Sunday, September 30, 2012

If the Ears Fit...

My family just got back from a wonderful Disney vacation: three full days at Walt Disney World in Orlando, then a 7-day cruise on the Disney Fantasy to the eastern Caribbean. I am amazed at the Disney entity in so many ways. They invented line management, their people and service skills are incredible, and their marketing machine is unbelievable. Oh, their marketing. It’s all about the ears.

Mickey Mouse ears must be one of the most recognizable corporate symbols in the entire world, possibly eclipsing even McDonald’s golden arches. On our trip, I saw every possible variation of mouse ears, and plastered onto every possible item. I suspect their marketing motto is, “If it stands still, slap a pair of mouse ears on it. And if it moves, sell it one of the things you just slapped ears onto.”

In the Disney gift stores, naturally you expect to see mouse ears. Standard black Mickey Mouse ears, Minnie Mouse ears with a red-and-white polka-dot bow, with names in script or the official “Walt Disney font,” with a picture of Mickey in a red circle on the front. But the variations were beyond number. There were bride and groom ears with a white veil and a tuxedo, respectively. There were princess ears with a pointed cap and a trailing veil, or a sparkling tiara. There were pirate-themed ears emblazoned with a Jolly Roger and a jaunty bandana knotted at the back, or with Jack Sparrow's beaded dreadlocks. Ears topped with the Mad Hatter’s hat. Wizard ears with a pointed cap like Mickey wore in Fantasia. Ones with Jack Skellington’s face on top and spider webs over the ears. Santa hats with ears. Top hats with ears. Bike helmets with ears. Jack-o-lantern ears. Lightning McQueen wearing mouse ears. (Appropriately enough, Mater seemed to only wear Goofy ears.) Caps that look like R2D2 wearing mouse ears. Darth Vader with mouse ears. Darth MAUL with mouse ears. Ears with rainbows and paint splatters and glitter and American/Canadian/Brazilian/Italian/French/Morroccan flags and pictures of other Disney characters.

And above and beyond the mouse ear hats themselves, you will see mouse ears on every imaginable item. The complimentary shampoo and conditioner in our hotel even wore them:

There were ears on purses, jewelry, T-shirts, dog collars, headbands, trash cans, aprons, wine bottle stoppers, princess tiaras, snow globes, Christmas ornaments, and gift bows. There were things shaped like mouse ears – earrings, pretzels, crackers, waffles, cupcakes, confetti. Everywhere you looked there were mouse ears.

The Disney marketing team deserves kudos for how ubiquitous the ears are. Florida, California, Paris, Tokyo – every Disney park the world over sells the same mouse ears to the same enthusiastic crowd. I have no doubt that you could drop into some remote jungle in South America or the tangled bush in somewhere in the heart of Africa wearing mouse ears and the natives would nod and say, “Ahhh, Mickey!”

I have no doubt that Walt Disney knew the ears would make a great marketing symbol, but I suspect he never dreamed quite how widespread and well-known they would become. If he rose from the grave today and visited any of the theme parks bearing his name, I’m sure he would be proud of how well-loved those ears have become over the years. And I’m sure he’d be sporting a pair of ears himself.


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Friday, September 14, 2012

Verbing Makes Me [sic]

I was listening to a radio commercial this morning for an HVAC company that was touting how its product can heat and cool rooms individually. Except they didn’t use the words “heat” and “cool.” Instead, they claimed that their system will “comfort” each room in your house independently. “Comfort”? Since when is the word “comfort” a verb?? Well, okay, it CAN be a verb, as in “When my baby cries, I comfort her.” But this ad was taking the NOUN “comfort,” which means “a state of ease or satisfaction of bodily wants,” and making it into a verb. It was verbing it, if you will.

The concept of verbing is something of a distressing trend to me. And it is becoming amazingly common. Thanks to Facebook, the noun “friend” is now a verb, as in “An old classmate friended me the other day.” How about “dialogue”? That’s a lovely little noun that has been verbed in recent years. We don’t converse any more, we “dialogue.” I read about a flight attendant who apologized to her passengers that there would be a short delay in “beveraging” them. Really? “Beverage” is now a verb? Will we all be drinking from a trough full of Coke, like when you water a horse? And if you want to give someone a present, you now “gift” it to them. Why can’t you just give it to them? It’s not any longer or harder to pronounce or spell. Its only improvement over the original is that it makes the heads of grammar Nazis like me explode.

