Job Descriptions

Periodically I stress afresh about finding a job. I wish so hard that there was something I WANTED to do. Right now it is almost impossible to GET a job (I can’t work summers yet, for example, and dislike working with other people’s children), but if I had a job in mind for the relatively near future, then I could start taking classes or volunteering in that field, so that I’d be more ready when the time is right. Instead I go around in circles.

One problem is that it’s hard to know what jobs even EXIST, or what those jobs INVOLVE, or what is required to FIND and ACQUIRE those jobs. Lots of people are in very satisfying jobs they would never have drawn a picture of in first grade, because “accounts receivable” wasn’t a field that sprang to mind.

So here is what I would enjoy talking about, if you would enjoy talking about it too: I’d like to know what your job INVOLVES, and what it REQUIRES (education-/skill-wise), and maybe what you personally find satisfying and unsatisfying about it, and what you’d advise someone else to do in order to ACQUIRE it. This may mean very long comments, and you just go right ahead with that: I will be hanging on your every word. And you don’t HAVE to answer all the questions, either: sometimes I feel awkward if I only want to talk about one part of what a blogger is asking about, but sometimes I have 30 seconds and limited interest, so I get it if that’s your situation here.

I’ll go first, to give an example. I worked as a pharmacy technician for a couple of years. I found it because my mom was picking up a prescription and noticed a sign taped to the counter saying that they were looking for a pharmacy technician; if I wanted that job again, I’d go ask at various pharmacy counters. I’d continue to ask periodically, because at least at my pharmacy it wasn’t the kind of job where they kept applications on file; they’d start over every time they needed someone. It can have relatively high turnover, so I would definitely take a subbing or part-time position, feeling fairly confident that it would be full-time/permanent soon.

It’s an entry-level job with on-the-job training: no education is required. Customer service skills would be good to have: a lot of the job was interacting with customers. General computer comfortability would be nice to have; I had one co-worker who found computers inexplicable, and so I liked very much to work with her, because she would handle the register/customers, and I would handle the computers/medicines.

It’s hard to estimate, but I’d say about 50% of the job was filling prescriptions (counting pills or pouring liquids from fetched bottles, bagging them up and handling the paperwork, reshelving the bottles, filing the bags in the drawer), about 40% of the job was register/customer work (ringing up purchases, dealing with complaints, taking phone calls), and about 10% of the job was miscellaneous (putting away the weekly shipments of medicines, going through the drawers to get rid of prescriptions that hadn’t been picked up, filing original copies of prescriptions in storage boxes, restocking the supply of empty bags and bottles, going through the shelves of medications to find the ones expiring in less than a year).

What I found personally unsatisfying about the job was most of the register/customer work. One problem I have is that I am smiley and polite and friendly, and so my bosses think “SHE SHOULD BE ON THE REGISTER!!”—but I SUFFER. Every snippy or unfair thing a customer says stays with me FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I handle it politely and then go cry in the bathroom and/or lie awake thinking about it years later. Not a good fit for me, especially considering how many people feel free to vent to clerks. I also wasn’t fond of restocking, but I don’t think any of us were.

I also found the pay unsatisfying: $8/hour, with a raise to $8.50/hour after I’d been there a year. And there wasn’t much room for advancement: I could become a certified technician easily (by taking a pass/fail test), but that came with nothing but a small pay raise and a potentially improved pecking order among the other clerks, and after that the only remaining step was a pharmacist degree, which didn’t appeal. (That’s a job of careful, diligent, meticulous data-checking with potential fatal consequences for errors. The motto is “If it’s not 100% right, it’s 100% wrong.”)

What I found very satisfying was inputting (i.e., taking the paper prescription and putting it into the computer) and filling (i.e., counting/measuring the medicine and putting it in a labeled bottle) the prescriptions. I liked the process of taking a pile of work to be done (a list of one hundred refills when I arrived in the morning, for example), and turning that into a pile of finished work. I liked bustling around rapidly, taking an armload of bottles off the shelves and pairing them up with their refill paperwork. If we lived in a more populous area or near the right kind of business, I might be able to get a job that was all filling prescriptions, no helping customers, and I think I would genuinely enjoy that. Alas. Well, the pay would still be unsatisfying.

I liked taking the doctor’s scribbles and putting them neatly into the computer; I liked learning/knowing the codes doctors use to write prescriptions. I liked when insurance would reject a prescription, and I had learned enough to be able to figure out why, and then to either fix it or at least to be able to explain to the customer what had happened and what needed to be done (as long as the customer listened and understood, rather than giving me more things to lie awake thinking about). I liked knowing brand/generic name combinations, and I liked how eventually I got familiar enough with dosages to be able to notice when one was weird (1 mg instead of .1 mg) and mention it to the pharmacist. I liked that after awhile I knew which prescriptions were antibiotics and which were painkillers and so forth.


