Dream Shard Blog: The Scintillating Adventures of Our Household

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Oct '06

Some Things Never Change

I don’t know what it is that makes me such a favorite of cats.

I don’t try to attract them. I don’t even like them that much. But they like me.

Kyra, for some reason, loves me more than John. If John and I are in the same room together, and John gets up to leave, Kyra stays. If I get up to leave, she goes with me.

When I get home from work, Kyra comes to greet me. When John gets home from work, and Kyra’s in another room with me, she doesn’t budge to greet him until I do.

No matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, she’s right there.

I imagine this might be an accurate indication of what it’ll be like to parent a toddler.

I should point out, though, that Kyra loves loves loves John whenever he feeds her.

To emphasize the historical accuracy of this blog entry, here are two pictures. The first was taken when I was a teenager (dig the glasses) when my family’s cat Lightning was “helping” me with my homework. The second photo was just taken today with Kyra “helping” me work at the computer.

Some things never change.

Me and Lightning 2

Shan and Kyra

Oct '06

Writing Center

A little-known fact about me is that I used to be a tutor in the BYU Writing Center. This was eons ago, but little has changed. I know this because I went there today for the first time in six years.

I wrote an article I’m going to submit for publication in a children’s history magazine this weekend, and I needed some feedback. I entered and signed in (I knew to do this because I remembered from working there that new clients always walk in and stand around uncomfortably before they realize they’re supposed to sign in). Then I stood uncomfortably while I waited for a tutor to come get me. The room was cluttered with wooden tables and buzzing with the low conversations of the other tutors and clients.

After a minute a smiley guy named David approached me and whisked me over to an unoccupied table. Instantly I remembered life as a writing tutor: feeling somewhat qualified, somewhat unqualified, nervous, excited, all at once.

To help him, I immediately launched into a detailed explanation of why I was there, what feedback I wanted from him, etc. In the middle of my speaking I became aware of him pursing his lips, like he was holding his breath. And he was clutching his pencil in a very urgent way.

So I interrupted myself and asked him if he was wanting to say something.

“Well,” he exhaled that breath he had been holding, “I was going to say that for things like this we usually send you to the publication lab in the library. We mostly just do academic papers and stuff here.”


“But, I mean, I can still help you. If you want. But I’m supposed to send you there. ‘Cause they’re usually bored and we’re not.”

I looked around at the full tables. He was right. They were busy. But I wanted his input anyway.

One thing I had decided when I worked at the WC was that writing tutors may be better writers than the average Joe, but it was a special talent to take another’s writing and skillfully help them craft it into something better. It was a skill that most writing tutors didn’t have. I’m not sure I had it. But what I did have, and probably what keeps the WC running today with its tutors, is the ability to be a good reader. I could read a paper and give the person my opinion about it. It wasn’t necessarily scientific in terms of the rights and wrongs of writing, but it was an educated observation. A well-founded second opinion is often what jumpstarts healthy revision and makes for a better end product.

So that’s what I got from David. He did his best. I didn’t agree with all his suggestions, but I didn’t say so. Although I did take his foremost suggestion to change certain words that were too old for the audience, and that has helped the article.

Overall, the Writing Center seems to be about the same it was when I worked there. The tutors are the same young writers trying to appear more qualified than they actually are, and sometimes getting away with it. It’s not a bad place to visit, but I’m glad I don’t still work there.

Oct '06

Never, never read the fine print on food labels

While packing John’s lunch for tomorrow, I made the mistake of reading the back of a peppered beef jerky package. I was just going to glance at the nutritional info, but the box titled “EXPORT STATEMENT” caught my eye. Half of its text is in English and the other half is Chinese characters.


The meat contained herein is derived from animals that received ante- and postmortem inspection and were found sound and healthy and has been inspected and passed as provided by law and regulations of the FSIS/USDA.

Am I alone in thinking that the word “mortem,” and especially “postmortem” should never, repeat, NEVER be on the packaging of food people consume? Especially meat? Because when I read that, it didn’t matter that the USDA said it was good to go, I had a sudden bloody image of a cow being hacked to death so that my husband could eat peppered jerky in his lunch.

cow parts

Oct '06


So on Wednesday I took a half day off work and gave myself a rare treat: I took myself to a movie. I decided to see Invincible, the Disney make-ya-feel-good-underdog-comes-out-on-top football movie, not unlike Rudy or Remember the Titans or other such feel-good classics. And the thing is, it did make me feel good. What a good movie.

I went to the 2 o’clock matinee. This movie has been out for many moons, so I expected the theater to be pretty empty. And it was. I walked in halfway through the previews, so everyone else was seated. I sat in the second row from the top, in the middle. The only other people in the theater were several rows below me. They were seven men, all sitting in the same row, some balding, all dressed in business casual. I was the only girl.

It was great.

