Counting Sheep

30 11 2009

The only notable aspect of my younger son’s experience as a wee lad in a crib was that he mostly wanted to be out of it.  The instant he woke up every morning he let me know in no uncertain terms that he was ready to be freed from that particular prison—immediately.

He got a little bigger and I had visions of him moving to the ubiquitous “big boy bed.”  But he had other ideas.  He discovered that an unfolded futon-type floor chair/cushion would just fit in his closet.  It was like a train compartment.  So began his sleeping-on-the-floor-of-his-closet phase.  He liked the coziness, plus the fact that the arrangement freed up the rest of the room for other stuff.  (Years later when I read about Harry Potter and his sleeping-under-the-stairs setup at Vernon and Petunia Dursley’s house, it had a familiar ring.)

He quite literally outgrew that stage and needed a regular size mattress to sleep on.  Which led him to the loft/bunk bed stage.  He slept up top, and used the space underneath for a desk, for storage, or for seating.  He always seemed to be reorganizing and revamping the setup.

Then we did a major upstairs rearrangement and he ended up in the old guest room, the room over the garage.  It’s big—really big—but it has almost no vertical walls.  They’re either bent in to accommodate the roof or they’re punched out gables with windows at the end.  Not suitable for bunk beds.  He opted to put the mattress directly on the floor, which put him right at window height, better for keeping an eye on neighborhood activities.

About that time he was frequently camping with the Boy Scouts, and he embraced the sleeping bag.  All the time.  Sheets, blankets, comforters, quilts, and bedspreads were a hassle.  Just throw a sleeping bag on the mattress.

When he went off to college last fall I thought he would join the ranks of the 98 percent of Americans who sleep in a regular bed the regular way.  We went out and bought a new mattress pad, sheets, and pillow.  We packed it all up along with a nice comforter.

It lasted until the weather turned cool.  But the call of the wild sleeping bag was too much for him.  He’s still in the bed, but he’s back in the sleeping bag.

I find it all very endearing.

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Positively Prehistoric

27 11 2009

I’ve found the key to breaking the “spending too much time in front of the computer” habit.

We had to loan our son our optical mouse when he arrived home from college with his laptop sans mouse.  Which sent us rooting around the basement looking for a previously retired mouse.  All we could find was one of those old ones with a ball.  I had forgotten how annoying those things were!

It’s worse than when your clicker for the car doesn’t work and you have to walk around to the passenger side to unlock the door.

It’s worse than having to get up and walk across the room to change the channel or the volume on the television.

It’s almost as bad as having to live your life without a cell phone.

And, given the inconvenience of trying to operate this computer in this positively prehistoric manner, that’s all I have to say about the matter.





Bored By the Bard?

25 11 2009

Periodically I run across a grouping of words in the English language that originate from native American tongues, or from Italian or French, etc.

But I’ve been reading a surprisingly lively biography of William Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (called, and here he’s not too lively, Shakespeare: The World as Stage, 2007) and was astonished to see all the phrases he attributes to the Bard of Avon (p. 115):

one fell swoop

vanish into thin air

bag and baggage

play fast and loose

go down the primrose path

be in a pickle

budge an inch

the milk of human kindness

to thine own self be true

salad days

foul play

tower of strength

be cruel to be kind

pomp and circumstance

foregone conclusion

Who knew?

Shakespeare’s plays have been obsessively analyzed, and we know they contain 138,198 commas and 15,785 question marks.  Ears are spoken of 401 times in the plays.  He uses damned 105 times and bloody 226 times.  He left 884,647 words in over 118,406 lines. (p. 19)

But of all that verbiage we have only fourteen words written in his own hand: six copies of his signature and the words “by me” on his will.  He was apparently not too picky about the spelling of his name.  Of the signatures that survive, every one is spelled differently, and none match the spelling we now commonly use. (pp. 8-9)

The Library of Congress has roughly seven thousand works on Shakespeare, which would require twenty years to digest if read at one a day. (p. 21)  Amazingly, there are estimated to be over five thousand books suggesting—or insisting—that the plays of Shakespeare were written by someone other than Shakespeare. (p. 181)

Between all those quirky statistics, Bryson provides an engaging account of the life and times of William Shakespeare, though he’s quick to point out how very much we don’t know.  All in all,  I found reading this biography to be a  pleasurable pastime (much more so than my recollection of reading the plays themselves when I was a mere high school student.)





What!? Another Cell Phone Story?

22 11 2009

Saturday was supposed to be an average day.

Including activities such as grocery shopping, laundry, a walk, dinner out, a Netflix movie.

No activities that I despise, but nothing to send me into the throes of ecstasy.

But first thing in the morning I realized my cell phone was not in my pocketbook.

So began the dreaded regimen of figuring out the last time I could remember having it (Thursday), all the pocketed clothing I’d worn since then (pants and jackets), where I’d been in the interim (all over Fairfax County.)  And I pondered what would have to be done if the phone didn’t turn up: buying a new one, dealing with the phone company, tolerating abuse from family members.

It’s the kind of thing that can color your whole day, really dragging you down.  So when the cashier at the grocery store forgot to take off my coupons, it felt like a disaster.

And the pile of bedsheets waiting to be washed loomed in front of me like an enormous, unscalable mountain.

But when in midafternoon I searched the car and found MY PHONE (cue the Hallelujah chorus), my day totally turned around.

Washing my kids’ sheets?  A chance to anticipate their fast-approaching arrival home for Thanksgiving.