Okay, so that’s the sort of thing I mean, and I understand if you don’t want to write so much, but I wanted to give you an idea of all the SORTS of things I’m asking about. I am PARTICULARLY interested in jobs that require one year or less of education: I’ve got a nearly-useless (because of how old it is and how I haven’t had any job experience in the field since then) college degree in business already, and it’s hard to imagine justifying the expense/time of another when we’re about to try to help five children through college and when I don’t feel strongly about any particular career. That is, if I KNEW DEEP IN MY HEART that I wanted to be something that required a degree, I guess I’d go back and get another degree. But I DON’T know that. And I do HAVE the 4-year degree, in case a job requires “a college degree in whatever.”

Too-Early Referrals; Easy One-Pot Lasagna

My sister-in-law Anna and I were discussing how frustrating it is to get a referral that turns out to be wayyyy too early. I’m braced for referrals that turn out to lead to no further action, and that those just HAVE to occur sometimes: the referral is like saying “Is this a problem?” and then sometimes the answer is “No, it’s fine.” It might feel like a waste of time or money (since you could see it as the doctor being wrong to worry), but it isn’t: the question needed to be asked and answered, and if the doctor is worried, I WANT her to refer me to someone who will know. But what I mean is when the referral turns out to be a sort of MISTAKE of the sort that wouldn’t be difficult to avoid.

For example, our dentist recently referred Edward to an orthodontist. Edward is only 9, so I thought I’d wait a bit: two earlier kids have needed orthodontics so far, but neither were able to start before age 11, and Edward’s situation didn’t seem severe. But the dentist was very insistent: Edward needed to go Right Now. So I took him, and the orthodontist kept saying things such as “only 9,” and “Let’s let him have some more childhood first,” and “only 9,” and “Edward, I can tell your mom is REALLY organized,” and “only 9.” (Luckily she also said things such as, “Now…WHY did you bring him in? Did you have…any particular concern?” so I could say “THE DENTIST MADE US.”) Since our orthodontist gives one free evaluation per patient, this means that when we have to go back in a year and a half, we’ll pay over $300 for that evaluation, which we wouldn’t have had to pay for if we hadn’t had this unnecessary evaluation now.

Anna mentioned a similar thing, where a doctor said her daughter needed to see a surgeon, so they took her to one, and the surgeon said, “Er, yes, maybe she’ll need surgery or maybe not, but we can’t know for three or four years.”

Perhaps doctors have no idea, which is WHY they refer to a specialist. But if that’s the case, perhaps there could be some way for them to FIND OUT a little more, perhaps a handy little chart of GENERAL GUIDELINES, such as “Do not refer to a surgeon three years before a particular surgery can even be considered.” It is such a huge hassle and expense to see a specialist, and too many unnecessary referrals gradually make me suspicious of motives.


SOMEONE recently recommended Easy One-Pot Lasagna. I’d thought it was Laura Diniwilk, but I can’t find it on her blog so it must have been someone else. If you wrote a post about a few recipes you’d recently tried, and one of them was this recipe, I’ll bet it was YOU. [Ah ha: Temerity Jane reminds me it was Linnea!]

Anyway, it looked good to me so I made it, and it was what I would call a hit for our family: Paul and I and three of the children all liked it a lot, and the children who liked it less still ate it. Downside: the melted cheese makes clean-up a pain. It doesn’t really matter to me if it’s “one pot,” if I have to use my fingertips to gradually wear down a fine layer of resistant cheese. But it might not be a problem in a non-stick skillet: because I was doubling the recipe, I needed to use a larger cooking pot.

And here I go with the “I made this recipe exactly, except I changed a bunch of stuff!” part. I used ground turkey instead of Italian sausage, because (1) whoever wrote the blog post I read about the recipe said she wasn’t crazy about the Italian sausage and wouldn’t use it the next time, and (2) the idea of peeling raw Italian sausages didn’t appeal (though I could have bought a packet of ground Italian sausage). Because I was using an unseasoned meat instead of a seasoned meat, I measured a little heavy on all the seasonings; I would use even more next time. I might also use more meat: I used a 1.3-pound package of ground turkey for a doubled recipe, so about 10 ounces of meat per batch, and that seemed a little skimpy. I didn’t use freshly-grated Parmesan; I used the kind in a plastic container. I didn’t buy fresh parsley and chop it; I skipped the garnish. I didn’t use freshly-ground black pepper or Kosher salt; I used the salt and pepper shakers on the counter. I like my one-pot meals with one-pot-type seasonings, and with fewer dirty graters and cutting boards.

