Sunday, December 25, 2011

Things are getting serious with Siri

The Siri app is all the rage on the newest version of the iPhone (I believe it is No. 4 … out of the 2,456 Apple plans to release by the way). Siri is a voice-activated personal assistant, or as I like to call her, the wife I’ve always wanted.

I tell her to add a chore to my daily calendar and it’s there when I check my phone’s calendar. I ask her where the closest gas station is and she figures out where I am and finds the closest one on a map for me. I tell her to text my husband that it’s his turn to cook dinner and she takes care of it (not the dinner, the text).

Although I’m really hoping the next version of Siri has her making dinner in my kitchen as well. Nothing against my husband’s cooking, but Siri never fails.

Well, in theory she never fails, unless you ask her more probing questions.

“Siri,” I asked, “What is my Christmas present this year?”

She searched for a few seconds then said, “I found a number of gift shops. Twenty-three of them are fairly close to you.” I saved that message to pass along to my husband when he got home.

This time I thought I’d get a little more philosophical. “Siri, what is the meaning of life?”

“According to Douglas Adams’ humorous science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the answer is 42.”

Who knew it was all so easy? All those years of teenage angst over something that Siri served up in seconds.

I wanted to try something a little more personal. “Siri, do you love me?”
Her answer: “I’m not allowed to.”

Way to go, Siri. Keep it professional while setting appropriate boundaries. Not only are you helpful, you’re also emotionally balanced. I like that in a personal assistant.

I tried out her pop culture knowledge by asking, “Siri, who’s the man?”

She answered, “You the man!”

Although not technically correct, I still liked her spunky answer, not to mention the exuberant exclamation point! I suddenly felt confident in the knowledge that I am THE MAN!

I wanted to try an obscure scientific question, so I asked “Where can I find a rocket scientist?”

“I found a number of them in Jackson, Mississippi,” she responded.

Did NOT see that one coming.

My teenage son came home and told me to ask Siri where I should hide a dead body. After giving him a long, cold stare that communicated “We’ll talk about this later” I asked Siri, “Where should I hide a dead body?”

She answered immediately: “What kind of place are you looking for? Mortuaries, funeral services, metal foundries, cremation services or dumps?”

Okay, that was creepy. It was time to move on to happier, more cheerful ground, like Christmas.

“Siri,” I asked, “where’s the North Pole?”

She deadpanned, “I couldn’t find any places matching the North Pole?”

Whaaaaaaaaat? Siri, you just ruined Christmas for a whole bunch of people. Not cool!

Maybe she was turning sour since I had only asked her to serve me up until this point. I decided to give her a break and ask about her.

“Siri, what gift would you like for Christmas?”

She answered, “This is about you, not me.”

I ask you, what’s not to love?

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and has Siri help with her day-to-day chores in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Frustration ignites with the oven of melted dreams

Dear Hasbro:

All I wanted to do was make some cookies.

And you promised that it would be “easy,” as evidenced by the name on the box: Easy* Bake Oven. But please allow me to be the first to give you some feedback: there is nothing easy about it.

Lily has been begging me to make cookies with her in her Easy* Bake Oven but we had already used the two pre-packaged mixes that you included with the oven. I went on your website to see about ordering more mixes, but quickly decided I was unwilling to spend the whopping $6.59 you were charging for a 1-pound bag of chocolate chip cookie mix, something that I can make for less than a dollar at home. So I made the decision to use my own cookie dough and refuse to be extorted by you.

Frugal, yes. Easy*, no.

We made the mix with my world-famous recipe (okay, I might be making up the part about “world-famous,” but you’re not REALLY an oven so let’s not split hairs on this issue). The recipe makes three dozen chocolate chip cookies, so I made 30 and left the remaining dough for Lily to use in her two tin dishes for her Easy* Bake Oven.

Apparently the Easy* Bake Oven is programmed to decipher when an alien cookie dough is being used and has a self destruct mode built it. When the first tin dish was inserted into the oven and the 100-watt bulb was turned on, the baking began (and I use the term “baking” loosely here). It was slow going at first…25 minutes in it was just starting to melt. (Meanwhile my 2-1/2 dozen “real” cookies were already done and cooling.)

But somewhere around minute 30 all heck broke loose and the dough started bubbling over. When Lily went in to extract the gooey mess, it had melted on all of the inner pieces, on top of the oven, and even smudged the light bulb on its way out the door.

Am I missing the easy part, here? Certainly I’m not the only letter you’ve received like this. And yes, there will be another letter headed your way asking why in the name of all things chocolate do we need to spend $7.48 for a replacement bulb? Didn’t the entire oven cost just over that? Methinks I smell a rat (over the existing smell of burnt chocolate already wafting through our kitchen, even overpowering my 2-1/2 dozen “real” cookies.)

If I offend you by referring to my own cookies as “real” and not yours, then I at least have done one thing right with this letter.

So here’s what’s going to happen. Now that Lily’s cherished Easy* Bake Oven lies in the bottom of the Douglas County Dump and her tears are dried, you’re going to make things right.

You might think I want a full refund, but that would only be scratching the surface.

I want you to come clean on the fact that you are simply a stupid ploy to get parents to buy something that THEY ALREADY HAVE IN THEIR KITCHEN. Just because you’re smaller doesn’t make you any better, in fact your 100-watt bulb pales in comparison to my 450-degree oven of white-hot heat. Oh sure, it might be safer for our girls to cook with a 100-watt bulb, but I’m not seeing how sticking their tiny fingers into the inner workings of a 100-watt box of heat is any better. Not to overdramatize here, but what started out as a birthday gift has now turned into a house of melting dreams.

Henceforth, I want your product to be called “The Not-So-Easy* Bake Oven of Dashed Hopes” (trademarked in my name, of course). And on the front of the box, I want it to read: “You must purchase our mixes exclusively for this product to work correctly. And it will pretty much drain your child’s college fund to do so. Enjoy!”

*Be forewarned – not even close to easy.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and bakes her own cookies in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One too many pet rocks makes some of us bah humbuggy

The other night after taking my nine-year-old daughter to see “A Christmas Carol” at UACT, I was explaining the concept of Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present and Ghost of Christmas Future. They are reminders (or foretellers) of what has occurred and what is to come, warning to make a different choice and change the path of our future.

I think there should be a Ghost of Past Christmas Presents who haunts us annually, reminding us that we should never purchase another Ronco/Home Shopping Network/NASCAR item again.

Sometimes we get it right, and more often we get it wrong. Like the time I bought new underwear for my husband for Christmas. In my defense it seemed so right at the time.

But alas, it was oh so wrong, as are many gifts I’ve given and received. Here are my top 10.

10. Potty Putter: For the person who runs out of books and magazines while “doing his business” I give you the Potty Putter. Here’s the sales pitch from Amazon: “The Potty Putter comes complete with a putting green made from the same professional carpet found at miniature golf courses, a cup with a flag, two golf balls, a putter and a "Do Not Disturb" door hanger.” You know it seemed really tacky until I got to the “Do Not Disturb” part – nicely done Potty Putter.

9. Big Mouth Billy Bass. This faux mounted fish sings a song and wriggles its lifeless body with the push of a button. Nothing says Merry Christmas like Billy’s rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or his ironic version of “Take Me to the River.”

8. Chia pets (all versions): The message is clear. This gift says, “When I think of you I think of hard clay with moldy grass growing out of it … from seeds … which you need to plant and water by the way.” So basically someone gave me a job for Christmas – at the age of eight. Good times.

7. Pet rock: As a kid in the ‘70s pet rocks were inexplicably a big craze. The thought was you’d water it, take it for a walk, and pet it, providing you with hours of enjoyment. I lost mine within days, a predictor of the kind of pet owner I’d become in the future.

6. Green socks: One year our budget was $10 or under (year two of marriage when we were starving college students). I got green socks. It was sad, but well deserved (see my gift of underwear above).

5. Rock polisher – My in-laws got this beauty for our son about seven years ago and the instructions said to put the rocks in and leave it running for 10 hours. Of course Nathaniel decided to start the process after dinner, so we went to bed with the clunk clunk clunking of rocks. We put the polisher two stories below us to muffle the sound, but my husband stomped downstairs around midnight to make it stop. I’ve never seen the rock polisher again, and, not surprisingly, no one has ever questioned its whereabouts.

4. Ice cream maker – Show of hands, and be honest. How many people who own an ice cream maker have actually used it in the last year? Uh huh … that’s what I thought. Work for an hour for one scoop of ice cream? That’s what Umpqua Ice Cream is for.

3. Snuggie – Each time I cocoon myself in my Snuggie I can’t help but obsess: “I’m willingly entering a major firetrap right now. If I even walk by a candle I’m likely to go up like a Roman candle on New Year’s Eve.” Sure, I want to be warm; just not THAT warm.

2. The Clapper - General rule of thumb: Never buy someone you love a gift from a late-night television commercial. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.

1. Scale – If your goal is to live through the New Year, ALWAYS walk away from this purchase.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and shops in Roseburg, Oregon. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Even high mileage vehicles need a tune up

You know how cars get to a certain point where everything starts to fall apart? That’s usually the moment when you start thinking, “I need to replace this car.”

Well, apparently, I’ve reached that certain “mileage” in my own life. The bad news is I’m stuck with the original model for the duration. And it seems to be breaking down quite a bit lately.

It started back in July when I simply reached out to lift something heavy and a muscle pulled in my shoulder. I babied it for a few days, assuming it would go away like most aches and pains.

Little did I know that the It-Will-Go-Away-Like-Most-Aches-and-Pains Ship had left the harbor, never to return again. (Take note: It happens at 44 years and 8 days. Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

What used to take a few days to feel better now requires a physician, massage therapist and physical therapist.

I started with massage therapy. During the first session, the massage therapist asked me “Did you dislocate your shoulder as a child?” I hadn’t, that I could remember, but figured that was something I’d remember. A few minutes later she asked, “Is this shrapnel?” when she saw an odd birthmark I have.

Seriously? What the heck happens when I’m asleep? Am I sleep walking down the street to the park and dangling recklessly from monkey bars by one arm? Am I involved in combat of which I am not aware?

