Friday, October 29, 2010

My Synchronous Hamster

On Monday nights, as part of an online course I'm taking, I participate in what is called a "synchronous session."  It means that the teacher and the class go online at the same time.  She lectures via a video link, and we (the students) interact in a chat box.

What's really great about this set up is that I can attend class without leaving my own home.  Heck, I can attend class without leaving my own bed.  Considering that between Thing 2, the cats and the mangos, there's always a lot of chaos on Planet Emmer, sometimes I take my computer and hide in the guest room.

The guest room is also my sewing room and the hamster's room (and if I take a glass of wine in there, it's the Speakeasy).  And sometimes, while the teacher is lecturing, I take the hamster out of her cage and play with her.  (Given the anonymity of the online class format, I could even do this naked, but I don't, out of fear of freaking out the hamster).

When I let the hamster out of her cage, I have to be careful that she doesn't get away from me.  Because if she did, and the cats got at her, we would have what I call a "Bad Scene."

But that's just a digression.  I just wanted to say how much I love my online class because it's such an efficient use of time - I can play with the hamster, drink, sew, lie in bed - and still get an education.

I looked for a quote to end this post that would tie together hamsters and online education but surprisingly I couldn't find one.  So instead I'll end with another excellent quote about the English language from another hamster spinning on a wheel!

<<'Refudiate,' 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!>> - Sarah Palin, July 18, 2010

Don't misunderestimate the power of your weekend!  Have a great one!  :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poetry Thursday

The autumnal colors in my East Coast neighborhood (I.can't reveal exactly where, because this blog has made me the target of stalkers....and not the good kind) are splendiferous.

In fact, they so inspired me while taking out the garbage this a.m. that I decided to write a poem about the season, expressing my feelings and my hopes for the future and for mankind.  I hope you enjoy it.

Oh splendiferous leaves in my East Coast neighborhood whose location I cannot reveal
Whispering of the end of summer in green, red, gold, orange and plum
How I wish I could freeze this moment in time
And pull it out to feast my eyes upon when the weather is cold and gloomy
Would that I had a big ole can of Aqua Net hairspray
I would cover you with heavy mist and freeze you in your natural splendor
Like all the ladies with the blue hair at the beauty parlor

Oh splendiferous leaves in my East Coast neighborhood whose location I cannot reveal
Fall...fall softly and spread your splendor on the cooling ground
But, please, try to avoid the gutters on the house
Because my DH gets really angry when he has to get up on the ladder
And clean them out
Especially when he falls off and onto the spikey decorative pink flamingo ornaments

Stay beautiful, oh splendiferous leaves.
You give me strength
You give me hope
You give me lots of ideas for creative autumnal crafts
And that, according to Martha Stewart, is a Good Thing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Master of My Domain

Thing 2 Triumphant!  Source:  Joan Oliver Emmer

As many of you know, I'm not much of a shopper.  Except for garage sales and thrift shops - which I adore - I tend to have anxiety attacks in shopping situations.  My sister isn't a shopper either, which leaves our mother, who loves a jaunt through the mall, shaking her head and trying to figure out how she managed to raise two girls who lack the retail gene.  Never mind the college and graduate degrees, the beautiful grandchildren, the stable marriages, the careers (in the case of my journalist-sister anyway) -- these girls don't like to SHOP.

But this morning I went shopping for an item I've never searched for before and it was a lot of fun!

I bought myself a domain name.

I'm not sure what I will do with it - but when I saw it on the shelf, I knew I HAD to have:


Surprisingly, it was "in stock" and I'm hoping that, unlike most purchases, it will increase in value as time passes.   (Or maybe it's more like a car, and lose 20% of its value as soon as I drive it away from

By the way, domain names make great stocker stuffers and I hear that is this year's "Tickle Me Elmo.".  If you absolutely must have one, let's talk six figures and call it a deal.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Conversation with Thing 1

Several years ago I started a Delphi forum/discussion group called Eats and Grunts. It was a spectacular failure, because, I guess, no other parent in the English-speaking world has a non-communicative teenager with a tapeworm ... or at least those who do don't want to discuss this state of affairs with strangers.

