Saturday, December 6, 2008

In which I ring a little bell

Let me start with a little Christmas Cynicism. I do not drop coins in the Salvation Army kettles. I know that, unless the bell-ringer is in uniform, s/he gets a cut of the take (those in uniform might, as well. I just don't know). I also, cynically and likely unfairly, doubt that many bell-ringers are actually reporting the full take. I'm not going to throw rocks at the bell-ringers, but I'm not going to toss in any twenties, either.

Instead, I give directly through the Salvation Army website. Even if it costs, say, 10% to process my credit card, it's still less than they'd have to pay a ringer, so the organization gets more of my money.

The Salvation Army has a program called Online Red Kettle. This year -- and you should be able to see it in my sidebar -- I am hosting one of these. So I have three challenges for my readers, and I encourage you to take up at least one:

1) Donate to my kettle. After my little bout of Scrooginess, I feel obligated to tell you that I'm not taking a cent that goes in. You want to give to me? Awesome, we'll talk. You want to give to the Salvation Army? Click on the kettle.

2) Start your own kettle. Encourage your readers to donate. Beat me. I dare you.

3) Join my team (or start your own). Want to team up with me? Look for the Not Boring Challenge. Want to beat us? Start a team here.

Dynamic fundraising meter for your Red Kettle campaign.

Personal fundraising widget for 2008 Red Kettle campaign

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Friday, November 7, 2008

In which I make a suggestion

We did it?  Barack Obama won?  Yay!  Yes We Did!Image by Brian Hathcock via FlickrAn open letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President-Elect:

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your election.  You're surely aware that the eyes of the nation, and the world, are on you, and my prayers are with you and your family as you take this next, monumental step.

I was pleased to catch part of your press conference this afternoon, particularly when you mentioned the dog your family will soon be adopting.  I took especial interest in the two conflicting factors your family is considering in choosing your new family member: the dog being hypo-allergenic, and the dog coming from a shelter.  Both are very important, and I salute your decision to give a home to an animal that truly needs it.

I would like to suggest that the two factors are not mutually exclusive; far from it, in fact.  Do you have a particular breed in mind?  Airedale terriers, greyhounds, and poodles are just three examples you've no doubt considered, and all three, like nearly all breeds, have breed-specific rescue groups.

These groups are dedicated to finding good, loving "forever homes" for dogs of their breed of choice.  While I can't vouch for every group out there, my family has had excellent luck with the National Greyhound Adoption Program, or NGAP.  Beta, our greyhound, is good-natured, well-behaved, and a full member of the family, not a mention a retired professional athlete (albeit not a very successful one).

Mutts are wonderful, and so many of them are intelligent and friendly.  However, if breed specificity is a requirement, and when it comes to allergies it can be, please consider a breed-specific rescue.  These animals need homes and love, which is just what you and your family are looking to give your new pet, and you would provide an excellent example to the American people.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Laura Grow

What do you think?  Should I send it?
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Friday, October 31, 2008

In which I go to the parade

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 31:  Parade goers dressed a...Image by Getty Images via Daylife In 2005, I attended the Village Halloween Parade as a class assignment. This is not the official article I turned in.

We were packed a little too close for comfort – or chastity, for that matter. Darkness and masks kept things fairly anonymous.

This was to be expected at the Village Halloween Parade.

“Excuse me!” screamed a man as he shoved his way through the crowd, muttering under his breath when the people around him would not give way. Police officers – some real, other perhaps not – used their authority to cut across the street.

At 5 foot 2, I knew the only way I would be able to see anything would be to wear the highest heels I own. That’s exactly what I did, but a life in sneakers left my ankles a little weaker than is ideal for the boots I had chosen. Between that and the jostling of the crowd, I managed to lose my balance.

The man who caught me was very nice, setting me upright and asking if I was all ok. I responded honestly with a smile and a thank you.

Nearby, two girls were talking. “I would have grabbed his balls if I were you!” one instructed the other, her voice taking on an angry edge. Some pervert had rubbed up against her, I figured.

The crowd pressed in, and the helpful man was pushed against me. I was poked from one side; the woman to my right had a handbag that was pressing against me.The woman left soon, and then so did the group to my left. The crowd shifted to account for the change in available space. The man behind me did not take advantage of the space next to him. I wondered if he noticed, and wished I had access to it. I was blocked off.

I felt another poke. The woman with the handbag was long gone by now, so I half-concluded, half-hoped that it was the man’s hip. I shifted away when I could, and he shifted right after me. Everyone was filling in what little space was available, so I accepted it, even when I realized it was not, in fact, his hip. A straight man pressing against a woman sometimes has certain reactions. I reasoned that it was natural, and probably very embarrassing for him. Accidental gropings are a fact of tight crowds. I was annoyed, but perhaps a
little amused. This would make for quite a story when I went to the bar later that night, I decided.

Even so, I tried to inch away. The man in front of me noticed that I was a bit uncomfortable. “Are you all right?” he asked, looking mildly concerned. Once again I smiled and said thank you.

The man behind me began moving. At first I thought it was more crowd-related shifting. Then, I noticed a rhythm that accompanied the poking. I decided to ask the man in front of me for help, planning to simply say that the man behind me was making me uncomfortable, and could we maybe switch spots? But before I could say anything, the man left.

“Are you ok?” the man behind me asked.

“Yeah,” I snapped, turning around to see if I could recognize any identifying features. All I caught was a racial description and a hat. I tried to slip into the spot the other man had just vacated, but I was followed.