More on Romantic Presents; Dinner Helper; Odd-and-Even Turn-Taking

I talked a little with Rob last night about romantic presents.

Oh! And I want to interrupt myself to mention something that is working really well for us: the concept of Dinner Helper. Each week, one of the two big kids is in charge of emptying the dishwasher (the weekly system was developed when we got tired of trying to figure out whose turn it was)

Oh! I want to interrupt my interruption! We have a useful way to remember whose turn it is with anything that involves (1) two kids and (2) taking day-based turns (for example, when two kids are taking turns setting the dinner table, or taking turns getting the first bath/shower, or taking turns choosing bedtime books). Here is the system: one kid is odd, and the other is even. Then as long as you know the date (iffy, I realize, but it can be discovered through research), and as long as everyone goes into it knowing the Odd Kid occasionally gets two days in a row (the 31st of a month followed by the 1st of the next month) and that this is a Good Example of How in Life Things Are Not Always Perfectly Fair, then you get to STOP ARGUING about whose turn it was yesterday! Instead you get to argue about which child is odd and which is even!—no, what we did was figure out a way to remember it. For example, if one child’s name has an odd number of letters and the other child’s name has an even number of letters, or if one child’s birth day/month is odd and the other child’s is even.

Back to the original interruption. Okay, so we do the dishwasher-emptying chore by weeks instead of by days, so each week one kid is Dishwasher Child. The OTHER kid is the Dinner Helper and has to help whichever adult is making dinner IF the adult wants help. Many nights, I’d rather be by myself in the kitchen. But some meals are more work, or some evenings we need to move faster, so then I have a Dinner Helper available.

At first, as with ALMOST EVERYTHING ABOUT PARENTING, having a dinner helper was more work than it was worth: I had to tell the kid EVERYthing, while ALSO doing my own work. Times two, because I trained both big kids. (The littler ones are seriously too much trouble to be worth it for me right now. I work on the philosophy of “Wait until it’s PAST the time they’re trainable for a particular task, and then it’s way easier to train them.”)

But at this point, now that we’ve been doing it awhile, it’s so worth it: I have my tasks and the Dinner Helper has his tasks, and the unexpected benefit is that it’s also Talking Time. The Dinner Helper does not always want to talk, and that works just fine too: we listen to the radio either way. But I’ve noticed all the kids seem to hover below their Preferred Attention-Getting Level, so generally there is talking.

Back to the original topic: this is Rob’s week to be Dinner Helper, and he asked if I had anything to talk about (we sometimes save issues just for Dinner Helper time), so I took the opportunity and I asked about The Girl and whether he was interested in dating her. He said that he HAD been: that the two of them had circled around the topic a bit, with her initiating the conversations about whether they should date—but then she started dating someone else, so he figures that’s a pretty clear indication that she came down on the side of no. He asked why I’d asked, and I said that a couple of his gifts to her recently had been of a sort that could SEEM romantic. He pointed out the girl is one of his two best friends, and that he had given similar gifts to his other best friend (also a girl). He said he likes to think of himself as a good gift-giver and so has been working on that.

So there we have it. I take anything a teenager tells me as The Official Press Release. That is, I’m not assuming this is the entire, complete, accurate story; I’m assuming this is the version I get with my Parent-Level Security Clearance.

Romantic Overtures

Rob wrote a girl a fugue for Valentine’s Day. This is a girl who is a good friend of his, a girl who is dating someone else right now. I was uncertain how much I should Explain Things, and how much I should let teenaged life take its course. I went with completely the latter. I remember grown-ups explaining dating/romance/social stuff when I was a teenager, and how silly they sounded—and, frankly, how silly they STILL sound to me now that I’M a grown-up.

Anyway, I caught myself thinking, “He wrote her a FUGUE? How can she resist that?” Then I realized I was absolutely feeding into that mentality I HATE AND FEAR about how someone can be awesome enough to deserve someone else’s love (or friendship, if that’s what’s being sought). Like, if someone is REALLY NICE and REALLY GREAT and does REALLY NICE THINGS for you, you OWE them your romantic love (or, again, friendship, but I’m going to drop that part of the theme here and concentrate only on the romance one). I totally see how that point of view gets started (“But the guy she’s dating isn’t as great as Rob! Look how great he is!”) AND simultaneously totally see it as ridiculous and potentially very dangerous.