I want to share a recent telephone conversation I had with Thing 1 to illustrate how difficult it can be to communicate with our teenagers. He's away at college, and, as far as I can tell, he's doing great (although to the best of my knowledge, the only collegiate activities in which he participates are watching movies and napping).

Thing 1: Hi Mom.

Me (delighted to hear Thing 1's voice): Hi!!!! How are you?

Thing 1: Grunt, UHNNFF, sushi, MMMPPPHHHH, grunt, ball bearings.

Me: Huh? Say it again, honey, please.

Thing 1: KERFLUFFLE, ptomaine, HEYYYUHHHH, bail, grunt, circus midgets.

Me (nervous giggle): We must have a bad connection. I thought you said something about ptomaine poisoning and the circus? And......bail????


Me (getting alarmed): I'm on my way. Hang on. Mommy's coming!

I slammed down the phone, hell bent on getting to Harvard (LOL - you didn't fall for THAT one, did you?) before nightfall to save the day. Then, my better judgement overtaking me, I remembered that the most precious gift we can give our children to foster independence is roots and wings.

And he was just going to have to "wing" this one. DWAT!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Report from the Trenches : The Great Central Jersey Internet Abstinence Challenge

Surfing the World Wide Web - not.
I’m b-a-a-a-c-c-c-k-k-k-k.

I wanted to report back from THE DAY I STAYED OFF THE INTERNET that the sun shone brighter, the birds chirped louder, my food tasted better, Lindsay Lohan disappeared forever and that, having stepped off the Information Superhighway, I found God.

But instead, I found a dead mouse at the bottom of the stairs, a pile of cat-hairball-mess on the kitchen floor and a missing earring I had been looking for for just about forever. I’m kind of angry about the mouse, because it’s the second deceased one we’ve found in the “living quarters” (as opposed to the basement) in two days and I don’t like the pattern I see emerging.

But, as my sister would say, “it’s good to have cats.”

So, I know you’re just about bursting with questions about my day free from the clutches of the Net. Let me try to anticipate some of them right now and save you a few keystrokes:

Did you really stay off the Internet for a whole day?

Yes…and no. The fine print (which I wrote myself) gave me the option of checking email (which I did) and accessing sites that I needed for schoolwork, which I also did (in a limited manner, because I don’t much like doing homework).

By the way, “fine print” is a very important concept in life... and in marriage. Whenever I object to doing something that my DH suggests and that I don't want to do, he reminds me to check the “fine print” in our ketubah (Jewish marriage contract). It’s a very convenient “out” for him, because the ketubah is written in Hebrew and I can’t get past the “Blessed art thou” part.

What was it like?

What was it like? Well, the earth moved, my entire world rocked….

Oh, that's probably not what you were referring to.

It was pretty much like a normal day, except that I smoked two packs of cigarettes, drank my way through  Thing 2’s DH’s secret liquor stash and plucked out my eyebrows one hair at a time.

That sounds pretty much like a normal day for you under any circumstances, doesn’t it?

No.  I NEVER drink and pluck on the same day.

What did you miss the most about surfing the Net?

Nothing. Okay, let me be a little more specific: Everything. To me, screensucking (Screensucking -- snarky definition) is hugely more amusing than cleaning, filling out insurance claim forms or the other household chores that I am tasked with to prove that I am a CONTRIBUTING MEMBER OF THIS HOUSEHOLD and not just a burden on society and an embarrassment to the noble Oliver-Emmer name. (Note bene:  for 22 years I was simply Joan Emmer, but when I took on my "breakout" role in the blogosphere, I reverted to Joan Oliver Emmer, much like Hilary became Rodham Clinton as soon as she moved to Chappequa and started to wear pant suits).

