Thursday, June 29, 2006

Potty Incident #2 aka Famous Last Words aka More Potty Humor

ACK! ACK! ACK!




First, let me state that this is NOT my potty, not my house. We are visiting, accepting the gracious hospitality of our hosts. It is also not my food.

This, of course, makes the entire incident worse.

My sister, last night, said, "Your ONE CHILD is more trouble than all four of mine plus their four friends and the little boy from up the street, who is a preteen. She makes me tired."

This from the woman who regularly has seven children at any given time in her house, at least six of whom are 7 and under.

Let me recap my morning and tell you what the pitter patter of little feet mean around my house (again, NOT MY HOUSE):

Scene: Mom and Dad in bed asleep. Mom has about three hours under her belt, Dad about one. The morning light has broken, birds are twittering.

Act 1: Am awakened by slamming door noise and baby jumping on my chest, repeatedly. With giggles. She has emptied the armoire and the clothes are all over the floor.

React 1: I crank open my eyelids, drag my weary body from bed, make my husband refold all the clothes and put them back, and begin rehearsing my apology (again, another one) to my hostess. I decide downstairs for breakfast is the best thing.

Scene: The kitchen, 8 a.m.

Act 2: The baby has dumped an entire package of Cheerios on the floor

React 2: I stoop over to scoop up Cheerios (which, may I say, have a nasty habit of rolling away, usually towards floor vents), withmy bum wagging and flagging all passers-by with the cheerful inscription, "Rock and ROLL!" in hot pink.

Act 3: While mom is thusly occupied, the baby smears banana all over floor.

React 3: More bum wagging and flagging by me while wiping up smushed banana, yelling, "BACK! BACK! Do NOT walk in this kitchen, there is...OH NO NO NO, FREEZE!" to the curious rubber-neckers attempting to get a closer gander, nearly stepping in the mess.

Act 4: Older child, seeing an opening and being ignored while I track dangerous younger child, decides to make eggs. "Oh no Mom, it broke ALL OVER..."

React 4: Strip older child, get fresh outfit, bleach table and floor to clean up raw egg.

Act 5: Empty the sippy cup and plastic drawer for the 25th time.

React 5: Yell and clean up again.

And on...and on...and on. All before 9 a.m.

The encore? You see it above. (The photo.)

Lunch time.

My younger, my monkey...gets a cheese stick for dessert. Miss Monkey May stands up in the high chair. Eldest Cousin gets her down, thinking to save the Divine Miss M's neck. My husband makes the questionable decision to let her wander with food. Somebody left open the bathroom door, with the potty lid up.

You guessed it.

Mr. Cheese went flushy flushy.

I first learned of the incident while sitting at the table. My husband said, "Miss Monkey May, where is your cheese stick?"

Miss Monkey May giggles, and ducks her chin down to her shoulder, with a little eyebrow flash and eye wink.

"Show me where your cheese stick is, take Daddy to your cheese stick."

She grabs his hand, gurgling and giggling and leads him to the guest bath. Lifts the potty lid. Points. Giggles some more.

My husband says, "ACK! ACK! ACK! You DID NOT! OMG, you DID. Juuuuuuulllllllesssssssss!!!!!!!"

I grabbed the camera, shot a photo, penned a tremendously long apology note to our hostess and hit the road.

I'm writing this in the plastic surgeon's office. I'm thinking we would look GREAT as Brad and Angelina. Yes? The baby can go back to black hair.

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Oooooooo HIGH Oooooooo where the wind comes sweeping down the hills

And the wavin' trees can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.




Okay I took some generous artistic liberties...with the song. The photo is 100% fer real.

It's really just like that, right there in Ohio.

This? Is the upshot of RV travel. You get to stay in places like this, with other itinerant people who are all super duper friendly...just grateful to see another human, other than the one(s) they just spent 12 hours in a vehicle with. And you get to wake up in the morning and have this view. For only $20.

And you get to talk to locals, who are more than happy to bend your ear as long as you like about their area.

I like very much.

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hey Jack Kerouac...my daughter speaks in haiku



Each day that we drove during our road trip, it poured rain. One day, as we moved further east into a region with foliage and landscape, the rain gentled into a shower.

With families of trees----parents, kids, aunts, uncles, cousins, even the lone black sheep of a different variety---bracketing us as we barreled forward, the rain droplets collected and skittered on our windows.

The pattering water and road noise blanket us, a lullaby of white noise. We all felt like lazy sleepwalkers, not asleep but not awake. Eventually, the baby succumbed to it, first her eyes falling heavily down, then her head lolling to the side. One fist resisted, shooting upwards, then gently fell like an autumn leaf in resigned acceptance of hibernation. Her cheeks pinkened as she let air in and out of her open mouth and round nose. She pulled her lovey blanket---tofty on one side and toothey on the other---up over her face, leaving only one closed eye visible. She clutched her chenille pooh bear to her chest.

Gazing out in a rare quiet moment, while the baby slept, my daughter said, "Mama, the rain drops dance like Chinese dragons on our windows."

It was only 9 a.m. on Day Two, but it felt like this was our entire lives. And in that moment, I thought, "Beautiful."

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Living in a Faux Reality TV Show aka Everybody Loves a Road Trip



We all live in a big white RV, a big white RV, a big white RV. We all live in a big white RV, a big white RV...out in the big wide world.

If you were ever thinking it made sense for a bunch of adults and kids to live in an RV...let me tell you: there are drugs that can help you. Really.