There were hands on me. First my hips, then my waist. Again, in a crowd, accidental gropings happen. I glanced behind me again, but got no more information. The police, about ten officers a few yards away, could not see me, and I knew if I made a fuss, they would not hear me, either. I would have been more likely to anger the man behind me. Also, I was still not entirely convinced that anything was actually happening; If I don’t believe it, I reasoned, How can I expect the police to?

I steeled myself to endure it until I got an out. Every few minutes, groups were sent across the street, so I resolved to join one.

The hands were moving, and they definitely belonged to the man behind me. I tried to make myself trip again, hoping that maybe I would fall and in the process push him away. It did not work.

His hands slipped under the jacket of my suit, touching skin.

I grabbed the hem of the suit and tugged down, snatching the fabric out of his hands and allowing no space between it and my body.

I then turned.

I have no idea how I pushed out of the crowd, but I did. I briefly considered walking a few blocks to another corner, now that I was away, but before I could reach a conclusion, someone bumped into me. Pressure, on my back, right where the man had been rubbing against me. I turned around, frightened, expecting to see him.

It was someone else. Different race, no hat, very confused-looking. I choked back the tears that had just started and ran as quickly as I could on a crowded sidewalk while wearing those damned boots.

My instinct was not to call my mother or my boyfriend. All I could think was, Damn it! I don’t have enough information for a story. That, and, So I fail. There’s no way I’m going back.

The good

Well, in the end my professor told me that the above was well written -- that it made him very uncomfortable, which was a sign of talent. If it made you uncomfortable, I'm very sorry -- it could have been much worse, and for far too many women, and men, it is.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

In which I get rid of books

I want a library. I want a room of my house to have huge shelves well-stocked with good books, comfy chairs, and appropriate lighting. Artwork and curios would be ideal, but not necessary. Maybe a station for my writing, although I'm probably better off having an office space with fewer distractions (ha, like I'll have the time and space to pull off both!).

I certainly have enough books to fill a library now. The problem is, I don't -- can't -- read them all. So over the next several months, I plan on sorting through the crates and boxes and shelves of books I own, and making four piles:

Favorites. Books I love, and will definitely re-read. Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Anita Diamont's The Red Tent. Heck, Little Women, which I actually replaced when my old, battered copy finally died. I am always looking for new books to fill this category, and am willing to lend them to friends (at least, friends I trust to return them!).

Resources. Dictionaries. Style guides. Poetry prompts. Organization manuals. And other books, which may be more trivial or less wholesome. I may not read them out of love, but I'll refer to them out of necessity. And, yeah, sometimes fun. I'm a nerd like that.

To be evaluated. Books I haven't actually read yet, or never finished, or read too long ago to inform a decision. These will be read. If I can't read them, or don't like them after having finished, then they go on to...

Elimination. It'll be hard, but the books in the section have to go.

Now this raises a new question. What should I do to get rid of these books? I've got a couple options that will directly benefit me:

Sell them. A good option for textbooks (the nice thing about having been an English major is that most textbooks are fairly timeless). Novels, however, may not pull in more than a dollar or two. And where would I sell them? Is EBay really the best choice?

Swap them. This might be a better option for the novels and fluffier nonfiction. I can offer some books up on Paperback Swap, and get new books in return. My reading list is pretty long, after all. Then again, that doesn't really eliminate books so much as it rotates them.

Raffle them. I have a review blog. There are books I've read that I enjoyed, that I might even recommend, but that just don't make it to my "Favorites" or "Resources" piles. If I review one of these books, maybe I could then give it away as a promotional event. If it works, it could definitely draw in readership. If not, I'm out the cost of postage with nothing to show for it but an empty spot on my bookshelf.

What would you do?

The good

No question, I'm blessed to have such a love of reading and the means to amass such a collection.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

In which I battle PennDOT

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Pen...Image via WikipediaImage via Wikipedia Image via WikipediaI don't drive.

No, I should be honest here. I can't drive.

I got my permit at 16, took driver's ed, and just never took the test. My permit expired. Between carpools and and mass transit, it never got urgent.

But since I don't actually know where I'll be living a year from now, I can't depend on trains and subways and buses being readily available. So I need to learn to drive. Again.

On October 4, I gathered up my ID info and my forms and took the bus to the PennDOT center in town. I signed in, took a number, sat down in the waiting area.

I then proceeded to pull out my things, so I could present them easily. As I checked against the form, it turned out something was missing.

It never occurred to me to see what the requirements to prove state residency are. I have a PennDOT-issues state ID. It never occurred to me that it wouldn't count.

So of course it doesn't. So I left, got back on the bus, went home. I dug up some tax forms and ate lunch, then headed back into town.

I signed in, took another number, organized my things again, and was called up to the counter. The guy behind the counter asked if I had my birth certificate.

Now, the form says I need my birth certificate or two of the other forms of ID listed. I really wasn't interested in dragging my Social Security card and my birth certificate around all day, so I had opted for "two other forms."

The PennDOT guy pointed to a sign on the wall and said that the requirements had changed. That said, I could still take the permit test, and if I passed I could bring my birth certificate in another day and they would issue the actual permit.

Fine. Whatever. I had made the trip (twice) and might as well take the test.

I passed easily, took my eye test, and had my form signed so that next time, they could just give me the permit.

On October 11, I re-gathered all my things, including my birth certificate, and got back on the bus to take get my permit. I fully expected them to make me re-take the test, but I could deal with that.

So I got to the PennDOT center, and... they were closed.

Confused, I looked carefully and noticed a very small sign that explains that, due to the Columbus Day holiday, the PennDOT center is closed on Saturday.

So: still no permit. Maybe some higher power is telling me I'm not supposed to drive?

The good

Well... at least I passed my permit test.