Did you encounter any particular problems?

Yes! I decided to bake a challah to go along with our Shabbat meal of linguine and shrimp scampi (yes, you read that right), but I couldn't find my challah recipe.  I started to Google "challah," only to remember the special restrictions of the day just in the nick of time.  I  reviewed my limited options: drive to the library to research a "bricks and mortar" challah recipe (ironically, this is how my homemade challot often taste) or forego the challah and say a little HaMotzi over three month old Triskets.  Guess which option I chose?

Would you do it again?

Definitely! A new experience like the one I had is infinitely broadening  and an excellent example for my children, who never "unplug" unless they're in the shower (and then only if we're out of plastic bags.).  I just might designate one or two days a week “Internet free” days and enjoy the solitude when they all flee to Starbucks or the Apple Store for their fix. 

Fine -- more bandwidth for me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


This page intentionally left blank so that our staff can observe the Great Central Jersey Internet Abstinence challenge on Friday, October 22, 2010.

We will resume our regular programming on Monday, October 25, 2010.

Be careful out there.

The Great Central Jersey Internet Abstinence Challenge

My name is Joan and I am an Internet addict. 

I stumble through the day weighted down by my frustratingly slow computer.  It's bonded to my hip like a vanishing twin who I will eventually reabsorb in utero.  This is extra challenging while dragging a 30-pound vacuum cleaner over 3 inches of cat hair.  (Fortunately the vacuuming part only happens once a year).

I check my Adsense account (my current source of income - $2.83 to date), blog stats and Facebook more times a day than I go to the bathroom (in other words, A LOT).

Given that I can do virtually ANYTHING on the computer (read, shop, listen to music, have cybersex, order groceries, trade stocks, communicate with my friends, watch movies), there is virtually no reason to seek out human interaction or to leave the  house. But even the cats have started to look at me strangely, implying that I need to exercise.....breath deeply....go to McDonalds. Yes....we....can.

So I have decided to launch the Great Central Jersey Internet Abstinence Challenge.  Turning myself over to a Higher Power, whatever form that Higher Power may take for me (I hope it arrives made out of chocolate and peanut butter, accompanied by an amusing Chardonnay), I will break my addiction once and for all.

Here are the rules:

  • I will refrain from surfing the Internet for one full day, from the time I go to bed tonight (Thursday) until 24 hours later.
  • "Abstinence" in Internet use is defined as:  no checking my blog stats, Adsense or Facebook accounts, no searching for resume-building alternatives to "bat shit crazy," "moronic fascist pig," and "They were all against me - Satan said so." And the like. 
  • The following exclusions apply:  
    • Checking my email (so as not to miss a fabulous new job in case anyone offers me one) and
    • Schoolwork, i.e. pilfering scholarly works from online databases.  I promise to not pretend that checking any of the abovementioned websites is essential to my research on "Pharmacological interventions for schizophrenia and other delusional psychotic disorders" (see "They were all against me -- Satan said so") above.
    • I also reserve the right to surf the Net if someone (especially a wealthy stranger) starts to choke and I need to access an instructional YouTube video demonstrating how to perform the Heimlich manuever.  This hardly ever happens, though.
I will DO this. I will face my fears and see you all at the other end!  Even if I chew off my arm in the attempt.

Hold me.  I'm scared.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Just a Fleeting Thought -- While I Can Still Remember It

I have a midterm on Thursday evening, my first in about a quarter of a century (that sounds like a long time, doesn't it)?  It's an "open note" exam, so I'm not too worried about it, but I will need to review my notes and get my "cheat sheets" in order beforehand. 

Whereas in the past, I would have started my review several days, if not a week in advance, this time I'm not going to crack the books until Thursday morning.  And, for geriatric students like me, there's a very good reason:

If I start to study any earlier, I won't remember anything I've reviewed by the time I get to class on Thursday evening.

