Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christmas Review

Just got done with the delightful little book, Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas, by Bill McKibben, which is so delightful and so little that it’s tempting just to quote the whole book.

Despite the name, the author is not advocating a strict hundred-dollar Christmas. He traces the origins—some of them surprisingly recent—of our society’s current Christmas practices. Then he submits the radical proposal that Christmas can be what we need and want it to be...and it always has been. For instance, back in frontier times, when life was grinding and cold, and there wasn’t anything on TV, Christmas was a day for mischievous boys to set off loud explosions. It was different than every other day. All that noise and mischief were what led reformers to make Christmas into a gentler, family-centered day. Now, we have 24-hour explosions on TV, and explosions of stuff, and explosions of appointments. What a lot of us—what I—need is more peace. And Christmas is a good day for that.

It’s not a hundred-dollar Christmas this year, and I can feel the Christmas crazies reaching their tentacles after me. But we have made a family goal this year to

a) share the work of Christmas
b) eliminate the stuff we don’t really like about Christmas
c) made sure we do the Christmas things we love

What do you love about Christmas? What do you not love so much? How do you beat off the crazies?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A complete (practice) disaster

Once or twice a year, our neighborhood has a mock disaster. No one specifies what has befallen us, though flood and earthquake are possibilities that come to mind. We all check in at a central location, where someone has a HAM radio, and we're encouraged to practice our family disaster procedures at home.

This year, our family decided to try out our 72-hour disaster kits. We each have a backpack full of personal supplies, plus a family duffel bag of food and misc. We grabbed those, threw some bottles of water in the back of the van, and randomly drove to a pond we've been wanting to visit a ways down the freeway. Then we piled our backpacks on a picnic table and attempted to cook and eat dinner.

Cooking, we managed. We had pieces from three different kinds of emergency stoves, plus a firepit at the campsite. Thanks to our time in Cub Scouts, we had a "buddy burner"* made out of paraffin, a tuna can, and cardboard. We'd realized we didn't have a pot in the kit before we left, so there was a big pan for warming up our can of beef stew.

There were not, however, any bowls for our stew, or cups for our water. And everyone was dismayed that we'd eaten up the granola bars in some past "emergency."

We ate from the communual pot, found a geocache, made friends with the feral cats in the dumpster, went out for burgers to supplement the emergency rations, and had a great time.

Still not ready to think about basements full of mud, traffic jams full of panicked people, and/or actually living on our provisions, though.

*Note discussion at this page about the possible dangers of plastic-lined tuna cans. I think ours was old enough to not have a lining.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Escher Dress

So, I'm putting a ruffle on the bottom of my daughter's dress. I sew together the narrow ends of four long rectangles, forming a loop. Then I run a line of stitching all the way along the top edge of the loop.

Except, the line of stitching does not end on the top edge. It ends on the bottom edge. Turns out, I've sewn the loop in a mobius strip.

I think I fixed it. If my daughter puts on the the dress and ends up in some alternate dimension, it will be time to pull out the cosmic seam ripper.

Now to think of a story involving a mobius dress...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Watch for Armadillos

Ever notice something obscure—say, for instance, armadillos—popping up in daily life and conversation, even though you hadn't previously thought about that thing for months or years?

I was sitting in a restaurant, waiting for friends and idly contemplating an abstract painting in orange and yellow. Hm, thought I, that shape on the right looks like a mitonchondrion. The friends arrived and began talking about how another friend's health problems were finally diagnosed as mitochondrial disease. Now, I do not spend all day thinking about the thingies inside cell bodies. I can't even remember what mitochondria do. But there they were, twice in ten minutes. That's an armadillo. Possibly even an atomic armadillo.

My sister invented the concept after an armadillo involving—you guessed it—armadillos. Particularly spectacular armadillos are called atomic armadillos. Armadillos which, upon further examination, have some logical explanation are called near-armadillos (e.g. an armadillo involving vampires probably has its roots in Twilight advertising).

And now you have a word for those experiences! Next we need a word for how, when you say a word (like "armadillo") a whole bunch of times, it starts to lose its meaning and look ridiculous. Armadillo, armadillo, armadillo...

Have you ever had an armadillo? Do you think "Vampire Armadillos" is a good name for a rock band? Share!

Photo from http://www.animals.nationalgeographic.com

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On the salutary effects of incendiary facial hair

So, Buffy, Hammer, and I are outside the university art museum, and there are all these fire trucks out front. Out back, there's a little knot of fire fighters, but no obvious emergency.

Then, at the head of the reflecting pool, we see it: a wide, black monolith holding a steel outline of a giant mustache.* And the mustache is on fire!

We giggled, snorted, and guffawed all the way across campus. Giant mustache! On fire! Hello, 911? My mustache is on fire! (OK, maybe you had to be there.) I could hardly breathe. Continence was a problem.

Then Hammer looked at me, eyes wide with delight. "Mom's laughing!"

Once I'd gotten over the giant, flaming mustache, this made me think. Our family loves a gut-busting, drink-spewed-out-the-nose laugh. It lingers all afternoon, both in little giggling aftershocks and in a general feeling of having shared something wonderful. Cuts right through teenage and tweenage angst, and parental exasperation. But if the kids are astonished to see me howling in glee, then by golly, we're not LAUGHING enough!