10/18/2008 -- Success at last. I showed my documents, wrote my check, and left with me permit. Any PA drivers want to barter for driving lessons?

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Friday, September 19, 2008

In which I attempt to get fit

Uploaded by: Frank C.Image via WikipediaImage via WikipediaImage via WikipediaImage via WikipediaImage via Wikipedia
So Chris and I decided to do the One Hundred Push Up Project.

When we did our initial assessments, Chris managed to do 50 push ups in his trial.  He's right on the borderline of the Project being completely useless.

I did... 3.  Well, if I'm allowed to cheat and do knee push ups, I can do 12, but that's still pretty sad.  And Chris won't let me cheat... and since he's only doing it to keep me motivated (since he obviously doesn't need to), I guess I can't.

"That's not pathetic," he said.  "I'm just stronger than you."
"Well, sure... but 20 times stronger?"
"It's not 20 times."
"Fine.  Just under 20 times stronger."

For the sake of accuracy, it's 16 2/3.

So I'm pretty sure this 6-week program is going to end up taking most of a year, and that's assuming I don't plateau out.  But either way, wish me luck, and I'll keep you posted.

The Good

I don't exercise nearly enough.  Even though Chris doesn't need to do this, I'm glad he is to encourage me.



So I'm now legitimately up to 12 push ups as my max.  It's four times my original max, which is good.  It's not enough to pass the week 2 test, though, so I'm currently repeating week 2.  Sigh.


After a few false starts, I'm chugging along through week 3.  I can do 16 push ups in a row -- barely.


Yeah, so I failed the post-week-4 endurance test, so I'm repeating week 4.

Also, Chris wants to use the formula to start doing sit ups on our "off" days.  Since we haven't been spectacular on our every-other-day routine, I'm not sure how this will work out, but we'll see.


And once again, I fail, this time in the face of the post-week-5 test (yes, it took me that long to repeat week 4 and do week 5). I can do 45 in a row, so go me. I need to do 46 to go on to week 6. Bah.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

In which I visit the Tribute WTC Visitor Center

Ground Zero at the WTC siteImage via Wikipedia
A scale model of the World Trade Center greets visitors.  Playing on a television screen on the wall, and projected onto the white plastic scale-model buildings stretching overhead, is a video about the culture and community of the World Trade Center: two people in Twin Towers costumes dance for children a la Mickey Mouse at Disney World; happy couples dine at Windows on the World; shoppers head underground to buy everything but groceries; parents bring their children to work, so that they can enjoy concerts festivals, and puppet shows; office workers hear live music through their windows.

The World Trade Center is referred to as both a city unto itself and a second home.

A panel keeps the pleasant nostaliga seperate.

This panel tells the tale of the 1993 bombing in the underground garage of the north Tower, which killed six people, including a pregnant woman, and injured over a thousand.

The back wall of the center is a bright sky blue, broken up by pictures of "Missing" flyers, first one, then a few, until the wall is more black-and-white that blue and the flyers overlap.  An older woman calls, "Here he is!" and her companions gather around one man's picture.

Across from this wall is another, exhibiting artificats of Septermber 11, 2001: a piece of airplane, parts of a building, cell phones and wallets, a souvenir stuffed lamb and guns.  Between the two walls, more panels feture quotes from survivors and audio or rescue calls.  One firefighter's mangled coat and helmet stand in a display case next to a television screen playing the story of the rescue and recovery efforts.

There are two memorial lists around the corner.  One is an alphabetical list of those killed in the 1993 and 2001 attacks.  The other is a projection, listing the same people and their ages, organized by affiliation: firehouse, business, police station, airplane.  The walls around these lists are actually display cases full of photographs and mementoes donated by family members. Visitors choke back tears, or give up and cry openly.  The Tribute Center is prepared for this: on every bench sits at least one box of tissues, and volunteers rush to offer tissues to weeping visitors in other parts of the Center.

Visitors go down a flight of stairs to the final gallery, a white room ringed with images and quotes of the world offering its sympathy and good wishes.  Stories told by survivors and family members play through earphones, and slips of paper decorate the walls in what becomes a mural-like guest book, offering visitors' names and hometowns as well as their thoughts and prayers.  Many of the displayed sheets show not paragraphs, but pictures drawn by young children, who label them, "I miss you, Daddy."

The good

You know, this really is a phenomenal museum and memorial.  I only hope the official memorial center they're building will be jsut as nice -- and I'm sure it will be.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Linky goodness

I really don't want to get into detail about why right now, but I highly recommend this series on metal illness by Dave at The Prodigal.  I want to applaud Dave both on the candidness of his writing and the thoroughness of his research.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In which I do things before I die

Stratford-upon-AvonImage via WikipediI've had a list of things to do before I die for a while now -- at least a year and a half or two years ago. The last few years, I have made it a New Year's Resolution to do at least one item off the list, and I also use the list to keep my 43things in line. But I've never made the whole list public.

