Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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Après la Chirurgie

Me ‘n’ Esmeralda, in happier times

Did you hear? I had a softball-sized tumor removed from my neck three weeks ago.

I first noticed it about a year ago and shrugged it off, thinking it was a little lipoma that wasn’t any big deal. Then I began having trouble turning my head. The lump was getting bigger – about the size of a golf ball – and I couldn’t comfortably wear turtlenecks or even mock neck shirts. I named my lump Esmeralda, and patiently waited for her to gain sentience.

When Esmeralda started aching, I decided to go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor, especially when I think I’m going to get bad news. I’ve already had cancer twice, so having a tumor made me think that number three was here and if I pretended it didn’t exist, it would go away.  I’m a very bright girl in these matters, so I knew exactly what I was doing when I ignored the wretched thing for so long. Really.

My doctor looked at it and said that there was no question that it needed to come out. Clearly it was causing me trouble, and even if it was probably just a lipoma and not something devastating, it was in a bad place. And, he said, even for a lipoma it was, well, kind of big. There was definitely an asymmetry to my non-gazelle-like neck. A bump about the size of half a golf ball hung off the side it.

I knew all this before he told me. I knew he’d have to refer me to a surgeon. That’s why I was there, right? So, deep breath, I got the referral and made the appointment and went the next week to see when I could divorce myself from dear Esmeralda, who I was beginning to think of as my dicephalic parapagus conjoined twin.

Me ‘n’ Esmeralda before we started misspending our youth

He sent me to an otolaryngology clinic. Apparently, otolaryngologists are the guys who cut on people’s necks when the spine isn’t involved. I was glad my spine wasn’t involved, although I did wonder if that was because I simply didn’t have one. What kind of person, being possessed of a spine, was afraid of what was probably just a harmless little lipoma?

Echinoderms: The Other Spineless Creatures

At the otolaryngology clinic, I got a CT scan of my neck. Back in the examination room, the surgeon pulled up the scan on the computer screen. “Wow, it’s really big!” he exclaimed. He showed me what to look at. The difference in the two sides of my neck were obvious. One side of the screen looked like what you’d think a neck should look like on a CT scan. By that I mean it had not much flesh and a big amount of bone. At least, that one side did. The other side? Well, it was different. Waaaay different.

In fact, it looked a whole lot like this.

There was a vast blackness that took up a lot of space on the right half of my neck. It looked as though Darth Vader himself had taken up residence there and his helmet was pushing things around. The doctor pointed out how my muscle was stretched over this dark growth, how my nerves and blood vessels were pushed out of place, and how much space the thing took up. “It’s sooo biiiig,” he said again. And again. And yet another time, just in case I hadn’t heard him before.

That’s right.  Only I could have a freakishly large tumor in a place with as little flesh as my neck and not notice it for years on end. Evidently, I can’t see a damn thing with my eyes full of sand.

Lipomas usually grow just right under the skin and are fairly simple to remove. In fact, unless they become bothersome, it’s not necessary to remove them at all. Mine was different. It was under the muscle, which, the doctor graciously postulated, was probably the reason I had never realized it had been growing there for so long. It was also pressing on important nerves and blood vessels. There just isn’t a lot of room in a neck, and there’s a lot of important stuff there. Like, say, the carotid artery, which feeds blood to the brain. Which my lipoma had shoved out of place.

In fact, it had shoved things so far out of place that I was in danger of soon looking like the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick.


Surgery wasn’t an option; it was necessary due to both the size and the location. If Esmeralda really did get large enough to become sentient, state law would forbid me from removing her. I mean, I could already forget about using federal funds. Her presence could no longer be disguised with loose clothing or makeup.  I had to act, and act quickly.

Fetus in Fetu: Sanju Bhagat

The problem was, the size and location of the tumor meant that a different doctor needed to do the surgery. Someone who specialized in cancers of the head and neck.  Swell. The”C” word again. Fortunately, I liked the new surgeon. I liked the old one, too, but the new one was quick-witted, funny, and personable. And probably married. (sigh)

My family rallied around me. My sister went with me to the pre-surgery appointment, my mom took me to her house after the surgery so I could be pampered. Jack came to see me that night.  I felt pretty raw, and my throat, complete with drainage tube, wasn’t pretty either.


Three weeks later, I’m still a little tired, but I’m fine. Some mornings it’s harder to shake off the latent effects of the anesthesia than others. Of course, staying up til 1 a.m. to finish a novel I can’t put down sort of contributes to the problem, but I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.

The books are really good*, even if the plot and writing are slightly rough in spots.
Brent Weeks is a new, young author and he has time to grow. I can’t wait for his next offering.

*My son, Jack, has demanded credit for cajoling me into reading this series.  Here you go, son.

So now I have an awe-inspiring scar on my throat, and I can come up with plenty of tales to explain its presence.

My throat, sans Esmeralda and smeared with Vitamin E, today.

I’ve told the story of Jack the Ripper to my wide-eyed nieces and youngest nephew (they’re 11, 8, and 6). I have the scar to prove that I narrowly escaped him.

Next I plan to work up a tale of the Bride of Frankenstein for their entertainment. I’ve already got the white hair at the temples going on, so between that and the scar, I’m not going to have to spend a lot on costuming.

The surgeon said that the tumor had to have been there for a very, very long time to be as large as it was. What I want to know is how the hell a softball manages to hide in a neck for years and only show up, finally, as a golf-ball sized bulge.

The size of the thing was apparently really impressive. Every time I call his office his nurse exclaims, “Oh, you’re the one with that really huge lipoma!” Every time. Every stinkin’ time. I’m beginning to wonder if I ought not to have saved the damn thing and taken it on the road. I could have made a living in the sideshow as the girl with the softball in her neck.

Obviously, I was the Freak Show member taking this photo

“It’s soooo big!” the statement is made in the context of, well, first of all, a man. And it’s said by an admiring woman, or at least one that is either thrilled or terrified at the prospect of something that huge… you know. I’m a woman and male doctors have been saying “It’s soooo big!” to me. It’s unsettling.

Big as in “Annual Christmas Blog” Big. And that’s saying something.

Maybe I should have had the thing cut in two and used it for a boob job.Next time, if there is a next time, I’m going to think that through carefully.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Conversations With Children, Health, Personal | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Daddy

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 71. He died five years ago and I miss him more than ever.

My Dad was my champion. His confidence in me never flagged, even when I was an angry, incorrigible teenager bent on self-destruction. He always told me, without any qualifying adjectives, phrases, or conditions whatsoever, that I could be and do anything I wanted in life. I’m 45 years old and I still believe him.

Daddy wasn’t perfect. He drank too much. You know the kind of drunk I’m talking about. He was perfectly functional during the day – had a pretty high-profile position in the little community where he lived, in fact – but evenings were a different story. He was a melancholy drunk, the kind who wanted to sing “Danny Boy” and worry about the re-institution of the draft.

No kidding: when I was a teenager the draft was one of his favorite drunken topics. He was on the county draft board during Vietnam and the experience scarred him, I think. He objected strongly to the war and did all he could to keep kids from our area from going. He had a cousin who was on the ground in Vietnam, a brother who spent his tour with the Navy just off the coast of Vietnam, and a brother in law who was about to be shipped out when his luck changed and he was sent home instead. Wars that were nothing but someone’s political agenda pissed Dad off. You can imagine what he’d think about Iraq Redux.

Dad made Christmas magical. His birthday, coming on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, meant that the whole season was special. We had a tradition when I was young, that he and my sister continued after her divorce: Christmas Eve meant a trip to the closest Wal-Mart, 40 miles away in the town of Searcy. Dad wasn’t looking for significant gifts on that trip. If he saw something perfect for someone, he’d pick it up, of course, but the purpose of the trip was really to grab silly gifts, stocking stuffers, and prepare for Pre-Christmas, a tradition our family held dear.

My family inherited Pre-Christmas from Dad’s family. The legend goes that on Christmas Eve the kids were allowed to open one gift, and the adults, being who they were, didn’t want to get left out. They started exchanging gag gifts on Christmas Eve, accompanied by really bad poetry. There was a $10 limit on any Pre-Christmas gift when I was growing up. This encouraged creativity in gift giving. A rubber chicken was always the booby prize, and one lucky person a year got it. It was a badge of honor to receive the chicken, which was always dressed up a little differently and presented with new panache.

I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey at the age of 22 and had to call my mother to find out, halfway through cooking, that the giblets were in a package in the turkey’s neck. That Pre-Christmas I got the chicken with feathers stuck in its butt, intended to resemble the turkey. The chicken’s head had been cut off and, um, things were inserted in it. I don’t remember the poem (who can remember those horrible poems?) but I assure you it was appropriately insulting. A new chicken was purchased the next year to replace the poor decapitated capon.