Although---Honest Pete---it's not that bad.

You can get food, and the bathroom is always there and clean, no more searching for some scummy food mart potty or a rest area or (in times of extreme desperation) a semi-private roadside tree. You can even nap without being in some neck-twisting position with your jaw all slack and drool oozing down your chin. The table area is nice for coloring and doing puzzles.

But let me tell you, the time table is a max of three days. Even if you are all Very Nice People and Really Really Like Each Other.

Past that and it is some Fox Knockoff of MTV Reality TV series about when "people stop being nice and start getting real."

As it happens, Day One was a challenge right off the bat when we blew a tire and found the spare was for a Chevrolet pickup not a Ford (which we have). Three hot, sweaty, RV-rocking, children whining roadside hours later, the tow truck tire shop guy managed to switch the tires and rims and we were off. But it made a long day unbearably long.

Day Two the kids' DVD player failed. And that's when things got ugly. Grandpa was boggled why this was such a Disaster and Catastrophe. Back in his day, he reminded us, people had to sleep in tents made of canvas and find their own food and cook it over a camp fire and entertain themselves with their imaginations.

When we all finished shuddering, we asked him to turn on the A/C because it was hot. And I rededicated myself to trying to diagnose and repair the problem with the DVD player.

Day Three it occured to me that Grandpa might have a point and I searched my "sleep deprived due to constantly waking kids and ooh that air mattress sucks to sleep on and if my head whacks the cabinet one more time I'm going to be brain damaged" brain for ways to entertain my kids without modern conveniences.

Here are my attempted solutions...all of which earned me the everlasting scorn of my children:

1. Coloring

"But Moooooooommmmm the RV keeps bopping up and down and my picture is ruuuuuuiinnnnnneddddddd."

On to 2. "I spy with my little eye."

"This game stinks. I can't see anything. We're moving too fast."

How about 3. Story Circle

"...and then they all got into an RV and the monsters came and killed them bloody dead with their bodies all torn up," said replete with those "ooohhh scary" campfire eyes.

They can't read so the license plate game is out.

I don't want to teach them Punch Buggy.

So 4. The Cloud Game

This worked fine for a bit, looking to see shapes in the clouds.

But then the whining resumed and I started thinking I wish I had a canvas tent. I could put it to some good use. There was no number 5.

The baby never did join in on any of it and so the entire five minutes we tried the low tech entertainment solution she squirmed and screamed and fought her car seat buckles like someone had stuffed them with broken glass and she was being tortured.

Which, when I thought about it and how I felt, might not be too far from the truth.

I concluded the drug use of the 60s was completely understandable if all those kids and teens were dragged around the country on Road Trips without modern conveniences.

These things were invented for good cause and my Priority #1 was Fix that DVD player, followed closely by Priority #2 which was "find some drugs that make the kids sleep."

I'm glad we had an oven and microwave at our fingertips, and the air mattress was better on the carpeted cabin floor than outdoors in some nature scene with sticks and insects and (read my previous post) flora. I was able to extend my necessary for life conditioned and filtered air on my trip. You can't beat that.

Still, really. Cap the time. And use all those modern day newfangled conveniences like DVD players.

Tomorrow...the trip drives my older daughter crazy and she begins speaking in haiku, with an accent of whine.

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

You, madam, are Extremely Allergic to Everything and need to live in a Sterile Plastic Bubble



That magnolia photo is me these days: a little wilty and brown around the edges.

I'm thinking of Anthony Edwards in Northern Exposure, living in his all natural, organic, Clean House and John Travolta, reaching to touch the hand of the Girl Next Door through his plastic bubble.

Unfortunately, I'm not a boy, don't have endless supplies of cash to pamper my quirks, and who would care for the kids?

Yes, people, I have moved to my Ultimate Death. My environment is killing me.

My body is now so allergic to all flora, many fauna, and peanuts (holy crap) that it is over-reacting to everything.

In technoterms I am having (strike that, say suffering instead) cross-reactive allergic reactions. This means the proteins I am not allergic to normally (such as melons, olives, nightshades---the plant family people, not something put over a lamp) are now provoking massive allergic reactions, mainly in my mouth.

It's call Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). And it's made worse by the allergy medicine I have to take simply to function.

I look like a Circus Freak.

My face and neck are all puffy, my belly is bloated (that's all part of OAS...it is a systemic reaction throughout my body), and the rest of me is swollen, including my eyes. The medicine makes me tired and lethargic, but without it I can't get up anyway. I suck down coffee and ginseng, but probably I am allergic to that too so I guess it is a wash.

I am now a Super High-Maintenance Person, the very thing I strive to avoid.

I have to treat the ulcerations in my mouth (that lovely OAS) four times a day iwth oral peroxide and a gel.

I have no less than three medications to take at least twice a day.

And in July? I get to start Immunotherapy, which means a record of three serums and six solutions twce a week as INJECTIONS. That's right. Shots. Luckily I am disgustingly familiar with frequent injections thanks to years of infertility.

But I'm stiffening my upper lip, trying to be brave and positive, and thinking of England.

(Boy doesn't England sound nice? All cool, possibly cloudy and rainy. Boy could I go for that. I bet I'm not allergic to it, either.)

How did I get here?

Why am I here?

I went to see the allergist when I realized I was sick all the time and people thought I was regularly channeling a drunk German because my swollen tongue made me talk like this, "Dars meederhoffen shin da loder."

They did a ton of pin pricks all over my back, then for fun, did more on my arms.