Then, I read this post and liked the idea of talking about this sort of thing, telling people what I hope to do and finding out what their plans are. So, for the first time:

  • Take dance lessons (finite or ongoing) -- IN PROGRESS
  • Take shooting lessons (finite)
  • Take Spanish lessons (ongoing)
  • Take yoga lessons (ongoing)
  • Take a wine tasting course (finite)
  • Write poetry
  • Join a poetry group (ongoing)
  • Do NaNoWriMo
  • Write a non-NaNoWriMo novel
  • Publish a short story
  • Write more letters
  • Go on a writers’ retreat
  • Join a choir that’s actually worth joining (min 4 parts – ongoing)
  • Get a solo and not freak out about it
  • Join a book club (ongoing)
  • See the Baltimore Aquarium. Not puke.
  • See Jerusalem.
  • See Egypt
  • See Stratford-on-Avon
  • Take high tea the proper British way
  • Take part in a proper Japanese tea ceremony
  • See Walden Pond

  • See the Louvre
  • See the Vatican --
  • See the ruins of Pompeii  -- 
  • See South America  (esp Indian ruins)
  • See Australia
  • See New Zealand
  • See a kiwi (the bird. Zoos acceptable)
  • See a panda
  • See a koala
  • See Hong Kong
  • See Los Angeles
  • See Alcatraz
  • See Seattle
  • See the Mississippi river (not from a gambling boat)
  • See the Grand Canyon
  • See Ellis Island immigration center

  • See the birthplace of Girl Scouting
  • See Hawaii (including active volcano)
  • See the northern lights
  • Cruise to Alaska
  • See a desert
  • See a concentration camp ( internment camp ok)
  • See part of the Underground Railroad
  • See all 100 of AFI’s top movies
  • Read Ulysses. -- IN PROGRESS
  • Read The Lord of the Rings
  • Read The Sandman
  • Read the apocrypha -- IN PROGRESS
  • Fast
  • Adopt a dog
  • Learn to drive -- IN PROGRESS
  • Learn to juggle
  • Make sushi
  • Make sangria
  • Perfect my mother’s brownie frosting
  • Grow a vegetable garden
  • Grow an herb garden
  • Grow a butterfly garden
  • Volunteer
  • Give blood

  • Attend the Olympics (opening or closing ceremony preferred)
  • See a taping of a TV show
  • Take a ghost tour (a real one, not halloween bullshit)

  • See U2 in concert
  • Get a museum membership. Attend regularly
Note: There's been a lot going on lately, and there's even more to come. As a result, I'd like to open a call for guest posters. In return, I'd be happy to return the favor in the next few weeks. Reply in the comments and we'll talk.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

In which I am happy

Miniature golf-club and ball.Image via Wikipedia
It's been a hectic week, and an off month due to some personal stuff (if you need to know, you probably already do). So what I'm going to do here is an exercise that was recommended by Trent at The Simple Dollar.
Just try this little experiment tomorrow.
From the very start of the day, keep a little notepad with you and jot down everything that makes you feel genuinely happy inside. Don’t worry about whether it’s something big or something small - if you feel a twinge of happiness, jot it down.
Then, a day or two later, do it again. Make four or five little lists of the things that made you feel happiness during a given day - the things that made you feel good.
By now, you’ll have a few nice little lists. Go through them and eliminate any good feelings that make you feel bad when you look back on them, like silly frivolous purchases that were a rush when you made them but now feel like a waste to you.
The items remaining are a collection of the good things in your life. These are the things that bring you joy on a regular basis and provide the fuel for you to keep going.
So instead of a normal anecdote, I'm going to make this page an ongoing exercise. I'll update you from time to time. In return, what makes you happy? (Let's all keep it PG, please.)
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In which I visit the Laundromat

Laundromat in Toronto, CanadaImage via WikipediaAt first, the room looks blue.
The walls aren't blue.  They're white, with green tile trim.  The sporadically cracked tile on the floor isn't blue, either, but rather the pink-brown of fake sandstone.  A bright bank of gumball machines stands guard at the front door, and deep green potted plants and bright framed posters of flowers and line the walls.  But the heavy curtains blocking out the bright mid-afternoon sun are the same dirty-robin's-egg as the veneer of the washing machines, and the bluish shadows color the whole room.
The wall of blue is crenelated with alternating washing machines: double loader, triple loader.  The detergent wells do not all snap shut completely, so detergent bottles and watering cans sit on top of them, keeping sudsy water from escaping.  A tall potted plant sits on top of a washer.  Its upper branches splay against the mostly-white ceiling, which is marred by water stains, and bulges worryingly behind the ceiling fan.  A big-screen TV perched above the the machines, silent and dark, surveys the room.  Nearby, a scale stands under a yellow sign announcing, "Drop off service 1/2 LB to 10 LB Minimum $5."  a pile of neatly folded white blankets waits nearby on a wooden table, next to bulging duffel, laundry, and garbage bags.
 A matching table stands between banks of dryers.  It is surrounded by chairs: green and white metal folding chairs, and a white molded-plastic chair.  The tables are made of a yellow-brown wood that clashes with the dingy dryers and the pinkish floor tiles.
Near this table, laundry carts sit.  Black-brown rust peeks through their dingy, flaking paint.
Is dingy a color?  The dryers and carts might have been white once, or perhaps cream or pale yellow.  It's impossible to tell, though.  Now, they're just dingy, faded, aged.
A yellow sign reads:
We Are Not Responsible
Of Your Property
Watch Your Own
In the back, fenced-off area, a sign warns, "No Admittance."  Behind the fence, garment bags hang from hangers on a rack, and laundry detergent -- $.50 a load -- lines a shelf.
At 3:00 the Laundromat is nearly empty, and the air is filled with the mixed scents of mildew and fabric softener.  By 4:00, a handful of customers sit, stare at their spinning clothes, and chat.  Sweet scents leak out of nearby bakeries and into the Laundromat.  Neighbors wander in an out, calling through the open door in English, Spanish, Yiddish.

The good

This was another assignment that I've never done anything with.  Not only am I pleased with the result, so was my professor.  This isn't quite the kind of thing you can pitch, though, is it? 
I hope you enjoyed it.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

In which we feed the geese

Canada Goose (Gosling), Burnaby Lake Regional ...Image via Wikipedia
Way back in 1995, my family took a day trip to Wheaton Village.  We visited the glass museum, watched the artists at work, window-shopped in the stores, and took the train ride. 

