Mar 25, 2011

Hyperbole and a Half...

Oh. My. Goodness. You must click on the following link:

Hyperbole and a Half

Based on the post at the link, it is possible the author has been secretly stalking me and stealing my life stories so she could make awesomely-awesome comics to go with them. More likely I have simply found a friend of sorts who shares parts of my humor and neurosis. If by "friend" you mean someone I've never met, but I did post a comment on her "About" page. In online terms, we're practically BFF.

If you do click above (which you should since I told you to do it), be aware that there's a little profanity. Not a lot, but just to make you aware in case you have sensitive eyes/ears--it's there.

You could tell her Skerrib sent you, but she'll have no idea what you're talking about, so just enjoy...

Mar 20, 2011

On Culture and Protocol...

Last week I wrote about all sorts of things, among them my then-upcoming luncheon with the general's wife. Knowing well the stereotypes associated with officers' wives, and particularly those in the higher ranks, I spoke of my contingency plans should my fears of snobbery and pretense prove true. It would make a great story if I had the opportunity to storm out in an indignant huff, or got to give some arrogant woman a verbal dressing-down.

The simple truth, however, is that we had a lovely time. Not like an "Oh-my-goodness-that-was-the-most-exhilarating-ever" time, but more like a "Yum-this-is-delicious-and-it's-nice-to-meet-you-all" time. Many of the houses on the base here are huge and historic, so Mrs. General told us the historic points about their 10,000 square foot abode. It has a little balcony on the second floor that faces out over the parade field. The story goes that one time Teddy Roosevelt was there and was all, "Hey, you could use some trees out front," so they put in two rows of now-gigantic evergreen trees (about 20 total), which frame the view from the balcony quite nicely. Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.

There are several perks that come with the higher ranks. The luncheon was arranged by the base protocol office, and the food was prepared & served by Air Force chefs. The entire day was planned out for the generals' wives, and there were folks to drive them around to all their activities. And since they were out & about on a schedule, a rep from the protocol office was on hand back at the house to let us luncheon guests in, and to make sure everything proceeded as scheduled. In short, with great responsibilities come staff to help you juggle them all.

Thankfully, I had my own personal protocol staff in the form of my friend the Chaplain's Wife, whom I mentioned before is from the South and knows things about manners and stuff. She had also been to enough official shindigs (pastors & chaplains, and by extension their spouses, get invited to a lot of these) that she knew about hostess gifts, and had the forethought to check with the protocol office to see if hostess gifts were appropriate in this case, to which they replied that they certainly weren't necessary, but from a protocol standpoint it would be a nice gesture.

Which means, in a nutshell, that all the cool people are doing it.

And because she is awesome, the Chaplain's Wife gave me a heads-up, so I had enough time to stop on the way over. I chose a festive bottle of Bailey's, which I figured was appropriate given the St. Patrick's Day season. Either that, or the general and his wife are teetotalers and were totally offended that I would suggest they kick back a few from a bead-adorned bottle. Hostess gift: check.

And herein lies my dilemma. All this etiquette and protocol stuff is readily available to me via the Officers' Spouses Handbook, but I have thus far kept a longstanding vow to never purchase said handbook. I leafed through it once in the military clothing store for the sole purpose of scoffing at it. In my first round of therapy, the counselor--a retired major--told me to buy the book to help with my transition to military life, and I flat-out told him no (which was hugely bold of me at the time). I did not, and still do not, understand why the how-to's of writing thank-you notes, and which length of dress & how many petticoats to wear to which function, are what the Air Force deems essential for helping mil-wives navigate an entire sub-culture. The Spouses' Handbook should be subtitled something like "Everything you need to know to avoid making a fool of yourself at official functions; but for the rest you're on your own."

Here's the thing about the protocol. I get it; I understand the purpose of it. I've heard it said that etiquette is more than anything about showing people you care about them; that you are not taking them for granted and/or mistaking them for a portion of the floor or furniture, or something. I'm all about showing the love. The problem with taking something as warm and fuzzy as showing love, and boiling it down to a formulaic list of customs and courtesies, is that instead of focusing on showing love & being yourself, you are overly afraid you're going to mess up something on the list. The problem with protocol is that in our fear we miss out on the best of each other.