Later I looked up the movie on imdb.com because I knew I had seen the guy who played the coach but couldn’t place him. And it turns out that he’s the guy that’s been everywhere but you never knew it. He was Meg Ryan’s boyfriend in You’ve Got Mail (you know, the one who loves his typewriters). He was David in Sabrina, Ratchet in Robots. His name is Greg Kinnear. (His blonde hair in Invincible is really very nice. Much sexier than his brown mop in You’ve Got Mail.)

I also looked up the girl who played Janet, the love interest in the movie. I thought she was beautiful but didn’t recognize her from anything else. Turns out it’s because she’s mostly been in more adultish movies like Slither, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Sexual Life, Wet Hot American Summer, and the episode of Sex in the City entitled “Politically Erect” (which, you have to admit, is a funny title).

Also–get this–the main character, Vince Papale, was played by Mark Wahlberg, whose older brother was dreamy Donnie from NKOTB (New Kids on the Block, for you post-1980’s people). Mark Wahlberg (a.k.a. Marky Mark) was also a high school drop-out, convicted of minor felonies, and appeared in famous Calvin Klein underwear ads in the 90’s. But he turned into a decent actor.

When the credits were rolling, the row of middle-aged men stood, stretched, and filed out of the room one after the other. Very orderly. I was the last one to leave the theater. It was a nice treat.

Oct '06


Two things about Dubuque, my hometown in Iowa.

Dubuque, Iowa

1) Last week I went to a retreat for work. At breakfast one morning I was at a table surrounded by high-flyers, people with much more status than me. One of them, a middle-aged lady who is much respected, suddenly started to say to each person she didn’t know at the table, “Tell me your life story.” She asked me second. The girl who went first had some really interesting and admirable experiences that everyone oohed and aahed over. It was a pretty impressive introduction.

Then my turn. Everyone turned expectantly to me as I started my life story.

Me: Well, I was born in Iowa and lived there seventeen years before–

Middle-aged lady, much respected: Wait, Iowa? Which town?

(Interjectory Note: Ever notice how no one ever refers to places in Iowa as cities? They’re towns. And the people who live there are folks, not real people.)

Me: Um, Dubuque. Anyway, I–

MAL,MR (brightly): Oh, I know Dubuque!

Me (shocked): You do? Have you seen it on the Weather Channel map?

(Note: It’s true. Dubuque is on their U.S. map. Not on their Web site, but on their TV broadcasts.)

MAL,MR: No, silly, I’ve been there.

Me: Wow. What for?

MAL,MR: A few years ago–

(The woman beside her giggles loudly, which indicates to everyone at the table that by “a few years ago” MAL,MR means “about a hundred years ago, when I was quite a bit younger than I am now.”)

MAL,MR: A few years ago I was on a river cruise, on the Delta Queen.

(I nod my head encouragingly to show my recognition of the Delta Queen and support of her decision to travel on the river that runs beside my hometown.)

MAL,MR: It was one of those BYU Travel Study trips, and I was with several CES employees, including Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland.

(Note: Dallin H. Oaks was the then-president of BYU and Jeffrey R. Holland was his successor. I respect both men very much.)

Me (very excited that general authorities have seen my hometown in person): Oh, cool. So you went past Dubuque?

MAL,MR: We stopped at Dubuque. It was a port of call.

Me (enthusiastically): Wow, that’s so neat. When I hear port of call I usually think “Caribbean.” It’s funny that my hometown was a port of call. So, what’d you think? (Sits forward in seat.)

MAL,MR: (Hesitates) Well, I think Elder Holland summed it up best when after our tour of the city he said to me, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many folks so excited about so little.” (Laughs lightly.)

Me: (Horrified silence)

Me (finally): Well. Um. I’m sorry to hear that. So, anyway, um, after my seventeen years in that hell-hole known as Dubuque, I came to BYU . . .

I managed to finish up my life story for her and the rest of my audience at the table, but it was a little awkward after that. My life story was pathetic compared to the girl who went before me. How do you continue on in a dignified manner after a much respected lady two feet from you and a general authority who became president of the very university you graduated from openly criticized the place you lived in and loved for the majority of your life?

I know the lady was just making conversation. But sometimes timing is critical, and her watch was off on this one. I don’t care that she disliked Dubuque, or even that a couple general authorities weren’t impressed by it. To her and all people like her: Just think before you speak and consider if the opinion you’re about to express will add constructively to the conversation you’re in. And if not, bite your tongue!!!

2) Today I was listening to a book on CD at work (Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld) and I heard a character in the book, an English teacher, tell her class she was from Dubuque, Iowa. I had to rewind the CD to make sure I heard right. Hardly anyone knows where Dubuque is, right ? Let alone how to pronounce it. Not unless you’re from there. Or been there. Or knew someone from there.

I went to the author’s Web site and discovered that a) Curtis Sittenfeld is actually a woman, and b) she was part of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, which is only an hour and a half south of Dubuque.

So. Confusion abated. And, in her bio she said she really liked living in Iowa City! And she probably doesn’t call Iowan residents folks all the time or its cities towns. And if she had ever felt like dissing Dubuque she probably would have thought before she spoke and said something gracious like, “Iowa sure has great corn, doesn’t it. Can’t get enough of the stuff.”