I think the nurse doing the back was more skilled because the back was little to no trouble, whereas the arms still have bloody puncture wounds.

So I think I've had over a hundred pinpricks and the outcome is...

I HAVE ALLERGIES

Whoop whoop

Alert the media.

Of course this isn't news.

I asked him, can you narrow it down a bit?

He said, yes, you are allergic...to anything with pollen. And mold.

I asked, like what things, specifically, which ones?

He said, well, all of them: trees, grass, flowers, weeds, anything with pollen, that grows...like a plant.

I said, disbelieving, all trees?

He said, ummm, hmm, no look there are two that you are only slightly allergic to.

I asked, just trees, grass and weeds?

He replied, no, those are your extreme allergies. You also have your lesser allergies.

I asked, extreme like how, like on a scale?

He said, well, hmm, we quit measuring after a bit. You passed that point. I'll type up a detailed report for you.

I asked, you quit measuring? You mean I am so allergic you can't measure it any more?

He said, well, after a bit, it doesn't make sense to keep measuring because we know you are extremely allergic.

Okay, I said, So, what fell into the very allergic category, after this extreme stuff?

Mold, he told me, handing me a sheet of things to avoid with a severe mold allergy and essentially yanking away my will to live. No cheese? No olives? No vinegar? NO WINE?!?! And tell me, this cleaning thing, with this special cleaner I have to make myself, clean all these areas of my house, at least 1-2 times a week? This is a joke, right?

And after mold? I asked

Peanuts, he told me

Peanuts? I screeched, watching my chocolate bars fade awy along with cheese, dairy, anything vinegar-based, all beer, wine, cider and even root beer (to name a 1/3 of the Verboten list).

Is that new? he asked.

What?

Have you never had an allergy to peanuts before?

No, I've eaten peanuts my whole life, I said.

Well, it's not a horrible reaction then, he said, since you aren't dead.

I tried hard to feel consoled.

Listen, he said, it might be that your reaction to peanuts right now is worse because your other allergies are so bad.

I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner Saturday, I told him, my throat and tongue swelled worse and I got more sores in my mouth.

Let me see, he said, adding some ahh and hmm noises.

I love peanut butter, I said. It sustains me through diets, PMS, pregnancy and more.

Well, peanut butter doesn't love you back, he said, unless you count it loving you to death.

No, I don't, I thought.

My doctor, by the way, looks like a World War One flying ace. I can picture him in jodphurs, with a leather helmet and flowing white silk scarf. He even has the hair, cut neatly and short, and narrow groomed mustache, very small, just a hint of one, really.

It's not a death sentence, and I can't make it one even with all my usual drama. However, it's a Chronic Pain In My Ass, these allergies and this new REPENT! and avoid allergens or SUFFER the fires of HELL!

Last night, my friend who has allergies about this bad told me Immunotherapy failed her and made her worse.

I have to consider that, and the fact that it is $2500 upfront, out of my pocket, as a begining. I'm sure it will end up costing me, out of pocket, over $5000 a year. At least. Just for this.

I'm a little resentful.

Get healthy and ruin the family budget. And maybe it doesn't even work.

Or stay sick.

What a choice, Sophie.

I'm just going to keep thinking of England. See? Stiff upper lip, chaps, and all will be well.

Still, if you hear of a Strange Blight affecting all plants and trees in my area? You know nothing.

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

When the Husband and Kids are Home Alone



Lest you think that the crazy daisy life is unique to me in this family, let me share my husband's Friday morning. Also, this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the act? It's ALL the kids. They would do as they do regardless of who is in charge so WHEW blame is off of me.

First, as usual with me, a little background.

All week long, actually two weeks with this past one being the worst, I have been questioning how much life likes me in this town. I’m liking it fine, but so far, so sick. As a dog! After a series of unfortunate events and doctor interactions, it was universally agreed it was time to Escalate my Case to the Experts.

So Friday morning the allergist, his nurse, about 65 needles and I spent some quality time together, seeing how many huge welts we could create on my back (for the record, quite a few!).

This meant my husband, the actual father of our children, was left Home Alone to get himself and the children ready to go for the day All By Himself.

Never mind I do this every day.

I arrived at the doctor’s office slightly before my appointment at 8 a.m. and by 8:30 my husband and I had already spoken on my cell phone twice. The nurse got to be a party to the second call and who knows what she thought of me hissing into my phone, “Listen, I’m at the doctor’s with the nurse now and I can’t handle this, you’ll have to figure it out.”

Not that I was unsympathetic.

I never even once thought, “Great scott, it’s just two small girls. I do it every day, it’s not rocket science. Just get them ready and go.”

This is because I know my children.

His first call was, I think, actually a panicked outreach as he watched his careful, “I can do this, it’s only two small girls, we’ll just get ready and go” plan unravel. Really, I know the feeling. Well.

While he was on the phone with me, as is typical with my children, Disaster Struck. Unwittingly, poor Dad had set his coffee cup on the counter by the phone. The baby can reach that high now! And lo and behold, she did. I suppose she thought she needed a morning boost (although really, not sure when her energy meter ever dips below Manic anyway), so she reached to grab Dad’s coffee cup, succeeding in spilling it all over herself and the carpet.

My poor husband then had a screaming baby to clean, a floor to clean, and no coffee to boot.

Outfit number two and a strong scent of carpet cleaner later, he moved on to the next portion of the morning: attempting to get out the door to the sitter’s.

This prompted the second call. The sitter was running late, and thus my husband would miss his first morning meeting and be pressed to make his second.