We also had a nice picnic lunch.  Sandwiches, juice boxes, cookies, standard stuff.

As we were eating, a fluffy little gosling, all alone, waddled over to us.  He looked up at us with big, sad eyes, and let out a little, forlorn, "Peep?"

We've fed the ducks -- and geese -- when we've gone back the creek, and they've always been greedy but relatively sedate.

So we threw a little crust of bread the gosling's way.  He gobbled it up cutely, then raised his head and screamed, "HONK!"

All his friends and family came swooping in.  An entire flock of geese swarmed us, demanding tribute.  Vicious things.  One started gnawing on my shoe.  Another actually bit my father on the rear end.  It was as if we had stepped into a Hitchcock film.

Eventually, we started throwing bits of sandwich as hard as we could in one direction, then took our belongings and ran in the opposite direction.  It worked.

By the way, the reason I remember it was 1995?  For dinner that night, we got Happy Meals at McDonald's, and my prize was Ferdinand the Duck from the movie Babe.  Despite Ferdinand being a duck, I deemed the toy a souvenir goose.  (Yes, I was 12.  They were cute and I was a collector. Shut up.)

The good

Lesson learned: Don't feed the geese!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

In which I hyphenate

I've been Laura Grow for 25 years.

Chris has been Christopher Nyberg for almost exactly one month less.

I respect personal choice, and while I have a problem with unexamined tradition, I do like tradition that's been evaluated.

That's sort of the problem. I've evaluated the traditions behind a woman taking her husband's name.

Now, let me say this up front -- if you've chosen to take your spouse's name, that's great. It's your decision and I have to assume you've thought it through and made the best choice for you. What follows only addresses what's right for me.

Name is identity, especially when you're a writer. So please, explain to me why Chris's identity is worth more than mine?

Why should I stop being a Grow and start being a Nyberg? I mean, yes, I am becoming a Nyberg, but no less than Chris is becoming a Grow. And while our children will someday be Nybergs, they will no less be Grows (and S[-----]s, and H[--------]s, and P[----]s, and O[-----]es, and... any of the other names I don't even know, that have been forgotten purely because their bearers were female).

I decided a long time ago, and stand by my decision, to either hyphenate or keep my name, depending on how it sounds. My last name is a verb, after all; there are certain combinations that just wouldn't work.

My name works nicely with Chris's, though. I like the sound of Grow-Nyberg.

Makes monograms difficult, though. See, any monogram using N as a centerpiece is just inaccurate. You could do my monogram as LNC, but that wouldn't be my name. You could go the maiden-name monogram route and have LNG, but that eliminates my middle name and proves that my last name is worth less than his. And our joint monogram would either be a giant N -- inaccurate -- or our initials together. LNC or CNL.

Either way, inaccurate again, because it's not my name.

Chris and I discussed this, and we decided that, where possible, we would use the three-letter monogram, but have the center letter be a hyphen. That's right. Our preferred monogram is G-N. Or G-N, if you like (if you can't tell, it's an oversized hyphen). I was worried about accuracy, but Chris pointed out that yes, he will be as much a Grow as a Nyberg (even if he's not hyphenating), and ours will be the Grow-Nyberg household.

I'm not going to be an N, you see. I'm going to be a G-N.

The good

In addition to having Chris on my side as I gently flout tradition, I really like the look of this. Now we just have to figure out a way to get it on the registry information.

Please note that all but two of the surnames have been censored. Chris has given his express permission for his full name to be used.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

In which I profit from ill-gotten goods

Official seal of Edison Township, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia
When I was very small, there was nothing I wanted for Christmas more than a Cabbage Patch Doll. It was the early-to-mid-80s. Everyone wanted a Cabbage Patch Doll. It was my generation's Tickle Me Elmo. Better -- no two are alike, you know, and you can register your doll's name with the Adoption Agency.

Of course, there were none to be found. Anywhere.

My mom got her hands on a pattern and made me a fake; I honestly don't know if the head she used was official or a knock-off, but the doll looks good except she has no Xavier Roberts tattoo on the ass, and the shoes from official outfits don't fit her feet.

My dad had a friend who knew a guy who worked near a guy who sold the dolls in a parking lot. They "fell off a truck," if you will. They were insanely overpriced. My dad used this tenuous connection and got one.

When I found out about this, years later, I felt incredibly guilty.

My third birthday was very exciting. Not only was I a big girl, but the new baby would be coming soon. From what I can piece together from vague memories and stories, one of my uncles gave me, as a birthday present, a tiny pink bear that squeaks when you squeeze it. I asked someone to read the tag; he was "Made in Edison, NJ" so I named him Edison. I also proclaimed that I was going to give it to the baby. I saved it 'til my brother was born, took it to the hospital, and gave it to my mom for him.

When he came home, I took it back.

When I was a little bit older, my parents told me this. I felt so guilty, I didn't know what to do. I loved Edison; he was part of my bedtime lineup. Still, he technically belonged to my brother and I technically stole him. Several times I gave him to my brother, missed him, asked for him back.

My brother never really cared, of course.

To this day, I don't know if that bear is rightfully mine or his. I'm 25, he's 22. That's right, it's over 20 years since I gave the bear to him. Hell if it matters at this point.

I still feel bad.

My junior year of high school, I took AP Biology. It was a tough class, but fun, too. Mr. D. was a great teacher. Excited, a little crazy, maybe the tiniest bit perverted -- just as an AP bio teacher ought to be. His favorite time of year was when he got to teach about genetic deformities in humans. He was the guy who coordinated the SAT. I'm sure you had some version of him at your school.