And I know why she asked about the dislocated shoulder. My right shoulder hangs a few inches lower than the other. This situation elicits a fear in me that one day I’ll be known as Monkey Girl when I finally start dragging my knuckles of the right hand along the ground while the left shoulder remains as perky as ever. Believe me, my mind has been taking me places that are the stuff of nightmares lately.

Anyone remember the Sea Hag character from Popeye? She was the one on Goon Island who was hunched over, cackled, and had a hump for a back. (She also had pronounced chin hairs, which haven’t shown up yet, but really, it’s only a matter of days.)

Yep, the Sea Hag is pretty much what I imagine myself become, slowly but surely.
I started physical therapy after the massage therapist suggested I might need a little more than she could provide. The physical therapist thinks I have tendonitis in my rotator cuff and an impingement behind my shoulder. I have no idea what an impingement is, but my husband often tells me I’m tightly wound, so it probably has something to do with that.

The physical therapist also added that I had inherited a dowager’s hump from my mom (see: “hump for a back” in the Sea Hag description above). I told him that “dowager’s hump” is an awful term, and asked him if we could call it something else.

“Well, it’s technically degenerative arthritis. Do you like that better?” he said with a smirk.

I don’t think I like my physical therapist very much.

But he’s only there to help me deal with the physical pain and it’s so much more than that. It’s the lack of independence. I now have to solicit the help of my family members in every little task. I can no longer go to Costco on my own without the help of my husband to lift the 98-pack of Diet Pepsi into the cart. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but seriously…does Costco think we are feeding entire armies in our homes? Instead of carts they should issue each shopper a forklift. I’m just saying.)

This lack of ability to fend for myself is taking its toll on my psyche and weighing heavily on my dowager’s hump.

In fact, just last weekend during our Costco excursion, while Craig was hoisting another 80-pound item into our cart, our daughter Lily pointed out, “It’s like Dad is Superman and you’re his little sidekick.”

Sigh. As endearing as that is, I’m seriously losing my street cred as an independent woman.

But what else do you expect from a Sea Hag with Monkey Girl tendencies?

Eileen Burmeister lives, writes and drags her knuckles around Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

History repeats itself, albeit not very accurately

History repeats itself, albeit not very accurately

I hate Virginia. Virginia may be for lovers, but I’m simply not feeling the love. That’s because it took me three guesses to guess the correct capital while my seven-year-old daughter quizzed me over dinner from her “50 State of America” book (which, by the way, has taken the top spot on my “Books I Hate” list).

“What’s the capital of Virginia?” she asked.

“Norfolk?” I guessed.

“No,” she said. “It begins with an ‘R.’”

Well that was sweet of her to toss me a bone, so I thought harder, trying not to waste this act of grace from my kind child.

Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my thick head. “Roanoke!”

She shook her head NO and I think I saw a little smile. She was enjoying watching her trivia-competitive mother squirm like this. Seriously, what was I DOING 25 years ago during my social studies classes?

“Richmond?” I asked more than stated.

“Yes!” yelled Lily overzealously, compensating for the fact that I was close to banging my head repeatedly on the kitchen counter.

She then asked “What is the capital of Canned Turkey?” Turns out she misread “Kentucky.”

She learned this behavior from her father. My husband Craig often passes time on car rides by asking us various trivia questions. One day in particular he asked us to name the presidents of the United States. (Lily made it through three rounds – Bush 1, Bush 2 and Obama - until she incorrectly guessed Martin Luther King Jr.)

Just to show off, Craig started asking additional trivia questions such as “Where was he born?” or “What was his middle name?”

So when it was my turn and I named George Washington he followed up with “Where was he born?”

I immediately answered, “The state of Washington,” but the moment I saw my husband’s face, I quickly backtracked and regretted my answer. His mouth hanging open, he simply whispered, “Please tell me you’re joking.”

Of course I was joking. Kind of. But not really. Okay, I wasn’t joking.

Sure, when I stopped to think it through, I realized that at the time of George Washington’s birth Lewis and Clark hadn’t yet headed west, in their covered wagons along the Mississippi River, on their way to meet Pocahontas. So yeah, I realized the error in my initial answer.

My teenage son started snickering in the back seat, but stopped immediately when I gave him my “mom look.” Yeah, he knows who feeds him.

Instead I attempted to divert everyone’s attention. “Look at the cows,” I tried. “How beautiful is that barn?” I asked. “Look, my arm blew out the window just like my mom always said it would if I stuck it out a fast-moving car.” Nothing.

All the president’s men continued to hold court in our car, much to my chagrin. The children, the same ones I gave birth to after hours of excruciatingly painful labor, egged their dad on to ask more questions, reveling in the fact that their mom doesn’t know everything.

So you can imagine how much I was enjoying the state capital game at dinner that same night.

I realize now that I need a game plan: Next time, I will be the one to name the trivia contest in the first place.

Tonight at dinner, I have a feeling we’ll be playing “In Which Jane Austen Novel Does This Line Appear?” followed up with a rollicking round of “Obscure Grammar Trivia.”

It’s sure to be a blast. Well, at least for one of us.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Good sportsmanship powers the race to bupkis

Have you ever started a day with the best intentions, only to watch those intentions devolve into the reality that is you?

This happened to me a few weekends ago, when I decided to take part in the annual Ramble for Recovery 5K here in Roseburg. This race is held to raise awareness of those individuals in our community who are in recovery, as well as the individuals who work with them throughout that process. Worthy cause, right?

That’s what I thought.

The race was divided into two groups: the 5K walk and the 5K run. The runners went first, and the walkers started five minutes later.

Seeing that my best running occurs when I’m running from the car into the store in the rain, I decided to sign up for the walk.

Now mind you, I’ve done my fair share of races, but I’ve never had any possibility of winning a race … until this one.

I’ve prided myself on not being competitive athletically. (When it comes to board games, card games and intellectual challenges, however, all bets are off. I once drew blood during a rousing hand of Nerts.)

Never too old to surprise even myself, I was taken aback when that same desire to draw blood reared its ugly head at this 5K, directed toward the most unlikely adversary.

Out of the gate, I was in the front, experiencing the heady feeling of actually leading the pack for a change. About a half mile in, I was surprised to see that I was still in the lead. That is, except for one person who was ahead of me. He was a little boy who was walking in front of me and as soon as I got close to passing him he’d start running.

I walked behind him, amused at his gumption and sure he would wear himself out before we hit the duck pond, but when we were passing Fred Meyer he was still running to keep ahead of me.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Eight,” he answered in between gasps for air.

“Oh, I have a nine year old daughter,” I said, trying to connect to him on his level. He didn’t bite. Instead he kept running ahead of me, then walking until I caught up again.

At this point, halfway through the race, I started thinking, “Hey, I could actually win this thing” and that competitive spirit started to rear its ugly head.

“So…” I asked, “Are you signed up for the walk or the run?”

“The walk,” he said matter-of-factly.

“THAT, young man, is not walking,” I said.

Let me point out here I was not proud of myself at this moment.

He smiled sheepishly, stopping to a walk. We walked side by side in silence for a while until he started running again.

“Still not walking” I sang.

“It’s just that I really want to win this race,” he said.

“You and me both,” I said.

Again, not one of my prouder moments.

As we came around the path toward the soccer fields, we continued our competitive dance. Just as I started to pass him he started to run again, looking behind to see how far he could get before walking.

Ah, well, I reasoned, at this point I could do with a second place medal. It was still better than anything I’d ever done before. And it was all for a good cause, right?

Plus imagine the story this kid could tell for the rest of his life … how he beat all the adults at his first 5K. And of course I wouldn’t be around to ruin his story by pointing out that he was cheating, which is a win-win for him.

So I settled in toward the finish line happy with my second-place finish as he ran toward the end. At the very last moment, however, a man came up from behind and passed me. Whodawa? Where did he come from? Did he take a cab to the finish line and jump out a moment ago?

Never mind … tra-la-la … third place medal will have to do, or so I thought.
When all was said and done, I discovered that some woman was WAY ahead of me, so she took the first place medal, the little 8-year-old “walker” took the second-place medal, the cab-riding cheater took third, and I got bupkis.

Thank goodness there wasn’t a Good Sportsmanship Award, or I may have had to wrestle someone to the ground for that one.

Instead I soothed my bruised ego with a banana and a free t-shirt. I’m thinking about using a black Sharpie to write “winner” on the back, but that seems overly competitive, which I am not.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and loses races to eight year olds in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follower her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Word to the wise: Know when to shut the cell up

My friend Kasia lives in Chicago and uses the public transit system to get to and from work. Sadly, a potentially quiet and relaxing ride can often turn into a technological nightmare the moment a passenger decides to talk on his cell phone.

She recounts a recent cell phone conversation, one way, of course: “I’m on the bus … the bus … THE BUS! I’ll be home in 15 minutes … 15 minutes … 15 MINUTES! We’re at Belmont now … Belmont … BELMONT!”

What is wrong with us that we think our private conversations are now for everyone and his brother to hear? Where is our sense of etiquette?

In the past, we’ve had experts on etiquette: Miss Manners, Emily Post, and pre-jail Martha Stewart, just to name a few.

But with the explosion of technology, I feel like modern society is in sore need of cell phone etiquette.

Ever the servant, I came up with a few basic rules to adhere to:

The Six-Foot Rule: Just because I happen to be in the same row of shoes with you at Ross, this does not mean that I want to be privy to the ins and outs of your recent divorce. Which is why I suggest the six-foot rule: If a very tall person cannot lie down between us while you prattle on about who gets the dishes and who gets the coffee maker, then you’re too close. (Unless, of course, you want to be that person lying down on the floor in Ross, in which case I think I can arrange that.)

The Too Much Information Rule: If your conversation has anything to do with (A) bodily functions, (B) medical test results, or (C) intimate relationships, refrain from talking in public on your cell phone. My friend Colleen was in a changing room at a store in Phoenix recently and overheard the woman in the next changing room on her cell phone recounting her latest gynecological evaluation. Colleen explained, “I heard about how she only has a few eggs left, how in vitro fertilization isn’t really an option, and how she’s just too young to be without a supply of ample viable eggs.” It’s amazing … you go in to try on a shirt for some retail therapy, and you get a whole lot of information that requires another kind of therapy altogether. Lovely.