Again, I knew he knew I could do nothing, but hope springs eternal, and moreover, I was the one person in the world who would really understand his pain. That he could call. Before 8:30 a.m.

The third call came later in the day. It was as I was preparing to leave the office and pick up the children.

“I just thought I ought to warn you,” he said to me.

My stomach sank in a revoltingly familiar way.

“Yes?”

“Sweet pea is probably going to be very upset about a lizard.”

“A lizard? An anole?”

“Yes. I’m afraid the baby ummm killed it. Sort of violently. It was ummm disturbing. To say the least.”

“Okay…” I said, really hoping the story ended there. But no, once again, my beloved partner wants to share everything with me.

“I was trying to remember all the bags and things to put in the bag and get out the front door. The kids went on out. Sweet pea found an anole and was following it, little running commentary, in her usual scientific style. Well, that of course attracted her sister. Who had her sippy cup…”

I immediately saw where this was going.

“The baby giggled and ummm errr smashed her cup down HARD on the lizard, right on the head. I don’t think it was instantly killed. Its jaws sort of opened and closed a few times, and it looked pained, with bulging eyes. It was just a baby one,” he added.

We were both silent, picturing a poor baby lizard, killed. And more silence, pondering our youngest, aka Baby Lizard Clubber.

“Anyway,” he went on, “Sweet pea was screaming and screaming and crying and hysterical. I think she called her sister a bloody murderer. I didn’t correct her.” DH was rather a Dr. Doolittle as a child and is even more horrified than I am at our children’s propensity for violence towards animals. “She was pretty upset and she’ll probably mention it to you, want to go see the corpse.”

Sweet pea is nothing if not practical in some senses, and scientific in all senses. Once a creature is dead, well, no harm no foul in additional investigation. If you take my meaning. And I am sure that you do.

“Hmmmm,” I said, trying to think of a way around autopsying an anole in my front yard in the hot and humid afternoon. “Thanks for the heads-up.”

“Sure,” he said, “They’re in fine form today so have a nice afternoon.”

“Don’t forget I’m going out with the girls tonight,” I reminded him, “So you are back on Dad Duty when you get home. Maybe I’ll tell Sweet Pea you can’t autopsy during the day,” I added evilly.

“Jerk,” he said, lovingly.

We romanced goodbyes to one another and hung up.

Even without having to make lunches, clean up breakfasts, fill a diaper bag and backpack, schlep a Mt. Everest expedition’s amount of stuff to the car, with two small children dragging on my legs, it still took me fifteen minutes to carry myself to the car to go fetch my precious darlings from the sitter.

And they? Were having too much fun to leave. So I sat and watched them play with their friends and favorite toys, remembering how it felt, somehow, to be 4, and relishing the attention of a Big Girl

When I finally coaxed them to the car, Sweet Pea had had such a fun day, I think she forget all about the lizard. She chattered about dress-up and playdough and grilled cheese and puzzles and madeup games and on and on…

And me? You bet I didn’t even ask.

For the curious: my husband survived his evening duty and even woke up remarkably chipper this morning. I did notice his coffee cup was left high up and far back from any edges though.

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Stand up comedy? Oh no, no, I don't have an act, I am the act

I wonder, sometimes, whether I'd be a rich source of material for a stand-up comic.

Everybody Loves Raymond was very much a "strumming my pain with his fingers, blah blah blah something about my life and his words" show. It was so very much our life, I laughed and laughed while watching it, and so did my husband, but every now and again, we'd slant a glance to the other person and say, "Humph, well, humph."

Nevertheless, clearly, this must mean our life was not only common, but funny, right? Sitcom level funny.

Here, let me give you an example. This is my morning, and it is a typical morning. This story takes place within about a five minute period of time. That should be about as long as it takes you to read so WOWZA, I'm all 24-cool, in real time.

Scene: our house, early morning, all people and animals awake and preparing for departure

“Okay,” I say to DH, “Can you grab that and bring it downstairs because I need to get the daybags for the kids to go to the sitter’s.”

“Isn’t Sweet Pea going to Grandma’s?” he asked me.

Oh. Oh shit. So she is. I agreed to this visit on a workday for two reasons: (1) despite being here, in town, within 10 minutes of Grandma 52 weeks out of the year, Grandma is afraid that our elder daughter will forget her just because she will be out of town for a short while, (2) Sweet Pea is always seeking an alternative to the sitter’s because she hates doing a baby thing (I guess the fact that her younger sister is there renders it a Horrid Baby Thing---and I’m not sure when we got out of the “I’m a baby too!” stage, anyway) and she dislikes the sitter’s potty. That will have to suffice. We can talk potty another day.

Okay now I am frozen in a panic of, “How do I revise my plan and instead prepare for two kids gong two places, and OH NO! My business meeting at 1 and how will this work and crappity crap crap cr...”

My copy of She’s Gonna Blow---a book about how mothers can chill out and manage anger born out of frustration and stress---stares balefully at me from my nightstand, and I trail off my last crap. Would this be seismic activity, or a Strombolian or Hawaiian eruption pending? It’s still confusing to me.

Okay, I can do this. Either my mother-in-law can keep Sweet Pea until after my meeting, or she can bring her to me and I can run her over to the sitter’s---quick calculation, it’s a 20 minute drive there, 20 minutes back, add in 15 minutes for traffic, hmm okay maybe if I skip lunch I can make it---or I can have her drop the kid off at the sitter’s. First one might be a conflict for her, second one is a conflict for me, and third one is a can of worms.