It is still a badge of honor to receive the chicken. Jack and his cousins would be devastated every year when they’d open their pre-Christmas gift and it wouldn’t be the chicken. We had to contrive chicken gifts for them three years in a row just to get it out of the way. It’s hard to come up with a rubber chicken idea and poem for a ten year old!

But this isn’t a blog about Pre-Christmas. Dad made Christmas special in several other ways, but I should have written about that at Christmas. At least I have blog fodder for next Christmas. No, this is a blog about my Daddy, whose birthday is today.

I was Daddy’s Girl. Dad had two daughters, but I was It. Every girl, even my sister, should be a Daddy’s Girl. Sis got double billing with me as an adult, but as children we were very definitely divided. She was Mama’s and I was Daddy’s. We sort of shared our little brother, who came along half a decade later and was the only boy.

As Daddy’s Girl I had the seat of honor. I considered it the seat of honor, anyway. I think I more or less took the seat, but I had it nonetheless. I sat on the floor at his feet when we had company. I sat to his right at the dinner table. On weekends I snuggled with him on the couch and watched John Wayne and Henry Fonda and James Stewart. If he went somewhere I was the child who accompanied him.

When I was about eleven years old I rebelled completely against going to church, which I thought was stupid and pointless. I just didn’t buy the whole “god” concept, which was no more believable than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny in my mind. The story of Jesus and the ultimate sacrifice he made seemed ridiculous, and I said so rather vehemently. Martyrdom was foolish, no matter whether it was Jesus or Galileo. The choice between burning at the stake and telling a bunch of threatening men that I lied would have been easy for me. I’d be Galileo’s twin.

But at the tender age of eleven, too young even for confirmation in the church, it was Dad who told me that before I declared myself an atheist (I had no idea there was a name for it) I needed to consider whether there was a “Mover of the First Part.” There may not be a benevolent intelligence watching us now, but at some point, something, or someone, set the thing in motion. This was my first real theology lesson. It intrigued me a lot more than any Bible story ever could.

Because of this conversation with my Dad I was agnostic for years. I had to come to intellectual grips with the concept of infinity before I could put agnosticism away completely. Thanks to my dad, I actually studied theology, philosophy and religion instead of just saying, “This whole ‘Jesus and God’ thing is nonsense, and I want no part of it.” I still study religions. Maybe I’m still agnostic in some ways. Nah….

I have my Dad’s sense of humor. All three of his children do. The three of us have all remarked on multiple occasions how glad we are that we have Dad’s quickness to laugh, that we inherited the song that was in his heart. We are all basically happy people. We are happy on the outside and we are happy inside. My brother and I both struggle with depression, a genetic problem that comes from Mom’s side of the family. Believe it or not, though, even when we are depressed and at our worst, we are still optimists with a sense of fun. We are quick-witted. We see the irony in situations that make us sad.

Like Dad, all three of his children often laugh inappropriately. At the funeral of a family friend not too long ago, my brother and I walked in together a little late. Mom and Sis sat on the other side of the church. Jay and I opened the hymnal and the book that had the funeral service in it. We read the paper program. Then I noticed what I thought was a theme to the funeral.

“Jay!” I whispered, nudging him. “Do you notice that all these hymns have something to do with being submissive to God?”

He looked. Sure enough, each hymn had something about bondage or submission. He nodded. “Do you think the deceased and his wife were into BDSM?” I asked.

He moved a step away from me and turned red, trying to keep the laughter in. The widow was and is a woman of a very strong, dominant nature, and we were on the receiving end of her dominance many times growing up. The notion of her dominating her kind, soft-spoken, wheelchair-bound husband wasn’t far-fetched at all, but the idea that she’d do it in leather and with a flogger was making us snort.

Then came the concordant reading. More submission stuff. More bondage. Both of us were trying hard to keep a straight face, and we were not doing a good job. The homily was just as bad. Accepting death as God’s will, submitting whether we want to or not…

Yes, we laugh inappropriately. We should not have read anything naughty into the chosen hymns and texts of the funeral service. We were very bad. We will now submit to be punished, but only by the widow dressed in leather. (giggle) Dad would have found that to be hilariously, and inappropriately, funny as well. Too bad he missed it.

I was Daddy’s Girl. I didn’t care one thing about disappointing my mother or doing what she wanted me to do. If I thought I had disappointed Daddy, though, it was worse than being spanked, grounded, or otherwise punished. I never wanted to let my Daddy down. When Dad got angry at me, I knew I had truly screwed up. I knew I had to fix it.

When I was in my early 20’s and living 1500 miles away from him, I had a decision to make. It was a major decision, and I wanted him to tell me I was doing the right thing. I laid out the paths I could possibly take and I asked his advice. He said, “Why are you asking me? You’re just going to do what you want to anyway.” He said it gently. I realized that he was pointing out a flaw in my nature. I wanted him to reassure me that a decision I had already made was the right one. I didn’t really want his input.

Years later, when my husband said essentially the same thing to me, I understood that even though I had tried to be more conscientious about heeding the advice I was given, I wasn’t asking for it in the right way. I still have this flaw. Thanks to my dad, I am aware of it and it gives me a really guilty feeling whenever I realize that I’ve done it again. Gee, thanks, Dad.

Dad died very suddenly, either because of an aneurysm in his aorta or more probably from a deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot. He had been having problems with numbness in his left foot for several years and no doctor had been able to determine what was wrong. It’s likely that he had a clot in that numb area that finally made it to his heart and stopped it for good. His death devastated all of us.

Jack was ten years old when Dad died. We were talking about Dad one day not long after the memorial service, and Jack put his finger on what really made my Dad special. “You know what was great about Papa? He listened.”

That was really and truly what was great about my Dad. He did listen, and he listened well. He didn’t interrupt with advice. He didn’t change the subject because he was uncomfortable. He listened, he asked relevant questions, and he led us to the answer. He wasn’t afraid of feelings. If we needed to vent, he understood that and he let us vent. He only tried to solve problems when we asked him to. He helped us see solutions and he did it with humor, diplomacy, and quiet support.

My Dad was a great man because he listened.

I hope that when I die someone can say something that good about me.

I went to college where I did, then went to law school because of my dad. I accomplished what I have because of my dad’s support and encouragement. I look at life the way I do because I am my father’s daughter. I am who I am because I was Daddy’s Girl.

I love you, Daddy. Thank you for making me me. And Happy Birthday, you old fart.

January 6, 2008 Posted by | Conversations With Children, Death, Health, Lawyer, Personal, Philosophy, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Classic

~~This is a re-post of last year’s Christmas blog, for all you perverts who asked for it. ~~
~~My sister may never forgive me.~~

Jack and I went to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. When we got there, Sis put a pork tenderloin in the oven and we gathered around the tree to open gifts. Sis’s two boys, ages 15 and 13, were there, as was my mother. We spent a lovely hour ooohing and ahhhhing over what everyone got and gave. It was a very nice time.

We were almost through opening gifts when Sis got up to go check the tenderloin. She was gone for a few minutes. The rest of us waited to open any more gifts until she returned.

We were chatting and laughing in typical Aramink family fashion when Sis tip-toed back into the living room and tapped me on the shoulder. “Come here,” she whispered.

I got to my feet and followed her into the kitchen.

“Have you ever cooked a pork tenderloin?” she asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “Lots of times.”

“Good. I have something I need to ask you, then,” she said, and opened the oven door. She reached in and pulled out the roasting pan holding the meat.

“Is it supposed to look like this?” she asked.

I gasped.

I gaped. I blinked.

Sis put the pan down on the counter and grinned at me real big. “Shhhh,” she said.

We walked back into the living room, and Sis beckoned to Mom.

I couldn’t help it. I was about to die laughing. When Gran headed into the kitchen, I did my best to keep three large teenage boys at bay, thinking they were too young and … ahem… tender… to witness what their mother had prepared for Christmas dinner.

I was unsuccessful. The boys barreled into the kitchen just as their grandmother was in the act of looking perplexed at the slab of meat that faced her. Gran glanced up with a quizzical look. For a second I thought she didn’t get it.

Then she burst out laughing.

The boys crowded around. “What is it? What’s so funny?” they demanded. Their mothers and grandmother were laughing too hard to tell them.

Sis headed down the hall to the bathroom before she wet her pants. When she came back, she suggested that a creamy Bearnaise sauce would be a lovely accompaniment.

That set us off again. Sis headed back to the bathroom.

We females of the family enjoyed every bite. “Mmmmmm.” “Yummy.” “This is delightful,” we said.

The boys, for some reason, opted for a meatless Christmas dinner.

And now, for the crucial question:
If a pork tenderloin is circumcised, does that make it kosher?