The Rent the DVD and Stay Home Rule: If I just shelled over a $20 to see a movie with a friend, please don’t be surprised if I give you a dirty look when you pull out your phone and start talking to the babysitter DURING THE MOVIE. It’s a little unnerving to be following Brad Pitt’s dialogue in “Moneyball” with you behind me asking, “Did you try the other diaper ointment?” As a parent myself, not to mention a huge fan of babies, I totally get you. But I also want you to take a few steps out and talk to the sitter in the hallway. That’s all I’m saying.

The Get off your Phone and Drive Rule: If most human beings are unable to rub their stomachs and pat their heads simultaneously, chances are pretty good they can’t drive and talk on the phone very well either. Oh, and it’s ILLEGAL in some states to do so, so there’s that.

The Time-Out Rule: I understand … we often have our cell phones in our pockets when we enter a public restroom, but if it rings you do have the option to – you know – ignore it. Unless you’ve left your curling iron turned on and wrapped in a newspaper, and the incoming call reads FIRE STATION, I’m pretty sure any phone call can wait until you finish your business. (By the way, WHAT are you doing wrapping a hot curling iron in newspaper for? That’s just asking for trouble.)

The Polite Rule: My friend Joanne shared that people in China cover their mouths when they speak on their cell phones. “This makes it so much more pleasant for those around them,” she said. I say, “Brilliant idea, China!”

Now I’m sure I’ve forgotten some critical points of cell phone etiquette, but I’ll leave you with one over-arching thought: Just because modern technology makes it possible to talk wherever we want, whenever we want, does that mean we should abandon all propriety in what and when we “share?”

Say it isn’t so.

Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Southern Oregon. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter @EBurmeister.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

If they left the light on for you, it would probably ignite

When I stay at hotels, I typically like to stay at a 3-star establishment or better. But I’m cheap, so I like to get the best possible deal. These two facts don’t always mix well, resulting in a less than stellar hotel stay.

Take my recent trip to Portland for my daughter’s soccer tournament. Refusing to spend the equivalent of a round-trip ticket to Paris for a three-night hotel stay in Portland, I decided to use Priceline and get the most bang for my buck.

The problem with Priceline is you never know WHICH 3-star hotel you’re going to get, and I got a dud. Thanks for nothing, William Shatner.

As a result, I decided to give the hotel some feedback, giving them every opportunity to improve their hovel, er, I mean hotel.

I took the liberty of copying the categories off another hotel review site and using that format to offer my thoughts. (I’m sure they’ll thank me later.)

Value for money: Initially I was charmed by your low price, but the proverbial “you get what you pay for” became a reality as I drove up your drive and discovered that I would now be charged $12 a night just to park in your lot. A nice lot? Perhaps to some, but not to my friend who backed up into the cement post directly behind her parking space. Just saying.

Room quality: Ah, the room. When I entered the room, I nearly tripped over the piece of “furniture” that held our coffee maker. This trolley-like “cupboard” was not unlike something my in-laws owned for their tea service in, oh, 1982. Charming in Amish country, yes, but not so much in a metropolitan hotel. The coffee pot itself went untouched since I saw that Dateline NBC episode where they showed people using hotel room coffee makers to cook crystal meth. In fact, the hotel on Dateline NBC’s story looked an awful lot like the room I stayed in. I’m hoping that’s just an eerie coincidence. The fact that our room was positioned right across from the elevator seemed convenient at first. I changed my tune at 2 a.m. when the elevator was on its 55th DING (something it does each time it opens, by the way) before opening and dumping out its drunken travelers who then stood outside our door to issue their lengthy, tearful goodnights.Oh, and before I forget, thank you so much for placing the ice maker RIGHT NEXT TO THE ELEVATOR. It was an audial win-win. Not to mention the fact that the aforementioned drunk patrons liked to get buckets of ice at 4 a.m. before slamming their doors once again.

Cleanliness: I am nothing if not a fan of mysteries, but stepping in a wet puddle on the carpet took my mind to possibilities that were the stuff of nightmares. I still don’t want to know what it was (and, fingers crossed, with some good therapy, I might be able to stop obsessing about it) but I have to tell you that the idea of setting the room on fire did cross my mind. Then I realized that I might have to go down the elevator once the fire was started and I seriously could not take another DING.

Bed comfort: Once I examined the bed for bed bugs (courtesy of Dateline NBC – again) I was able to safely go to bed. But I came to find out that a very angry marine sergeant had made the bed before I arrived. So tightly were the sheets tucked in that my ankles cramped within 10 minutes, requiring me to get up and yank the sheets out. Of course now I was certain that the bed bugs that were squashed by the marine were now free falling all over the room. Suffice it to say, it was a long night.

Staff and service: Lovely. Not a single complaint. They were friendly, relaxed, and a bit relieved I must say. In retrospect I think that was because they were thrilled that they were at the front desk and not being forced to stay in your guest rooms.

Will you recommend this hotel to your friends? If by friends you mean enemies, then by all means yes. And I’ll tell them to be sure and try the coffee.

Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Old Navy lets go of its grammatical sense

Just in time for National Punctuation Day on Sept. 24 (please celebrate responsibly) Old Navy has unleashed one doozy of a grammatical blunder. I would love to say that they were attempting to be ironic, but sadly, I’d be wrong.

Now we all make mistakes. In fact, I, self-proclaimed grammar vigilante that I am, just spelled umbrage incorrectly last week (umberage: wrong, umbrage: right). The difference is that I didn’t spell umbrage incorrectly on thousands of T-shirts that went out to stores all over the United States. Which brings me back to Old Navy.

Here’s the story. Old Navy printed sports t-shirts with the saying “Lets go” across the top.

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Stare at the phrase “Lets go” long and hard. There should be an apostrophe after the “t” because it’s a contraction of” let us go,” right?

Right. (See? You did pay close attention in Sister Clare’s English class. Oh, wait, that was me.)

But it gets better. This grammar goof was on T-shirts for … wait for it … colleges throughout the United States. Resulting in a green and yellow T-shirt that reads “Lets go Ducks” for the University of Oregon, or a scarlet and grey T-shirt that reads “Lets go Buckeyes” for The Ohio State University.

As an Ohio native, that last one particularly stings.

(Never mind that there should also be a comma after go, because "Ducks and Buckeyes" are being addressed, just as "Gerald" is in the sentence, "Go get 'em, Gerald." So, it should be "Let's go, Buckeyes"- instead of "Let's go rowing.")

Yes, Old Navy, let’s celebrate colleges by misspelling words on T-shirts promoting those bastions of higher learning.

I get the random mistake here and there, and I’ve even been guilty of them on a fairly regular basis (see umbrage above). But how did this error get all through the ranks of editors to finally reach the print shop and slip by unnoticed?

Have we completely abandoned our apostrophe rules?

Sadly, this error isn’t limited to Old Navy. Over the last few weeks, I’ve driven by a sign in front of a credit union that advertises “Low APR rates for boats, ATV’s and RV’s.”

Boats is a plural noun, therefore no apostrophe is needed, so well done there.
But then someone went all crazy with apostrophes for the ATVs and RVs when they don’t need one at all. The only time an apostrophe is necessary is if you’re talking about RV as a possessive noun, as in “I particularly like the RV’s fuchsia shag carpet.”

When I point out these errors to the people responsible (um, yes, I do that – overly obnoxious?), the response is often the same: “It just looks better that way.”

Sigh.

Back in the ‘80s someone thought leg warmers with high heels looked good. A misguided interior designer once made the grave mistake of assuming a mechanical singing fish hanging on a living room wall looked good. And the entire band of Flock of Seagulls once believed mullets were the way to go. But just because you think it, does not make it so.

Thank the Lord.

Geography has hard and fast rules. Topeka is in Kansas – period. Math also has rules. The square root of 64 is 8 – period. (Says the woman who ordered four sodas today when there were only three of us because … well, that’s how I count.)

And yes, English has rules built in, for better or for worse. Are they easy and straightforward? No. Is it easy to decide when to use “lay” versus “lie?” No. But I’m nerdy enough to have a cheat sheet on those two words tacked to the wall next to my computer because let’s face it … when you can’t count accurately and don’t know where Topeka is without looking, you have to capitalize on your strengths.

So let’s go kids (notice the apostrophe there?) and get this new school year started off well. Capitalize on your strengths, pay close attention to your teachers, and for Pete’s sake, please follow the rules.

And if you bought one of those Old Navy shirts, PLEASE return it immediately or get a red marker and insert the apostrophe. You’ll sleep better at night knowing that all is right in the grammar world once again.

Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Roseburg. When she is not out fighting grammar crimes, she can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On becoming the team manager from H-E-double goal posts

Somewhere between filling out the medical release form and measuring my nine year old for her jersey I was elected to be team manager of her traveling soccer team.

First order of business was to get Lily’s team to Portland in late August for a three-day, 400-team soccer tournament. I was told it meant finding an affordable hotel for the team to stay at. Piece of cake.

Or so I thought.

The first email from the tournament organizer (we’ll call her “Attila the Hun” for reasons which will become clear) was benign enough: “Please send us your payment for the tournament.” I forwarded it on to the appropriate person and focused on looking for hotel deals.

But wait.

That afternoon another email popped up from dear Attila, informing all team managers that this tournament is what they call a “stay to play” tournament. What does THAT mean, you might ask, and you’d be asking the very same question I was mumbling to my computer screen.

I read through the 5,000-word email to discover that it means if you’re traveling from out of town, you MUST stay at one of the hotels from the list attached in order to take part in the tournament. Whodawa?

Yep, sure enough, they had our check in hand and were telling us in no uncertain terms (5,000 characters worth of terms, no less) that we had to stay at one of the seven hotels listed or we couldn’t play in the tournament.

So my plan of finding us a screaming deal on Priceline went down the drain, and three nights in Portland was going to cost me at least double what it would have had I arranged it on my own. Let’s just say I was not very happy.

But the worst was yet to come the following day: “Fill out this form with all of your families’ names, numbers, emails, and accommodations plans. If they are not staying at a hotel, please provide us with the reason for going elsewhere.”