There's the rub: as a mature student, my motivation and appreciation for what I'm learning is much greater than it was earlier in life.  But I can't remember what I'm appreciating for very long.

That's all I had in mind to say this morning - I think.

Big announcement tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Top Five Reasons To Not Get a Tattoo

A couple of my friends have asked for my advice.  Their sons are talking tattoos and these wonderful women understandably don't want their babies to mar their Adonis-like bodies with ink-filled puncture wounds from dirty needles. Who could blame them? 

So they asked me, The Teenage Whisperer, to craft a list of convincing reasons why their boys shouldn't get tattoos.  I agreed, if only because if I do this, they will owe ME one.

Before I reveal the list, let me just admit that, for the past three years, I have been considering a tattoo myself.  It started when I passed by the storefront where Miami Ink was being filmed during a business trip to South Beach.  I was feeling carefree and independent and experimental on that trip so I started to think, "Why not?" 

But before you get all excited and peek-a-booey, know that I haven't gotten one yet, if only because I can't think of an image I want seared onto my skin for all of eternity.  What kind of picture represents my life and my aspirations now anyway?  A vacuum cleaner with an upholstery attachment?   A sinkhole?  A quart of milk on sale?

But as usual, I digress.

I gave this a lot of thought and here are the top five arguments I think will resonate most strongly with my friends' sons.  Try them at home and see if they work.

5) Tattooing hurts.  And, if I remember correctly, you cried really hard after your circumcision and this time, you won't be getting a pacifier dipped in Manischewitz to soothe you.
4)  A poll of 1,000 beautiful, really well-endowed women conducted by Yankelovich revealed that 98% would not "hook up" with a guy with a large tattoo.  This poll is subject to a sampling error of +/- 3%.  This last fact has nothing to do with anything, but it gives the poll (which is completely fictitious, by the way) an air of legitimacy, statistical validity and reliability and will remind your son that you haven't forgotten his failing grade in stats.
3)  If you get a tattoo, I will surprise you in your college dorm room one weekend, and regale your friends with stories of how you came home from preschool one day wearing Care Bear underwear.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that).
2)  One day your now taut body will become fat and puffy and the coiled purple snake you so proudly flaunted in your youth will stretch and stretch until it looks as though it came to life and bit you all over, leaving you with nearly lethal (and totally unattractive) black and blue marks.

Not a good look, my son.

And the number one reason why you shouldn't get a tattoo:

1)  Because when you are all grown up, I will move in with you, watch Murder She Wrote reruns all day long and tell you to put on a sweater whenever I get cold.

Love ya, honey!  Mom xxx ooo

Monday, October 18, 2010

Children of the Corn(maze)

The ticket seller warned me not to send two10 year olds into the 10-acre corn maze without an adult, because "it's so big it's like sending them off alone into Manhattan."  I considered this for a moment, looked at Thing 2, looked at his friend and looked at the quaint antique shoppe/tea house across the street.  Then I shoved them in the direction of the cornfield with a hug and a whispered "Be careful crossing Madison Avenue." 

I figured Thing 2 could take care of himself.  He's got an exquisitely fine-tuned personal radar that alerts him, from a friend's house three miles away, of the exact moment I drop exhausted onto the couch, with a Diet Coke in one hand, the remote in the other and a cat on my lap.  This radar signals him to call me (on a school night and in the middle of a monsoon) to ask whether I can drive him and his posse to an R-rated movie at a theatre 30 miles away.

But before fleeing the scene, I pointed to the hawks (or maybe vultures) circling the cornfield and warned them that if they didn't stick together, we would likely find their dessicated bones picked clean (save for some corn silk tucked into their leg sockets) in the spring ... and they would likely miss the season finale of Jackass.

That did the trick.  No wonder they call me the Mother of All Mothers - no autographs, please.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Philadelphia Story

I brought my typewriter to Philadelphia because the return key had fallen off.  Or maybe it was my sewing machine. 

