Archive for the ‘Yuckology 101’ Category


I’m Sorta Vampiric: I Want To Suck Your Blood, But Only To The Surface Of Your Skin Where It Will Leave A Bruise And Let The World Know You Are Mine

October 27, 2010

When other little girls wanted to be ballerina dancers, I kind of wanted to be a vampire.
• Angelina Jolie

I wanted to be a trapeze artist. I loved the shiny, sparkly costumes I wore for ballet and tap recitals and I remember thinking that joining the circus would be a perfect way to continue wearing such loveliness as a grownup. Even when I was small, I knew I wasn’t interested in being a ballerina—it just didn’t seem like fun—its seriousness and the patterned perfection of its movement sucked the joy out of my dancing.

I designed circuswear for myself, crayoning colorfully fanciful outfits of gossamer fabrics bedazzled with jewels. I practiced in a friend’s basement where her father had hung a trapeze from the ceiling. As I swung, head dangling, my fingers almost touched the floor and I can still remember the horror I felt one afternoon when I realized that real trapeze artists’ fingers were far from the solid safety of the circus ring. I did not like heights. I still do not. And I still wonder what I was thinking when I imagined that this was a possible career for me. I must have been blinded by the glittery gleam of sequins and rhinestones.

Some memories of childhood are vivid and easily recalled. Others are lost, but not necessarily forever. Italian poet and novelist Cesare Pavese said that the richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten. I call the things that evoke these forgotten memories evocateurs. It’s difficult to predict what will trigger recollection. Recently, it was an episode of Freaks and Geeks (currently airing on on IFC, the Independent Film Channel, and created by Paul Feig, executive produced by Judd Apatow, first airing on NBC during the 1999-2000 season) that brought back a flood of memories.

In the episode, Sam (John Francis Daley) breaks up with Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnick), the girl he’s pined over for many episodes. He’s finally become her boyfriend, but their love is not meant to be. She disdains the family heirloom necklace he’s given her (“How much did it cost?” she asks) and doesn’t find the movie he’s taken her to—The Jerk—funny at all. When she leans over in the theatre and gives him a hickey, he doesn’t know what’s happening, but he doesn’t like it. And that’s what let loose the flood of memory.

A hickey. When I was in grade school, I got a Mickey Mouse Club shirt. It was a white cotton turtleneck shirt with short sleeves, just like the one that Annette and the other Mouseketeers wore on the television show. My name was on the front and on the back was the circular MMC logo. I loved that shirt and wore it often, but I retired it when I started high school. Until the first time I got a hickey.

It was summer in southern California, much too hot to wear a high-necked sweater, and I was desperate not to go down to breakfast with my neck providing evidence of the previous night’s passion (tame passion, folks, I was the quintessentially “good girl” back then and my parents were ever vigilant for evidence otherwise). Desperately, I searched through the drawers for something to put on, rejecting scarves tied around my neck as too dressy for a day of babysitting and chores, and finally coming across my old friend. Thank goodness my mother and Aunt Mildred insisted on buying their children just about any kind of apparel in the largest size available so that we’d get plenty of wear from our you’ll-grow-into-it clothes. The extra large still fit. I pulled it on with my shorts and was saved from unpleasant inquiries. I hadn’t thought about that shirt in decades even though I’ve been immersed in memories related to my art exhibit entitled Flaming Youth and think often about adolescence for the courses I teach.

I’m currently doing a bit of vampire research for a paper and presentation I’m working on about the possibility of engaging in serious research about just about anything. This work is entitled, “Tootsie Pops and Toilet Paper, Vampires and Zombies: Reimagining Research through the Engaging and Creative Processes, Projects, and Products of The Collectory,” and another thought evoked by this F&G episode was how the process of the vampire’s bite and the hickey are similar, both marking the receiver as the property of the one who sucks the blood*. The paths of memory are twisted indeed.

Have you recalled a memory recently? If so, what triggered it? Write it down so you won’t forget. If not, spend a bit of time in the fields of remembrance and see what you find.

The existence of forgetting has never been proved. We only know that some things don’t come to mind when we want them.
• Friedrich Nietzsche

* How do you give a hickey? Put your mouth against the side of the the person’s neck as though you are going to kiss it, leaving your mouth slightly open. Then suck the skin into your mouth, causing the blood vessels to break and leaving a red somewhat circular bruise. This is a fairly speedy process. I have no explanation for how to actually suck someone’s blood from their body. You’re on your own for that one.


Happy Rabbits Farm*—Home Of Rapidly Multiplying Stacks And Shelves Of Books And The Endless Ideas They Inspire, Support, And Challenge

October 24, 2010

Note: I’m publishing this post on Zinnfull, but it can also be found as the first post at a new blog I’ve begun, “Shelf Analysis,” at

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you will have a dozen.
• John Steinbeck

Without sufficient money for a meal I have spent the few pence I possessed to obtain from a library one of Scott’s novels, and, reading it, forgot hunger and cold, and felt myself rich and happy.
• Hans Christian Andersen

I am obsessed by books. They are my greatest indulgence. I seldom go on a trip without buying books. I almost never leave a thrift store without a book or two. Deliver me from the shelves of sell-‘em-for-a-dollar-each library discards. I will take some home. I am endlessly amused, inspired, comforted, educated, delighted, confounded, transported, and overwhelmed by books.