December 25, 2007 Posted by | Conversations With Children, Humor, Personal | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Language

My sister called me from her car.

“I need you to speak Des Arc-ian for my children,” she said.

Des Arc is the tiny rural Arkansas town where we grew up, and from which we both gratefully escaped at the age of 14.  Well, at 14 we weren’t exactly grateful to be sent to boarding school, but in retrospect it was probably a good idea. If we had remained, we might never have learned to speak anything but Des Arc-ian.

“What do you need me to say?” I asked her.

“You are, of course, familiar with the phrase southerners use when they mean that they’re about to do something?” she asked.

“Like when we say we’re ‘fixing to” go to the store?” I really had no idea where we were headed with this.

“Yes,” my sister said, “but that’s not how it’s said in Des Arc.”

“Right,” I acknowledged, rolling my eyes at myself.  I’ve apparently lived in the big city of Little Rock for so long I completely forgot my oral roots there for a split second.

“How is it said?” she prompted me, putting me on speaker so that my nephews could hear the pronunciation. “Use it in a sentence.”

“Boys, I fikina snatch a knot upside jer heads if ya don’t listen to ya mama,” I said, helpfully.

Howls emanated from her passengers.

“Oh, my god,” yelled my 13 year old nephew, Austin. “It’s true!” I could hear nothing but the boys’ laughter.

By the way, for those reading this blog who have never been to Des Arc and encountered a native there who  announced herself to be on the cusp of activity, “fikina” is not pronounced fik-EEN-a.  It’s pronounced “FIK-in-ah.” And the name of my old hometown is “Day-uz Ark.”

There are lots of Des Arc-ianisms that Sis and I recognize as being uniquely Des Arc-ian, and which no one from Des Arc would think odd at all.

For example, if Des Arc had a fast food place with one of those fancy drive-up speaker things at which you could place your lunch order (it doesn’t, in case you’re wondering), you would most likely hear the helpful staff on the other end of that speaker say, “Yont fries widat?” (“Yont” rhymes with “don’t.” )

A Des Arc-ian calling his dog would shout, “Hyah! Hyah, Blue!” instead of “Here!  Here, Blue.”

“Have yerseff a seat rye cheer,” says a Des Arc-ian, beckoning you over and indicating that you should sit on the stool next to his at one of the two town beer joints. In Des Arc, they are not called bars or honky tonks, and there are never more than two operating legally at any given time. Colorful characters with such fanciful sobriquets as “Biscuit” and “Coot” might frequent such places.  Yes, I know and like both Biscuit and Coot.

You may know the material that those white cups suitable for coffee and other hot liquids are made as “styrofoam.” Don’t be fooled. Each little round speck that connects to each other to form that self-insulating cup looks just like a star in the night sky, and spread as thickly as Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread it’s clear why it really ought to be called “starfoam” by everyone.

“Jeet yet?” inquires your friend when you happen by at supper time. He’ll pull out a chair and bring out an extra plate of beans and cornbread and set it in front of you if your answer is in the negative.

My own name has a Des Arc-ian pronunciation. You probably think “Anne” has one syllable.  You’re wrong. It has two.  In Des Arc-ian, my name is pronounced “Eye-un.”  As if that isn’t bad enough, what always makes me cringe is when Des Arc-ians call me by the nickname my father’s family has for me.  No, it isn’t an unusual nickname for a girl named Anne.  It’s a pretty common one.  I absolutely hate the way my Arkansas family and friends say it, though.

“Eye-un-eh” is equivalent to fingernails on a chalkboard for me. I have always corrected every southerner who makes the mistake of calling me “Eye-un-eh,” reminding them that my name is “Anne.”  As a helpful hint, I even pronounce it correctly for them.

Oddly enough, all of my friends from college and all of my Yankee father’s family, almost without exception, have always called me “Annie.”  I’ve never complained.  I actually like it.

I lost my Des Arc accent when I went to boarding school.  Then I lost my southern accent when I went to college. I lost my New York accent when I came back to Arkansas to go to law school.  I didn’t slip back into the accent of my childhood when I returned here, though.  I speak sort of a hybrid of “Educated Little Rock” and “You Ain’t From Around Here.”  I almost never speak Des Arc-ian.

I left there 31 years ago, but on occasion, before my parents moved to Little Rock to be closer to my siblings and me, I did find myself going back to visit, and sometimes on those visits I was in a position where speaking Des Arc-ian was inevitable.  I would be talking to a local friend and I would slip into the patois. That vernacular isn’t something that rolls terribly easily from my tongue, but yes, I speak Des Arc-ian fluently when I want to. 

Now, if you ever talk to me in real life and a Des Arc-ianism slips out of my mouth, please look the other way.  If you simply ignore it as though it were an untentional tummy rumble or the like, my acute embarrassment resulting from the slip will pass more quickly.

Thank you.

December 24, 2007 Posted by | Conversations With Children | , , | Leave a comment

Books and Movies

Last night Jack flipped me his copy of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. “Your Rule, Mom,” he reminded me. “You can’t see the movie until you’ve read the book.”

“It’s a good Rule,” I said defensively. “And I’ve been meaning to read it anyway. You took it from my pile of books, remember?”

My Rule about reading the book before seeing the movie applies to all three boys. (All three? Yes, all three. It applies to my sister’s sons, too. Andrew is four months older than Jack and Austin is two and a half years younger. We call them the “cousin-brothers” because they spend so much time together. Hey, we’re in Arkansas. My sister and I co-parent well.)

The Rule came about because my sister and I knew that if they didn’t read the book first and they saw the movie, they’d never bother with the book because they’d think they knew the story. I bet I can get a few confessions from my friends – perhaps one or two of you saw movies when you were supposed to read a book for school assignments.(To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe? A good movie, yes, but a much better book. Since it’s the only book Harper Lee ever wrote, I think we owe the author the courtesy of reading it. Go ye forth and buy it now, Wench commands thee!)

You see, there’s a sneaky thing Hollywood does. It doesn’t make movies of books. It makes movies based on books. There is a huge difference.

The fact was never presented more clearly to the boys than when the first Harry Potter movie came out. Despite J.K. Rowling’s close supervision of the project and her input, the movie just wasn’t like the book.

“Neville didn’t have much of a part at all,” complained Andrew, the older cousin.

“Hagrid keep changing size,” said Jack, unimpressed by the special effects.

“They found the keys too easily,” Andrew groused.

“That chess game was lame,” agreed Jack.

“I liked it,” offered Austin. He was too young to have read any of the books by the time the first movie came out, so he had no problem with it whatsoever.

My sister and I had taken them to the movie together. We both laughed. “See? This is why we say always to read the book. The book is always better than the movie.”

“But why is that?” The kids were really disappointed.They had read this wonderful book and the three that came after, and were absolutely riveted by the story and the characters. The books had already told them what Harry, Hogwarts, and Diagon Alley looked like.

“Why is that? Because your imaginations are much better than anything a movie can show you,” we answered. “Even the best movie-maker is limited by what he can do with the actors and special effects. Your imagination has no limits at all. Anything can happen when you read.”

When Holes was made into a movie, the same sorts of criticisms occurred. Both older boys had read the book and really enjoyed it. Once again, the movie was a disappointment.

“The lake wasn’t as big as it should have been.”

“The casting was terrible.” (They were a little older and more discerning about such things.)

“The vermin in the pits weren’t as scary as they were supposed to be.”

“The climb up the mountain didn’t have the same significance.”

“I liked it.” Austin, again, wasn’t old enough to have read the book.

When I told Jack that movies were going to be made based on the His Dark Materials trilogy, Jack sighed. “It’s been sitting on my shelf for years. I guess we’ll have to read it.”

“Why haven’t you read it before now?” I asked. I had given him the trilogy for some past Christmas after reading a rave review.

“I tried once. I just couldn’t get into the first book. I put it down and haven’t tried again.”

I do that, too, I must admit. Sometimes I pick up a book and it’s just not the story or the style I’m in the mood for at the time. I put it down meaning to get back to it eventually, but it collects dust for a long time waiting for me to approach it again.

When he returned The Golden Compass to me last night, I asked Jack how he liked it.

“It was good,” he answered. “It’s sort of an anti-Narnia. But it did take me some time to get into it. It was slow at first.”

“Do you think the movie will be good?”

“Sure,” he answered.

“Even though all books are better than the movies made based on them?” I grinned, feeling a little smug and superior, pleased at the chance to drive home my point that books beat celluloid hands down.

“That’s not always true,” Jack said.

“Give me one example of one movie that was better than the book!” I demanded in surprise.

“Starship Troopers.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. The movie was better than a book by Robert Heinlein?”

“It was, Mom. I mean, I just don’t like the way Heinlein writes.”

