I do not think Jesus intended for building plans to be drawn around The Last Supper.  (And I wonder if Hogwarts stores these items in separate rooms.  Blasphemous thought, I know.)  Based upon these practices of organization and management of the buttery and spence, I am much more domestic than I think.  My spence is rigidly organized; my spence organizing skills are so honed that I organize my mom's spence every time I get a chance.  Yep, I'm a real Harriet Beecher Stowe.  (I bet you didn't know that Beecher Stowe was America's original Martha Stewart.  She published The American Woman's Home:  Principal's of Domestic Science in 1869.)
  • The Virgin Mary, who was pregnant at the time, traveled to see her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.  The reunion of these women and the events of their visit establish a precedence of sorts for every family visit since that time.  The Visitation, as it is fondly called, supposedly influences women like Margery Kempe and Birgitta of Sweden (among countless others) to make frequent visits to family, primarily based upon religious duty and devotion, in which fellowship (much like communion) is highly regarded.
    • While I find it a bit of a stretch to accredit Mary with establishing the idea of family gatherings, it does make her more approachable and real.  (I've always found her a little intimidating because of the whole "I gave birth to Christ" thing.)  Her concern for her cousin led her to travel at a time when she probably should have just remained at home, relaxing in the recliner (its BC equivalent anyway).  But family is about sacrifice and Mary demonstrates this during the Visitation.  I'm not sure if I buy it completely, but it at least gives purpose to the hours of therapy that follow a long weekend with the family.  (Hours is a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.)

Above is an image of The Visitation from Bean Book of Hours, Manuscript 2, Folio 521.

Source:  Kowaleski, M. and Goldberg, P.  Medieval Domesticity.  Cambridge University Press.  New York, 2008.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Must love dogs

Since class doesn't formally meet on Wednesday nights, Dr. Patterson suggested (and we agreed) a Wednesday evening movie night.  Attendance is optional, but those who venture out dine on pizza from Yorkside while drinking beer and watching a movie inspired by Medieval history and culture.

Our first viewing was The Name of the Rose starring a young Sean Connery and a pre-pubescent Christian Slater.  The following two weeks we endured a Peter O'Toole double-header with Becket and The Lion in Winter.  (O'Toole is brilliant in both, but Katherine Hepburn stole the show in TLiW, no surprise.  And talk about a star-studded cast, Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins are both in that flick.)  This week we watched a movie entitled Sorceress.  (Despite minor issues with dubbing and Medieval quality acting, Sorceress is a must-see.)

Sorceress shares the account of a monk who goes to a small town to investigate heresy only to learn that the town's inhabitants are not committing heresy but instead worship a legitimate (loose interpretation of the word legitimate) saint.  St. Guinefort, the greyhound, protector of infants.  Yep, that's right.  A saintly dog.

Based upon a true account by the monk, the movie illuminates the philosophy that faith is more than what you can see with your eyes.  It also showed a mother's willingness to go to great lengths for her child, something I haven't seen much from the mothers in Chaucer's tales (with the exception of Constance and Prudence), but speaks to my philosophy of motherhood.  Despite persecution of the church, the women in the village believed in the power of St. Guinefort to protect their children and cure their illnesses.  So what if the ritual in the forest verges on heresy?  It's done for the wellness of the child.

These mothers had faith; although the practice was questioned by others, I admire them for that...even if it was in a dog...