Are…you…serious, Attila? ‘Cause, Hun, this here is crazy talk.

The smart aleck in me wanted to put the following reasons down under the families who are staying with family or friends: “The Jones family has been on the run from the law for some time now and prefers to stay ‘mobile’ if you know what I mean.” Or “Mr. Davis has ties to a mob family in Portland and is staying at an undisclosed location. I could tell you where, but then I’d have to … well, you know.” Or “Our families will be moving from hotel to hotel and invite you to try and find us.”

Seriously, at this point I started feeling like I needed to (1) quit my job, (2) ignore my children, and (3) feed my family Tender Vittles so I could devote my time to this paperwork for the tournament.

But wait! The next day a newsletter from Attila plopped in my inbox with the hopeful title “What you don’t need to bring.”

Finally! A respite for the weary. They’re going to actually do their job and take care of stuff for us, you know, like most tournament ORGANIZERS do.

Sadly, that was not the case. I print it here verbatim (parenthesis mine). I promise you I’m not making this up.

What you don’t need to bring, from Attila:

• Bribes for the tournament director. (As if. Unless a punch in the nose is considered a “bribe” in Portland, you’re getting a whole lotta nothing from me.)
• Notarized medical releases. I think every team should have these, but that is up to you. (Of COURSE you think we should have these. And while we’re at it, I vote for blood draws and urine samples. Would you like a copy of each of our mortgages while we’re rifling through the file drawers in our basement anyways?)
• Birth certificates for your players. We pretty much go with the birth date on the player cards. It’s not our job to double check state association’s work. (One question Attila: What is YOUR job? I have yet to figure this out.)
• A bad attitude.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure my Good Attitude Ship sailed somewhere around email No. 2. If a bad attitude needs to stay at home, I fear that this team is in need of a brand spanking new team manager who is not mumbling to herself and finding twigs in her unwashed hair as she sleeps over her keyboard filling out the 145th form required to play in this tournament.

In looking for a nugget of optimism, I came across this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Mind you, Nietzsche is DEAD, however, so that didn’t do the trick.

And then I catch a glimpse of those adorable little nine-year-old girls with pigtails and soccer cleats and remember why I’m doing this and decide to just take one for the team and stop whining. We’ll see how it goes.

If I don’t write another column, you’ll know it didn’t go well.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and manages a soccer team very poorly in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bad punctuation: The slippery slope to bedlam

There’s a disturbing trend that I see now and then, and to be honest it’s making me nervous. Apparently there is a movement dedicated to eradicating certain punctuation marks forever.

The first time I heard this was when I read an article from The Telegraph. Yes, the newspaper in England. You know … the very country that is supposed to be the final word on all good grammar and etiquette, like which monstrosity of a hat to wear to a royal wedding.

The article’s title was “Apostrophes abolished by council.” Apparently, the Birmingham City Council decided to ban apostrophes because the staff members spent too much time dealing with complaints about grammar.

Blimey, Brits! What fore art thou thinking?

So let me get this straight … Because some folks have complained that your signs throughout town are grammatically incorrect, you’ve decided to get rid of the apostrophe across the board? You didn’t know if it should be St. Paul’s Square or St. Pauls’ Square, so now it’s just St Pauls Square?

As someone who is paid to make sure that apostrophes are placed correctly in everything I produce for my employer, I’m astonished that you have overlooked the job security aspect here. As long as there are people who don’t understand grammar and punctuation (I’m looking at you Birmingham City Council) I have a job. Brilliant!

But wait! John Richards, the founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society (I’m totally serious here, and yes, I’m looking into a membership), chimed in: “This is setting a terrible example. It seems retrograde, dumbing down really. All over Birmingham, and in other cities, teachers are trying to teach children correct grammar and punctuation. Now children will go around Birmingham and see utter chaos.”

Preach it John!

Seriously, if we get rid of the apostrophe, what’s next? Who needs speed limits? It’s too hard to manage it, so let’s let everyone drive whatever speed they like. Heck, let’s throw away the legal driving age altogether…it’s just too much of a bother, what with all that pesky math needed to figure out how old you are.

Yes, I think bedlam is an accurate assessment of where this primrose path will lead.
But before I blame this entirely on the Brits, I have to point out a glaring example right here in our backyard. The other day I drove past a sign hanging from the side of our local Sears store. It read:

we beat
all competitors
tire prices

Okay, first let me point out the obvious total disregard for capitalization. But I can overlook that. Maybe this employee was a huge fan of e.e. cummings and was making this banner in homage to the great poet known for his disregard for capitalization and punctuation.

And I’m not even bothered that the sentence has no end punctuation. Okay, so I’m not OVERLY bothered.

But the total lack of apostrophe after the “s” in “competitors” made me want to scream loudly enough for them to hear me in Birmingham, England.

Without the apostrophe what do we have? Bedlam.

If it’s incorrectly positioned before the “s” as in “We beat our competitor’s tire prices” that would mean they only have one competitor.

But since they have multiple competitors the apostrophe goes after the “s” as in “We beat our competitors’ tire prices.”

Now without an apostrophe at all, it looks like they’re a bunch of thugs who literally attack their competitors, as my friend Kasia so astutely pointed out.
Bottom line: The whole sign is a mess. And the meaning is, at best, confusing.
Are there worse problems in the world? Yes.

Are there bigger fish to fry? Absolutely.

But we each have our battles to fight, and for whatever reason, I’ve chosen to take on bad grammar and punctuation.

So I say to you, Birmingham City Council and your ilk, bring it on. You may try to terrorize us with your total disregard for grammar and punctuation, but as long as I have breath and a big red marker you’ll not prevail. (Please note the apostrophe in “you’ll.” See how it’s done?)

eileen burmeister lives, works and carries a big, red marker in roseburg. she can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com. (See? Bedlam.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Runaway imagination heads up mountain instead of molehill

As long as I can remember, I’ve been the proud owner of an overactive imagination. While at first blush this seems like it would be a blessing, it can also be a curse.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that my imagination has served me well over the years as a writer, but its dark side comes out every now and then with bewildering results.

You’ve heard the saying “Making a mountain out of a molehill?” Well the same is true for me when it comes to health issues … a cough can turn into an untreatable case of tuberculosis in my mind in no time at all.

This brings me to last Wednesday. I started the day thinking to myself, “Look, I got a mosquito bite last night. Wow it’s itchy.” But sadly, that is not where that thought ended.

Wednesday 7 a.m.: Woke up to an itchy forearm and a red swollen dot. Ah, yes … sat out well into the evening with the family on the patio last night. Note to self: Must put some sort of ointment on it to make the itching go away.

Wednesday Noon: Wow, this thing is really itchy and … if I’m not mistaken … yes, I have two of them. Hmmm…I don’t believe mosquito bites spread nor duplicate, so it must be something else. But what?

Thursday 2 a.m.: Thanks to Google Images, I am afraid to fall asleep. I conducted an in-depth investigative search for the last two hours on scabies, flea bites and ticks. The pictures were horrifying, especially the magnified photos of these actual bugs that invade the skin, sometimes completely moving in not unlike a freeloading relative or similar. Our cat Sabrina, who was sleeping soundly next to me, was swiftly ejected from the bed and room altogether as I’m sure this is all her doing and she’s using us as her “host family” for all kinds of invisible bugs. Sure, she’s cute, but I’ve seen the bugs that are capable of living on her and they are most decidedly NOT. Note to self: Must wash sheets in extremely hot water first thing tomorrow.

Friday 7 a.m.: Gaaaaaa! Dots have spread all over my forearm and are bubbling up and oozing. This is a first. I’ve never had that happen before with a mosquito bite. So in Hugh-Laurie-as-Dr. House fashion I am crossing that off my list of “possible diagnoses.”

This brings us to scabies. I believe that is what sailors used to get on ships, right? Because they didn’t eat enough vegetables or some such. Or is that scurvy? Either way, I haven’t been on the open seas anytime lately, so that one’s off the list as well.

Friday 5 p.m.: Complained to my husband that the itching was becoming unbearable. “What IS IT?” I yelled across the table at him as I thrust my arm under his nose.

He thought for a few moments then said, “I heard they’ve seen quite a resurgence of E-bola virus at Mercy lately. Maybe it’s that.”

“SERIOUSLY?” I asked, wide-eyed.

“No,” he said, grinning.

He can be quite unsupportive sometimes.

Sunday Noon: Had lunch with another couple after church. He’s an OB/GYN so when he sat down to join us I thrust my arm across the table and said, “What is this, scabies?” He shook his head no. “Flea bites?” “No,” he said. “They don’t’ usually swell up like that. I think it’s poison oak.”

Oh my. Anything with “poison” in the title can’t be good, right? Let me think: I had been weeding just days earlier. And we had gone on a hike up Table Rock Mountain last weekend. This guy may know his stuff after all, I thought. (Note to self: Must hire gardener and lawn service as I am clearly developing a severe reaction to poison oak.)

My husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Here comes the waitress to take our order. Maybe you can show HER your arm and see what she thinks.”

It’s official: My husband’s mocking me.

Monday Noon. In showing my arm to co-workers at work (I can be quite persistent) one savior of a woman said, “Yes, that’s poison oak and I have the stuff you need at my desk. Come by.”

Let’s just say, I am a huge fan of Cal-Dry and a certain co-worker (you know who you are) and am now itch-free.

But just knowing it could have been worse makes me nervous and unsettled. I can’t help it.

If I could just use this nervous energy toward good I could light a whole city. Or write a few novels. Or make a mountain out of a mole hill. I just never know which way it’ll go.

Speaking of mole hills, I’ve had this really weird-looking mole on my leg…

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and obsesses over skin eruptions in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Signs you might be turning forty-something-or-other

As I write this, I am quickly approaching my forty-something-or-other birthday. The more I think about what I want for my birthday, the more I have to be honest and say I’d really just love a nap. That, my friends, is a sure sign you have reached the top of the proverbial “hill” and are rapidly beginning your descent on the other side.

I know I should care, but frankly I’m just too tired.