When I was in high school, a boy drew a portrait of me (using my yearbook photo as the model), and gave it to me all wrapped up. He’d worked on it for AGES. It was a very romantic and special thing to do. But I didn’t have any romantic feelings for him, so his offering, his gift, his effort—they didn’t elicit the reaction in me that they would have elicited if I’d had a crush on him. Looking back on it now that I’m the mother in that set-up, I can see how someone from the outside (the boy’s parents, or the boy’s friends, or someone who had a crush on the boy) would think “He drew her PORTRAIT? How can she resist that? The guy she’s dating isn’t as great as this guy! Look how great this guy is!”—and potentially going from there to “She must be cold, she must be heartless, she must be awful, she must be…” etc. But that doesn’t WORK. That’s not how ROMANCE works. That portrait could have turned my heart if the potential feelings were already there, but it couldn’t MANUFACTURE those feelings.

That same boy once argued with me at length on the phone, because I was interested in his best friend but not in him. He considered himself and his friend to be enough alike that if I wanted to go on a date with one of them (I’d said yes to his friend), I should want to go on a date with the other of them (I’d said no to him). He thought this only made logical sense. (This argument would now set off HUGE red lights for me. At age 16ish I found it only exasperating and also somewhat flattering.) I think this is one of those situations where VAST BENEFITS can be achieved by flipping the situation around to make sure it still works: if he thought it only made sense that I should like his friend AND him, he should have thought to himself, “And does that work for me? Do I have a crush on HER similar-to-her friend? And would it work for someone to argue with me that I OUGHT to have a crush on someone I DON’T have a crush on? Do I think she is going to say, ‘Oh! You’re right! I guess I DO have feelings for you, then’?”

So. I have shifted from thinking things like “I would have LOVED a boy to write me a song in high school!” to thinking things like “I would have LOVED a boy I LIKE-liked to write me a song in high school!” Because actually I would not have loved it from a boy I DIDN’T feel romantic about. I want to make sure that that’s the mindset I’m passing on to Rob, too, in case his gift is not received as he may hope.

Collected Solutions for Winter Blues

I am low. Low, low, low. Lowwwwwwwwwwww—no, that looks like “ow” with an L. Talking about being low is one of the things that can help fix being low, so here we are.

First, it is so boring to be someone who would be talking about this again. I cringe on your behalf. As the decades of life roll past, it seems as if this would stop happening, but no. At least it gets easier to recognize as A Low Time which is MASQUERADING AS a Ruined Wasted Life of Doing/Being Everything Wrong, and therefore has become somewhat easier to deal with. When I’m lying awake thinking of every way in which everything I’ve ever said or done has been in the very NICEST interpretation stupid and clueless, I can think, “Okay, there is no point thinking about this, now just stop it” before I continue thinking about it, instead of thinking I OUGHT to think about it, or that it is HELPING to think about it.

Second, I continue to find it useful to pretend someone ELSE is saying/thinking the same things, and deal with it THAT way. I am by temperament a Fixer, one of those people it’s good to prime with “Now, I just want to VENT to you about this, I don’t want SOLUTIONS.” If I pretend someone else is saying the floppy, discouraged things I’m thinking, then my mind immediately switches into Fixer Mode instead of cycling back around uselessly into more discouraged flopping.

Third, I continue to find it useful to ask what would make it better, even infinitesimally. Big things are too big, and too difficult: if a big thing is what it’s going to take, I can’t do it. But little things add up to a big thing. Drinking a glass of water is not too hard, and maybe helps a little tiny bit: one point for the actual inputting of the water, plus a second point for feeling like you’re doing something good for yourself, plus a third point for feeling like you’re making some progress on feeling better. Wiping a little spill off the counter is not too hard: one point for the actual wiping, one point for the improved household view, one point for not seeing that spill and feeling bad every time you walk past it, one point for feeling like you’re making a difference. Sending for a course catalog is not too hard. Eating a baby carrot is not too hard. Writing something down on the list is not too hard. Filing one piece of paper is not too hard. Turning on the radio isn’t too hard. Petting a cat or dog isn’t too hard, if you have/like a cat/dog. Peeing is not too hard, and can help considerably.