I gaped. Who was this child, this alien being, this life-form from some other planet? He doesn’t like the way Heinlein writes? This… this…. creature… standing in front of me couldn’t be something composed of my DNA.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I managed to gasp.

“No,” he said. “I hated the book Starship Troopers. The movie was good, though. They changed up the plot and the characters so that they were better.”

I’m still dumfounded.

When he was about 10, I gave him a copy of Heinlein’s The Star Beast,assuming that he would fall in love with the Lummox just like I did.

“It’s boring,” he announced halfway through, just as the two kids took off to the hills with the beast to hide her from the hoards of scientists and media.

“You’ve just gotten to the most exciting part of the book!” I objected.

“I’m sick of that book. I’m not reading it any more.”

I backed off. I didn’t want Heinlein to be an assignment, but he had to read him. He just had to.

I gave him The Rolling Stones, knowing that he would be delighted with the twins Castor and Pollux, and that he would even get the mythology reference. He didn’t even open it.

Again, I backed off. Maybe he really wasn’t ready for Heinlein. Maybe when he was older…

Recently he asked to read Stranger in a Strange Land.
“Hell, no!” I said.

“Why not?”

“Are you kidding? That book has tons of sex in it!”

Jack’s face went through several different expressions before he settled on defiance. “But you keep wanting me to read Heinlein.”

“Yes, but you aren’t starting with Valentine Michael Smith and Jubal Harshaw. Nor are you starting with Lazarus Long.”

“Who’re they?”

“Mike Smith is the Man from Mars, and Jubal is his lawyer. Lazarus Long is his own grandfather.”

“No way!”

“Time travel, baby. But at 16 you aren’t yet old enough to grok the Martian version of god or love, and you aren’t yet old enough to find out what Lazarus and his maternal ancestors do for entertainment during long spaceship rides.”

“When will be old enough?”

“Old enough for me to give you Stranger in a Strange Land? About the time you register for the draft,” I retorted. That’s in a couple of years. “About the time you are old enough to order a draft beer legally,” I revised.

I bought a copy of Time Enough for Love and left it conspicuously on a table. It disappeared. I saw it in his bathroom, a bookmark about halfway through it. He started it. I’m not sure if he ever finished it. Hopefully my strategy will work and he’ll swipe Stranger from the bookcase and read it under the covers with a flashlight just because I was so shocked and said he couldn’t. Hopefully he will learn that Heinlein’s place at the apex of the pantheon of science fiction gods is deserved. If he doesn’t, I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of his chromosomes came solely from his father’s side of the family.

I hope Hollywood never makes a movie based on Stranger in a Strange Land.

November 16, 2007 Posted by | Conversations With Children, Humor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How “Star Wars” is Like Jesus


“My English Teacher is ruining Star Wars,” Jack moaned the other morning.

“What? How is that possible?” I was twirling my hair into Princess Leia rolls on either side of my head in the bathroom mirror.

“Archetypes. Only she says ‘arc-types.’ I think English class is nothing more than a conspiracy to ruin every good book ever written, and now it’s being extended to movies, too.” My 10th grade progeny was glum, very glum.

“Give me some examples of how Star Wars can be ruined just by talking about it,” I said reasonably. “I mean, we talk about Star Wars all the time and it’s never ruined it at all.”

“Yeah, but when we talk about it we don’t get the story wrong, and we don’t compare every character to Jesus.”

“Compare every character to Jesus!” I echoed. “I can see the similarity in Obi Wan…”

“No, Mom. According to a substitute teacher we had the other day, every character in Star Wars is like Jesus.”

“Oh, come on.”

“Really. She pointed out the ‘arc-type’ then she talked about it for awhile then she compared it to Jesus. I swear.”

“Fine. How is Han Solo like Jesus?” I demanded, imagining that roguish grin. I have always loved pirates. I have known pirates, and Jesus was no pirate.

“You know how when Luke is making the Death Star trench run? Han swoops in and saves him from evil, just like Jesus would do.”


“Darth Vader. Evil. The evil archetype. Han saves him, just like Jesus…”

“Oh. Ok. So, how is Darth Vader like Jesus?” I’m sending my kid to an Episcopal school so he can learn THIS? I thought. Mentally I shook myself.

“He dies to save Luke from the Emperor and from the Dark Side, just like Jesus died to save us from all of our sins.” Jack said the last part of that sentence in his best televangelist voice.

“Well, then, the Emperor. How is Palpatine like Jesus?”

“We’re just talking about Episode IV, A New Hope. Palpatine isn’t in that one. It’s Vader all the way.”

“He’s not?” I was surprised, and thought on it. “Who else is like Jesus?”

“Don’t even get me started on friggin’ Skywalker. Whiny bi…”

“Jack,” I cautioned him. “Don’t swear all the damn time.”

“Sorry.” Somehow he didn’t convince me.

“What archetype is Luke?” Aha, I thought to myself. Let’s see how much attention he’s paying in class.

“Luke is several archetypes. First, he’s the Hero. He’s The Young Man From the Provinces. The pupil in The Pupil-Mentor Relationship, the son in The Father-Son relationship”

“Wait a minute. Back up. The Young Man From the Provinces is an archetype?”

“I kid you not.”

“Why can’t you just say he’s the naive young person, or the initiate?”

“Oh, he’s also The Initiate.”

“What’s the difference?”

“The Young Man From the Provinces is the character who is taken away from home and raised by strangers, but returns triumphant to wrest the throne from the usurper. The Initiate is a young hero or heroine who has to go through training and ceremony, and usually wears white.”

“Hmmm. Both Luke and Leia wear white, although I think Leia is already initiated, seeing as how she’s already a Senator and all.”

“Yeah, but she’s also an Initiate, and she’s also in The Platonic Ideal, with, well, Guess Who.”

“Luke. Her brother.”

“But we don’t yet know they’re twins. It’s Mrs. Tyler jumping ahead again. We don’t know of any family relationship. And oddly enough, we’re reading Oedipus Rex in History.”

I laughed. “Jack, I am your mother.”

“Uh huh. And there’s an archetype relationship of Mentor and Pupil.”

“Luke and Obi Wan, as well as Vader and Obi Wan.”


“There’s The Devil Figure, or Jesus, if you will.”

“What? Jesus is the Devil? What is this?”

“Vader is the Devil figure, and as I explained earlier, Vader is also Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is the Devil.”

“I can see how Vader is maybe a Jesus figure once he appears after his death there at the end of Return of the Jedi, but how is he Jesus in A New Hope?”

“Oh, we’re talking at the end of Return of the Jedi. She totally ruined the movies for anyone who hasn’t seen it.”

“Someone hasn’t seen Star Wars? Inconceivable.”

“You’d be surprised. More than half my class has never seen the original trilogy.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. What other archetypes is Vader?”

“Well, in The Father-Son relationship archetype…”

“No! We had no idea about that relationship until the second movie! She really did ruin it.”

“She sure did. She said that Like Han, he’s The Apparently Evil Figure with an Ultimately Good Heart. Oh, and he’s also the wayward son in The Father-Son Relationship with Obi Wan Kenobi. And in a way, he’s The Scapegoat, because Emperor Palpatine is really the Evil One and Vader is just trying to please, or to save his love, or is hopeless until he finds hope in Luke, although Obi Wan is kind of a Scapegoat in that he lets Vader kill him so the others can get away.” Jack peered at me. “You do see the Jesus parallel there, don’t you?”

“Yes, I see.” I was taking it all in. My mind was racing.

“And Han is also the archetype of The Outcast, and he has the archetype of The Friendly Beast, Chewbacca, as his sidekick.”

“How is Chewie like Jesus?”

“He’s always willing to put himself in harm’s way for someone else he believes to be more important than he is.”

“That person being The Lovable Outcast.”

“Exactly. Which makes Han and Chewie the archetypal Hunting Group of Companions.”

“What, Like Beowulf and his men or something?”

“Yes. There are other Hunting Groups of Companions in Star Wars, too.”

“The Jawas. The Tusken Raiders.”

“Not the Tusken Raiders. They’re just the Evil Beasts. Grendels, if you want to use the Beowulf analogy. Luke, Leia, Han, the Droids, Chewie, and Obi Wan make a Hunting Group of Companions, too.”

“That makes sense. But how are they like Jesus?”

“Duh! The disciples!”

I grimaced. Dopey me.

“And then there are the Loyal Retainers.”

“Chewie again?”

“Sort of. Really, though, R2-D2 and C3PO are the Loyal Retainers, especially R2. He’s the one who summons help, and who always comes to the rescue.”

“And he’s like Jesus because…?”

“He summons help and ultimately comes to the rescue. Like Jesus summoned help and ultimately came to the rescue in the sense that he provided a path to everlasting life. Do I have to spell this out for you, Mom?”

“No, no. Pray, continue.”