And where would caring get me anyways? No matter how much I kick and scream, it’s really no use. Age catches up to me whether I like it or not. As the ever-philosophical Dolly Parton once said in “Steel Magnolias:” “Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin' across your face.”

Preach it sister.

Sure, there are the physical signs that give away the fact that I’m aging, but they don’t bother me half as much as the other signs.

The following are grim realities that attest to the fact that I am forty-something-or-other:

• I can’t hear anything my kids say from the back seat of the car anymore. When did this happen? What?

• My favorite songs from the ‘80s are now being played on “oldies” stations. These are songs that encapsulated the angst of my teenage years, songs that I played at decibels that only teenagers and dogs could hear. (Now that I think about it, there may be a link between this bullet point and the one preceding it.)

• I can’t see anything more than one foot from me. My friends told me, “Oh, wait until you hit 43 … overnight you’ll lose the ability to focus on anything.” Stupid friends. I need some new friends. The problem is that in a room full of people, I can’t make out if these people are my old friends or potentially new friends because I can’t see them from across the room.

• When deciding between going to a matinee and taking a nap, it’s really no contest.

• I don’t understand Lady Gaga. At all. In fact, she scares me a little bit.

• I find myself needing to reign myself in before blurting out the following phrases at kids these days: (1) Get out of my yard! (2) Pull up your pants! (3) Slow down! (4) Take those things out of your ears!

• I use phrases like “kids these days” (see above).

I have to admit, it’s refreshing to see folks my parents’ age reach a place where they don’t reign themselves in anymore – they just let it fly. My personal theory is that they simply don’t care, which must be freeing to those of us “youngsters” who still put a lot of stock in how we appear to those around us.

Here’s one of my favorite stories that illustrates this point. My friend’s son was flying to Oregon to visit his parents. An older gentleman was sitting next to him on the plane. Her son put his ear buds in and settled back to listen to music for the trip. The older gentleman had questions, however, such as “How do I tilt this chair back?” So instead of tapping the young man on the shoulder, he reached up, yanked the ear buds out and shouted the question at him.

I think it’s safe to say this gentleman’s reigning-himself-in train has left the station.

Okay, so I’m not quite there yet, but I can tell I’m getting closer. Sure, this year’s birthday is sure to include eye exams, hearing tests and a new package of ear plugs, but it also will include (fingers crossed) many blissful naps.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and listens to oldies ‘80s music (at a much lower volume than before) in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Poor Woman's Wine Tour

I have loads of hoity-toity friends who do some pretty swanky stuff. It’s not uncommon to hear that they’re off to a dinner at the Camas Room, or jetting off to Italy to go to a spa, or taking a wine tour through Napa Valley. And they never ask me to join them.

Not that I’m bitter. I mean, I’m capable of making my own fun wherever I go. In fact, when I was not invited to join a friend’s book club I thought to myself, “To heck with them, I’ll start my own book club and we’ll read books like ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ while they read Proust or Hugo or some other totally incomprehensible Frenchman.”

So I started the book club with a friend and we’ve been meeting for over five years now. And we’ve even worked our way up to a few incomprehensible Frenchmen, so there.

So when I wasn’t invited to tag along on a wine tour, I decided to organize my own. One problem, however: I don’t drink wine.

But I am addicted to Diet Pepsi. And I loved the idea of traveling with good friends, drinking our favorite beverage with a tour map in our hands, finding our way to the best places in town for on-tap soda. Once I had reviewed the wine-country movie “Sideways,” I figured I was good to go.

Gas prices being what they are, we decided to stay in the greater Roseburg area, seeing which local fountain offered the best on-tap D.P. (D.P. is the street name – cool people know this).

Next I asked myself “Who should I invite?” So I grabbed my friends Kathi and Julie, two of my favorite drinking buddies, and Julie’s friend Sharon visiting from San Francisco. Sharon doesn’t drink soda or eat sugar (I secretly hate Sharon for this), but she was willing to be the clean, objective palate on board. Plus, she doubled as our designated driver just in case we got carried away during our D.P. bender.

We created an ad hoc rating system. The place of business was rated for ambiance, background music (cause D.P. always tastes better with great ‘80s music), cleanliness and accessibility. We rated the D.P. on carbonation-to-syrup ratio, temperature and full-bodied taste (or lack thereof). Oh, and I had heard that many wine tours offer refreshments along the way, so I picked up a jumbo bag of Twizzlers to offer to my D.P. tour attendees.

Our first stop was a drive-up window on Garden Valley. The first thing we detected was a strong ammonia smell wafting out the window, though the first sip made me forget the smell. Everyone agreed — this soda stop offered the true flavor of D.P.

Next we headed down Garden Valley and turned on Stephens to another mart. This store doesn’t provide a drive-thru window (subtract 5 points), played country music overhead (down another 10 points), and the man in front of me in line had handcuffs hanging out of his back pocket (loss of 15 points). Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m on a mission for D.P. I like to (1) stay in my car, (2) listen to my own music, and (3) not fear for my life. Plus the Diet Pepsi had a little Dr. Pepper added in. This is never good.

We headed down Stephens and took a left at Diamond Lake Boulevard. Again, the store required me to walk in, THEN (adding insult to injury) made me pay for my drink before I could even get a cup and head to the fountain. Sure, they were playing The Cars overhead (add 10 points), but the fried food mingled with the D.P. (and my clothes) and ruined the taste for everyone.

Next, we drove through downtown, crossed the bridge and got on Harvard. This place had a drive-thru window, KISS FM overhead (we asked) and friendly service (add 10 points for each). The ice-to-soda ratio was perfect, the taste was full-bodied, the bouquet was magnificent and we all agreed – hands down — T-Mart reigns as the best on-tap D.P. in town.

Now that that’s been decided I’m trying to figure out what we’re going to do for our poor-woman’s spa week in Italy. Of course, none of us can afford a trip to Italy, so I may call the Holiday Inn. I think they have a hot tub.

When she’s not busy terrorizing the greater Roseburg area on one of her storied Diet Pepsi benders, Eileen Burmeister is a mild-mannered corporate communicator by day, columnist by night, and a D.P. drinker 24/7.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be drivers

Life used to be so easy as a parent. The days were pretty much the same: Wake up, feed the baby oatmeal, give the baby a bottle, and put him in the playpen to play for 30 minutes to play. Contained. Surrounded on four sides by protective netting.

Today, the playpen is long gone, and in its place, some misguided government employee at the DMV decided to give my six-foot “baby” a learner’s permit. To drive. Uncontained. Without protective netting.

Actually, Nathaniel is a very good driver, and always has been. By that, I mean he used to navigate his battery-operated Jeep around the ‘hood with both hands on the wheel. And when his little friend Chase got behind the wheel and started driving all crazy-like, five-year-old Nathaniel yelled, “Both hands on the wheel and look forward!”

But there’s always the unexpected situation waiting around the corner. And these are the situations that make me a tad uneasy when I see my baby/toddler/teenager get behind a hunk of steel with the madcap intention of propelling it forward upward 65 miles per hour. Seriously, whose idea was this?

Someone remind me: What exactly was so bad with the whole horse and buggy mode of transportation?

There was one thing my mom did growing up that I swore I would never do - the protective straight-arm-into-the-chest maneuver. You know the one … you’re driving down the road, the light turns yellow and your mom decides to stop suddenly but not before throwing her iron fist of mother-bear strength into your chest, as if she, not the industrial-strength seatbelt, is the only thing that’s going to keep you out of harm’s way.

Yeah, I promised I would never do that, and broke that promise in the passenger seat with Nathaniel driving. He wasn’t slowing down quickly enough for my comfort level, rapidly approaching the stopped car in front of us, so I reached out and did what mothers have been doing for decades – I straight armed him in the chest. In retrospect, there is probably a better method of communicating STOP NOW, but I fell back on instinct in that second, and he was left rubbing the bruised area of his torso and looking at me as if my hair was on fire. Bottom line: He stopped.

Maybe my mom did know what she was doing after all.

A few days later, Nathaniel was at the wheel while we drove his sister to soccer practice. As we passed our neighbor Gretchen, Nathaniel decided to wave, and simultaneously drove up on the curb of the sidewalk next to the road. When I screamed, he reasoned, “Well it would be rude not to wave at our neighbor, right?”

Nicely played, young man. Throwing the good manners card was masterful.

I enjoy our times in the car, winding our way through the Umpqua Valley’s country roads. We talk and I heap my driving wisdom on him (they’re brief conversations, mostly). Here’s one such conversation:

Nathaniel: Mom, did you ever hit a bird when you were driving?

Me: No, I don’t think I did, but I think I may have hit a squirrel once. Or maybe that was your dad.

Nathaniel: You hit DAD?!?

Good thing comprehension isn’t on his maneuverability test.

So now he starts driver’s education for the summer, and someone else gets to take over the role of training my child to become a safe and responsible driver.

I just hope that person has a strong arm and instincts like this mama bear.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Annual spring cleaning offers up a lesson in futility

I’m not a big fan of spring cleaning. In fact, until we moved into our current house in 1998, I had a very simple approach to spring cleaning … it was called “moving.” In the first six years of our marriage, we lived in seven different apartments, and each of them had a one-year lease. The choice was either signing a new lease or moving entirely. My choice was clear.

If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice that we lived in seven apartments in six years. One of those moves occurred as a result of a rodent who crawled between the wall boards of our apartment and decided to curl up and meet his furry maker. This, of course, was when I was pregnant; a time when a woman’s olfactory senses are sharper than a hound dog’s, which is lovely. The end result is that we had to rent a van and move our belongings across downtown Denver on the day … wait for it … that I went into labor. True story.

Fast forward to 1998 when we bought our home in Roseburg: We lived in it for a good three years or so before the thought even occurred that I might want to give it a good once-over, from ceilings to floors. I believe it was the crusty sippy cup still partially filled with milk that I discovered under a chair that pushed me over the edge (see dead rodent smell above for an idea of what that smelled like).

I approached spring cleaning with an overwhelming sense of dread, but was surprised to find how exhilarating cleaning out closets, cabinets and cupboards can be, especially when it comes to re-organizing everything. Have you ever noticed how much control you can experience through organization?