What were we talking about again?

Right, the luncheon. There were ten of us, I believe. The two generals' wives, two colonels' wives, both the incoming and outgoing presidents of the Warren Spouses Club, and the finalists from the 2010 Spouse of the Year (I was in the latter category). We all found things we had in common. Mostly we talked about dogs and kids and, keeping true to form, I got to briefly break from the appropriate and pleasant, and share how Pim was eaten by coyotes when we were living in California. The visiting general's wife asked us to each tell a little bit about ourselves and, true to form again, I babbled a little bit when it came to my turn. In my mind I was a red-faced nervous goofball, but history tells me it probably didn't show too much.

Both generals' wives were totally cool. If we were all sitting at my table drinking a Coke, I think we'd have made each other laugh hysterically. Because of the formalities, even though we had a good time, I think we didn't get to know each other quite as well as we could have. But maybe that's a necessary evil. I mean, you (I) can't be BFF with everyone, and you (I) certainly can't expect a luncheon to be a regular gateway to such relationships.

So maybe my unease with protocol is that, as a relational person, it simply doesn't match well with how I best like to spend my time. Some folks enjoy shindigs as a rule. I don't mind them sometimes, but if my entire life was formal and official, with no letting down and burping out loud in front of each other, I would poke my eyeballs out. I have small children--poop is such a major theme in my life that I must be permitted to talk about it. Often. But if I were a general's wife, and I went along with my husband to visit another base, would I want to talk with random other spouses and hear their poop stories? Maybe at first, but I bet it would get old.

So anyway, we ate our pot-pies and salads and dessert. We held our cloth napkins in our laps and only started eating after the guest of honor did. I caught myself at one point trying to pry the crust from my bowl with my fingers, and switched to a fork instead. But I heard later that one of the colonel's wives was doing the same thing, and it made me happy to hear that she enjoys the crust as much as I do. We talked. We toured. We took turns standing on the balcony and looking out through Teddy Roosevelt's evergreens onto the parade field. I waved at the escort staff below and said, "Hello! This is my official wave!" and they waved back. I am a big dork. But a happy dork.

We got word that the generals were running ahead of schedule (miracle of miracles), and the ladies were whisked off to join them for the next event on their itinerary. And then it was time to go. Three of us walked out together, commenting that our 15 minutes of base-wide semi-fame were up, and we had to get back to our glamorous lives of laundry and grocery runs.

I think I do OK if I remember the place of protocol. When I show good manners, it shows simply that I know how to show good manners. It speaks very little about who I am, and it certainly doesn't diminish my awesomeness if I am unaware or forgetful of a particular bit of protocol. So my recommendation to you, if you are ever invited to a luncheon with the general's wife, is to go and enjoy.

And don't forget to wave from the balcony...

Mar 14, 2011

Weeks 9-11--Mrs. Fancy Pants...

I love pretty much everything about this photo. Not that the photo itself is anything to write home about (Hipstamatic iPhone app, Jimmy lens, Ina's 1969 film, no flash), but I remember the moment and it makes me laugh. We were in Ft. Collins this past Saturday for their annual St. Patrick's Day parade, which I highly recommend, especially when it's in the 50's and partly sunny. We went down with our neighbor and her son, who is friends with the boyz. Another lady from my moms' group caravanned down with us as well, but due to traffic and detours and such she ended up another block up on the route and decided to stay put. I can't say I blame her either, since she was right near the coolest toy store in town. I hope she took advantage of the situation and ducked in after the parade. Just saying.

Anyway, so this nattily-dressed dude rolled by in this fantastic vintage car labeled "Dollar Discount," and I said, "Hey, it's the Pope!" And about 2 seconds later I thought to myself, "Um, Skerrib, I think that's St. Patrick, being a St Patty's parade and all." Which the CatDaddy also generously explained. I looked apologetically at our neighbor, who happens to be Catholic. She didn't bat an eye though; she has been very patient with my protestant ignorance about Lent & such. It's not that I'm unaware, it's just that since I don't practice it I don't think about things like not eating meat on Fridays, and how not every pious guy in a robe & tall hat is necessarily the pope, and whatnot.