There was a long line to talk to Customer Service and I had to take a number.  There were about 20 people in front of me so I decided to take a shuttle bus to the garage and return my white rental van.  (I don't know how I managed to simultaneously take a bus and return a vehicle, but it's my story, so work with me.).

I didn't know the return bus route to the typewriter (or sewing machine) repair center, so I had to walk.  It was about 20 blocks away and by this time I was carrying a very heavy bag of potting soil.  This impeded my progress and interfered with my enjoyment of the scenery. I considered ditching the potting soil, but I hate to waste.  Then, passing a garden center/florist, I hatched a plan: I asked the proprietor if he would like my potting soil.  He was demonstrably pleased and I poured it into one of the planters lining the sidewalk, saving a bit for myself and significantly lightening my load.

I continued along my merry way, stopping at a sidewalk cafe where I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting across the table.  I was particularly witty and charming and decided that he had a crush on me, especially after I shared my clever story of the potting soil.  I glanced at my watch and realized that my number was probably coming up back at the Typewriter (or Sewing Machine) repair center so I left my admirer behind and high-tailed it back to the store.

Upon arrival, I saw that the store had cleared out and wondered whether closing time was near.  I approached the service desk, where the proprietor wrote up a receipt detailing what needed to be done to my typewriter (or sewing machine) and asked if I could come back to pick it up tomorrow.  I couldn't, I explained, because I lived too far away.  I decided to return on Wednesday, instead, which in my mind was BRILLIANT because suddenly it was almost Thanksgiving weekend and I could simultaneously pick up my typewriter (or sewing machine) AND Thing 1 at college and bring them both home. 

Preternaturally clear-headed, I asked the customer service person what the store's hours were and he replied that the store was open until 10 p.m.  I doubted this was the case the night before Thanksgiving (not many people demanding typewriter -- or sewing machine - repairs just hours before the big holiday, I reasoned) so I reminded him of the upcoming holiday.  He asked his associate what time the store would be closing on Erev Thanksgiving:  2:00 p.m.  I made a mental note to get up early and make my way back to Philadelphia next Wednesday.
I was very pleased with how I had handled the challenges of the day.  Then I woke up to one cat sitting on my bladder and the other one walking across my head and knew I was back. 

I miss Philadelphia.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Discuss. I'll give you a topic.

How is it that the Chilean miners managed to maintain their indomitable spirits for two months while trapped half a mile underground, but if the DVR cuts off the last five minutes of Modern Family I can't get out of bed for a week?

It's Chile Down There. So Wear a Poncho.

It sounds as though the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped at the bottom of a 2,200 foot mine are on the cusp of being rescued. Underground for two months, they have been the focus of worldwide interest and intense media scrutiny, as well as book and movie offers too numerous to count.

Don't you sometimes wish you could take an extended vacation underground? I bet miner Yonni Barrios is glad to be a half a mile underground, given that, as reported by the New York Post (the "source"):

"While waiting for trapped miner Yonni Barrios, his wife Marta Salinas made an unpleasant discovery: Barrios's mistress, Susanna Valanzuela, was also hanging around the mine site waiting to see her man, the same man, surface. "This woman has no legitimacy!" hissed Salinas. "We are in love!" replied Valenzuela. "I'll wait for him!"There are a number of reasons why, if it were me trapped so far underground, I might consider staying there:

1. Carl Paladino

2. Elementary school dioramas

3. Jeggings

4. My upcoming gynecological check-up

5. Lindsay Lohan

The idea of giving up control and letting the world unfold around me often has a delicious appeal! I remember my envy when Martha Stewart went to minimum security prison for insider trading, spending her days in prison garb and giving knitting and crocheting lessons to the other inmates. (America's needleworkers went crazy for the crocheted poncho that she wore upon her release -- a gift from one of "the girls" she met while in the slammer.)