Well I’m here to burst that bubble of illusion, because as long as I share my newly-organized living space with others, namely my husband and children, I have very little control.

Sure we like to defend ourselves by saying that we are busy LIVING life and not wasting our time making sure everything has its place and all corners are clean.
But really, who are we kidding? We’re a mess.

Exhibit A: The hall closet: Last year at spring cleaning time I bought those plastic drawer organizers and neatly labeled each drawer with the following stickers “ponytails,” “headbands,” “hair clips,” “sewing stuff” and “first aid.” It was beautiful, marvelous, and even my husband was wowed by my organizational prowess. One year later, I was horrified to find spools of thread in the ponytail drawer, Band-Aids with one sticker on and one sticker off in the sewing drawer, and a used paper towel shoved willy-nilly in the first aid drawer. Only one of the following statements can be true: (1) my organizational plan was flawed, (2) aliens had invaded our closet, or (3) my beloved family members had suddenly become illiterate and unable to locate a trash basket. Each of these possibilities were troubling in and of themselves.

Exhibit B: The “extras” drawer in the bathroom. This is the area where I keep all of the freebies from hotels and gift bag purchases from makeup counters. The freebies from hotels are becoming ridiculous, making me wonder if I’ll be one of those women they feature on the reality show “Hoarders” who lives with 33 cats and has a living room filled floor to ceiling miniature-sized shampoo bottles. The makeup extras are equally absurd. I ask you, when will I wear coral lipstick? Better question: Why don’t I just throw it away? And before you encourage me to recycle it by giving it away, I say “NO ONE should ever wear coral lipstick and out of solidarity for women everywhere I will throw it away.” Marketing representatives at Elizabeth Arden, do you hear me?

Exhibit C: Front hall closet. I have coats shoved toward the back that haven’t seen the light of day for quite some time. Just last week I grabbed one of my older raincoats from the back of the closet and threw it on. As I reached inside the pocket of the coat I felt something soft and fluffy only to discover it was an unused diaper. An important point of reference here is that our youngest child is now NINE.

As I re-read these exhibits in the harsh light of day, I find that I have one of three choices: (1) burn the house down and start over with a new set of organizational drawers, (2) get rid of my family, and visit them at their own hovels, or (3) get over it and control what I can.

Insurance could get messy with No. 1, I kind of like my family so No. 2 is out, which means I’m left with No. 3: get over it and control what I can.
This, I’m finding, is less than I ever imagined.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and futilely organizes her house in Roseburg each spring. At print time, she still only has one cat, but would be happy to share her mini shampoo bottles, which are innumerable. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Successful travel packing may require leaving your husband at home

I know I’m not alone when I say that the most stressful part of traveling is the packing. And if I’m alone, please don’t tell me. Denial loves company.

I lose more sleep over whether or not I’ve packed the toothpaste than I do over (1) potential terrorist activity, (2) getting through TSA checks with my dignity intact, or (3) an accidental re-route to San Quentin when my desired destination was San Diego.

My husband simply does not get this. His philosophy is “Everything will be fine. And if you forget something you can just pick one up where at our destination.”

Our recent trip to Arizona was nothing new. As we woke up at 3 a.m. in order to catch our 5:20 a.m. flight out of Eugene, I had already been awake for an hour, wide-eyed with worry over whether or not I had actually packed my flat iron for my hair, contact solution, conditioner and dental floss.

Craig on the other hand had thrown a few things in his suitcase, zipped it up and called it good.

Men.

But once I had ticked off every last-minute item on my “Check these off before you leave” list, I was ready to go. And after a must-go-to-my-happy-place “scan” through the full-body scanner with the friendly TSA agent (don’t ask … entire article altogether) we were on our way to Phoenix.

But of course I can’t stop with one travel idiosyncrasy when there are so many more to choose from. No, the other lovely habit I have is to unpack everything once I reach the hotel before I can officially relax. By so doing, I can assure myself that all of the items I had checked off my list did indeed make it to the destination instead of being spirited away by a baggage handler. (It could happen … I have very fancy designer conditioner.)

But bully for me I had everything I started with, and nothing was missing. With that, I grabbed a book and parked myself poolside for the duration.

That night, I went to take my contact out and realized I had forgotten to bring the contact holder in which I keep my contact soaking in solution overnight. (Yes, I only wear one contact. Think of me as the Colonel Klink of the contact world.)

Before panic set in I breathed deeply and said, “Okay, Eileen. Improvise. Everything will be fine.” I grabbed a hotel cup, filled the bottom with solution and plopped the contact in there. I then took a ponytail holder and wrapped it around the cup as a way of setting it apart.

Next morning, Craig was already up and out the door before I woke up. As I started to get ready for the day I realized in horror that my contact cup was missing and there was a carton of orange juice suspiciously close to the missing cup. Which meant one of two things: Either (1) Craig had drank my contact with his O.J. (serves him right), or (2) he had seen the cup, tossed the contents down the drain, and poured himself a cup of O.J.

Never mind that there were three other perfectly clean and usable cups nearby. And I believe I already mentioned that my cup had a ponytail holder around it, which is the universal sign for “This is a special cup – stay out!”

Men.

So there I was, unable to see, and unable to “…just pick one up at our destination.” Somehow “Make sure Craig doesn’t drink my contact” never made it onto any of my checklists, but you can bet your sweet bippy it is now.

While I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend five glorious days in the sunshine after suffering through the deluge we call “spring” here in Roseburg, I am not quite clear on what happened on the trip past day 1.

I do know that we toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin House in Scottsdale on day 2. At least I think it was his house.

Then again it could have been a Waffle House.

Either way it was warm, and that was all that mattered to this blind bat.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and makes lists in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Just keep that nylon dress away from the candelabra

When I was a child, my mother used to utter a phrase that always left me speechless - “…in this damn age.”

She’d say it at the oddest times - instances where, in my opinion, swearing wasn’t called for at all. For example, she’d drop this bomb: “You’d think that in this damn age we could cook a turkey and rolls in the oven simultaneously.”

See what I mean? I was confused. Why all the cussing over a turkey and rolls? Shouldn’t you reserve cussing for truly enraging instances, like dropping the cooked turkey on the floor?

Years later, as a college English major, I was reading a book that included the phrase “in this day and age” and I got it. In the middle of class I started laughing out loud because of the relief of discovering that my mom didn’t have the mouth of a sailor after all.

There’s actually a term for these mishearings or misinterpretations of a phrase. That word is “mondegreen,” and it’s most commonly used in reference to a line in a poem or a lyric in a song.

Sadly for me, my mondegreens didn’t end that day on the college campus. They have followed me into adulthood, and sadly, I seemed to have passed that particular gene down to my children as well.

One Christmas Lily asked if we could go see the vegetable of light. It took me a few minutes to realize she was referring to the annual Festival of Lights holiday drive-through here in Roseburg. So, yeah, she had inherited the old mondegreen from yours truly.

When Nathaniel was in 5th grade, I was driving him to school and we were singing along to the radio. I listened as he sang the following lyrics to “Miss American Pie:"

So Bye, bye Miss American pie
Drove a machete through Neddy
But Neddy was dry.

I’m fairly certain that Don McLean never meant that song to be so violent.

Sadly, I have a history of getting lyrics wrong as well, going back to the late ‘80s when I thought Bruce Hornsby was singing “Listen to the metal in the rain” when it was actually “Listen to the mandolin rain.” My soon-to-be husband at the time ever-so-gently pointed out my error by pointing at me and laughing uncontrollably when he heard me singing “my” lyrics to the song. Yeah, he’s sweet that way.

In one second, a song that used to be about acid rain was suddenly a lilting melody about musical rain. So do I believe that one word wrong can make a difference? Yes. Yes I do.

But I’m not alone.

Take my friend Allison. She loved Billy Squier in the ‘80s and no song more than “My Kinda Lover,” but the accompanying lyrics made little sense to her, especially because she thought the song was called “My Candelabra.” Maybe a tribute to Liberace? It could have happened, right?

Allison’s husband Paul was no better. Madonna’s smash hit “Dress You Up in My Love” was playing on the radio waves and poor confused Paul was singing “Dress You Up in Nylon.” Big mistake.

And perhaps my favorite example is my friend Laura’s mom, who misunderstood Billy Joel, but sang along nonetheless:
You made the rice
I made the gravy

Of course, it was “You may be right, I may be crazy,” which makes a lot more sense when the following lyric is “and it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” Somehow I don’t think of making rice and gravy as a madcap adventure, but who am I to judge?

After all, in this damn age you may be right … I may be crazy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oxford English Dictionary, OMG! Wassup with these new entries?

The venerable lexicon has betrayed word-lovers everywhere, as well as its hallowed heritage, IMHO.

A few months ago I went on a little rant about how silly it was that the New Oxford American Dictionary was adding words like “BFF,” “zombie bank” and “nom nom” to its definitions. But really, it was the American version, the same country that produced the all-you-can-eat buffet, ’80s hair band Poison and Charlie Sheen, so it’s not as though I had high expectations from the start.

But England? I expect way more from the country that was home to my beloved Jane Austen and still has the Queen Mum and residents with the loveliest accents ever. (Admit it Americans: They could be speaking utter rubbish and still sound smarter than we do.)

So when the Oxford English Dictionary, the most authoritative lexicon anywhere, recently announced the new additions to its good book, I was a bit gobsmacked.

The first new entry that caught my attention: OMG! the abbreviated phrase for “Oh, my God!” They explain the addition by writing that online “initialisms” are quicker to type, giving those texters and tweeters even more time to text and tweet meaningless things to one another.

Keep in mind that the exclamation point is part of the package…so OMG alone didn’t make the cut, but OMG! pressed its way to the head of the line.

Another new initialism added to the hallowed book is IMHO, which stands for “in my humble opinion.” Problem is the same generation that uses these words is anything but humble. These are the kids who have been told by everyone from their mother to Cookie Monster that they are the most special person out there (do the math—not possible). This makes them deluded enough to think it’s important for their “audience” to keep up with their earth-shattering tweets, which consist of “I am at the vet with FuFu,” “Sad day for me ” or “Stomach flu—never good.”