My guardian angel, God, or my current hallucination speaks to me in my head, “Be decisive, tell people what to do.”

I glance once more at the clock and kick it into overdrive. I grab the diaper bag and backpack and ensure each is filled with the kid’s daily needs: two spare outfits, sunblock, spare undies/diapers, lovies, random crap in the bottom I’m too scared to look at, oh yes and wipes. Okay all set. Throw in lunch and good to go.

I grab the baby, tell the older child to come on and we hurry downstairs. By the time we reach the bottom, the little one has fallen asleep on my shoulder.

Dog, oh no, dog. I hurriedly put the dog I the back yard just as Grandma knocks on the door.

“Hello, how are you, great great,” I say, in a rush, patting the baby’s back, trying to keep her asleep. I usher in my mother-in-law after it occurs to me that it would be beyond rude to simply shove my older daughter out the door to her. I quietly close the door, trying to be graceful and easy in my movements, trying to keep the baby asleep, yes, but mainly to set the model for “be quiet now and don’t wake the baby” to my daughter and mother-in-law.

Then the doorbell rings. Chaos breaks loose. The dog barks madly and hurls his body crashingly against the back door, his barking escalates to deep throaty “let me at ‘em” growly barks. My daughter begins hopping and saying, loudly, “The doorbell! The doorbell!” My mother-in-law adds, ‘Were you expecting someone else?”

I say no, and yank open the door, irritated, with a sharp “Yes?”

I see a man with sunglasses and blue cable shirt, “Hi,“ he says, “I’m the cable guy and I’m here about the cable.”

I grimace out a smile and say, “Yeah okay we don’t have cable, and don’t want cable, thanks, goodbye!” and start to close the door.

“Wait!” he calls.

I crack the door a bit, “Yes?”

“I’m here to turn off your cable.”

“Okay, umm well see I don’t have cable and haven’t ever so nothing to turn off.”

“Did you just move in?” he asks quickly, before I can close the door.

“Yes,” I admit.

“Then it’s the cable the previous owners had.”

My mother-in-law is shuffling behind me, talking to my daughter. The baby twitched a few times on my shoulder and has come full awake now, not ready to. She begins clawing at my shirt, and her wails start to escalate.

“Okay,” I say conceding, “What do you need?”

“I was just telling you, because all I need to be is in your backyard, and I didn’t want you to be alarmed or anything,” he tells me. Where we live, this is code for “and shoot me dead on the spot with no repercussions.” This is why meter readers wear neon colors with 200 pt font that says, “METER READER.” Over their flak vest, of course. Wait, this makes it sound like I live in a war zone. No, no, just the Wild Wild West where concealed handguns are not only legal, but common, and likely to be used. My neighborhood is perfectly nice, just well-armed.

I start to say okay and close the door, when I recall the dog is out back. Crappity crappity…no, no, she’s not gonna blow.

I look at him and say, ‘Okay, here’s the deal. Now is not an okay time. The dog is out back and I can’t let him in right now. You’ll have to come back in five minutes.”

Wow! That felt GOOD!

(When I told my husband this story, at this point, he interjected, “And did that work???” I said, “Actually, yes, yes it did.”)

The cable guy looks happy, and says, “No problem!” running quickly to his truck. I think, yeah it’s fine, he’s just happy to escape the crazy lady with the chanting child, screaming baby, peering mother-in-law, and barking dog.

I close the door. Okay. Now. I look a my chanting child and peering mother-in-law. I pick up the backpack and say, “Here’s her bag. She wanted to eat breakfast with you, I’ll pick her up after my meeting at 1, should be about an hour-ish, I’ll call, this is really great, love and kisses baby, you two have fun, BYE NOW!” I close the door behind their backs with a sigh.

I grab my bags and the baby, let in the dog, and walk to the front door, where I meet cable guy who is very prompt about his five minutes, no wait, it’s only been two, barely.

“All yours,” I say, as I head to my car.

“Thanks.”

I throw bags into the front seat with the abandon of an airline cargo loader, and strap the still screaming and now struggling baby into her car seat.

Once I sit in my seat, I take five deep breaths. Whatever type of eruption it could have been, it wasn’t.

Lots of seismic activity, but no eruption. Still, it’s only a quarter past 9. So we’ll see.

By Julie Pippert
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

ICC2: Watch those cognates, they are FALSE FRIENDS

Any time I travel, especially to a foreign country with a language not my own, I insist on researching and studying the culture and language extensively, so I can try my best to fit in, by which I mean, be well-liked.

My theory here is that if I am well-liked, I won't have things like this happen:

* receive the entire head of a cow when ordering beef
* get spit on
* have vegetables hurled at my vehicle with shouts of what sounds like, "Bologna Merry Kin!"
* get apples instead of potatoes
* get a ticket to Lyon instead of Marseille
* have to hand over a suspiciously large amount of "checkpoint" fee money and my watch to machine gun toting "state officials"

All of which are true and have happened. To me.

Once again I am left with the lingering suspicion, however, that my foreigness was being taking advantage of, much like some evil people prey on the simple and naive.

In the US, I am big, brave, smart and aware.

Abroad, I am...well, lacking anything clever to say, simply another fool soon to be parted with her money, "OH! OH! Look, they say these are REAL PIECES of the ACTUAL Coliseum. Imagine...thousands of gladiators thousands of years ago walked on this, and I can take it home with me!!!" I breathily announce to my DH, who is shaking his head.