Then there is the Archetype of the Creatures of Nightmare. The Evil Beasts. Those are the patrons at the Mos Eisley Cantina, or the Tusken Raiders.”

“Creatures of Nightmare? At the cantina?”

“Yeah. Because they’re so bizarre, surreal. And then there is the archetype of The Star-Crossed Lovers. Han and Leia, obviously, Like Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And Greedo did too shoot first.”

“Not in the original movie, he didn’t. In the remake, sure, but not in the first version of the movie.”

“Whatever. Leia is the archetype of The Damsel in Distress. She even wears the flowing robes and has the long, virginal hair, like the Virgin Mary.”

“Not like Jesus?”

He rolled his eyes. “She’s a girl, Mom.”

I cleared my throat. “Right. How silly of me.”

“And there’s the archetype of the soft-spoken, sensible Earth Mother.”

“Princess Leia Organa is no Earth Mother! Well, maybe with the long flowing hair in the third movie, in the scene in the Ewok village.”

“Not Leia. Beru.”

“Luke’s aunt?”

“Yes. And no, she’s not like Jesus.” His eyes and his tone warned me not to go there, despite my temptation to do so.

“There are symbolic archetypes, too,” he informed me.

I waited. Jack was on a roll. I knew he’d go on without my prodding.

“Light versus Dark, Heaven versus Hell, Life Versus Death. You see these in the struggle between Jedi and Sith, the Empire and the Rebellion, the serene light blue of Obi Wan’s lightsaber against the angry dark red of Darth Vader’s lightsaber, the lush natural form of Yavin 4 against the mechanized construct of the Death Star.”

I nodded.

“Then there’s the symbolic archetype of Innate Wisdom that doesn’t speak much contrasted with the Educated Stupidity of constant chatter: again, in R2-D2 and C3PO.”

“I can see that one.”

“And there is Supernatural Intervention. That’s another archetype.”

“The Force, you mean?”

No, The Force is the archetype of The Magic Weapon. Supernatural Intervention is when Luke is in the channel on the Death Star and he hears Obi wan tell him to use The Force, and he hits the target using the Magic Weapon rather than more conventional means.”

“So how is Luke like Jesus?”

“He saves the galaxy. I really do have to spell it all out for you, don’t I?”

“No, no.”

“I mean, Luke’s probably bigger than Jesus, who just saved one species on one planet.”

“Stop right there, kid. You have no idea of the flap John Lennon started with a similar statement.”

September 25, 2007 Posted by | Children, Conversations With Children, Humor, Movies, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Writing | 4 Comments

Children’s Literature for Adults

Madeleine L’Engle is Dead.

I saw the headline in the online edition of the New York Times yesterday, and a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Meg Murray, the protagonist in L’Engle’s classic, Newberry Award winning series, is one of my favorite literary characters from childhood. I wanted to be her. I probably was her: nerdy, intelligent, sarcastic, a diamond (or at least a white topaz) beneath the rough adolescent exterior of too-thick glasses and a mother who didn’t pay attention to children’s fashion.

When Jack was old enough to read A Wrinkle in Time, I handed him the tattered, oversized paperback I had read so many times myself. He looked at it with a sneer. I sighed. It really was falling apart. I had actually taped a few pages back into it as I reread it before deciding that, yes, it was time for him to learn about fewmets and tesseracts.

Barnes and Noble carried the entire series in hardcover. I bought them. Besides looking really swell on the shelf in their matching dust jackets, I knew that these books would never get outdated. Jack’s children will read them, and maybe his grandchildren. Their grandmother- and great-grandmother-to-be has read them again as an adult and finds no reason not to keep them on the shelf. These are not the kind of children’s books that are outgrown and packed away for a future generation. Like our hardcover Narnia books in their cardboard display box, Madeleine L’Engle’s books are meant to be seen and read regardless of my age or Jack’s.

There are a lot of children’s books that are really, really good even for adults. It seems that the “phenomenon” of Harry Potter surprised some of my adult friends, as well as adults all over the world. Books written for and about adolescents don’t have to be sophomoric. Those that aren’t, that are well written and tell a good story, have universal appeal even if they are sold from the children’s section of the bookstore.

There is a trend to make movies of such books these days. Holes, by Louis Sachar, had a great box office return. The classic story of a teenager punished excessively for something he didn’t do, evil jailers with evil agendas, bullies, friendship, loyalty, and karma had just the right amount of symbolism, philosophy and mysticism to appeal to adult book clubs.

Eragon did poorly at the box office, but that should be no reflection on the book. In the tradition of S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders), Eragon was written by 16 year old Christopher Paolini, who followed it with Eldest. The third book in the trilogy is due to be published within the next year. Paolini is an amazing writer, and I expect to see him producing prolific amounts of real literature as his writing becomes more seasoned. Yes, adults who like science fiction, especially those of us who like dragons, will love Paolini’s books.

In the world of Eragon and Eldest, there are no more dragonriders, because the evil king, who has the only dragon left in the world, declared war on them and killed them all. When a dragon’s egg appears mysteriously in the mountains where Eragon, a teenage boy, is hunting, he takes it home. He thinks it is nothing more than an interesting stone until it hatches. Suddenly Eragon is bound to Sapphira, the young dragon hatchling, and the two embark on adventures that are destined to change their world, and hopefully depose the wicked king and bring back dragons and dragonriders. Elves, dwarves, battles fought on the backs of fierce fire-breathing dragons: it’s all there. Personally, I can’t think of anything more I need in a dragon book!

Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, is being put on celluloid. The Golden Compass, based on the first book in the series, is due to be released in December. I hope it does justice to the book. As always, I fear for the bastardization of the story. Pullman is a British author. In the UK, the first book in the trilogy was released as Northern Lights. For whatever reason the title of the book was changed to The Golden Compass when it was published in the US.

His Dark Materials have been called the antithesis of Narnia. Parallel universes serve as the backdrop for this series, and demons replace the souls which exist outside the bodies of their humans. Children are being kidnapped and used in horrible experiments with the element “dust” which the religious authority believes to be proof of original sin. The themes in the book pull at religion, authority, and justice without insulting any true existing form of religion. The church in Pullman’s books is perverted from the Christianity in our universe. These books challenge the reader think about authority and faith in different ways. I doubt the movie will be able to convey these themes. I will wait to see.

The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud hasn’t yet been brought to the silver screen, and hopefully it won’t be. In case you couldn’t tell form my comments already, I just hate it when movies ruin the fantastic books they claim to based upon. (I know, I know- they’re making a movie, not making the book. Still, I think the movie makers ought to be true to the story, dammit.) In the first Bartimaeus book, The Amulet of Samarkand, a boy with innate magical ability is fostered to a magician who neglects him. The boy is determined to learn magic anyway, so he studies on his own. He calls up a demon just because he can, and naturally all hell breaks loose. Bartimaeus is a sarcastic, secretly good-hearted demon, though, and quite a character. Together the boy and the demon expose corruption among the magicians, managing to topple the government of England in the process. Magical duels, subterfuge, roving gangs, other demons with other agendas, exploding buildings, daring rescues from inaccessible towers… sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Cornelia Funke is to German speaking kids what J.K. Rowling is to their English speaking contemporaries. Her first book to be translated into English was The Thief Lord, and it was all the rage among Jack’s 4th grade peers. Since it was a thick book (like Harry Potter), I picked it up. What a story! Think of Oliver Twist and a teenage Fagan doing their work in the labyrinthine canals of Venice. It’s dark, the water is scary, and someone is chasing our orphaned heros… Funke’s next book to be translated into English was probably better than The Thief Lord, though. In Inkheart, a character from a book is called into real existence when Meggie’s father reads aloud. Unfortunately, Meggie’s dad dooms her mother to becoming a character in the book. Someone has to replace the one that was removed, after all! The challenge is to get Meggie’s mom back out of the book, and to put the characters who have escaped back intro the books. Two minor characters, Dustfinger and Basta, really stand out as examples of how a writer creates a fantastic, fully dimensional character.

When Jack reads something and then presses it one me to read, I do it. He reads what I tell him to, as well. This means I’ve introduced him to other books about kids his age that were written for adults, and he’s introduced me to children’s books that ought to be read by more adults.

Jack and I have always shared books. When he was in kindergarten, I’d climb into bed with him and we’d read a chapter or two from whatever book I had chosen. We read the entire Narnia series aloud that year. We also read the first three Harry Potter books that way. I think Jack became a stronger reader because he would follow along in the books as I read them aloud, giggling when he caught me skipping words or saying something that wasn’t actually written. By the third grade he was reading adult level books on his own.