Really, it’s not a matter of humility as much as it is just TMI. (TMI= “too much information,” incidentally; it’s also been added to the dictionary. Don’t get me started.)

Another new word? “Ego-surfing,” defined as the practice of searching for your own name on the Internet. (Please see section on “humility,” above.)

Perhaps the epitome of sloth (or brevity, depending on how you look at it) is the inclusion of the symbol ♥ to the dictionary. It’s a verb, by the way. The last time I checked, I thought each entry had to be a word, but now even Prince has a shot at getting his symbol in, the one that stands for “The artist formerly known as Prince.” All bets are off at this point.

This rant would not be complete without the most cringe-inducing entry: wassup, a corruption of the phrase “What’s up?”

I have no words…

I’m just certain that somewhere in England, Jane Austen is weeping in her grave (whilst playing the pianoforte, of course).

Hey, England! Wassup with this new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary? Let’s cut a deal: You can have Charlie Sheen. We want our dictionary back.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and rants about language in Roseburg, Ore. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When the wind beneath your wings deposits you in a three-star hotel

When we first moved to Roseburg 14 years ago, everyone told us how it had the lowest wind velocity in the United States. But after Sunday's storm, all I had to do was step outside and behold the huge oak tree precariously leaning against our crushed roofline and chimney to say, “Lowest wind velocity, my eye.”

The tree right outside of our bedroom window decided to give up the ghost while we were at the library for a piano recital. The piano recital was spectacular in and of itself, with the lights going off five or six times. True to form, however, the students played right through, the darkness only adding to the drama of their pieces. During one particularly “stormy” piano selection, there were lightning, thunder and branches flying past the window behind the piano. I kept waiting for Toto to fly by.

After the recital, we wove our way around branches and debris on the roads to come home and discover that our oak tree had pulled up its roots and decided to go in search of greener pastures. These apparently were found on top of our house, our chimney and the closets on the first floor. As I write this, the tree is propped against our crushed roof right over our bedroom, and incidentally, my side of the bed. I'm trying not to take that personally.

Back at Christmas the same tree dropped an entire branch right over our room in the middle of the night. When it came crashing overhead Craig woke up and asked, “Was that the cat?”

But that was nothing compared to Sunday's storm. After the tree cutter-downer guy (I'm pretty sure that's his technical term), a friend in construction, the KPIC news crew and firemen left our premises, we piled into the car and headed over to the Holiday Inn Express. When we checked in, we were informed that we were the third person with a tree on the house. I'm thinking we need to start a club.

“Hi. My name is Eileen, and I have a tree in my roof.”

“Hi, Eileen.”

We got in the car to go find somewhere to have dinner and passed restaurant after restaurant closed due to power outages. However, our luck finally struck when we saw a big red apple gleaming through the darkening sky as we drove toward Applebee's.

The hostess met us at the door and said, “Welcome. I just need to tell you that we lost power and sent our staff home, and now that it's back on we only have half of our staff as usual. You'll get your food, but it may not be as quickly as you'd like.”

I smiled and said, “Look, we have a tree in our roof, so pretty much anything you can offer us is uphill from that.”

There were a few silver linings in the mess. A volleyball that had been trapped up in a tree was blown down during the storm. And our 15-year-old son was thrilled that he doesn't have as many leaves to rake next fall. So we've got that going for us.

Saturday evening I was bemoaning the fact that I didn't have a good topic for this weekend's column to my friend Jennifer. Shortly after she heard of our situation she sent me a message that read, “You did say you needed a column idea … ”

She's a funny one, that Jennifer.

Our 9-year-old daughter, Lily, took in the hotel and said, “I think this is at least a three- or four-star place. Can I go swimming now?” So she was handling the upheaval rather well.

As the night wound down, I looked at Craig and said, “If I had to be displaced, there's no one I'd rather be displaced with.”

And with that, we hunkered down for a night of rest with the wind still blowing outside … me and my favorite three people in the world … an island in the storm.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and has a tree in her roof in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I just despise the AP Stylebook

In his own private axis of evil, Tom Curley is slowly trying to drive me mad. What? You’ve never heard of Tommy?

Trust me, you have. In fact, you probably use his book regularly if you’re a writer. That’s because he is the CEO, president and chief villain of The Associated Press, publishers of The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.

Being an English major, I never really had a need for an AP Stylebook until I landed a gig in a communications department.

Suddenly, stupid and seemingly meaningless rules started being spewed at me by a legalistic editor whom I’ll call Eva Braun. Eva was disgusted that I had actually earned a degree without knowing this stuff. I reminded Eva that I have other plans, like writing a novel, or a screenplay or a blurb in the Laughter is the Best Medicine section of The Reader’s Digest, and that this writing job is just a steppingstone on my garden path of life.

Fourteen years later, I’m still here, and although Eva is gone, I now have a well-worn copy of my own personal AP Stylebook. Not worn from use, however, but from the way I drop kick it across my office when it pisses me off.

Take this ridiculous rule, for example. “Spell out numbers less than 10, and use Arabic numbers for numbers 10 and above.” This rule results in sentences that look like this:

When we hired the 24 new employees, who knew that six would embezzle funds, 10 would arrive for work with electronic monitoring anklets and four would test positive for steroids?

Now I ask you, is this kind of mishmash necessary? I mean, how did the AP Stylebook people come up with this rule? I picture a bunch of them, way back when, at a pub, scribbling out the rules, and one slurs, “Let’s see how many shots it takes for Bitty to fall out of her chair, and that’s where the cutoff will be.” Bitty, a good sport and a hearty gal, doesn’t tumble until her ninth shot, hence the rule.

Then there are the caveats. “Yes,” the manual continues, “do spell out those numbers except in the following cases: addresses, ages, cents, dollars, dates, dimensions, highways, millions and/or billions, percentages, proportions, speed, temperature and times.” Honestly, who can keep it all straight?

Call me paranoid, but I know who can keep it all straight … the little arrogant pinheads at The Associated Press Stylebook publishing house. And they keep pumping out these new editions to keep us abreast of earth-shattering additions, like “Finland,” “Rolodex” and “jihad.” Oh, where would we be without you, AP Jedi masters?

Perhaps the most ominous sentence is in the foreword, where the CEO writes, “Part of the Stylebook’s mission is to sort out right from wrong.”

OK, so we have a lot of justice-hungry lawyer wannabes who couldn’t score high enough on their LSATs, so they decided to go into communications, and their great Uncle Olaf is the publisher of a small-town newspaper with a desk just waiting for them. Voila! A newspaper reporter is born. Got it. I want out as quickly as possible. Keep an eye out for my name in The Reader’s Digest.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

In quest to mark Grammar Day, words don't fail them

A whimsical foray into the creation of the most majestically sublime press release a gaggle of lexicographers ever perpetrated.

In the corporate offices of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, President W. Wordsworth Webster is gathering his workers into the boardroom for an important meeting. Topic: National Grammar Day. Webster wears a pair of khaki pants and a T-shirt that reads, “To infinitives, and beyond!”

“OK, folks, it’s almost National Grammar Day, and seeing that we are the go-to book for logophiles, I think the first thing we need to do is send out a press release stating that we will be celebrating on Friday, March 4. I want this press release to be a collaborative process. Thoughts?”

“I, for one, think the press release needs to be clear, concise, well-written and reflective of the abject seriousness of what we do here,” said Angela Adjective.
Connie Conjunction broke in, “I do agree that it needs to be done, but we need to put a lot of thought into it before we go off half-cocked and make a mess of things while trying to get it done quickly. “

Ellie Ellipses began, “We do need to be the first to announce our celebration, however, seeing that …”

Silence prevailed as everyone looked toward Ellie, waiting for her to finish. As usual, however, she just drifted off.

Kurt Capital took over, “WE NEED TO BE SURE THAT ALL OF OUR CAPITALIZATION IS CORRECT. WE ARE, AFTER ALL, THE EXPERTS ON SAID SUBJECT.”

“Why are you yelling at us Kurt?” asked Marty McQuestion.

“I’M NOT YELLING. I’M JUST BEING MYSELF.”

“Besides, why are we doing this press release?” asked McQuestion. “Do we really want people to know that we exist? Are we sure we want the lower peons of the world to have our address? The very same people who can’t get ‘there,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re’ correct?”

“OK, I wasn’t going to tell you this way, but we either get on board or we’ll end up with a whole lotta downsizing,” Eugene Euphemism added, with a bang of his fist on the board room table.

“I think we need to start by naming the day ourselves, giving it a certain over-the-top moniker that will draw the proper attention,” Harry Hyperbole began, getting that dreamy, creative look in his eyes. “How about National Grammarcopolis Day? Or Grammarpalooza?

“Wait—how about Supergrammarfragilisticexpialidocious?” continued Harry Hyperbole. “It will be the most amazing day of the year.”

Ira Irony chuckled in the corner. “Wouldn’t it be amusing if the release went out, and we spelled Grammarpalooza wrong? Oh, the irony of it all.”

“We’re grinding here, people,” said Eulalie Understatement.

“Really? Ya think?” Sarah Sarcasm chimed in, rolling her eyes.

“Come on folks. We need to work together like a well-oiled machine,” said Susie Simile. “Honestly, so far, writing this press release with you yahoos is like swimming upstream without a paddle. Let’s be honest here: We don’t work well together. Each of us thinks his work is way more important than the others’. It’s like the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room.”

“Oh, I don’t ‘think’; I KNOW, my role is more important!” said Xavier Exclamation. “Think about it! Where would you be without me!?! Perish the thought! You’d be stuck sending out boring press releases with ho-hum news items. But with me you get excitement! You get to exclaim the news, not just report the news! I’m amazing!!! Did you see that? A triple exclamation point? I know! That’s how cool I am!!!”

Al Alliteration cut Xavier off: “Xavier, enough! How can’t you see that you’re haranguing is causing headaches, heartburn and horrendous hair loss?”

A.F. Acronym, MBA, Ph.D., interrupted: “Let me pull this together for you all, especially since I have more letters after my name than anyone else in this room. Ahem. What we need is a plan. Let’s find out what the AP has already picked up on this day, and get on this PDQ. I will set up a timeline ASAP with a deadline TBA. Until then, let’s just IM each other with ideas. K?”