Anyway, after the AP exam was done, all we really had to do was finish dissecting our cats. Since everyone was pretty much under control cat-wise, we decided to have a big celebration. We called it "D-week" in honor of Mr. D. There was snack food and a cake with an edible photo on top like they do now -- of Mr. D.'s head on a swimsuit model's body. He was all flustered and pleased and embarrassed and excited like an AP Bio teacher would be.

It was widely suspected but not confirmed that much of the snack food was stolen. A few kids in the class worked at supermarkets or drugstores and "liberated" items from time to time. I didn't know for sure. I was naive. I gave people the benefit of the doubt and enjoyed the candy.

There was a raffle. I won a camera -- one of the new drop-and-load ones. I was so excited. I took a few pictures of the class, and of Mr. D.

Then someone confirmed that much of the party stuff -- including the raffle prizes -- was hot.

I was horrified. Also, pissed. There was nothing I could do. I couldn't return it to the store anonymously, since I had opened and used it. I couldn't pay for it; I didn't know where exactly it had come from. One of my classmates was pissed off, said if I didn't want it, I should let them re-raffle it so someone who didn't mind could have it.

I still have that thing sitting around somewhere. I probably won't see it again until my parents die and I have to clean out their house. I don't think I'll ever use it. I would feel so wrong. Just remembering I own it feels dirty.

If I ever accomplish anything with my life, maybe someday history will look back and deem me worthy of two dolls, a tiny pink bear, and a drop-and-load camera.

The good

Well, it looks like the Catholic education worked after all. Kidding.

Honestly, if the above is the worst that can be said about me (which I'm neither confirming nor denying), I'm in good shape. I need to remember that.
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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

In which I celebrate Independence (and Capitalism)

Fireworks show 2008Image by John_Wright via FlickrAll through college and grad school, I worked at Target during the summers and some Christmases. And every year, I worked closing on the 4th of July.

This wasn't a huge deal. Most of the traditional holiday stuff I enjoy takes place in the morning anyway, and once the the last-minute barbecue crowd cleared out, the store was quiet enough that we usually were able to leave not long after the store closed at 10:00. I don't drive, but my parents were often kind enough to pick me up.

You couldn't ask for better timing. The shopping center is located on top of a hill, and at 10:00 all the surrounding townships start their fireworks displays. If you just stand there for about half an hour, you're rewarded with a 360-degree light show. It's almost impossible to know which way to look -- which shows are professional, and which are done by a drunken crowd of neighbors? Are they just warming up, or kicking off the finale? And just when you're about ready to get in the car and go home, Pop! And you spin around and gaze in wonder for another five, ten minutes.

The good

If you have to work on a holiday, this is the way to go. Watch the parade, eat your church picnic lunch, enjoy a quiet day in and empty store, and then stand back and watch the panoramic fireworks display.

Also? Holiday pay.
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Monday, June 23, 2008

In which I realize a close call

The Philadelphia Inquirer-Daily News Building ...Image via Wikipedia
(Note: requires free registration (Or bugmenot). Most of the links illustrate, but are not crucial to, my entry. The grand jury report is very long and very graphic, so note that before reading.)

A few years ago, Philadelphia had its moment in the nationwide scandal involving Catholic priests abusing their young parishioners. Reading the news, I realized how close to home it had hit.

Specifically, my grade school.

I read the first 60 or so pages of the 400+ page grand jury report. I didn't go past that for several reasons: I had mass amounts of work to do, the report was very graphic and very repetitive, there were large passages of legalese.

And I recognized a name.

I went to St. Josaphat School in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia from the fall of 1992 until the spring of 1997. Father Leonard Furmanski (the second priest listed here) was the pastor of this parish from 1995 to 1998. Even though no charges came out related to my school, the report made it clear that we cannot assume these charges are all-inclusive. Most victims of molestation never report it.

When I saw this name, my first response was not to finish reading, and not to blog, but to call my best friend, who was a classmate of mine at St. Josaphat and who, with his younger brother, served as an altar boy for several years. Neither was abused (thank the deity of your choice), and neither recalls any behavior that even bordered on suspicious. I almost felt guilty bringing this up; my friend considers his altar-boy duties to be among his few pleasant memories of middle school.

So much for full disclosure. It seems to be impossible to find a Philadelphian with any ties at all to Catholicism (I'm not Catholic; I just attended the schools) who doesn't know at least one of the 63 priests listed here.
It was Tom Ferrick Jr.'s column that showed me the ethical question involved.

The cardinal calls the report "very graphic" and, brother, is he right. Parts of it are strictly X-rated, but you couldn't call it salacious. Sickening is more like it, given that the perps were priests, the victims children, and the crime scenes were rectories and churches, even a confessional.
Ferrick then goes on to recommend those who can "stomach it" to read the full report. The 60 or so pages I read were brutal. I don't think there is any debate that the public certainly needs to know the identities of these attackers (at least, those that have been convicted) and, now, about the cover-up the Church has gone through to protect them. But do we need to hear that a priest raped an 11-year-old girl, then took her to get an abortion after getting her pregnant? And that is one of the milder stories.

How much should the public hear? How much is too much for the reader, or too insensitive to the victim? I applaud Ferrick's method. The grand jury report is not on the front page of the website. I could only get to it though his column. He duly warns his readers, and even after you click the link he provides, there are many choices: the report itself, a catalog of the offenders and their offenses, a directory of the biographical information on these priests, and so on. The reader can make the choice. The journalists just have to offer it.