So now I actively pursue stuff for us to laugh at. Some of it comes naturally: we're kneeling in a circle for family prayer, and the cat settles himself in the center of the circle, as though we're praying to him. This is good for at least five minutes of hilarity. God doesn't seem to mind waiting. I also seed the reading areas with Calvin and Hobbes, the iPods with Weird Al, and the DVD player Abbott and Costello or the Marx Brothers. You just can't laugh with your brother and be mad at him at the same time.

Just don't light his mustache on fire—'kay?

*Andrew Sexton, Self Portrait, 2006, steel, rubber tubing and propane, 19 x 66 in. Brigham Young University Museum of Art "Mirror Mirror" exhibit. October 2009.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


The goal we set 20 years ago: to become a reading family

The piles I sorted things into while picking up the living room yesterday:

Buffy's books
T-bone's books
Hammer's books
Dirty socks
General family kid books
Grown-up books
Current magazines
Magazines to file
Magazines to throw away
Books other people loaned us
Public library books
University library books
Elementary school library books
Junior high school library books
High school library books

Available evidence indicates that living (as in living room) = reading.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thanks, Shaun White

I must not have been paying attention to the Winter Olympics lately, because there are some way-out sports this year I’d never heard of before. Freestyle moguls? Board cross? I watch with jaw on floor.

So far, though, Shaun White totally owns the Olympics for our family. He’d already won halfpipe when it was his turn for his second run. He even joked that he could just slide straight down the middle if he wanted. Instead, he blew his own gold-medal score off the board with an incredible set of flips, twists, and spins that made my whole family leap to our feet, clapping, shouting, and laughing.

Thanks, Shaun White—for that grin, too.

One question remains. What if half-pipe had been invented 400 years ago, and figure skating were invented tomorrow? Would half-pipe take place indoors, with sequins and chiffon, and would figure skaters shred over an outdoor lake in parkas that look like flannel shirts and snow pants that look like bluejeans?

Just asking...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Just one more dream...

Ok, I absolutely promise this blog is not my dream journal. But this experience cracked me up. I was stuck on a pretty important plot point, and I just KNEW the answer was locked up somewhere in my brain, so I decided to harness the power of my subconscious. As I drifted off to sleep last night, I asked myself several times what to do about my sticky problem.

Then I dreamed a dream:
After a long time dealing with infertility, I was at the hospital, and I'd just discovered I was pregnant! The entire hospital staff lined up on a video phone monitor to congratulate me.

It appears my subconscious mind agrees with my conscious mind: Yep, it's in there somewhere, all right. This is not to say it's actually in there. Just that my waking and sleeping brains agree that it is.

To be fair, as I was brushing my teeth, I did get a good idea that didn't entirely solve the problem, but might be an intriguing approach to it. That first, half-conscious idea, is often the best, truest idea of the day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I've been working really, really hard on getting this book done by the end of the month, and it's pervading my subconscious. Tell me, gentle readers, what the following could have to do with writing a book:

1) I'm pregnant, and "they" tell me it's time to go to the hospital. I don't really feel all that pregnant, and I don't look that big, and I haven't had any contractions, but still I'm lying in this bed, feeling dumb.

2) I have a blanket made of woven bands with these long, unsecured sections of pattern resulting in floppy strings hanging off the back. It's wearing out too fast because of the floppy strings.

3) I have sold my ostrich on the Internet. The guy who bought it is trying to tie the ostrich into his pickup truck, but it's not working. A bale of musty hay lies in the gutter down the street. The guy who bought the ostrich should pick it up for the ostrich to eat. (Hint: the book involves ostriches)

4) I have taken all the leftovers out of the fridge and made them into soup. The stove is out on someone's front lawn in my neighborhood. I plan to use the soup as my master's thesis, but I'm late to a meeting with my thesis chair. The janitor tells me my idea is stupid: "Your master's thesis needs to be about LIFE OR DEATH. Or else something really big. Not your leftover soup." (This was real soup. It wasn't that good.)

5) The crabapple tree in the back yard has suddenly grown HUGE. It looms over me, and I am afraid it will fall on me and crush me. It needs to be removed, but a) it gives nice shade to my bedroom window in the summertime b) I don't know how I'll get the stump out c) it will cost a lot to remove the tree.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Googling my blog

Signed up on Swagbucks to earn free Amazon.com cards, so I routinely google my own blog as a roundabout way of getting here and maybe earning a "buck" on the way. Each time I type in "lookunderthings," the search engine asks brightly whether I didn't mean "look underthings." As in, I suppose, "Look! Underthings!"

Ahem. We are NOT that sort of a blog. Though I probably just increased that sort of traffic.

It also suggests pages with wilderness survival tips--look under things so you don't miss important environmental details like rattlesnakes. That's a public service announcement I can get behind.

How not to parent

Had an interesting discussion with a 25-ish friend of mine, formerly one of my Cub Scouts. He's been around some blocks he wished he hadn't, and he was holding forth on the subject of parental reaction to children's substance abuse. His thesis was that, if they find out their child has been using/abusing, parents should stay calm, not freak out, and talk with their children about it instead of coming down hard with the punishments.

Sounded interesting to me, so later I ran this by Hammer, who is always quite willing to voice his opinions.

Me: (after expounding the theory)...so, what do you think about that?

Hammer: Well, Mom, before you told me that, if you ever catch me drinking, you'll remove my appendix without anesthesia, pickle it, and hang it on your keychain as a lesson to other stupid children.

(long pause)

Me: Did I really say that?

Hammer: (nods so vigorously I know he's not making it up, though I can't remember that conversation at all).

Currently trying to figure out how to use both approaches at once...
Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.