Sunday, January 30, 2011

Take Care

January 30, 2011

Art Linkletter, who died last year at 97, parlayed a career in radio and early television into something remarkable by focusing on children and their take on the world.

I have a five-year-old friend.  She and her mom had passed some winter germs back and forth, and yesterday was the mother's day to feel poorly.  The little girl had told her dad about her mom's illness on the phone and as they said goodbye, he told her to take care of her mommy and maybe get her some breakfast.

My friend scavenged the kitchen, found a plate, and pulled some items out to make her mom a tidy breakfast.  She carried the plate into her mom's bedroom:  

Poptarts, a banana, and a Bud Light.  That covers the basic food groups for a quick recovery, don't you think?

Friday, January 28, 2011


January 28, 2011

I have a new "Something Distinctive" about myself.  Walter gave me the gloves I wear (cashmere lined, no less) as my Valentine's gift the February before we got married. 

I suppose numerous people my age have gloves significantly older than their children.  Mine (my gloves, not my kids) will celebrate their 27th birthday in a couple of weeks.  But that's not what sets my gloves apart.

Last Thursday, my soccer team had its first practice of the season on a frozen night with high winds.  I, the cold weather weenie, bundled up--three layers on bottom, four on top--and chose to wear my heavier gloves and carry my special Valentine gloves in my stadium coat pocket (which is the reverse of what I usually do). 

Somehow I managed to arrive home with only three gloves.  I called my team's trainer to see if he had picked up my special, ancient token of Walter's regard.  Nope.  He actually went out to the fields the next day to look around for it.  Nope, again.

Five days passed.  I had to coach over the weekend in my less than satisfactory, bulky, unlucky gloves (which might explain our 0-3 performance).  I had resigned myself to hoping that Walter would still love me enough to get me new gloves this Valentine's Day.  I pulled up in the pitted, caliche parking lot, gathered my gear and looked down before I began the long trudge to our practice site.  And there on the ground, blending in with the stones and dust of the parking surface, obviously run over a few times, was my beloved glove.

Has anyone ever lost a glove and actually found it five days later, in the dark?

And as long as I am asking interesting questions, how did I come by such interesting and idiosyncratic friends?  And I'm sure the comments you have left (here and on Facebook) have not even touch the surface of what is out there.

So pardon me a few minutes to respond and comment on my commenters:

Joan--Yes, I still play trombone, but I am looking for a new ensemble as my old one broke up.  And, I'm not going to let you off the hook.  We are all waiting to hear something distinctive about you.

Debi--Thank you for your compliments and for jumping in for the first time.  We loved Pittsburgh when we visited Davis there and I can think of no amusement park that is more accessible or a better bargain than Kennywood.

And for those of you who are not my Facebook friends, I wanted to share these two distinctive readers:

Tanya--who has "been to Hawaii without ever having seen a thing there (my mom was pregnant with me the last time she and dad went!)...I broke my hand 200 feet above ground, riding on a zipline in Costa Rica...I can make my own walleye fishing lures...I loved Erin like crazy, even though I never met her in person."--how did you finish your zipline ride with a broken hand?

Alice--who I knew was amazing, but who may have the most distinctive comment:  "I can take a newly shorn fleece and wash it, comb, card, and dye it, spin the wool into yarn and weave or knit the yarn into something beautiful...BUT I cannot shear the sheep. I can also do the samething with cotton... no sheep involved in this one."

And for those of you who don't check through on the Comments here:

Erin--I only eat yellow box Cream of Wheat (never the red).  By the way, asking a question, even a a good question does not excuse you from writing something distinctive about yourself.

brooke--(Only for you would I deliberately leave a letter un-capitalied)  "i tried out for the olympics in whitewater slalom kayaking in 1992.  i've lived in 5 states and 4 towns, one major city and 3 minor cities. 2 of the towns and 1 of the minor cities were college towns or "college minor city".  i am an academic kid. (my parents were academics, their friends were academics, their partners were academics, etc..). i don't think there was a key adult in my life who didn't have a phd or who wasn't getting one.  i am 4'8" tall.  i can knit without looking.  i've been blogging since election day of 2000.  i am a life long democrat. yes, i even campaigned for mondale & ferarro when i was 11. doesn't mean i'm a big fan of the party these days though :("

Olivia--who recently lost one of her dearest friends also took the time to leave a comment "I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for a year. Belfast is my favorite city.  I think wearing Dora band aids is much better than the standard of band aid and I am convinced using them makes your injuries heal more quickly.  I am 27. Most people I meet think I am 10 years least.  I adore sarcasm.  I read history books for fun.  I am left-handed.  I looooove cleaning!"