Fourth, I continue to find it useful to dabble / DO something. I picture it exactly like when someone in a movie is trying to start a fire, and they get the teeniest little glow and they immediately put all their energy into encouraging that little glow to survive and get bigger. QUICK, GIVE IT OXYGEN!! Any flicker of interest I feel in anything, I try to pursue it before it goes out. As I drove sullenly through town the other day feeling as if life were nothing more than a neverending cycle of pointless, tedious chores punctuated by pointless, stressful chores, I saw through the window of one of the shops a rack of what looked like postcards. I felt a flicker of interest. A feeling of “What’s the point? I have too many postcards already, and barely ever do Postcrossing anymore” threatens to put it out; a feeling of “It’s probably just greeting cards anyway” is the next threat, followed by a feeling of “It’ll just be awkward: I’ll go in and there won’t be anything I want or they’ll be greeting cards or they’ll be postcards but overpriced, and the owner will keep talking to me and I’ll feel pressured and the whole thing will be a bust and I’ll have wasted my time,” which needs to be shoved HARD away from that little glow. I will go to that shop today, when it opens. One point for satisfied curiosity; one point for getting out of the house; one point for a mission; one point for probable social contact, however brief; one point for feeling like I’m making progress on feeling better.

Perfumed Lotion; Composting Question

I can hardly believe it, but I bought the Dove Cream Oil lotion AGAIN. The last time I bought it, I found it smells like a combination of half a dozen magazine perfume samples. It’s not an unpleasant smell per se, but it smells to me like Someone Else’s Perfume, so that I kept catching whiffs and wondering what/whom I was smelling. I finally donated it. And then yesterday, I saw some on clearance and went through the exact same thing again: “Ooo, the expensive lotion at a good price, and I love Dove!” followed by “Oh yes: the magazine perfume samples” followed by donation bin.

It’s just so surprisingly perfumed! I wouldn’t even call it “scented,” I’d call it PERFUMED. Like, if that were my perfume, this would be an incredible deal on expensive perfumed lotion.


How is this for an abrupt subject-change: I have a question about composting.

Long, long ago, when Rob was a preschooler obsessed with the Magic School Bus episode/book about water treatment, we took him on a tour of our local water treatment facility. There, they told us that after all the stuff is removed from the water, it is put into giant composting thingies, and later sold.

So this is my question: Does this mean that if we put stuff down our garbage disposals, we are composting it? It sounds to me as if that’s what it means.

This Continues to Be an Anxious Winter

Well! We have finished Rob’s 50 hours of required driving-with-a-parent! We finished the last hours with an overnight road trip, which was fun and weird and we only went off the road twice.

That whole driving-hours thing was just not as bad as I’d thought it would be when we were doing the first few horrible boring hours in a parking lot. We ended up exploring our area quite a bit, which was fun.

Now he can test for his license, which I hope will ALSO not be as bad as expected. I really don’t think children should drive. It really seems like a terrible idea. They could be HURT OR KILLED, WHY DO WE LET THEM DO IT.

So that is one source of anxiety these days. A second is that I am so much jumpier about illness this winter. Normally I take it in stride: the kids are going to get sick, and everything is going to get passed around to all of us, and there it is. I focus on what good exercise it is for their immune systems.

This year, though, Edward is on medication for Crohn’s Disease, and what his medication does is suppress his immune system. Crohn’s Disease is, essentially, his immune system attacking his digestive system. They don’t yet know why the immune system does that in some people, and right now one of the only ways to stop it is to knock it semi-conscious. Dazed and sleepy, the immune system feels like it’s really too much work to attack the digestive system, and instead it goes away and takes a little nap.

Edward is doing extremely well on this treatment plan. His anemia has disappeared. He has color in his face; he’s still skinny, but he’s not so tired. He’s eating more. He doesn’t gag as much; he doesn’t throw up as much; he doesn’t have as many stomachaches and cramps; he doesn’t have to lie down after he eats. He’s growing.

So I don’t want to stop this medicine, obviously. But I do want to put a big shield around him, because his immune system is dazed and sleepy for ALL tasks: it’s not like we can say to it “Be chill about the digestive system—but be VIGILANT AND FIERCE about germs and viruses!” When actual germs and viruses come along, fully in need of being attacked, his immune system continues napping. A regular kid might get the flu and be pretty sick for awhile and then get better; with Edward, it wouldn’t be weird for it to end up with a hospital stay (or Worse, but let’s not turn our minds toward that; let’s pretend that “a hospital stay” is the farthest end of that particular spectrum)—which we desperately want to avoid because of all the scary germs and viruses THERE.

I get the flu shot most years, and I’ve gotten it for the kids, too, but I’ve never had a feeling of Intense Importance before this year. Normally Paul doesn’t get one (HATES needles, would FAR rather be sick for 6 weeks, isn’t sure he Believes In the flu shot), but this year he got one to help keep Edward safe: if someone in our household got sick, I don’t know how we could protect him. Normally I don’t care much if the flu shot turns out to be a good match for the strains of flu that show up; this year I CARE VERY MUCH. And unfortunately this year it’s NOT a good match.