Admit it, what could be better than not having to decide what to wear everyday, eating meals in the cafeteria and sitting around knitting with the girls?

In fact, it might even be better than spelunking in Chile.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

One Free Cat

Have I told you the story of our "free" cat?

The kids were clamouring for a pet, so we decided to go to the local shelter where the felines were plentiful and free of charge.

The cat that Thing 1 picked out wasn't available for release on Saturday, so I made plans to return on Tuesday, when he was in school, to pick up her up.

I returned on Tuesday and Free Cat was mine.  For a small fee to support the shelter.

One free cat = $40.

I didn't have a cat carrier, so the shelter placed her in a cardboard carrier (which was indeed free).  I put her on the floor of the van, next to me, for the 12 minute ride home.

On the way home, Free Cat meowed pitifully from inside her prison.  Then I started to hear scratching.  Scratch, scratch.  Then ripping.  Rip, rip.  And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Free Cat's head emerging from the decimated side panel of the carrier.  Followed by one leg.  Then another.  Until Free Cat is doing the cat walk around the van, like America's Next Top Model.

At this point, above the sound of Free Cat's meows,  I hear a police siren and see flashing lights in my rearview mirror. 

One free cat = $40 plus an unspecified moving violation plus 2 points on my license.

We take Free Cat to the vet for her check-up and shots, where we learn that we are eligible for state-funded low cost spaying services because she came from the shelter.  However, since it's the end of the month, all available state funds have been depleted, and we have to wait until next month for a low cost spay.

Except that we can't.  It appears that Free Cat may be expecting and spaying cannot wait until next month.

One free cat =  $40 plus an unspecified moving violation plus 2 points on my license plus $135 vet fee plus $80-$100 for spaying.

We find a veterinary clinic to have the cat spayed.  I go with Thing 2 for her "pre-op check-up."  Thing 2 brings along his Nintendo DS, which he received for Chanukah three days prior.  After Free Cat is examined and cleared for surgery, we pay the fee, purchase a real cat carrier ($25) and start to leave.  At which point Thing 2 realizes that his DS is missing.

One free cat =  $40 plus an unspecified moving violation plus 2 points on my license plus a $135 vet fee plus $100 for spaying plus $25 for a cat carrier plus $130 for eventually replacing Nintendo DS, plus some retail therapy to ease for my pain and suffering.

I go to court to fight my ticket.  The DA offers me a plea bargain:  no points, but a $300 fee, which includes kickbacks to a variety of NJ politicos.  I take the deal and get ready to leave when my cell phone rings.  It's DH, wondering whether I "got out" of my ticket.  Why?  "Cause I just got one for speeding."

One free cat = $40 plus an unspecified moving violation  $300 ticket plus 2 points on my license plus $135 vet fee plus $100 for spaying plus $25 for cat carrier and $130 for eventually replacing Nintendo DS, plus some retail therapy for my pain and suffering.

Having a cat who shares the remote?  Priceless.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Accidents Happen

I don't get out much anymore, which is okay by me, since I'm quasi-agoraphobic (if you've forgotten your ancient Greek, agoraphobia is literally "a fear of the marketplace," and its sufferers are reluctant to leave the house.  Given my distaste for any trip to the A&P or Stop and Shop, I think this is a particularly apt characterization). 

Foreseeing the potential for a gradual meltdown into a mess of sweatpants, tee-shirts stained with ketchup from a 1995 Wendy's run and a forgotten ability  how to act in polite society, I try to dress to maintain myself in a manner consistent with someone who gets out every day.  Which means that, lately, I have been adorning myself with (faux) pearls and wearing short boots (with low heels) while I go about the house doing whatever it is I do during the day (I am defining "do" very loosely here.  But work with me, please).

Wearing pearls (however "faux") and boots with heels is, for me, akin to dressing up for a date with the Devil.  This is because I am not steady on my feet under any circumstances and the cats like to get in on the daring act, weaving in and out of my legs all day, admiring my sexy ankles and daring me to take a step without tripping. They also swipe at my necklace.