Okay, just like that television network says, "Characters Welcome!"

And for your viewing pleasure, and to see what a fatty Uma (with the "unfillable corgi tummy"--description credited to Mara, who would know) once was.

And yes, that is Erin holding the camera and laughing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stand Out

January 26, 2011

So here I sit, one week after Walter's birthday, having not even mentioned it.  We celebrated quietly, but effectively, and will probably go on celebrating for several more weeks.  We have managed to get the year and the semester started, and no doubt it will all be a mad rush to Christmas and New Years, but we will gladly take you along for the ride for another year in the life of the Buengers.

Every semester I gather some information from my students on the first day of class.  Some of it is pretty prosaic (what telephone number can I use if I really need to contact you?).  Other information helps me gear my courses more specifically to their interests.  I also ask some questions just to take the temperature of the class and to get to know them a bit better.  I have done this for years, and the answers give me both a generalized view of the students and also an angle on their peculiarities.

One question I always ask is for them to tell me "Something Distinctive" about themselves.  Here is this semester's answers (one student per distinctive thing), with the more entertaining ones highlighted:

I don’t eat anything green.  ANYTHING.
Identical twin brother
High school in Rhode Island
I only have 24 teeth
Love to sail
Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia
Sing and play keyboard
Love salt water fishing
Switched majors twice
RE License
I have a scar from a pencil sharpener accident
Heart surgery. Plus waterfall repelling
Hate math, love statistics
9th generation named Virginia in my family
Can sing Disney songs in Spanish
From New Jersey
Africana Studies/Philosophy
Youngest of 7 kids
1st generation born in US
365 Project
Extremely messy yet organized
Can make a pretty awesome chocolate cake
I can clap my 100% flat feet like hands
Born in Mexico
Lived in Africa
From an emerging country
Grew up on a farm
Always look at the pros and cons before deciding anything
Single dad
Love cricket
Love ribeye steak
Play water polo
Huge fan of Family Guy and American Dad
Play in a band in Houston
Bad cook
Remembers silly things and forgets important things
Good cook/green thumb
11 siblings
I value practicality and hate tradition
Never broken a bone
I have both dimples and freckles (NOTE:  I didn't realize this was rare, but apparently it is)
I am reclusive
I play lacrosse and trumpet
I can crack the knuckles of my toes without touching them with my hand
I smile a lot and wear purple
Likes to learn many topics
Obsessed with productivity and time management
Proud Armenian
I have studied in France, New York, and Beijing
Every man in my family is named James
I go to Hawaii at least once a year
I have a twin sister
I speak Chinese, English, and Japanese
I can remember lyrics to Thai songs
Deployed to Iraq
Studied abroad
Eagle Scout

Aren't they diverse?  I tell them some distinctive things about myself:

I play trombone.
I will not watch online videos that are supposed to be funny because someone accidentally gets hurt.  EVER. 
I am completely in the dark about reality television.
I like Cream of Wheat (not instant) much better than oatmeal. 
I can consistently fall asleep within two minutes of lying down.

There are many more things that I could mention, but I won't reveal any more until I hear how you stand out. 

Friday, January 21, 2011


January 21, 2011

What would you do with 51 cans of Del Monte French Style No Salt Added green beans?

We feed them to Uma.

You can see Uma under Walter's right arm in this (pre-Teddy) family photo:


Don't you think it's a shame for a dog to have so many chins? (I'm going to add a video here if I can find it that demonstrate her true proportions, so you may want to check back later.)