It also emerged that Edward is not immune to varicella—that’s the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles. He got the two recommended vaccinations for it but, for whatever reason, they didn’t take. This is a highly unfortunate coincidence: that the child who Really Must Not Get chicken pox is the one who’s not immune to it. And he can’t redo the vaccinations (even if we were sure they would work this time, which we couldn’t be), because now that his immune system is suppressed, he can’t get any live vaccines, and the varicella vaccine is a live vaccine.

Luckily, most kids in our area get the varicella vaccination. The pediatrician said chicken pox used to be very common, and I remember that: EVERYONE had chicken pox. The only novelty was if you DIDN’T get it, or if you were one of those people who got it TWICE. Otherwise it was a big yawn. With the vaccine, it’s now quite uncommon; I don’t remember the last time I heard of it going around at school.

But of course not everyone is vaccinated. And, like Edward, some people get vaccinated but the vaccine doesn’t work. And, also like Edward, some people can’t get that vaccine.

And so herd immunity matters tremendously to me, and to Edward. We have to rely on our community to help keep him safe, and that can be a comforting, bonding, all-in-this-together feeling, as when I picture us all joining hands and making a circle to protect the weak and vulnerable members of our group: the little ones, the old ones, the sick ones. Or it can be a frustrating, helpless feeling: I can’t make anyone join hands. I can’t expect other people to get their children vaccinated to protect my child’s health. Why should they care about Edward? They don’t know him: he’s a theoretical child to them, just as their children are theoretical children to me. If their decision not to vaccinate their children is what ends up damaging (or Worse-ing) a theoretical child, how does that affect them? Not at all.

Most children can get chicken pox and be fine: I even remember reading an article about “chicken pox parties” where families would infect their kids on purpose to get it over with. Edward can’t get chicken pox and expect to be fine. He can’t get flu and expect to be fine. Even a cold might not be fine. I have to rely on other people to help keep him fine, and that’s a powerless feeling when I see how many people say no. I can’t make the decision to do what’s best for my kid; I have to hope other people will.


Theoretical child

Julie Andrews: One Autobiography and One Biography

After we watched The Sound of Music on New Year’s Eve, I got interested in Julie Andrews and have read a couple of books. The first was Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, written by Julie Andrews.

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(image from

I almost didn’t get past the first few pages, which are along the lines of “My great-great grandmother was born in…” It was hard to keep track of who was who (“Let’s see, so now we are talking about your mother’s father’s mother’s sister”), and seemed like the sort of information that would work better as a little picture of the family tree at the beginning, or distributed throughout the rest of the book only as needed for a particular story. But I was glad I persevered past the basic genealogy, because it got better after that.

As the title warns, this is only about her early years. It stops before The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, and before her divorce and remarriage. It covers more about her childhood and family, and her training, and her successes before the Big Success started happening, and generally how she got started.

I felt like she was trying to be fair, and also trying to be warm and personal and give some revealing details (I hadn’t realized it, but she has a reputation for being private, and hard to get to know). I do think she partially succeeds. But the book overall still had a feeling of “Everyone was just wonderful” plus “This is the material I use for interviews, plus some new personal stuff to balance my reputation for being withholding.”

Next I read Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography, written by Richard Stirling.

(image from

(image from

My overall impression of this book is that even though it is packed full of numbers and names and quotes from articles, it was written from almost nothing. Julie Andrews does not appear to have cooperated, despite the author saying “Julie Andrews told me” at every single point he possibly could: it seems as if he’s trying to imply she told him for the purposes of the book, but that she didn’t. My guess is that if I bothered to look into it (can’t…quite…reach…Wikipedia…), I’d find that he was a journalist who did an interview or two with her for a magazine, or got a comment from her at a press conference, and used those few occasions to make it seem as if he is her official, chosen confidante/biographer. The rest of it seems written from articles and interviews and official records and things other people said about other things; there is very little about Julie Andrews HERSELF. Lots of “Rehearsals began on such-and-such a date, and here are several pages mentioning every single person involved with the project, and here are quotes about how a bunch of other people felt about the project, and here are a bunch of reviews, and a bunch of back story on people we don’t really care about, because otherwise this is not enough material for a book.” I did a fair amount of skimming.