I asked him about books to mention in this blog, and he told me, “Most children’s books are terrible. It’s the same stories over and over again. Kid finds something magic, kid goes on quest, kid meets girl, kid and girl become friends during the quest, kid and girl almost don’t complete the quest, but then find that the thing they need to complete the quest is inside them the whole time, like it’s ‘love’ or something.” Jack liked and likes the books that are original, that have more complexity.

Jim Butcher, the author of the wonderful Harry Dresden, Wizard mysteries, has started a series about people who can call up the elements to do their bidding. Air, water, earth, metal, wood, and fire are at the beck and call of talented individuals in this post-Roman Empire alternate world. The main characters start as teenagers in the first two books, and by the third they begin to come of age. They fight deadly giant insects who possess people making them zombies, go to war against a race of wolf-like creatures, and they get involved in diplomatic maneuvering among nobility with powerful magic. I’m really looking forward to the fourth book in the Codex Alera.

Ender’s Game is a fantastic book to give to any kid who likes video games. Orson Scott Card’s Ender series is probably his best known work, although he is a prolific writer of several genres. The Ender series is pure science fiction. A six year old boy, Ender Wiggin, is sent to battle school where he spends countless hours playing battle-type video games. Although he is initially segregated from the other students, Ender’s status as a strategic battle prodigy earns him the respect of the other students to whom he teaches tactics after regular school hours. Ender deals with bullies among his peers as well as an adult military command that puts him in charge of battle groups over his objection. Spoiler: When it is finally revealed to Ender that every battle he has fought on the video screen has been a real battle against real enemies, he falls into a catatonic state for several days. He has destroyed an entire race of aliens, including their home planet. The books that follow all address xenophobia and mental illness in creative ways. The series should be a classic for adults and kids alike.

Card also wrote an alternate history series with a teenage boy as his primary protagonist. In Seventh Son, the first book in the Tales of Alvin Maker, Alvin is known to be a man of incredible talent. He has a “knack” for making things – out of virtually nothing. His almost god-like powers change the world, and in later books characters from history interact with Alvin and have their own “knacks.” Tecumseh, William Henry Harrison, and the Indian Prophet Tenska-Tewa make their appearances, and Tippecanoe isn’t quite the same.

My philosophy has been to give Jack books that are about kids his own age, and a little older. When I read a story of a teenager who goes on the quest, or is thrust into a position of having to use his wits to survive, I give it to him. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a good one for teenagers because a teenager is suddenly thrust into a position of authority and responsibility, and must act creatively and desperately to save himself. Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shanarra is the classic quest book that Jack complained of, but its complexity is sufficient to keep not only Jack but plenty of others entertained through a long series of books. Likewise, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is about adolescents who are prophesied to save the world and fight against the veritable gods of their reality.

I recently read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Maybe it is a bit of science fiction when a man is chronologically challenged, but when he materializes naked at the age of forty-three in front of his six year old future wife, things get interesting. The wife grows chronologically through the book, but never knows whether she will meet her husband in his future or his past.

A girl is identified by a homeless man to be the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary in The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn by Janis Hollowell. Although her mother tries to protect her from the headiness that comes with being suddenly invested with the power to heal and the power to bless, Francesca’s aunt is more avaricious and sees the potential for making a profit off the situation. As Francesca herself matures, so do her powers. Book clubs loved this selection, because of the possibility of a mass psychosis that either caused or resulted from Francesca’s powers.

I know my list is weighted heavily toward science fiction and fantasy because Jack and I both love the genre. There are other books out there about kids, though, that are great. I’d love to hear what others have read.

September 8, 2007 Posted by | Book Reviews, Children, Children's Stories, Conversations With Children, Science Fiction/Fantasy | Leave a comment

Pieces of Eight – YARRRRR!

Pieces of Eight - YARRRRR! magnify

Since we’re at the beach, topics related to the beach are naturally the topics of discussion. (Imagine that!)

Jack and I are here with friends. Three adults, a couple of teenagers, a toddler, and a newly minted first-grader. Guess who dominates the TV? SpongeBob SquarePants. Yup. More beach stuff. Hey, it’s a theme vacation.

In keeping with the theme, the conversation over breakfast turned to buried treasure (whether or not a 6 year old was likely to find any) and Spanish doubloons (the popular piratical medium of exchange due to the fragile and somewhat messy nature of sand dollars).

“What, exactly, were ‘pieces of eight?’ Gold doubloons?” wondered the father of the rugrats (another cartoon sure to be on the TV at some point during this vacation, but not beach-themed, so irrelevant).

“Spanish money, cut into eight pieces,” supplied my kid, who does his best to flunk out of school but whose mind is otherwise a steel trap for useless information. (If only his diligence in remembering things extended to remembering to do, and turn in, his homework, we wouldn’t be so worried about whether he’d actually make it to college. But I digress.)

“They actually cut their coins?” asked our 17 year old friend.

“Yeah. It was before they minted coins worth less than a full unit of their money.” Where does Jack come up with this stuff? Since I was sitting in front of my laptop feeding my Yahoo 360 addiction, I flipped over to Google and looked it up.

The phrase “pieces of eight” did indeed refer to the fact that the Spanish dollar (yes, in the Americas it was called a “dollar”) was cut into eight pieces. Why eight pieces? Other than the relative ease of dividing the coin into eight pieces, the coin itself was worth eight reales, or royals. So calling it a “piece of eight” is similar to referring to the American gold coin as a “twenty dollar gold piece.”

The Spanish real was minted in different denominations, though. There were 2, 4, and 8 real pieces. The coins were cut in half or quarters, or even into eighths to make smaller change.

Reales were always silver. The Spanish gold coin was called the escudo. The coin worth eight escudos was the famous Spanish gold doubloon, which was 22 carats pure. It was also cut into eighths, for the same reason as the silver real: to make change.

The Spanish reales and escudos were the first world currency. The purity of the gold and silver were dictated by Spanish law, and because of its colonial expansion in the Americas gold and silver were plentiful for the Spanish government. Even China, which had never been keen on accepting anything other than gold, was willing to accept reales. Sometimes the Chinese placed impressions of their own on the Spanish coins to indicate that their own tests had been conducted as to the purity of the silver.

Have you ever wondered why a quarter is referred to as “two bits?” It goes back to the divisions of the Spanish 8 real coin. This coin and its pieces were legal currency in the US until 1857, and it’s why the American stock exchanges valued stocks in increments of one-eighth of a dollar until 1997.

More reading for those two or three of you who wish I’d spent more time on this blog instead of rushing out into the sun and sand:

The University of Notre Dame Library information on Coins, including Spanish silver and Spanish gold
Pirates of the Caribbean (not the movie, but a site full of nifty pirate information)
Wikipedia’s article on the Spanish dollar’s entries on Pieces of Eight and on the Spanish Real

June 10, 2007 Posted by | Conversations With Children, History, Travel | Leave a comment

Catholicism – WOW!

Jack, my 15 year old son, and I were watching Dogma the other day. You know, the Kevin Smith classic where George Carlin, as Cardinal Glick, rolls out a kinder, gentler Catholicism and its new front man, “Buddy Christ.” Naturally it made me think about other changes the Catholic Church has made recently. I initiated yet another theological conversation with my favorite Scion.

“Did you hear, Jack? Limbo’s gone.”

“What do you mean, gone? What happened to it?”

“The Vatican abolished it.”

“Abolished it? Just like that? How? I mean, I thought it was, like, dogma!”

“It says in this article that ‘Limbo has never been defined as church dogma and is not mentioned in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states simply that unbaptized infants are entrusted to God’s mercy.’ So I guess Limbo was just policy.”

“So how does the Church have the authority to abolish Limbo? That would seem to be under the jurisdiction of God to do.”

“Well, according to the articles I read, it seems that the Church was really just wrong about Limbo existing in the first place. It never really was there.”

“I thought the Church was infallible.”

“The Pope is infallible. The Church, well, like the Muse and the Apostle say here in Dogma, there was the silent consent to the slave trade, and the Church’s platform of non-involvement during the Holocaust. Protestants were condemned to Hell until the 1960’s when the Church made an exception to heresy. And there’s the whole usury thing, too. Mistakes have been made.”

“Other than the unbaptized babies, who was in Limbo?”

“Um, I think anyone who would have gone to Heaven but wasn’t baptized. You know, the people who qualified except for the technicalities. Pre-Christian Jews. Pagans. Good Buddhists.”

“Does that mean that if I live a good life and do right, but don’t go to Church or anything, that I still go to Heaven?”

I rolled my eyes. “The notion was that only those who didn’t get the chance to know about Christianity would go to Limbo. It wasn’t fair to send them to Hell since they didn’t know, but they can’t get to Heaven except through Christian beliefs. So you have to toe the line.”

“Okay, so, now that Limbo doesn’t exist, and apparently never did, what happened to the souls the Chruch thought were warehoused there?”