Walking without tripping is not my thing.  In the past two or three years, I have taken four or five serious falls while walking around the neighborhood, ripping my jeans, scrapping my knees, twisting my ankle. I often trip over uneven seams in the pavement.  Once the seam was hidden by leaves, another time, I swear!, a sinkhole opened in front of my foot just as I took a step in that direction.  I usually fall into the street, but thus far have been lucky not to get hit by a car. 

The last time I fell was in Philadelphia, when I took Thing 1 to take his university placement exams. I was on my way to a museum  Mutter Museum - where hypocondriacal dreams come true  and turned right rather than left.  Before I knew it, I was cartwheeling into the street, having stepped literally into thin air.   I finally came to a halt, lying on my side in the gutter, where a very nice lady helped me up, whipped out a bandage and Neosporine from her purse, cleaned me up and sent me on my sorry way.

At this point, having tripped so many times, I began to fear the beginnings of a serious and progressive neurological disease, one that would ultimately render me unable to use my limbs in the manner to which I had become accustomed (i.e., walking to the refrigerator).  But, using my powers of analysis, I discovered that if I paid attention to where I walk, that is to say, walked with my head down and proactively spied the uneven payment, stones, and errant tree roots before they could inflict their damage, I would be okay.

And I haven't tripped since.  So my mind is at ease, the only problem being that because I'm always looking down when I walk, I walk into stuff (poles, buildings, street signs, people) rather than trip over stuff.  But it's a tradeoff, isn't it?

Friday, October 8, 2010


FERPA is a silly acronym for a federal law that protects information about my college student son from being released to me - his MOTHER - without his permission.  It stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

According to the US Department of Education website, "FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level."  This act has been frustrating parents since 1974!

(Before going any further, try saying "FERPA" five times fast and see if it conjures up images of academia, like professors in tweed jackets with suede elbow pads or the crew team working through drills on the lake at 5 a.m.  No?  I thought not.)

FERPA means that the university that Thing 1 attends will not release any information about his grades or his financial standing unless he signs a release authorizing them to do so.  Let me repeat that -- financial standing.  Financial standing meaning the status of the account which DH and I finance every single month by writing a substantial check (a substantial check that represents, for example, years of foregone leather pants, island vacations, branded (vs. generic) boxes of cereal.  Just sayin').

Thing 1 DID sign the FERPA release, because I threatened him with cutting off his beer money, taking away the car keys - actually, because I didn't tell him he had a choice (I don't know how long after his class in Constitutional Law I'll be able to get away with that). 

We hadn't had a chance to test the gravitas of FERPA until today, when I called the Accounting Office to inquire about a thin rectangular envelope I received yesterday.  It was the kind of envelope that's both a letter AND an envelope:  to open it, you have to fold back the top and sides along the perforations and then rip them off (I usually just end up ripping through the entire thing).  It had the look of the mid-term reports I used to receive from the high school (which were never good news).  I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was involved in some kind of freshman hijinks.!  There was a check for $604 inside!  Without any explanation.

So I called Accounting to ask why they were sending us such a bounty.  I gave them his ID number and blurted out, even before being asked,  "And he invoked FERPA!" (Actually, I don't know whether one "invokes" FERPA, "waives" FERPA or tosses FERPA around like a football), fully expecting silence on the other end, followed by a whispered "I can't discuss this with you.  It's FERPA-proof."

Turns out, Thing 1's "FERPA status" was fully visible on whatever computer screen the clerk was reviewing and she readily shared the information that we had overpaid his term bill, thus prompting the refund.

That was great news, but I still don't understand why, if we - his parents - are paying his way and a refund is due, the refund check was made payable to Thing 1.  That seems like an ferpatastically good deal for our Dear Thing 1.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Settling In For Winter

I got my flu shot, two large packages of deep chocolate muffins and a multi-pack of Pop Tarts at Sam's Club today.  So I'm locked and loaded for winter. 