This book does mention Julie Andrews’s divorce, but seeing the author try to tell the story is what shows how very private Julie Andrews must be: the author tries to write about it, but doesn’t have enough material to go on. There is a lot of fluffing up of the very few details known, and then suddenly we’re past that part and you think, “Wait…did I miss it?” I felt some sympathy for the author: I think he was stuck trying to write an account of a marriage/divorce based on nothing more than what was available from public court records. Lots of “It must have been,” very little “This is how it was.” Like if you imagine one of those celebrity couples saying “It was amicable, we remain the best of friends,” and now someone wants you to write a chapter from that about what the marriage was truly like and what happened to it and who was at fault and how each person felt about it.

This continues in the descriptions of her second marriage (to Blake Edwards), her step-parenting of her second husband’s two children, and her adoption of two children. The author is TRYING to give us the scoop, but he doesn’t know it either. He’s got the publicly-available information, and that’s it. Miss Grace and I were talking about it afterward, and agreed that both of us REALLY ADMIRE celebrities who manage to keep their private lives separate—while simultaneously wishing WE PERSONALLY had access to the details.

I ended the book feeling quite low. If you’d asked me beforehand, “Do you think Julie Andrews has had a nice life and good career?,” I would have said yes. But it felt as if the book highlighted every disappointment, every poor review, every not-quite-a-roaring-success project. And her marriage to Blake Edwards could have been a spectacular marriage in nearly every way, but I ended up with the impression that he was a very difficult person who ruined her life trying to further his own career.

But of course it’s all SPIN. When I looked up one of the projects the book describes as an unmitigated disaster, I see that many people considered it a huge creative success even though it wasn’t a huge financial success. When there were a bunch of negative reviews quoted, I wondered what percentage those were of the total number of reviews: were we getting a representative sampling, or was the author choosing the quotes that further the plot as he’s decided to tell it? When the author uses the verb “confessed” instead of the word “said,” is he accurately representing the situation or is he making us feel something that isn’t true? (This is the problem with all biographies, not just THIS biography.) It also made celebrity/fame very unappealing, but that’s a nice thing to be reminded of from time to time.

All of it was a reminder that there is something that makes some of us want to know more about celebrities—but that we can’t actually have that information. All we can have is what is produced when other people (including the celebrity) see a want and try to fill it.

Gift Ideas for an Adult Guy

This one will combine gift ideas for my brother, my dad, and my Paul.


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The Taco Rack Senior. This is something my brother asked for. We have one, and there is a long list of things I like about it:

1. It works
2. It stores flat

I think it’s overpriced (twenty dollars for three flat metal shapes), and yet I would buy it again immediately if something happened to ours. It looks from the picture as if it will only heat up six shells at a time, so that you would need TWO twenty-dollar racks to make more than six shells, but we turn more shells upside down on top of the first set, in an interlocking way so that one shell is over half each of two shells, or over just half of one shell if it’s an end-shell (this is one of those things that is so easy to do and so hard to explain). There is also a Taco Rack Junior, which would heat three shells with another four turned upside down on top of those. The instructions suggest also FILLING the tacos using this rack, but we only use it to heat up the shells.


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TacoProper taco holders. Twelve individual pieces. This is what we use on the plates, to hold the shells upright for filling/serving. Amusingly, these come with a DEMO VIDEO. They also try to make a selling point out of the fact that these can’t be used in the oven. Anyway, they’re really good for what they’re made for, and they can go in the dishwasher, in the silverware rack. Very handy.


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LightKeeper Pro. I got this for my dad after reading MomQueenBee’s review. On Amazon, review after review after review says it didn’t work, or doesn’t work on pre-lits, so this was more a Fun Gift, like the time we got him the remote that said it would turn down the volume on those TVs at Walmart that show you commercials while you’re trying to shop. The remote didn’t work AT ALL, but it was fun to open, and fun to try. And maybe the LightKeeper WILL work, and wouldn’t THAT be nice! It DID work for MomQueenBee and she DOES have a pre-lit tree.


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Giant Smarties. Same as regular Smarties, but HUGE instead of TINY: each roll is about 4 inches long, and each Smartie is about three-quarters of an inch across. I get these for Paul. The hardware store he goes to sells these for $1.39 per roll: they really are a fun novelty item, but A DOLLAR THIRTY-NINE? So for about $20 I buy a 36-pack: 55 cents per roll seems like a much better price.

These are also nice to use individually as stocking stuffers, or to tie onto the top of gifts. We went to one birthday party where I think the birthday child was more excited about the two rolls of Smarties I tied to the top of her gift than about the gift itself. (I checked with the mom ahead of time about food allergies / dye sensitivities, in case you are getting a fretful feeling as I tell this anecdote.)