Sometimes it works in reverse, making a noun out of a verb. (Thank goodness, I’ve yet to hear the word “nouning” to describe the phenomenon.) The word “invite,” for example, which used to be a verb meaning “to request politely or formally,” is now a noun meaning “invitation.” Was there something wrong with the word “invitation”? Were four syllables just too overwhelming? Is that really such a problem that we needed to cut the length of the word in half?

I think what bothers me most about verbing is that there are so many delicious words already existing, and adding new ones merely serves to further limit the use of those words. When new words are used to introduce shades of meaning and describe things that did not previously exist, then I’m all in favor of adding them to the lexicon. But making the word “gift” into a verb doesn’t add anything. There is absolutely zero difference between “give” and “gift” other than the fact that no-one would ever have used the word “gift” as a verb 20 years ago. Ditto for the words “invitation” and “invite.” The language did not become richer or more descriptive by adding that new use.

So let’s all work on combatting this trend by bringing back the wonderful, descriptive verbs of years gone by. From Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day archives, how about these beauties: gambol, undulate, gainsay, bloviate, belaud, pervade, kowtow, inspissate, oppugn. (Yeah, I said “oppugn.” Go look it up.) Or a few glorious rarely-used nouns, like incunabulum (INCUNABULUM!!!!), scaramouch (Freddy Mercury knew what it meant, do you?), marplot, tucket, luciferin. And I must throw in a few other parts of speech just to be fair: lugubrious, gibbous, anthophilous, florid. THOSE are words, my friends. They look beautiful in writing, they feel lovely rolling off your tongue, they make you feel smart just using them correctly in a sentence.

But at the absolute least, let’s all get back to our grammatical roots by taking a little trip back to Saturday morning circa 1978.
Those are verbs that won’t make anyone [sic]!
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

There's No Accounting for Taste

I was the world’s pickiest eater when I was a child. Until I was about 10, my family couldn’t go out to eat at McDonald’s because I wouldn’t eat hamburgers, only hotdogs. And even after I did start eating hamburgers, we had to wait for them to make me a special plain burger. Merely removing the tomato and pickle and scraping off the condiments was not good enough. If there was so much as a whiff of ketchup or mayo on the bun, I wouldn’t touch it. Pasta could be served with no sauce other than butter. And the only vegetable I would eat was frozen peas. My mother was convinced that I would die of scurvy by the age of 6. I spent many long, lonely hours sitting at the kitchen table staring at a plate of cold broccoli/corn/carrots/green beans until my mom finally gave up and let me leave it. And don’t even get me started on the tricks I used to use to avoid eating certain things, like tucking a bite of something unwanted into my cheek like a hamster then excusing myself to use the bathroom and flushing the offending morsel, or hiding a few forkfuls in my napkin and throwing them away unobtrusively after my plate was clean.

Once I was an adult, I knew this pickiness would come back to bite me in the form of picky children of my own. And I was not wrong.

Although I wouldn’t call my son a truly picky eater. His pickiness, unlike mine, is fairly limited to vegetables. He will eat most kinds of fruit, at least when he’s in the mood. Some days he’ll turn his nose up at a banana, other days he’ll wolf it down before I can blink. But at some point in time or another, he will eat nearly every kind of fruit I’ve ever offered him. He’ll eat hotdogs, meatballs, deli meat, starch in any form (noodles, bread, cereal, rice, crackers), eggs, pizza, cheese and yogurt. But try to slip a few peas in his pasta or some peppers on his pizza, and he’ll refuse to touch a single bite.

And yet, he will eat some of the grossest food combinations imaginable. He is, after all, a boy. This morning, for example, he was eating cornflakes while I fed his sister some yogurt, and he asked for his own yogurt. I gave it to him, and he immediately began putting handfuls of cornflakes into the yogurt, waiting until it got good and soggy, and then scooping it up and eating it with his hands.

He’ll also eat nearly anything as long as it’s dipped in ketchup. This is actually a trick I learned from my cousin. She discovered her son’s enthusiasm for dipping at an early age and contrived some kind of dip for every meal. I’ve tried offering various dips to my son, things that seem to me to be a pleasant taste combination, such as ranch dressing for chicken nuggets, barbeque sauce for corn on the cob, or honey for carrots. Nope. He will only dip things in ketchup. Olives, lettuce, green beans. Dipped in ketchup. Yuck.

But what does it matter if I think what he’s eating is gross, as long as he doesn’t? He might be eating green beans covered in ketchup, but they’re still green beans. He may only eat carrots if they’re mashed into oblivion and dunked in cranberry juice, but he’s still eating them.