Walter's friend Bob Calvert's widow gave us Uma (aptly? named for Uma Thurman) after Bob died a decade ago.  Uma has always been a model of anxiety and insecurity and for as long as she has lived with us has eaten as a way to calm her inner demons.  Her palate warms to savory and unsavory items dropped on the kitchen floor, bird seed spilled out from the feeder, and anything rotten discovered on her long side trips to the compost pile.  We got to the end of the rope with her over Thanksgiving when she dug up the daffodil bulbs we had just planted, on the theory that they were tasty, rather than toxic, morsels (see line 1 of this handy chart).

Since then, we have added a can of green beans to her daily diet.  Each can adds a mere 70 calories to her intake, but takes up a good portion of her stomach and seems to take the edge off of her almost unquenchable hunger.  She seems calmer and perhaps more svelte.  And as best we can tell it produces no unseemly side effects.

Monday, January 17, 2011


January 17, 2011

If it is January 17, it must be time for your annual reminder of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I did't have to do this regularly until a couple of years ago, when the local paper stopped running the text of the speech in the paper.

Here, for example, is one of my favoritely titled posts of all time:  Don't Lean In.  I didn't have to focus on MLK that day because we had handled it in-house.  It was only in 2009, when the paper let me down, that I had to take matters in my own hand.

And again, last year:

This being Aggieland, I have now created a tradition by doing something twice in a row.  So here is your 2011 MLK "I Have a Dream" speech.  This time the complete version.  Try to watch it without tearing up.  I can't.

Friday, January 14, 2011


January 14, 2011

I began the day wondering if I was still a virgin. I looked it up on the internet, and I am. 

Walter on the other hand, needs to come out of the closet.  After living under DADT for his entire life, pretending to be something he was not, I discovered today that he was a Sagittarius, not a Capricorn.  I needed to learn what I had gotten myself  into now that Walter's true and essential self had been revealed after all these decades.  I found a description of Sagittarius here.  (Sagittarius is a centaur, definitely not the randy, old goat that he always led me to believe he was.  And how did he trick me for more than a quarter of a century so that I didn't notice he was half man and half horse.  I mean, really?  I couldn't tell the difference between a goat and half a horse?) 

How could I have missed that he was really "blindly optimistic," "careless," "irresponsible," and "jovial?"  You think you know someone, then bang, the astrological calender changes and you find yourself wondering, really wondering.

My mother (and Erin) have become Tauruses (Taurusii?).

Davis is now a bland Pisces.

I can only take comfort that some things remain constant, and yes, I persist as the perpetual virgin.  My only question is how my sister, Katherine, became a virgin after all this time.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011


January 13, 2011

With only two of five runways open at Logan and scenes like this, I can say with enthusiasm that I'm glad we flew to Boston last Thursday rather than today (Funny how this photo just blends right in the Let's Do It! wallpaper).

In fact, practically everywhere in the country (except here and also where the Tjoelkers are vacationing) has snow.

I guess it doesn't really matter what the weather is like, given how I have had to spend my days since we returned from Boston:  doing the mind-numbing work of migrating all my teaching and personal files to a new server (before class starts next week).  I wish it were as simple as drag and drop or copy and paste.  It actually requires that I rename each file and link individually.

The only thing that has cheered me much is how well Erin's Dream Lanyards has been doing.  We had a very robust holiday season and are preparing to set up tables/booths at four events next month.  We have scheduled a workshop for MLK Day afternoon to build up our stocks.  Come if you can.  I will be the person with the hunched over posture and fingers that looked permanently curled to a keyboard.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


January 9, 2010

Walter's Aunt Martha and Uncle Herman did not start out as native English speakers (German on the one hand, Polish on the other), but they caught on well and I never had any trouble understanding anything either one of them said.  I remember the first time they drove over the couple of hours from Taylor to meet the infant Davis.  They had never had children, but had proudly claimed all of their nieces and nephews (and their offspring) over the years. 

Aunt Martha handled Davis like a pro, enveloping the bundle he was, and cooing into his sleeping face.  Uncle Herman then took his turn. . . not quite as expertly, I recall.  He held Davis in the crook of his elbow, but somehow, Davis's head ended up lower than his feet and in the ensuing moments started fretting a little.

Uncle Herman stared down at him, wondering whether his turn had lasted long enough to satisfy the dictates of politeness or whether he was stuck with a baby that was about to go off like a bomb.  Aunt Martha nudged him firmly with her elbow, and as it dug into Herman's side, she hissed "Jiggle him, Herman, jiggle him."  And jiggle him, indeed.  Herman started bouncing Davis in his arms and surprised Davis into silence and perhaps a return to slumber. 