An afternoon walk?  Instead of feeling like obligatory exercise it became a wonderful opportunity to experience the crisp air of a beautiful autumn day.

A trip to the drug store?  No drudgery there.  I found a bag of (Halloween) cookies for 19 cents!  Fabulously fresh and, with all the (admittedly orange and black) sugar sprinkled on them, you can’t even tell they’re shaped like witches hats, ghosts, and pumpkins.

Dinner out?  I wasn’t merely trying to avoid cooking!  I was relishing a date night with my husband!

And the Netflicks show?  It wasn’t just another Hugh Grant movie.  It was…well actually it was just another Hugh Grant movie.  (One of these days, Hugh, you’re going to knock one out of the park.  Keep the faith.)

The moral of the story? Experiencing some lows make us really appreciate the highs.





Not So Deep Thoughts from Deep Space

20 11 2009

Photo from Hubble telescope

An amusing version of the glass half full/half empty outlook on life:

What to do if you find yourself stuck without hope of rescue: Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far.  Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy





Thanks for the Memories

18 11 2009

Jury duty didn’t happen yesterday.  The website said I should check back next week to see if I’m needed then.

So I used my free time to plan my Thanksgiving menu and make a grocery list.

The turkey is a given.

My brother-in-law, a native of Louisiana, likes his rice dressing (aka dirty rice) so I’ll do that.  But my kids love the cornbread stuffing so I’ll throw together a box of Stove Top.

My niece insists on mashed potatoes but she’s in India so I’ll punt on the potatoes.

My older son loves the ubiquitous “green bean casserole,” but my mother-in-law likes her veggies without so much sauce so I’ll make some carrots too.  (I refuse to do brussels sprouts.  Yuck!)

I found a recipe for sweet potato rolls that looks promising, so I’m considering trying that, though my husband, truth be told, would probably rather have Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.  For indulging me, dear, I’ll give you Crescent Rolls the next week.

My sister-in-law drinks iced tea by the gallon, so we need plenty of that.  Reminder to self: don’t forget the lemon.

I briefly considered tossing the traditional tossed salad, serving soup instead, but keeping things hot while we sip on soup seems stressful, so I’ll stick with salad.

My sister-in-law is diabetic so without exception we have  fresh fruit for dessert, along with the pie that my mother-in-law always brings.

(I should say that my sister-in-law usually does lots of the cooking but as she’s in the midst of planning the WEDDING PARTY OF THE CENTURY, I couldn’t possibly impose on her.)

So Thanksgiving at our house is really about tradition and family, not about blazing new trails or experimenting with new concoctions.  For my family, Christmas may be about “the latest and greatest”  (at least with regard to electronic gadgets on the wish lists.)  But the watchword for Thanksgiving is “tried and true.”

Though when the kids were little I did sometimes indulge my creative tendencies, as illustrated by this turkey cupcake, made possible with Fruit Roll-Ups and Nutter Butter cookies.





And Justice for All

16 11 2009

Last Tuesday, November 10, John Allen Muhammad, the DC Sniper, died by lethal injection.  The death sentence was carried out seven years after he killed at least ten people, terrorizing the population in the DC area during October, 2002.

Tomorrow, on Tuesday, November 17, I am scheduled for jury duty in  Fairfax Circuit Court.

These two occurrences happening a week apart has me thinking about the last time I was called for jury duty.  In 2003 Jay Lentz was charged with kidnapping and killing his ex-wife, who disappeared in 1996.  The prosecution claimed he lured her to his home under the false pretense of picking up their four-year-old daughter, killed her, disposed of her body, and left her car in a seedy part of the District, suggesting foul play at the hands of a stranger.

No body or murder weapon was ever found.

(There are loads of additional details supporting both sides.  It’s quite a story.)

The trial, in which the prosecution intended to seek the death penalty, was held in Alexandria Federal Court.  I was part of a large jury pool.  The first day that we reported we got lots of instructions and filled out  lengthy questionnaires.  The second day we were called in the court room one at a time and questioned by various attorneys.

I gave a rather convoluted and disorganized description of my views on the death penalty.  The prosecution probably had the feeling it would be pretty hard to get me to vote in favor of capital punishment.

My husband works in law enforcement, so the defense probably saw me as a law and order sort of a person, not likely to be lenient.

So I have no idea who punted me from the pool.

The trial grabbed headlines more than once.  After days of testimony and an almost hung jury, the jury convicted Lentz.  But the judge overturned the decision, saying it was unjustified based on the evidence presented and the requirements of the judicial code.  (I didn’t even know that could happen.)

While the fury was still raging over that brouhaha, the bombshell dropped that a piece of disallowed evidence had been found in the jury room, a day planner in which the victim had made notes about threatening phone calls, references to attempts at a restraining order, a domestic violence hotline telephone number.

The judge suggested that an attorney for the prosecution had planted the evidence.

That charge was not upheld, but a mistrial was declared and a second trial took place in Richmond.  Lentz was found guilty and is now serving a life sentence.

So he went from guilty, to acquitted, to mistrial, to retrial, back to guilty and finally life in prison.  As far as I know, he maintains his innocence to this day.

I love black and white, hate the uncertainty of those gray areas.

Hopefully when I report to the courthouse tomorrow I’ll be faced with something a little more mundane, maybe violation of a neighborhood sound ordinance or an illegally parked vehicle.

(Incidentally, in the midst of the long periods of waiting during the earlier jury duty, I happened to have for reading material The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, about the Soviet Union’s forced labor and concentration camp system.  Now there’s a prison system you would have wanted to avoid at all costs.)