I was about to put several cords of Duraflame logs in my cart when I remembered that we don't have a fireplace.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Conversation with the Fine Folks at New Jersey Energy Choice

In the midst of last week's ocular emergency, the phone rang.  It was a representative from New Jersey Energy Choice, calling to talk to me about ways to save on my energy bill.

I told him I couldn't speak to him right now.  After all, I was in searing pain and my eye was swollen all the way up to the ceiling.

He (Him?):  What do you mean you can't talk about this now?

Me:  That's kind of presumptuous of you to ask me why I can't talk right now. (Lucky for me I can keep my wits about me and use really big words in the most stressful of emergency situations).

He (Him?)  Presumptuous? (Said with a whiff of scorn and a soupcon of disdain)

Me:  Do you even know what presumptuous means?

He (Him?):  No.

Me:  (My brow furrowing, trying to come up with the worst insult I can think of - and I really, really zinged him, if I do say so myself):  If you don't know what presumptuous means, you, shouldn't be working for New Jersey Energy Choice!

I really told He (Him?), didn't I?

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Public Service Announcement

Don't make the same mistake I made. 

I had a (stupid) in-home accident one day last week (that's not the mistake, by the way, it's Standard Operating Procedure around these parts), and by the next morning my friends had convinced me that I needed to see a doctor to "have it checked out."  I wasn't surprised to learn that my own physician wasn't in that day, so I needed to search for another doctor who is in my plan (a qualification that these days is more important, apparently, than whether said physician is Board-certified in his/her specialty, conveniently located, has a pulse, etc.). 

Our insurance company maintains an online list of in-plan providers.  In order to access this list, you have to "register," which involves providing identifying information, and selecting a user name and password.

I can't remember when I originally registered at this site, but with my affected body part screaming in pain and watching the clock tick down to the weekend (when all good specialists disappear to their weekend homes), I couldn't get my password to work.  And, with a password required to do just about anything on the Internet these days, I long ago stopped writing them down.

But that's not the mistake either.

You're in a hurry, your fingers are flying, this site is asking for a combination of six letters and two numbers, while the other site asked for both upper AND lower case letters, but not any of your last 12 passwords.  You're out of birthdays, kids' and pets' names and you don't think you can possibly think of another unique password, and you want it to be memorable, but you're feeling kind of aspirational.

And therein lies my mistake.  Because I lacked forethought, I didn't think about the fact that there are SO MANY possible ways to misspell Hoochi-Mama.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Oh baby. (Oh crap).

Like many job seekers in this brave new world, I subscribe to several online "job boards."  These job boards automatically send me an email - either every morning or every week, depending on the frequency that I have specified - with a listing of newly posted jobs deemed of potential interest to me.  The selection of these job listings is based on the list of search terms I have input.  These search terms relate to my skills, experience or the title of a job I might want.

Before proceeding with this story, I want to stress that the words "placenta" and "stirrups" are not among the search terms I entered.

The email I received this morning included the following "listing that we thought would be of interest to you."

Gynecologist/Family Practice Physician

Salary: Competitive Salary; Excellent Benefits

Education: Doctorate (PhD, MD, etc.)

Location: New York, New York

Job Category: Health ; Medical

Sector: Nonprofit
Language(s): English, Spanish

We are seeking an experienced, dedicated full–time or part time gynecology clinician or Family Practice MD with strong GYN experience to join our team in providing gynecological care to a diverse patient population, including adults living with HIV as well as transgender individuals. In addition, you will participate in our newly established alternative insemination program.

For reasons I can't quite articulate, I don't think that this is an especially "fecund" opportunity for me.  While I always endeavor to promote how transferable my skills as a market researcher are to other fields, this opportunity seems like too much of a stretch for me:

Everyone knows I don't speak Spanish.