But that's when I am a tourist.

What about...working, or studying abroad?

Whole 'nother kettle of fish. Game face on, baby.

Pal (from yesterday), I will admit, was not really a friend. He was simply someone I knew, which is different, and ought to be distinguished. We were both plopped in France due to a company's business and often found ourselves keeping the same hours in the lounge, waiting for a spouse (me) or something or someone else (him).

This next story is also about a sort of friend, someone I knew middling fair.

The main character in this story is Cognate, the false friend. Many, many people (including myself) are unwittingly sucked in to the comforting familiarity Cognate offers us in a foreign environment. We trust Cognate, but like Luck, she is a fickle friend who often lets us down.

At best, you get apples instead of potatoes. At semi-worst, you fail a class in college.

Let's call our heroine Lucinda, a nice, poetic, classic name.

Lucinda was a very sweet and shy girl. She took school very seriously and unlike the rest of us poseur hoser slackers, she actually studied in the evenings and on weekends, with occasional outings for dinner only. Lucinda was in the US for college, and had spent three years trying hard to learn the language, without much success. Spanish was her native language. And even the Spanglish spoken here left her wrinkling her nose and brow, shaking her head, shrugging and saying, sorry.

See? Right there? I bet people in France think I am a shy and reserved sort of girl. One who speaks slowly, and measures her thoughts.

HA!

Once again, fooled you!

My tongue is hinged in the middle and frequently moves faster than my brain, although I feel confident the two are quite competitive and regularly engaged in a race.

My quietness abroad? My measured thought? Simply working up first the nerve and then the vocabulary and then the nerve again to speak in a foreign language.

Really then, who knows what sort of person Lucinda actually was (not me, but maybe those fluent in her language did). I suspect she was a little reserved, even in Spanish, and clearly dedicated to her studies, even if it was really just preferring it to frustrated communication, or needing extra time to translate.

The bottom line is that Lucinda was not a party animal, but in one of those freakish twists of irony she was the one who got caught out.

One day Lucinda went out to a buffet for dinner with some fellow Spanish speakers.

She was horribly sick shortly after and all the next day. The doctor told her it was food poisoning, although nobody else got sick and everyone ate from the buffet.

Late the next day, she realized she had missed an exam in a class. Panicked, she called the professor and attempted to explain, in her strained English, that she was sorry, had been ill and begged for a chance to make up the exam. The professor, attempting to be reasonable, asked her what her illness had been.

Lucinda looked hopelessly to her friend Cognate, and Cognate decided to play a cruel trick on her. Cognate whispered the word in her ear and Lucinda said, “It was the headache and the stomachache and the sickness of a terrible bout of INTOXICATION.”

The professor gasped and said, “You have some nerve! No make ups!” and hung up.

Bewildered, Lucinda looked once again to Cognate who nodded and said, yes intoxicated. Lucinda still did not know her for the false friend she was until a bilingual speaker said, “Oh no, intoxicale in Spanish means this, but in English it means, drunk. You told your professor you had too much to drink.”

You can just imagine, can’t you?

P.S. Apologies for the lack of images...blogspot is having some trouble I guess and won't let me load. I'll try to revise and add later.

By Julie Pippert
Artful Media Group
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Launching International Culture Clatch undefined period of time

I almost used the word clash, but you know, that's not what it is. It's not quite an exchange, either. So I'll play on the idea of a coffee clatch, where gossip and misunderstanding can take you on a surprising turn. (And I won't define how long this will go on...at least two times, wihtin some span of time. LOL)

I've decided to explore some central culture issues, across cultures.

I decidedly do not live in a homogenous society. In fact, homogenous societies sort of make me feel a little uncomfortable. It's all in what you are used to and I am used to a society of differences. Even so, sometimes it's easy to get all caught up in our American-ness and forget, oh yeah, the rest of the world doesn't have a celebration on July 4th, although everywhere in the world does actually have a July 4th. Actually, July 4th is why I was thinking about my Norwegian friend, the one who questioned me about Greeks.

The other day I was talking, so to speak, to a friend about Germany and Greeks. Every time I think of Greeks, I picture tall, gorgeous blondes. First, we have all of those statues of gorgeous, athletic Greeks, so the gorgeous part is just my visual. Second, I knew one, in real life, a real person. This guy was tall, golden and gorgeous. He was Pure Greek, and even had the nose and name to prove it, as he said.

See, here is where the odd American question issue crops up. Do people in other cultures ask questions like this, so stuck in their own POV? Not in my experience, but I’d like to hear in case my experience is, well, limited.

People would ask this guy, the Greek one, “So, like, are you a real Greek?”

Is it simply poor phrasing?

Usually he’d say, “Yes, I’m a real Greek,” and let it go. But once in a while I heard him snark, “No, I’m fake.” The amazing part, really, is that the person would nod, as if expecting that answer, and go along his or her merry way!

I knew that often, Greeks were dark, swarthy, but, like I said, being from a diverse culture, I assumed okay some are dark and some are fair.

This assumption came into question by my Norwegian friend, Pal.

The first problem Pal and I had was that we were both in a foreign country (France as it happens), and neither of us spoke each other’s language of origin, originally. One thing about fluency in theory (that is, learning it and not living in the place where it is spoken)…you will never be a native speaker, and language malfunctions will occur.

We initially conversed in French (which he was fluent in and I knew enough of to embarrass myself) and ultimately he switched over to English, for my ease and his amusement. Although, I got a little amusement out of it too.