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I was complaining to Paul about the price of Minecraft figurines and whether they were worth getting for any of the children, and I noticed his eyes were shining. I said, “…YOU don’t want them, do you??”—and he DID. He DID want them. He wanted a WHOLE BUNCH of them, to set up on his desk at work. So I got him the animal 6-pack, the core survival pack (Steve, bed, chest, crafting table, pickaxe, sword), the creeper pack, the zombie pack, the enderman pack, and the spider jockey pack. I could not BELIEVE how much I was spending on LITTLE ACTION FIGURES for a GROWN MAN. (But if you are reading this in a future where those prices have been hiked up due to the figures being discontinued, it wasn’t THAT much. “His main present”-level, not “Obtained second mortgage”-level.)


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Speed square. This is a tool my dad wanted. I got the feeling it was in the category of “tool basics that will last you your whole life, so you only need to buy another one if you have a second residence or else want one for the workshop and one for the toolbox.”


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This, as you certainly already know, is a Mini Universal 3D Magnetic Base Holder! Instantly recognizable, am I right? Paul wanted one and I ordered it without knowing what on earth I was buying. And he loves it! It is a huge success and he wants another for his birthday! So! That’s good!

He gave me a demonstration, and I am REALLY not interested in workshop stuff but it did look like a handy device. Basically it clamps onto things and holds them for you and you can move them around in various ways as if it were your flexible robot assistant, which is useful. Anyway, if you have a workshop guy in your life, perhaps he would like one of these too.

Cranky La La La

I am assorted cranky this morning. There was a long series of events starting with Rob texting me that the bake sale was TODAY instead of tomorrow (luckily for him, this was not his error), and me being thankful I’d done the baking already but worried because I’d put everything in the freezer because I made it ahead of time, but fine, no big deal, I will just drive it all over to the school, everything will thaw. Except…where is my key? It is not on my keyring. Paul borrowed my keys yesterday, so probably my key is in his pocket. But the keyring is all bent, so perhaps my key is more lost than that. And then the genius realization that we made Rob a copy of our car keys, to give him when he gets his license! Whew! Saved! Except…the copy does not work. HOW CAN THIS BE? WHY DID WE NOT TEST IT?? ARE WE NEW HERE??? Anyway, my parents have a spare so my dad drove over and gave it to me and I took the stuff over to the school.

Really, when I type it out it doesn’t sound nearly as exasperating and thwarted-at-every-turn as it FELT. Partly is that I am trying to be brief because this is not the INTERESTING kind of dramatic event, so I left out things like “And then I realized I couldn’t go yet because it was almost time to bring the littler ones to the bus stop” and, like, the part where I emailed my dad, then emailed him to say never mind because I’d remembered the spare key, then had to email him again to say the key didn’t work; and partly it is that it all ended well with the baked goods at the bake sale, so I’ve lost the urge to communicate the FRANTIC PANIC.

Another issue is that my baby names blog is down. Just…down, since at least yesterday. I can’t even get to the dashboard. And I just recently gave access to that blog to a place that does one of the plug-ins, so they could fix their polls that stopped working when I updated to the new version as requested, so I’m wondering if that is connected to this problem and, if so, how serious the fall-out is going to be. I have copies of all the posts, but dear heaven that would be a chore. Well, maybe the blog will pop right back open today, with all the polls working again too! Wouldn’t that be nice! La la la!

Also, I bought a new chair to replace the one that had duct tape holding it together, and it’s a nice chair but I didn’t give any thought to the upholstery, which is a cool grey-blue or blue-grey, and I don’t think it’s going to go with anything else I will ever like. And I am JUST ABOUT to replace our two stuffing-bursting-out recliners, so perhaps it would have been nice to consider the upholstery. Also, I ALWAYS choose bad upholstery. ALWAYS. When we bought our couch, I thought we were choosing a daring fiery multicolored orange and red, but it turns out it’s the standard wine-color, which I dislike even though it’s convenient for spilling wine. Well. Let’s just not think about that. Let’s certainly not turn this into a series of thoughts about ALL past furniture errors and all future likely ones. La la la.

Also, my blog is doing this annoying thing where it asks me to log in while I’m in the middle of typing a post. Then it goes back to the post as if everything is fine, but EVERYTHING IS NOT FINE, and when I try to publish/save the post, it says “Are you sure you want to do this? Please try again,” and when I try again, it brings me to a BLANK POST. Luckily I am now in the habit of copying the whole post when this happens, but isn’t that annoying? Isn’t that something that SHOULDN’T HAPPEN? Well, it just DID happen. AGAIN.

Oh, and one more thing is that I heard that song about “with every broken bone, I swear I lived,” and I am very tired of the concept that “living life” has to be measured in units of DANGEROUS ACTIVITIES.