That wasn't enough for Martha, however.  She was convinced that Davis would wake back up and fuss if Herman stopped, even for a moment.  So as we talked about the spring rains and the fine wildflower showing they had seen roadside on the drive over and how the cotton looked in the fields, she would interrupt the flow every once in a while with admonition to "keep jiggling" if Herman's will to jiggle flagged even a little.

I recall this story, because I had a chance to remember both of them Friday night.  I have a pretty easy to pronounce first name and rarely have a chance to hear people mis-calling my name.  Being with Aunt Martha and Uncle Herman was always one exception, because they tended to use German/Polish consonant pronunciation, so that Vickie and Walter came out Wickie and Valter.  Meeting my new friend Evelyn Lacey on Friday night, introduced a new variation on Vickie:  Mickie.

Pat and Dina Lacey, parents of the wonderful Will(iam), Evelyn, and Catherine had me out for family pizza night on Friday (and Catherine can stow away the pizza!).  If any of you have ever watched the "Dance, Dance" videos that Pat posts, I am here to attest to their authenticity and energy.  Pat, out of respect for my students' ability to find anything on the internet that might be construed as suspect about their professor's habits and hobbies, did not record our dance frenzy (or our wrestling moves), but let me just say that we had a joy-filled time and that Evelyn's face and relative primness of her body language below does not reflect the pace and delight of the rest of the night, as she continued to try to attract my attention for the next thing:  "Mickie, my turn!  Mickie, come here!  Mickie, Mickie, Mickie!"

I also got to browse Will's Friday folder, where I saw his perfect spelling test and we engaged in a long a detailed conversation about his library book about snakes.  I don't think he believed me when I told him about all the snakes we have at Leisure Lake, six of which were shown in actual color photos in the very book he had checked out of his very own school library.  I think I am now a very exotic person.

Thank you Pat for picking me up and driving me back to Boston.  Your family is the highlight of the trip, barely edging out my long walk through the winter wonderland of Beacon Hill, the Boston Commons, and the amazingly frozen Charles River (in my perfect, borrowed snow boots).


NOTE to Catherine:  Thanks for the inquiry about the small violin and piano that we gave Adam and Nico for Christmas.  I would say that the piano is about Barbie size, but the violin would be about cello size for a Barbie.  They are both music boxes and have excellent detail.  The violin even comes with a carrying case, so you can pretend like you are carrying a small machine gun a la Mugsy Malone.  I found them at the Signals catalogue

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


January 5, 2010

I read in the paper this morning that Americans waste 160 billion pounds of food each year.  Some comes (I imagine) from those trays of foods the cafeteria ladies dump into the trash after the kids have eaten the roll and picked the bits of meat off the faux pizza slice.  I figure another pretty big amount comes from supermarkets disposing of regulated products that pass their expiration date.  Close to half, however, comes from our homes.  When I say "our," I'm not just talking about Walter and my home, but I will admit that we have had some trouble trimming our shopping and cooking down to accommodate two rather than four. We don't seem to get through the milk in a timely way.  We end up composting more spoiled produce than we should (composting is better than landfilling, but not that much better).  We seem to feel there is some virtue in storing our leftovers in little plastic tubs that clutter the refrigerator for a requisite number of days before we toss them in the garbage, rather than throwing them out immediately after they become left over.  Is it delusional in addition to being excessive to imagine that someone might reheat and reuse those items?

I don't think I can eliminate food waste, but I think I can do better than I am.  One solution I'm going to try:

Once a week (or every other week) take all the saggy, wilty produce from the refrigerator, put it all in a stock pot with water.  Make vegetable stock.  Compost what remains of the even soggier, wiltier vegetables and freeze the stock instead of buying canned stock for my cooking needs.

Any other ideas?

Walter and I are headed to Boston tomorrow for a professional meeting.  What was I thinking?  At least Mary Ann was sympathetic enough to lend me some snow boots.  Now I have to figure out how to fit them in my suitcase (and wonder if anything in my professional wardrobe goes with orange snow boots).