I learned Swiss French. This creates a great deal of amusement when I am in France. Southern French people can’t even understand me. Fair enough, since I can’t understand them either. The dialect is different, and the accent difficult, particularly outside of the larger towns. Now larger towns speak what I call generic, a term that can apply to almost any language in any large city. I think people in large cities are more used to varying accents, as well. I learned Large City Generic Swiss French, which at least gets me some appreciation in cities outside of Switzerland, like oh say Paris, for example.

When Pal and I spoke French, we each had lovely (or dreadful) accents from our native language, and vocabulary and comprehension issues. Okay, I had vocabulary and comprehension issues.

Which might have been what was at play when we discussed the Swiss invasion of Greece. However, I think that conversation occurred in English, right after the Great Belgian Debacle.

Okay here we go: I though Pal was Belgian. I was working off of stereotypes (how he looked and behaved) and the accent I heard in his French. (Admit it, there is a perceived cultural norm, things we associate with certain countries and its citizens.)

However, I’m not near as savvy as I think, clearly.

He was bewildered as I quizzed him endlessly about Belgium. When we finally reached the point at which I asked him if he missed it there, and he asked why, and I said something about home, he was decidedly Not Amused to have been perceived as Belgian.

“I am NORWEGIAN,” he said, with a slight chest thump for emphasis. He leaned back in the hotel lounge’s large leather chair, picked up his cocktail, puffed his thin cigar, his throat still working agitatedly above his cravat.

At this point, I stuttered and stumbled and muttered and mumbled, hopefully getting an apology across. I was way too embarrassed to explain why I though he was Belgian. I’m sure that would have made matters even worse, so when asked, I said simply, “I must have gotten confused, I thought someone said you were from Belgium.”

He reassured me he was NOT, and, in fact, had never even been there, with no plans to go.

Why this was necessary to him, I don’t know.

If I am mistaken as a foreigner, I take it as a compliment. HA! I managed to shed enough of my American shell to fool you! This means I have been more polite than you would expect from an American or have better foreign language skills than you expect from an American.

Hey, I’m as proud of the US as the next guy, despite the clean and bumper sticker-free back window of my car, and I’ll own up to being American every time.

But let’s face it, our international reputation? Not so good. So I accept the compliment as intended, and move forward, swallowing back any perceived insult.

However, in this conversation with Pal, he was feeling slighted so he extended what he’d consider a retaliatory dig at me,” I’d never mistake you as anything other than American,” he said, smiling, smirking really.

“Good,” I said chirpily, recognizing the intended insult, “I wear my sneakers and jeans with honor.” Even though I had on slacks and espadrilles.

He smirked again, then just puffed, drank, smirked, puffed, drank, smirked.

Growing somewhat annoyed, I said, all the while knowing I was the pot calling the kettle black, “You know, not everyone looks any one way or acts any one way, even if they are from the same place.”

He raised his eyebrows, “This is not true of Norway.”

“I’ve only met blonde Norwegians, but I feel certain there are shades of blonde and even brunettes, too. You aren’t all the same,” I told him, confidently.

His eyes narrowed, “Norwegians are as fair as Greeks are dark.”

HA! I had him! “Not all Greeks are dark,” I said, “Some are blonde!” I sat up a little straighter with my winning salvo.

He sat down his drink, put out his cigar and leaned forward. He spoke slowly, as one would to a simpleton, “There are no blonde Greeks.”

I said, “I know a blonde Greek and his entire family is blonde with blue eyes.”

“Immigrants,” he said with a wave of his hand.

“No,” I said, “I happen to know his family goes back as far as they can trace, to Greece. We talked about it one time.”

Determined to have the last word, he said, “Then they are immigrants. Must be descended from the time the Swiss invaded Greece.”

History is a little hobby of mine, but I could think of no known war or invasion, much less conflict, that I had ever heard between Switzerland---isn’t that the neutral country?---and Greece. Greece has certainly had its share of trouble with invading and invaders, and even ongoing trouble to this day. But nothing to my knowledge, with Switzerland.

“I’m sorry,” I said, puzzled, “The time the Swiss invaded Greece?”

Could this be a language malfunction? By invade, did he mean immigrate?

“Of course,” he said, “Swiss. He is clearly Swiss.”

We were interrupted and never did finish the conversation. Before I made any other decision, I researched and found no altercation between Switzerland and Greece.

Therefore, I have concluded he was having a bit of fun with me. Perhaps mocking me, assuming I had assumed something about him---erroneously---based on his appearance.

He seemed so serious about it, though. And every time after that, I’d query, “Swiss invading Greece?” He’d smile and nod, “Yes. No blonde Greeks, not real Greeks,” so convincingly, that I began to wonder…what in the world do Norwegian history textbooks contain?

It occurs to me we might have incredibly different perceptions of the world not just due to current cultural diferences, but also due to education.

Technology may be shrinking the world, and Europe may have unified to some degree, but there isn't per se any one universally agreed upon history, much less a universal focus.

For all I know, some teacher somewhere told a young Pal that once upona time, the Swiss invaded Greece. For all I know, this might have been ommitted in my own education.

Then again, he was probably just mocking me.

Although I usually reseve that right for the French. ;)

Next time...the trouble with Spanglish and tricky words like food poisoning.

By Julie Pippert
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© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

You passive activists...you guys ROCK! You are what makes this country PROUD!