I checked the article I had seen on the internet. “Hmmm. I’m not sure, and evidently the Church isn’t, either. It says here that ‘the carefully worded document from the Vatican’s International Theological Commission stops short of certainty in this regard, arguing only that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope,” rather than “sure knowledge.”‘ That really doesn’t say much, now does it?”

“So what about all the souls in Limbo?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they can go to Heaven now. And the good news is that from now on there’s no waiting. Unbaptized babies who die can go straight to heaven.”

“Man, I bet the people who had to spend all that time there are pissed about that.”


“It’s like doing time. Paying dues. They had to do their time in Limbo with no hope of ever getting out, and now the new guys get to go straight to Heaven. They get a free ride, without the Guantanamo-like experience the old guys had.”


“Yeah. You know, those guys in Guantanamo have no idea when or if they’ll ever get out. So if we have another war and suddenly they are freed and the new POWs we get are repatriated without the wait as soon as the President announces ‘Mission Accomplished’ – and are designated POWs without the ‘enemy combatant’ BS – the Guantanamo guys will be pissed off.”

“I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms.”

“And Mom, what if the Church is wrong about this, too? They abolish Limbo but God still won’t let the innocents into Heaven since they weren’t baptized? I mean, what if the policy really isn’t changed and the Church didn’t get the right memo?”

“Well, son, I guess those souls will have to go somewhere. I just don’t know where.”

“You know, the government still has a lot of empty FEMA trailers… I bet souls don’t take up too much room.”

“How many souls do you think would fit in a single trailer?”

“I don’t know. Is it anything like how many angels fit on the head of a pin? I mean, they aren’t, like, substantial or anything.”

“Hmmm. And I suppose they won’t exactly eat a lot, either. Jack, I think you’re on to something.”

May 18, 2007 Posted by | Conversations With Children, Death, FEMA, Humor, Movies, News, Politics, Religion | Leave a comment

True Story

I wonder if things like this happen to people who don’t have dirty minds. If they do, is it possible that those people can overlook the obvious and be completely oblivious to what is so hysterically funny in a sick, twisted sort of way?

I went to my sister’s for Christmas dinner Monday. When Jack and I got there, she put a pork tenderloin in the oven and we gathered around the tree to open gifts. Sis’s two boys, ages 15 and 13, were there, as was my mother. We spent a lovely hour ooohing and ahhhhing over what everyone got and gave. It was a very nice time.

We were almost through opening gifts when Sis got up to go check the tenderloin. She was gone for a few minutes. The rest of us waited to open any more gifts until she returned. We were chatting and laughing in typical Aramink family fashion.

Sis tip-toed into the living room and tapped me on the shoulder. “Come here,” she whispered.

I got to my feet and followed her into the kitchen.

“Have you ever cooked a pork tenderloin?” she asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “Lots of times.”

“Good. I have something I need to ask you then,” she explained and opened the oven door. She reached in and pulled out the roasting pan holding the meat.

“Is it supposed to look like this?” she asked.

I gaped. I blinked.

Sis put the pan down on the counter and grinned at me real big. “Shhhh,” she said.

We walked back into the living room, and Sis beckoned to Mom. I couldn’t help it. I was about to die laughing. When Gran headed into the kitchen, I did my best to keep three large teenage boys at bay, thinking they were too young and … ahem… tender… to witness what their mother had prepared for Christmas dinner.

I was unsuccessful. The boys barreled into the kitchen just as their grandmother was in the act of looking perplexed at the slab of meat that faced her. Gran glanced up with a quizzical look. For a second I thought she didn’t get it.

Then she burst out laughing.

The boys crowded around. “What is it? What’s so funny?” they demanded. Their mothers and grandmother were laughing too hard to tell them.

Sis headed down the hall to the bathroom before she wet her pants. When she came back, she suggested that a creamy Bearnaise sauce would be a lovely accompaniment.

That set us off again. Sis headed back to the bathroom.

We females of the family enjoyed every bite. “Mmmmmm.” “Yummy.” “This is delightful,” we said.

The boys, for some reason, opted for a meatless Christmas dinner.

And now, for the crucial question:
If a pork tenderloin is circumcised, does that make it kosher?

December 28, 2006 Posted by | Children, Conversations With Children, Humor | 1 Comment

For Wolfio

I have a good friend on Yahoo 360.  Wolfio is musician with a heart and a brain and a soul that reaches around forever.  He rants and raves, but he also writes some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen here.

His life hasn’t been particularly great lately.  He’s going through a divorce from a woman who adores head games.  She even had her boyfriend call him up and invite him to Thanksgiving dinner with them.

His oldest son, from his first marriage, recently moved home and was seriously depressed.  The young man had suffered some blows that left him despondent almost beyond life. Wolfio despaired that this adult child would ever even get out of bed, much less get a job and lead a normal life.

Then, as parents are sometimes able to do, he reached within himself and found something to inspire that young man who had no direction in life, that young man who felt he had lost all hope.  What Wolfio said to his son was powerful.  I think what he said bears repeating.

I killed a guy.

It was not planned. Most killings are like that.

It was long ago, before I knew who I was or wanted in life.

Fern. The guy’s name was John Fern. You don’t forget a guy you kill. Most killings are like that.

I never spoke to him. I never met him until I killed him. It was his choice, the only one he may have believed he ever made, that he really wanted. Decisions are like that.

I didn’t want to kill him. I would rather have gone on, never running into him at all, but…. That’s how I killed him. John. By running into him. Over him, really. Crushing him. Huge trucks do that.

I was at work, on the job on a four lane highway, of course, in the fast lane. Driving is like that.

I saw him on the overpass. He disappeared behind the sign showing the next exit. I was thinking of something – I don’t remember now – it was not important I’m sure. It’s hard to remember what you were before you became something else. Hindsight is like that.

It did seem strange. Why would someone put a leg over an overpass railing? But, what are the chances? He didn’t drop something. “He’s right there, dead center. Why, if he was to…”

That part I remember: how I forced my vision not to look directly into his eyes just before he hit the windshield, rolled down and under the truck. I would imagine he was in a lot of pain. I dragged him maybe fifty yards. Somewhere in there he died. I wondered if he may have reconsidered while under there. Stupidity is like that.

After I pulled over I got out, walked to the back of the truck, lit a cigarette and sat on the bumper. His body was still. I could only make out the shape. I found his sweater had been pulled off. It was tangled on the drive axle under the truck. I wanted a drink. I asked the state trooper, “Look no cameras, I don’t want to be on the news…” Yep, I was an asshole, even then. Karma is like that.

I’ve wanted to off myself millions of times since then. It’s clear I will not.

It’s funny…

I told that story to my son while he was here, staying with me during this whole wife/whore fiasco. His mother died in a car crash 3 years ago. He was in the backseat. T-boned in a fucking Neon.  It took her head clean off. The kid wanted to end it. He was not kidding. Reality is like that.

I couldn’t fucking believe it. I was crying, not knowing what to say, but if I didn’t say something he was going to do it. I can’t kill again by accident.

And then there was John. John Fern. I never knew what I thought about it all before this moment. I never spent much time on it. Then I knew.

After the story I told him, “John Fern was his own man. I never knew him but he chose to do the one thing he could do without anyone’s OK. He offed himself. They told me he had been in years of therapy and he just gave up.

“Would you be able to just give up like that, and still have hope to see your mother again knowing the one thing she would have wanted for you was to grow up the be a fine young man? She would be proud of all the sacrifices she made for you. It will be all worth it, even her passing, if the most important work in her life was successful: raising a good son.

“John Fern did what he had to do. You have to live to the betterment of your mother’s memory, and if that fails then you’ll also be man enough to go like John.”

Two weeks later he had his old job back, got an apartment, and told me – me! – “Thanks, Dad.” Luck is like that.

Thank you, John. I’m sorry I killed you, but you saved my son, and at least I forgive you.

Dedicated to John        Wolfio182

November 29, 2006 Posted by | Children, Conversations With Children, Death, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Another Typical IM Conversation with a Troll

I OUGHT to publish this retard’s name, but I won’t.  My thoughts and what was going on at the time are in italics.