The good

My friend was safe. Thank heaven for small favors. I wish more people could say the same.
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Thursday, June 12, 2008


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Monday, June 9, 2008

In which I attend a bridal shower (and drop hints in boldface)

AmericanImage via Wikipedia
I recently attended the bridal shower of a distant relative. She's a very nice woman, though I should say I don't know her especially well. There were perfectly valid reasons for me going that I won't get into here; my invitation was not a point of complaint.

This was a stereotypical shower, though. And I may not be a very nice person for saying so, but I find stereotypical showers to be inane displays of conspicuous consumerism for the sake of conspicuous consumerism.

Now, don't get me wrong. I really like the idea of having a day that's jsut about you (more so than the wedding, which is -- officially, if not in practice -- equally about him, and -- in practice, if not officially -- almost as much about the respective families). You're surrounded by the people who care most about you, who are showing they care about you by taking care of you. This I have no problem with.

But let's be both honest and blunt. A wedding shower is a gift grab. That's why, traditionally, it was considered inappropriate for a member of either immediate family to host the shower (this is no longer the case in most circles). It's one thing if your best friend arranges a party to make sure you have everything you need to start off your new life. It's another thing if your mother is doing it. Yes, it's important to think the best of people, but sadly, the mother's motives are more suspect.

Honestly, I don't expect to have a shower at all. The entire bridal party (myself included, of course) is male. I'm having "bridesmen." Unless one of them decides to throw a co-ed shower -- unless it occurs to one of them to throw a co-ed shower -- I won't be seeing one from them. Which is maybe for the best, because I'm not keen on a Eagles[link] theme, even if the team colors do match the wedding colors.

That leaves the two moms. I don't know if my mother will -- she doesn't love the gift-grab thing -- but if she does, it'll probably be low-key, which I like. If Chris's mom does it, the instinct would be to have it in New York. If it was up to me, though, I'd want it in Philadelphia. My side of the family deserves something on our turf.

Back to the shower I attended. The bride was apparently surprised, which is nice but not a deal-breaker: it's not unusual to ask a bride what she likes and who she wants invited, whcih means she'd be expecting it eventually.

She was then adorned with a plastic tiara and fake veil, which she seemed to get a kick out of but which would embarass me terribly. Not my style, plus what do I do with it afterwards? I'm all out of room for clutter.

There were games. The famous couples and "what's in your purse" games just took up time that, in a smaller group, would be spent on conversation. There was a Newlyweds Game type thing where the bride had to guess the answers the groom gave to an emailed survey, which would have been really cute except for the fact that the bride had to stuff a marshmallow in her mouth every time she got one wrong. I'm not big on showing affection through humiliation. I'm told that means I have no sense of humor. What can I say?

On game I did think was fun was Bridal Bingo. You fill a bingo grid with the presents you expect the bride will get, then mark them off when she opens them. This keeps the guests interested in the presents, so they don't get bored. That would be less practical, and less necessary, in a smaller shower, wouldn't it? Still fun, though.

And I know this is a tradition, but I've also been to showers where it wasn't done and it lacked nothing: the bridal bonnet made of gift wrap and bows. I don't want one made, and I'm not wearing one. Feel free to say, once again, that I have no sense of humor, but I'm not budging.

I also don't need a full meal, although if a lot of people are travelling, it's not the worst idea. There's nothing wrong with sandwiches, though.

As for favors, they gave out really nice ones at the shower. Frankly, though, I don't plan on paying as much for my actual wedding favors as they must have for the shower favors. Your gift is not there to pay for your plate, and your favor is not there to compensate for your gift.

The good

I got a good sense of what I might want for a shower of my own, and felt better about the prospect of not getting one. I certainly didn't have a bad time, and the food and company were 95% pleasant (and can you really expect more than that?).
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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

In which I go to the museum

Jumping out of your skin in the new yearImage by Swamibu via Flickr
“Man is nothing more than what he makes of himself” – Sartre.

The exhibit entrance is hushed. The Franklin Institute proper has closed for the evening, and the night crowd hasn’t turned out just yet. A maze designed to control long lines is walked by lone visitors who hand their tickets over to a bored-looking worker and turn off their cell phones at his request.

A ramp goes up to the exhibit space of Gunther von HagensBody Worlds. Factoids about the human body – your heart stops when you sneeze – decorate the walls. A turnstile is the final obstacle.

The walls of the room are black, decorated with red cloth hangings, some plain, others featuring quotes – Kant, Psalm 8 – or pictures. Spotlights illuminate each specimen. Small fake trees in pots and white rock gardens offer a sense of not-quite-life to contrast with the not-quite-death of the specimens.

A standard, bones-only skeleton stands by the entrance. It is familiar; similar skeletons reside in biology classrooms around the country.

The gallery is still fairly empty, but the first small crowd is gathered around “Ligament Body,” a second skeleton. This one is much like the first skeleton, but its bones are connected not with wires but with cartilage, ligaments, and even some muscles. This skeleton won’t be found in your typical high school.

“Look at the expression on his face!” a woman remarks at “The Smoker,” a third skeleton. This one features still more muscles, plus a pair of blackened lungs. The Smoker’s bony fingers clutch a final cigarette. His eyes are wide. He has fingernails.

It is easy to dismiss a bare skeleton as a thing. It may have been a part of a person, once, but it is not a person. The Smoker is a person.
Von Hagens' process, called plastination, replaces or reinforces natural tissue with polymers to prevent disintegration. Some bodies are sliced into slides; other are harvested for individual organs; still more are cut and posed into the statue-like specimens for which von Hagens and BodyWorlds are famous. There are four official BodyWorlds exhibits on tour, plus various imitators; von Hagens is currently a professor at New York University, where he is developing an anatomy curriculum for the school of dentistry, where, according to the school’s public relations office, the students enjoy having lifelike specimens without having to dissect cadavers.