My friend who I like to quote so often and who nominated me for Perfect Post so I love her FOREVAH AND EVAH even if she does mock my ACK! ACK! ACK! (and I just typed Doe Smock there. That's even better than Doe Sin. That "does" word can really slew me loopy.) just gave me the Best Post idea I've had in oh, a couple of days (when did I blog last?).

She got that Red Friday e-mail spam.

You know, those "RAH RAH RAH Be An Armchair Activist" mass forward e-mails that incite you to do very little at all and somehow be a part of a mass effort that does very little at all but gives each Passive Activist a very warm fuzzy glow inside like they've been a Part of Something Big and Done Some Good In the World for a Change.

All without lifting their asses out of their computer chairs, or putting forth any effort at all.

Here's my secret truth: if it seems to good to be true, it usually is, or it's not meant for me at all.

This is the sad truth---mainly to my ass, which doesn't like getting out of its comfy computer chair to you know, work (which is mainly done in said chair) or Do Stuff or, most of all, exercise---that I must work to get results.

My relief work for the hurricane was...back-breaking. Helping the children in the schools meant going there. The hospital work was...gut-wrenching. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society work is time-consuming and heart-breaking. All my "good deeds and charitable work" seems to require time and effort---or money---and most of all, my ass to get out of my chair. In short, much more than simply getting dressed in the morning.

And that's my main problem with these Calls to Passive Activists: I think it creates a Useless Tunnel for people to channel their motivation to Do Something Good into Not Very Much At All.

What if you feel the strong urge to do something to help and get this chance:

RED FRIDAYS ----- Very soon, you will see a great many people wearing Red every Friday. The reason? Americans who support our troops used to be called the "silent majority". We are no longer silent, and are voicing our love for God, country and home in record-breaking numbers.

We are not organized, boisterous or over-bearing. We get no liberal media coverage on TV, to reflect our message or our opinions.
>
Many Americans, like you, all our friends, and me simply want to recognize that the vast majority of America supports our troops. Our idea of showing solidarity and support for our troops with dignity and respect starts this Friday -and continues each and every Friday until the troops all come home, sending a deafening message that. Every red -blooded American who supports our men and women afar will wear something red.
>
By word of mouth, press, TV -- let's make the United States on every Friday a sea of red much like a homecoming football game in the bleachers. If everyone of us who loves this country will share this with acquaintances, co-workers, friends, and family. It will not be long before the USA is covered in RED and it will let our troops know the once "silent" majority is on their side more than ever, certainly more than the media lets on. The first thing a soldier says when asked "What can we do to make things better for you?" is...We need your support and your prayers. Let's get the word out and lead with class and dignity,by example; and wear something red every Friday

IF YOU AGREE -- THEN SEND THIS ON

IF YOU COULD CARE LESS THEN HIT THE DELETE BUTTON --- IT IS YOUR CHOICE.

WE LIVE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE, ONLY BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE. THEIR BLOOD
RUNS RED---- SO WEAR RED! --- MAY GOD HELP AMERICA TO BECOME ONE NATION, UNDER GOD.


So you wear red and VOILA! get the feeling of doing good without really actually doing anything at all. Not any thign really helpful, anyway.

Or...those petitions. You know, the "go nowhere except spin around in cyberspace endelssly pinging against all the same e-mail boxes over and over like a manic tennis match that never ends SIGN ME with nothing more than your name and I promise SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN" like that Angel show will come back on TV and the teen pregnancy rate will drop because we'll implement prayer in school.

Seriously, I look at those lists of names and I think, "What a bunch of eye-rolling eejits."

Really.

Those things never land where they should or could. And if they did happen to, they aren't Proper Petitions that would effect any real change. (Usually, I must admit, I am glad they are useles since I am rarely behind the movement in a supportive way---although I am frequently glad to be behind it in an ankle-clipping way---if it is, in fact, a real issue and not some trumped up kidnapped-via-smelling-perfume-samples urban legend.)

So when my friend Halushki asked what I would do were I to get such an e-mail (and trust me, I get them regularly), I said:

"Look you, you too can do GOOD with NO EFFORT FROM YOU whatsoever! Simply wear a red shirt on Friday and VOILA! You've done your country and our boys in blue/olive/white/khaki/etc. PROUD! GO US! We are the bestest armchair activists ever! We even sign every single petition that comes into our e-mail boxes! We do good and never even have to open our wallets or get off our asses."

Did I use enough ALL CAPS and exclamation points????!!!!!!

Not to mention, if I could care less then hitting the delete button would be an odd response.

I'd definitely roll my eyes. Then I'd save it for a week as I went back and forth about delete versus send a "don't ever send this crap to me again" pithy yet scathing reply. Eventually my inbox would get a bit full and I'd go on a delete/cleaning out tear and it'd be trash.

But I'd definitely think less of the sender FOREVAH and EVAH AS LONG AS MY BLOOD RUNS RED!

J/K

Mostly.


So yeah, I'm being dramatic here and I don't think you are a loser (at least not that I'd say to your face) if you do this and send this along to everyone.

But next time you get one of these? And you feel like Doing Good? Call a real charity and volunteer, or open your wallet if you can and buy some body armor for an enlisted man. I'm sure that'd mean a heck of a lot more to him than say, you wearing red on a Friday.

Shameless plug for Snopes: Rumor has it, that is to say, a large portion of you completely wrapped around its twisted little finger.

By Julie Pippert
Artful Media Group
Museum Quality Digital Art and Photography
Limited Edition Prints
Artful by Nature Fine Art and Photography Galleries
The Golden Orchid: Original and Unique Wearable Art

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.