Either way, we all enjoyed some Smashburger after the parade, followed by a quick trip thru Toys R Us before all the boys signaled their nap-readiness by falling apart to varying degrees. So we headed home and that was that.

Early-eary Sunday was spent in a flurry of sheet-changing, as His Highness woke (in our bed) with a yucky, pukey tummy-bug. We got the spares put on, and I brought in a big bowl just in case, and all of us back to sleep...and then he did it again. Obviously to a lesser degree, as there wasn't much left in his stomach this time around, but unfortunately we did not get the bowl under him in time. So we stripped the bed again, and I dug out the really old spares, and dozed off again for a short time before I began to feel sick as well. So my early-morning was spent in a massive body purge through several available orifices (luckily I have quick reflexes and made it to the bathroom with both time and fluid-receptacles to spare). And the Littler One woke up looking mildly distressed, saying "pooooo-peeeee" with a diaper that I best not describe. So my sum total was one puker, one pooper, and yours truly with both.

The Cat Daddy was on the worship team at church and feeling fine, but needless to say the rest of us did not make it to church that morning. Once we were more or less awake for the day we trekked downstairs and turned on NicJr, which is His Highness's current favorite channel. They say they're like Preschool on TV. I say they're like watching preschool on TV, and TV stations should be careful about going around and making such claims because watching preschool on TV doesn't even come close to playing with friends and making art & stuff at His Highness's actual Awesome Preschool...but I do like NicJr as far as kid-TV goes. While the nastiest parts of the sickness were done by breakfast-time, we spent the entire day languishing about the house, and I was mildly concerned that I would never again feel better. This happens nearly every time I get a stomach bug, and is one of the reasons I despise stomach bugs.

Today I kept His Highness home from Awesome Preschool and we rested for most of the day. We were mostly back to normal, but I didn't want to do that thing where you wake up feeling pretty good, and then you go out & tackle life, only to feel like poop by mid-afternoon. So we were mellow, and ate light, and walked to the park in the afternoon, and I think by tomorrow it'll be time to tackle life again.

Now, Wednesday. Wednesday it so happens that I am attending a luncheon on base, hosted by a general's wife. I'm not sure whether it's a general or the general. I think it's the general, because I think we only have one general on base, but I'm not positive. Regardless, another general's wife is visiting from another state, so our general's wife is throwing her a shindig, I guess, and invited all the spouses of the quarters from last year (Of which I am one. Oh yes I am). Or something.

I am anxious to see what it is like. When the Cat Daddy first joined the Air Force my mom informed me about having to dress up, and attend teas, and whatnot. And I scoffed at her and threatened to dye my hair blue (which, unfortunately, would not complement my warm palette, so I never did it). So here I am, 10 years later, attending a luncheon, and what is a luncheon but a tea with some chicken caesar salad instead of finger sandwiches? The dressing up is an interesting point, because the scheduled attire is "business casual." As it's been a while since I've done any actual business, I will need to do some digging, but I think I can find something that is not a hoodie, and maybe--just maybe--I will wear pants of the non-denim variety. But maybe not; depends on my anxiety level on the actual day. And the weather.

So my neurotic side is gearing up for dealing with all levels of snootiness and pretense. I'm planning how I will make a gracious yet poignant exit if anyone makes a snide remark about my possible choice of jeans or starts berating nerds, or something. My realistic side is telling me to get a grip. After all, my neurotic side is making a plan based on stereotypes rather than actual experience. Good gracious, Skerrib!

On the other hand, should the event turn out to be perfectly lovely, I am quite skilled at ditching the neurotic contingency and just hanging out & having fun. So maybe I'm just covering my bases. Besides, my friend the Chaplain's Wife will be there too (we are quality individuals with our quarterly awards, you know), and she always makes things fun. Plus she is Southern and knows manners & stuff, and is very kind about helping me out when I get a little clueless. I will just watch to see which fork she uses, and try to refrain from talking about my poop/puke weekend.

So here's to the common people. I will report back soon with tales of refinement and culture. Wish me luck...