Von Hagens has been surrounded by controversy since he invented the process in the 1970s, as people question the source of the bodies (voluntary donations) and the appropriateness of making entertainment and profit off the dead.
Couples, preteen to mature, embrace as they stare, at first in marvel, then, gradually, for support. A man points out the muscle groups in “The Basketball Player,” who is playing with an autographed 76ers ball.

The Teacher,” his nervous system visible, seems to read from a guide to this very exhibit. A few women decide to learn what he is teaching. They quiz one another in anatomy. Their voices, like the voices of most of the visitors, are hushed. The primary sound is that of the museum’s air conditioning.

Visitors peer into display cases of organs until they approach the “Blood Vessel Family.” A man, a woman, and a little child perched on the man’s shoulders. Visitors stare, intrigued, at the two adults, whose red, lacy bodies are made up of their plastinated arteries, with no other organs obstructing the view. None can look at the child for more than a few seconds before turning towards one of the adults, or the caption.

This caption explains the process. The bodies’ arteries were filled with plastic, then the bodies were treated over a long period until all but the plastic was dissolved away.

The child offers two thumbs up to the visitor who looks long enough to notice.

Visitors then leave this gallery for the next. The wall hangings here are green.

A literal deathmask rotates in a glass case. The face is covered in gold foil, but the features are distinct. Even so, a caption notes, the process leaves features unidentifiable. The plastination process, then, changes faces but not organs. A man, watching it turn, scratches his nose. Another man points out the face’s dental work, visible from the back.

The face has its original eyelashes.
A smoker’s lung is on display. Two men stare. “You have a cigarette?” one asks the other. Thanks to The Smoker, it is easy to identify each body’s lifetime tobacco habits. Most visible lungs are dark.

A woman gazes into another display case with her companion. “There’s your stomach lining,” she notes. “Well, not yours.

Another doorway, and “The Blocking Goalkeeper” stretches out his arms, trying to catch a soccer ball in one hand and his organs in the other. This is the last specimen before the midpoint.

Up a ramp, past the SkyBike, a carefully counterweighted bicycle suspended high above the museum’s lobby. Visitors familiar with the Franklin Institute are greeted with some normalcy, some familiarity. A glance over the ramp’s railing reveals the ticket booth, the gift shop, the snack bar, the line for the Imax theater.

Off to one side, curtains hide storage. Two of the exhibit’s more famous bodies, “The Swimmer” and “Rearing Horse with Rider,” are packed away, replaced by more recent creations.

Visitors whip out cell phones or chat among themselves, taking advantage of the excuse to raise their voices. The intermission is welcome; the tension lifts palpably.

At the top of the ramp is the next gallery. The cream and gold walls give the exhibit a classical feel, rather than the ethereal one of previous galleries. Pink and purple banners hang down. Three visitors talk loudly as they approach, but their voices drop immediately.

Lines of viewers, headsets pressed to their ears, listen to the official audiotour, available at $6 a piece. The crowds, which build up as the evening progresses, are at their peak around exhibits that correspond to the tour.
“3D Slice Plastinate” could probably be recognized by his loved ones, were they to see him in the museum. His many tattoos are all visible on his sliced skin; a handful of teenaged girls admire them. They then examine his rear and giggle. The tattoos, and the man’s pubic hair, remind the viewers: this was a person.
Off to one side, cordoned off by black curtains, is a section on fetal development. This is the only section of the exhibit that tells the story of the people behind the specimens.

The pregnant woman shown had been ill, a caption explains at the entrance. She donated her body to the program after becoming pregnant. She died in her eighth month of pregnancy, and her child could not be saved. Mother and fetus were displayed at the main focal point of this secluded room. Her existence was apparently not controversial enough; she is displayed in a classic “cheesecake” pose, propped up on her right arm, her left arm bent behind her head. The fetus is visible in her open womb.

She is surrounded by small display cases on either side, and a row of jars in the middle of the room. The embryos and fetuses shown, the caption assures the visitors, came from historical collections, some dating back more than 80 years. As far as anyone knows, the caption continues, all died in accidents or of natural causes. The unspoken conclusion is that abortion is being kept off the table.

The fetuses are draped in soft black cloth, as if they are resting in blankets. Some are healthy-looking; others have obviously fatal defects. A young man explains the different birth defects to a young woman.

A woman explains pregnancy to a little girl. “How did you know how tiny I was?” the girl asks. She is captivated by the colorless embryos, which she compares to a cheese puff.
Another doorway, into a room with wooden paneling and floors. A desk is set up with forms so that visitors can send away for information on donating their own bodies. The bodies here span the process, some years old, others brand new. It is easy to see how the plastination process developed. Early specimens were basic, standing or sitting, as in “Winged Man,” who merely stands, his musculature open wide, a white hat perched on his head. Pieces dated 2006 are more complex: a pair of figure skaters are caught mid-dance; a male gymnast hangs from rings as a female gymnast arches over a balance beam. Faces, their skin otherwise removed, have maintained their eyebrows, lips, and the skin around their nostrils. Some visitors compare what they see to pages in their anatomy textbooks.

Visitors do not express any horror, but their bodies betray discomfort. They cross their arms over their chests, or clutch their necklaces. Their hands are clenched or else stuffed into pockets.

Two women make sure the little girl with them is all right. The girl is fine. She only has one concern: “Where’s Pop-pop?”

The good

This is something I wrote for a project and never did anything with. I finally have an excuse. I hope you enjoy it.

As an update: an imitator, Bodies: The Exhibition, was recently found to have received its specimens from a suspect source. If you saw this show -- not Body Worlds -- in the US, you may be entitled to a refund.
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