Besides, judging by his growth thus far, he certainly doesn’t seem to be lacking in nutrition.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Marry Me a Little

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, this weekend my husband and I attended a wedding. We have attended a number of weddings together, two of them within six months of our own. And of course, going to a wedding within a matter of months of your own is very romantic, because you are constantly reminded of your own special day. But, as I discovered this weekend, it is equally romantic going to a wedding four and a half years later.

This particular wedding was especially lovely. The bride had three grown children and the groom had two, and the toasts given by the children had the entire audience in tears. The daughters of the bride and the groom were the bridesmaids, the groom’s son was his best man, and the bride’s two sons escorted her down the aisle. Readings were by the bride’s brother and the groom’s sister. And the JP who officiated had obviously spent time getting to know the couple, as her remarks were both appropriate and personal.

But what made it most meaningful to me was how her remarks applied to all the married couples listening. At one point, she invited the bride and groom to join hands as she talked about the reasons they gave that they loved each other, and without hesitation, my husband took my hand in his, and we each thought about everything we love about each other. Without speaking a single word, we knew we were both thinking back to our own wedding day and the vows we made to each other. While we were driving up to the wedding the night before, my husband had remarked that he hoped their wedding ceremony would include an invitation to the married couples attending to renew their vows to each other, and although that invite was not explicitly given, we both saw that moment as a chance to privately renew our vows.

Just this morning, I stumbled across an online discussion of vow renewal ceremonies. Opinions were very much mixed, although I was surprised at how many posters thought they were ridiculous because “vows don’t expire.” And that is a perfectly reasonable opinion. But my personal experience is that, after several years and several children, vows tend to fade into the background. The business of daily life, like earning a living and raising children, takes most of our time and energy and we sometimes forget to turn the focus onto our own relationship as husband and wife. So a little reminder every now and then of the promises we made on that day when we were completely focused on each other serves to bring a little perspective.

And it never hurts to remind yourself of everything you love about your spouse. For example, I love that my husband does things around the house without thinking twice. I love that he doesn’t make fun of my total lack of directional ability. I love that he knows my exact level of frustration when his stepping in to lend me a hand is helpful and not annoying. I love how much he loves spending time with his children. I love how smart and knowledgeable he is in so many widely varied areas. I love how hard he works, and yet how he is able to balance work and family. I love how dedicated he is to his college fraternity. I love that he always looks neat and well put together, whether he’s wearing his jogging gear or a tuxedo. I love his beautiful singing voice. I love how beautifully he plays the piano. I love how comfortable he is at a party or in a group of strangers. I love his laugh. I love his mad bartending skills. I love how protective he is of me. I love the way he loves his family. I love the way he loves me.

And I’d marry him all over again. After all, I imagine I’m marrying him again at every wedding we go to.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Home Again, Home Again

If you have a dog and you go on a trip, you can be pretty sure of an effusive greeting when you get home. Whether you’ve been away for 5 minutes or 5 weeks, a dog will happily greet you at the door and welcome you home with excited barking, licking, tail wagging, and running around in circles.

If you have a cat and you go on a trip, you never know what you’ll get when you come home, but you can be certain it will not be described as “effusive.” At best, the cat will give you a disinterested glance on its way to the food dish, as if to say, “Oh, were you gone?” At worst, you will be finding little “presents” in places like your shoes, your purse, and your bed for several weeks. And in between those two extremes there are myriad variations of everything from the proverbial cold shoulder to outright hostility.

When you have children, their reactions could be anything from dog level right down to cat level. A non-verbal child has no idea when you would be coming back, so the element of surprise when you walk in the door could go either way: excited screams and lots of hugs and kisses, or resentful screams and anger. A verbal child is at least likely to have given you some advance warning of how they will react, so you know whether to expect resentment or excitement.

When my husband and I went to an out-of-town wedding this weekend, we left our kids with several familiar babysitters. When I left, the baby was quite content to climb into the sitter’s arms and didn’t try to cling to me, which I thought boded well. And the toddler, although he requested, “Mama, stay here for a big while,” gave me a kiss and a not-too-clingy hug. But this was the longest that we’d left either of them with a sitter in recent months, so I honestly had no idea how much they would miss us, or if they would even be aware that we were gone. And I dearly hoped that our poor niece and her friends, who were sitting for the bulk of our trip, would not have to deal with whiny repetitions of, “When are Mommy and Daddy coming home???” or “Mama? Mama? Mama?”