Him: How are u doing today ?
Me: good, and you?
Him: I am doing fine.  I am david and u
Me: Hi, David. I’m Anne
Him: Wow u are looking cute and charming
Me: thanks
Him: You remind me if my mom
Me:  so I look old  (his MOM?!?  WTF?!)
Yes that what u are  but age is just a number ok (Fuck you, buddy, “just a number!”)
so how old are you? 17?
Him: I am 41 now  and u ?  (41? and I look like his MOM?  What as ass.  What a smooth talker! *snort)
44, so there is no way I could be your mom (Damn, I should have said I was 34)
Lol oh okay.  You must be a funny person (yeah, buddy, you don’t know the half of it.  Let’s have some fun…)
You have no idea…
Him: I am from Springfield, MO and u (god, you’re American?  I had you pegged for Arab or African)
Little Rock
Him: are u married ?
Me: no – divorced for a little over a year. You?
Him: divorced for over 3 yrs now
Me: I think that being divorced beats the heck out of the alternative (like being married to someone you’d prefer not to be married to.  Or dead.)
Yes u are right.  But my ex said she wants it and i plead on her but i think she has made her decisions (I guess she did, if you’ve been divorced 3 years. This guy didn’t understand what I mean by “the alternative.”)
Me: I’m delighted to finally be divorced.
Him: Oh okay.  i like the smile on your face  is the the way u always smile ? (No, usually I have the rictus of a grimace when I talk to idiots like you.)
On my 360 page?  oh, that’s almost a kind of Mona Lisa look, isn’t it (wonder if this moron is wondering who Mona is)
Me: usually I have a big s*-eating grin (should have typed “shit” to see if he’d run)
I will like to look that smile on your face on day  Hope u will like that (If you ever see my face it will be with a taunting grin on it, you had better believe…)
Me: that’s a very sweet thing to say
Him: oh okay Well i am a very passionate person (passionate?  Does he know what that means? It is a big word with three syllables.)
So am I, but I laugh a lot
Him: My friend do say that i am kind of like giving (what friends?  you seem like a loser to me)
so how did you find me?
Him: My heart directed me to you  In 360 yahoo (Your heart.  What a load of crap.)
Me: what did you see there that interested you?
Him: Just the pics The little smile on your face (he didn’t read the page, obviously)
Him: Do you have a cam ? (get the fuck out!  He didn’t read the first line on the page!)
you didn’t read my page, did you?
Him: Nope
Me: If you had read my page, you would know the answer to that
Him: That u can’t cam with me
Me: sort of… (god, jackass, go read the freaking page!)
well i don’t understand what the page is (wonder if you understand anything?  I bet you’d be proud if your IQ test came back negative.)
There’s a statement at the very top of my page that says, “No, I will NOT cam with you.” and then there is a link you can click that will explain everything (so freaking READ it and GO AWAY)
Yes i saw that (moron)
Me: so, why don’t you read it.
Him: okay


Him: I have read it but it’s just saying funny things that i don’t understand (then how do you know it’s funny?)
What do you not understand?
Him: Everything (alert the media – we have an honest man here, folks – he’s too stupid to try to bluff his way through this one.  Film at eleven.)
Him: Now lets forget about the profile ok and lets talk better here (Right.  As if…)
I don’t know that we will have very much to talk about
Him: Yes i am ready to talk about anything (you wouldn’t know how)
Well, you have me at a disadvantage. You see, you have been to my 360 page, and you see what my interests are. You’ve even read how to get my attention, if you clicked the link and read that page. But I know absolutely NOTHING about you or your interests.
Him: well i am looking for a real committed relationship here and not here for head games (and that’s the only interest you have?)
Me:  So…why don’t you tell me some of your interests?
Him: Oh well My interest is  I want a woman that is faithful honest loyal and a passionate lady (um. Yeah.  You said that. Do you really think I asked you to repeat yourself all over again?  By this point I’ve started snickering out loud.)
Me: I see. Well, having a mate in mind is all well and good, but don’t you think that the friendship that comes before the mating should be based on something?
Him: Oh and what is it (No, you really DON’T have a clue, do you?  I’m laughing out loud, now.)
well, like, on common interests. Activities. Things you do besides stare into each other’s eyes. You know, the stuff conversations are made of.
Him: Yes. U are right. I was expecting you ask (Like I HAVEN’T?)
Me: so…what do you like to do?
Him: I like camping ,swimming dancing and watching movies  (Ah.  Progress.  Maybe he has a brain cell after all.)
All of those are good things. What kind of movies do you like?
Him: I like passions films and loves films (Passions and loves?  Jeez…)
Me: You like chick flicks? NO WAY.
Him: No
Me: what do you mean by passion films? (like, Passion of the Christ?  Like the Notebook?  what?)
Him: I mean loving films (But not chick flicks.  Any guy in America would think a “loving” film is a chick flick, idiot…  At this point I am laughing really loud, and Jack, my 15 year old son, comes in to see what’s up.  I show him the conversation.  “Mom,” Jack says seriously,  “the guy means porn.”  “Oh my god! Really?”  I gasp, and ask the question…)
Me: You mean porn?
Him: Have you watched dissapearing acts (disappearing porn…OMFG!  “Jack!  he means snuff films!”  We’re both dying laughing.)
um, no
Him: That’s the kind of film that i am saying very interesting (Jack and I are both laughing hysterically.)
You mean snuff films? (“Mom!  I can’t believe you asked him that!”  Jack is shocked, but laughing.)
Him: It’s a kind of loving film  he teaches how someone needs to take care of women . it’s emotional  (What an idiot!  How should I respond?  Oh!  I know!)
Me: Oh. well. I like comedies and drama and suspense
Him: Oh nice  i hate suspense (It’s nice you hate what I like and you’re trying to hit on me?  Idiot.)
Me: really? Why?
Him: I hate someone keeping me in suspense (god, you must be dull)
oh. You like to know what’s going on, huh
(pause)  (Jack is trying to convince me to mess with him really bad – to concoct some lies and see how he responds)
Yes  what are u doing right now?
Me: talking with my son
Him: Oh i c
Me: He desperately needs a father figure  (I’m about to wet my pants I’m laughing so hard at what Jack wants me to say)
i will be there for him one day (The hell you say!)
Me:  His father won’t have anything to do with him. He says that the disease the child has makes the boy unfit to be considerd his son (This is ALL Jack’s idea – I swear.  I’m laughing so hard I’m having trouble typing.)
Him: Oh that’s bad
Me: Yes. His father is very rich and powerful, but is not a nice person at all.  (ok, that part is my idea – and untrue)
Oh that’s bad . I care for my kids so much and i tried to see them once in every month (Once a month!  You’re too good to them!  Most noncustodial parents get alternating weekends, asshole.  Why aren’t you doing that?!)
That’s wonderful! Well, My ex-husband beat me regularly(no he did NOT), even when I didn’t deserve it (deserve it?!?) , so for my sake I am glad I don’t have to see him, but little Johnny misses him terribly. He is three, and doesn’t understand (Jack’s story line, again.  We’re holding onto each other laughing as he comes up with more outrageous things to tell this loser that I nix because it’s just too … OUT there)
Him: Well u will need to be consoling him.  I am a caring person and god fearing (really?  I’m a pagan-athiest-rastafarian)
Me: Well, I have to go.  (Jack:  “Awwww, Mom, we could have more fun…!”)
Him: Why are u going anne (Because you’re an idiot and I’m laughing too hard to type any more)
Him: will you come back ? (fat chance)

November 7, 2006 Posted by | Conversations With Children, Humor, IM | Leave a comment



I have contributed nothing to my child’s genetics. I was an incubator.

I caught my 15 year old son doing a Man Thought Process tonight.
Busted him flat.
Nailed him.
Caught him red handed.


    It’s a Man Thought Process I used to tease my ex about, and now my son is proudly performing the same Man Thought Process.

    Here is what happened:

    I walked into the living room. The TV was on, but he wasn’t watching it. He was just kind of staring into space, slack-jawed, a vacant look in his eyes.
    “Hi, honey,” I said. “Whatcha thinking?”
    “Oh. Hi, Mom. Um, nothing.”
    “Oh, you can tell me. I’m wanting a parent-child bonding moment, and what better way than to share your thoughts?”
    “I really wasn’t thinking about anything.”
    “Now, dear, I know you were thinking of something. Do you not want to tell me?”
    “Mom, really. I wasn’t thinking of anything!”
    “Nothing at all?”
    “Oh, come on. No one can just think of nothing. You were thinking of something. What was it?”
    “Nothing, Mom! I wasn’t thinking of anything!”
    “You mean to tell me you can just sit there and stare into space and think of nothing at all.”
    “Your mind is just empty, not a single thought wafting through it.”
    “That’s impossible, son. You had to be thinking of something.”
    “You were thinking of absolutely nothing.”

    It could have gone on in this vein for quite some time. I am quite good at goading him. It’s the skill of cross-examination coupled with maternal skepticism. With every question I let him know by my tone and cocked eyebrow how silly I thought his response was. He got more and more defensive of his vacant brain. It worked with the ex, it worked with the mini-him. For that matter, it’s worked on every male I’ve ever encountered. Well, all but three. Those three were much to fast on their toes to let me think I had caught them with helium between their ears.

    Would a woman ever be so proud of thinking of absolutely nothing?

November 1, 2006 Posted by | Children, Conversations With Children, Humor | Leave a comment