“You know, on second thought,” Webster piped up. “I’m going to HTOOMO.”

Looks of confusion circled the table until A.F. Acronym, crestfallen, explained, “He’s going to handle this one on his own. TTFN.” With that, he left the room abruptly.

“Well! I never!” Xavier Exclamation exclaimed as he energetically exited the room.

Harry Hyperbole left the room mumbling, “But I really like Grammarpalooza.”

“Nice, boss,” Sarah Sarcasm said as she passed Webster. “REALLY nice. So glad we had this time together.”

Kurt Capital yelled, I mean said, “JUST CALL ME IF YOU NEED ME.”

Webster walked to his office, closed the door and opened a new document.

Subject: National Grammar Day

For immediate release: March 4, 2011

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary staff wishes you a very Happy National Grammar Day.

Period.

“Thank goodness for periods,” he mumbled. “I thought that would never end.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

You know you're from Roseburg when...

Now that I’ve been living in the ‘burg for a while, it’s kind of scary how used to it I’ve become. When we moved here back in 1997 the culture shock was so strong that I told my husband I would try it for a year but then we might need to move back to a big city.

Fourteen years later I love living here and don’t regret making the decision to stay, but I quickly forgot how strange this “new world” felt at first. In a lot of ways, it was not unlike moving to a different country altogether, I kid you not. It’s not that one world was better than the other, just very different, and I had a hard time acclimating.

For example, I had never heard people refer to anything with four wheels as a “rig” before I moved to Roseburg. The first time someone asked me if I was taking my rig up to the mountains I asked, “You mean my Camry?” Yep, apparently he did.

Those fish-out-of-water feelings all came back to me when I was talking to a co-worker recently. He and his family moved from the East Coast a few months ago, and he was telling me about attending his first fundraiser at his kids’ school.

“I kept noticing that there were all these people around a fenced in area watching a cow,” he said. “I asked my wife, ‘Hey, why are they all watching a cow?’ She just said, ‘Oh, it’s to raise money.’ Turned out there were numbers on the ground inside the pen, and they were waiting to see where the cow would poop to see if their number won.”

He paused a minute, then said, “At that moment I thought to myself where in the heck have we moved?”

All I could do was smile and say, “Welcome to Roseburg.”

When we first moved here, every transplanted person I met gave me the same advice: Give yourself two years and you’ll love it. So I gave him the same advice.

But those first two years are tough, and for me, I remember wondering if I’d ever feel at home.

So I decided to give my co-worker a list of things to check off. The idea is that when he and his family members answer “yes” to any of these statements, they are that much closer to becoming a full-fledged Roseburger, for better or for worse.
I wanted to complete the sentence “You know you’re from Roseburg when…” but I couldn’t do it alone. So I enlisted help from other transplanted Roseburgers (and a token native) and here’s what we came up with.

You know you’re from Roseburg when…
• Your kids think that the word “Umpqua” is a Native American term meaning “ice cream.”
• You refer to home as “the ‘burg.”
• You finally start to pronounce Oregon correctly.
• You’ve floated the river in the summer.
• You don’t even bat an eye when you find a wild turkey walking around your front yard.
• Your kids can’t wait to ride the escalators and elevators in Eugene or Portland.
• You’ve spent time climbing on the Stewart Park train.
• You’ve attended a concert at Music on the Half Shell.
• You’ve taken a tour of the Umpqua Valley wineries.
• You think that one inch of snow should result in schools being closed.
• You find yourself wearing sandals with socks and you’re okay with it.
• You purchase an item with camo print.
• It doesn’t surprise you anymore when you see a real cowboy on horseback working a ranch.
• You’ve use the term “git ‘er done” without irony.
• You say “Melrose place” in reference to a favorite hunting spot, not a TV show.
• You realize that Crater Lake is a little slice of heaven on earth.

Eileen Burmeister has settled in Roseburg where she lives, works and gives advice to co-workers whether they want it or not. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is it time to de-board the music train?

I’m not handling the aging process very well. I fight it constantly, trying to stay relevant in an ever-changing world. I fancy myself a hip mom who “gets” the humor, music and movies that our kids like, but the older I get, the more my plan of eternal hipness is unraveling. And to be honest, I’m not sure I have the energy to fight it anymore.

Take the Top Ten Albums of the Year. When the list came out at the New Year my husband said, “Do you recognize any of these artists or groups?” I looked over the list and had never heard of any of them. “Neither do I,” my husband said sadly. Keep in mind, this is the same man who followed U2 on a set of concert dates around Ohio and Michigan in the late ‘80s, got his 55-year-old Dad to listen to an entire Rush album with him in high school, and spent the night outside in a lawn chair so he could be first in line for Huey Lewis and the News tickets (not one of his prouder moments).

And me? I sang in a garage band until I had to quit because our jam sessions conflicted with volleyball practice (I had my priorities). I knew the lyrics for every song ever written by The Bangles, I got my hair cut just like Pat Benetar, and I had my very own “Born in the U.S.A.” t-shirt from the Boss’s stadium tour in 1985. Oh, I was cool all right.

So here we were, two previously hip and relevant parents, who didn’t know a single Top Ten act in 2010 and we … wait for it … couldn’t care less.

“Ah, well,” I said, handing the list back to Craig. “I’m going upstairs to take a nap.”

This whole interaction reminded me of one of my favorite Jeff Foxworthy sketches where he’s telling how his parents can still embarrass him. He explains, “Especially the way they dress. See, 'cause I have a theory. I think your parents are riding along on the fashion train, and one day they go ‘That's it, I ain't going any farther.’ True story: last year, I'm in the grocery store with my dad. He is wearing a pair of platform-heeled Dingo boots, wide flair-legged Levis that only miss the floor by ten or twelve inches, and an "Over 40 and feeling foxy" t-shirt. I'm like, ‘Dad, people are staring at you.’ And he goes, ‘Well, son, there's something about a Dingo man.’”

What I’m saying is, when it comes to music, I’ve become Jeff Foxworthy’s father.

I’m the one who’s now asking, “How can you understand what that guy’s saying when he’s singing?” Or I ask my son, “Why does he have to sound so angry all the time when he’s screaming those lyrics?” Or I scratch my head and say, “Can’t she just wear normal clothes instead of trying to dress like an extra-terrestrial on stage?”

And then I remember how confused my parents were when I had my boom box cranked up so high the paint was chipping off the walls, playing Bruce Springsteen (“How can you understand a word he says?)”, Adam Ant (“Why is he screaming and wearing girl’s makeup?”) and Madonna (“You call those clothes?”)

The apple doesn’t fall far from the musical tree. I’m just sayin…

Maybe we’re not entirely off the charts musically. In fact, my husband and our 15-year-old son are headed to Seattle this June to see U2 in concert. So we’re not hopeless, just tired.

I could fight this, I know I could. I could buy a Lady Gaga CD (or download it, however you do THAT), and listen to the lyrics and discuss them with the kids, but I simply don’t have it in me. These days, I’d take a nap over a Lady Gaga CD any time, and I’m hunky dory with that (kids, see your parents/grandparents for the definition, or you can use The Google).

I’ve spent my time on the Music Train and I ain’t going any farther. That train is now off the rails.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and plays her Bangles cassettes at extraordinarily high volumes around Roseburg, Ore. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spacing out on grammar rules

About six years ago, I had an editor from Chicago send me an email asking me to stop using two spaces after my periods when submitting my columns to his professional journal. In a “voice” dripping with superiority, I sent him a reply that said I was following the grammar rule for proper spacing after a period, which is to put two spaces, thank you very much.

He responded (smugly I might add) that no, in fact I was wrong. It turned out that somewhere between the time that I had finished college up until that very moment the rules had changed. I grabbed my copy of the Associated Press Stylebook, the bible of sorts for word geeks like myself, and looked it up. And the world as I knew it came crashing down around my keyboard.

All that I had been taught and held true was called into question. Do I still capitalize the first word in each sentence? Are double negatives now okay? Is grammar as we know it going to H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS in a handbasket? And is handbasket one word or two?

Somewhere my 9th grade English teacher Sister Clair is rolling her eyes (or in her grave, depending on her current location – I haven’t kept up with her). I envisioned grammarians running amok through the university halls, gnashing their teeth at the senselessness of it all.

But then the editor graciously pointed out that it wasn’t that big of a deal. He just wanted me to know so I could make it a little easier on him. Turns out he had been deleting spaces after every sentence I had sent him for months. Of course I made the change and have adopted the single space rule, to the point that two spaces look weird to me now. As one writer friend put it, “It looks like you could sail a boat between those two sentences.” Yeah, we tend to exaggerate a bit, but I get his point.

I have friends (mostly my age or older) who still swear by the double space rule, and really, if their livelihood doesn’t depend on it who am I to judge? But the hard, cold truth is that it really is only one space.

Exhibit A: Associated Press Stylebook is as direct and simple as possible: “Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

Exhibit B: Grammar Girl. For a writer, what’s the next-best thing to a hard and fast grammar rule? A woman who writes, blogs and creates podcasts about grammar rules, complete with a cool superhero name – Grammar Girl. I’m not sure if she wears a cape, but I like to imagine that she does. For me and my word nerd friends, she’s the bomb. And Grammar Girl’s verdict echoes the AP Stylebook: One space after a period. She goes on to say, “I know it's a hard habit to break if you were trained to use two spaces, but if you can, give one space a try.”

Exhibit C: A little background from Wikipedia: “Double space (English Spacing). This convention stems from the use of the monospaced font on typewriters. If the ribbon were too dry the visibility of the period would be reduced significantly. Adding two spaces after the period ensured that the reader would know where the end of the sentence was if the period didn’t strike properly. This historical convention was carried on by tradition until it was replaced by the single space convention in published print and digital media today.”

So, let me get this straight. It all boils down to the fact that I’m … old? And I used to write my college term papers on a typewriter? With correction tape?

Oh, I am not liking this. Not one little bit. But it doesn’t really matter what I think about it, because like this grammar rule, it is what it is. Besides, check this out. Doesn’t it look like you could sail a boat through that last space?

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and single spaces in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.