So when we returned after two blissful, child-free days, it was a lovely sort-of surprise that the kids were happy and excited to see us. My nearly three-year-old son grinned and ran right over to give me a big hug, then went back to watching his movie. That was pretty much the sum total of his reaction. My one-year-old daughter, on the other hand, beamed and toddled over, nearly strangling me with her hug. She let go only so she could repeat the process with Daddy, then ran right back over to me to do the same again. Throughout the course of the evening, she would periodically catch a glimpse of one of us as she was playing, and would immediately drop her toy, run over and give us a hug and a kiss, then go back to what she was doing. If I was sitting on the couch, she would scramble up to sit on my lap and then happily throw her arms around my neck, occasionally even giving me a wet, sloppy kiss complete with a verbal, “MWAH!”, content to snuggle for a few seconds before wriggling out of my arms and going back to playing.

That’s not such a bad welcome home. Not so effusive that I need to worry that they were pining for us all weekend long, but not so cool that I feel like our presence wasn’t even missed. Just a good, well-balanced, healthy dose of missing us, but not missing us too much. Kind of the same way that I felt about them.
This beautiful rainbow that appeared in the middle of the wedding reception was a perfect symbol of many aspects of the weekend.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Destructo-Boy Rides Again

Maybe it’s because he’s rapidly approaching the “Terrible Threes,” but my son has been on a major destructive tear for the past few weeks. In the last couple of days alone, he has poured half a bottle of gold nail polish on my desk, scratched the heck out of that same desk with a ballpoint pen, glued my computer mouse to my mouse pad, written all over the back and arm of the couch with a dry erase marker, scribbled on the wall and table with crayons, drawn on top of the soda fridge with a Sharpie, cut up some documents on my desk, removed all the tires from three toy trucks, and shredded too many books to mention. Is it any wonder that we refer to him as Destructo-Boy?

Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a bad kid. He doesn’t destroy things just for the sake of destroying them. In fact, he doesn’t even intend to destroy them, and is sometimes mystified when I inform him that something he broke can’t be fixed. He’s just curious about everything, and his need to explore currently outweighs his need to obey my orders not to touch something. So even though he knows he’s not supposed to get his scissors out of the drawer, he can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to cut through that tempting piece of paper on the desk. The siren call of the unknown is just too strong to resist.

The result, unfortunately, is frustration on both our parts. I’m frustrated that I can’t trust him out of my sight for 30 seconds, and he’s frustrated that he gets in trouble when all he wants to do is figure out how something works or what it does. So how can we both survive the next year? What can I do to assure that twelve months from now most of my possessions will still be whole and functioning? The answer, I suspect, is: Energy channeling.

No, I don’t mean some kind of New Age technique involving chakras or feng shui or reiki.  I mean finding a way to nudge his curiosity and energy in a more positive, constructive direction. It might involve projects like making homemade playdough or finger-painting with pudding or helping build some Ikea furniture. It could involve physical activities like taking hikes or riding his tricycle or building sand castles. It might involve getting him out of the house to visit the library or a playground or spending the day at daycare. It might even involve starting pretend school by practicing counting, tracing letters, and sitting quietly for story time.

But whatever the solution is, I’d better come up with it quickly, otherwise I might not have any more possessions to protect. Besides, I have to be sure this destructive streak is quashed before his legs are long enough to reach the gas pedal of my car!

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Last Firsts: Parenthood Edition

When I got married, I thought about all the “firsts” I’d never experience again: I’d had my last first date, my last first kiss, my last first “I love you.” There was plenty of sweet in the bittersweet, though, because I knew there were many other wonderful firsts still to come: the first time being introduced as “my wife,” the first telemarketing call asking for “Mrs. Philpott,” the first wedding anniversary. But there turned out to be so many more firsts that I hadn’t thought about or expected: the first time going to someone else’s wedding as a married couple, the first camping trip together, the first family reunion as part of the family.

When I had my son, there were plenty more firsts: the first positive pregnancy test, the first time I felt him move, the first labor pains, the first cry, the first time rolling over, the first steps, the first word. And, much like when I got married, when my daughter was born, I had bittersweet feelings about all the last firsts I was experiencing. But again, much like marriage, children bring constant firsts to look forward to, some expected and some unexpected.

I’m still waiting for the first day one of my kids wears underwear instead of diapers. The first day of school. THEIR first date. THEIR first kiss. Their first time driving. Their first job. Their first college acceptance letter. Those are all expected firsts. I can only imagine the unexpected firsts they might encounter. Their first lesson on a musical instrument. Their first time riding a horse. Or a skateboard. Or a motorcycle. Their first bee sting. Their first time eating oysters. Their first performance on stage.

There may be only one first time for everything. But oh, how many wonderful everythings are still to come!

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