My first collectable was a book. Most of the trouble I got into as a child can be traced to books, whether I was challenging a teacher because of something I’d read, reading the wrong book when I should have been reading something else, reading inappropriate books, or just plain reading: “You always were a little shit,” my stepfather told me not too long ago, “always your nose in a book, and always wanting a ride to the library to get more books.”

I don’t doubt that I was a little shit. I was a smartypants and a smartmouth who hadn’t learned the kinds of discretionary skills that now moderate my smartiness, although I did learn to keep quiet and keep my ideas to myself. This is not necessarily a good skill for students—or children—to develop. Be warned. If you want students of any age to read, you should probably be prepared for them to think and wonder and question. Books are dangerous that way.

In Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg (1926) wrote, “The farm boys in their evenings at Jones’s store in Gentryville talked about how Abe Lincoln was always reading, digging into books, stretching out flat on his stomach in front of the fireplace, studying till midnight and past midnight. . .The next thing Abe would be reading books between the plow handles, it seemed to them.” I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, surrounded by Lincoln lore and learned from a National Park Service brochure that some of the books Lincoln read were Parson Weems’ Life of Washington, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Robinson Crusoe, and The Arabian Nights. I wish that Lincoln had been an autobibliographer.**

An autobibliographer tracks her or his reading and revisits these tracks, following the trails that lead to self-understanding. Through “shelf analysis”—the exploration of reading preferences and avoidances—passions and interests are revealed and deeper understanding of personal intellect is possible. Researching your reading choices is one way to begin to know your own mind. As tastes change and mature—or stay the same—these attractions and repulsions continue to be revelatory. I am the same person I was when I collected my first book, and I see in its pages the origins of some of my current reading obsessions.

That first book I collected, Dante’s Inferno, a folio edition with engravings by Gustave Dore depicting the nine circles of hell, began my fascination with the grotesque and gory. Coupled with regular revisitings in Springfield newspapers about the Donner Party and their cannibalistic scandals, as well as the radio spookiness I shared regularly with my grandpa, I grew up loving Cinderella, but loving all kinds of creepy stuff more. I understand why my latest acquisitions include the following from the stacks sitting in the living room waiting to be filed, all of them for Yuckology 101: Vile and Disgusting Literacy Activities for Children of All Ages:

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum (2008). “There’s a lot of them./Enough for us to eat well,/and then keep eating.” (p. 114). Who can resist poetry celebrating the undead? Not me.

The Munsters and the Great Camera Caper by William Johnston (1965). This “Authorized Edition based on the well-known television series” is one of those dandy Whitman Publishing Company shiny-covered books celebrating schlocky TV. It’s chockfull of Munster wisdom like this from Herman, “Things are always darkest before the nightfall. I guess nothing seems as bad in the dark as it did in the daylight” (p. 205).

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler (1995). Weschler’s book celebrates the odd and wonder•full and visits David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (2007). “I get edgy near sharp knives,” Little Mouse writes, while above him, the page informs readers that aichmophobia is the fear of knives and the facing page shows a triumphant farmer’s wife on the front page of the newspaper, holding three mice tails. This participatory children’s book invites readers to record their fears on its pages.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols by Michael P. Spradlin (2009). Fair warning, “Zombie Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “He eats you when you’re sleeping;/He bites when you’re awake./He chews if you’ve been bad or good,/So just hide for goodness’ sake!” The kids will love singing these.

• And finally, I love black and white artmaking and I get inspiration paging through books of copyright-free images. Mostly this stuff is only available on the internet now and that’s just not the same as looking through books where serendipitous discoveries await. Dover Publication’s (2010) Spiders, Insects and Crustaceans is the latest addition to my collection.

Of course, I bought some cotton candy books too, but since I read five or six of these a week, they don’t really count except to reassure you that it’s not all serious stuff around here.

Consider beginning your own autobibliographical studies. Record the books or magazines or newspaper articles you read or your web searches or other literacy activities. Be sure to date everything and keep track of bibliographical data. In time, revisiting these records is bound to be interesting!

Books are becoming everything to me. If I had at this moment my choice of life I would bury myself in one of those immense libraries that we saw together at the universities, and would never pass a waking hour without a book before me.
• Lord Macaulay

* Because ideas are always blossoming at The House of Stuff, my husband and I call our home Happy Rabbits Farm, home to The Amuseum of Un-Natural History, Keep Smilin’ Music, Dr. Z’s House of Fun, and more.

** For insights into Lincoln’s reading, see Robert Bray’s (Summer 2007), What Abraham Lincoln Read: An Evaluative and Annotated List (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 28, No. 2).


Take The DollarStore Delights Toilet Paper Challenge. What Can You Do With A Package Of Toilet Paper Besides Using It For Its Original Purpose Or Blowing Your Nose Into It Or Using It To Decorate A “Friend’s” House?

July 12, 2010

My dad always told me, yesterday’s news is today’s toilet paper. • Syneca Puryear

My aunt in Knoxville would bring newspapers up, which we used for toilet paper. Before we used it, we’d look at the pictures. • Dolly Parton

Before you can use toilet paper rolls for RecycleLit activities like July Fourth’s “Ire Crackers,” you’ve got to empty them. The Real Housewives of Orange County had some grown up fun TP-ing a castmate’s home. There’s a South Park episode featuring rollish foolishness too. As the prison warden says to Officer Barbrady, “Josh Myers TP-ed over six hundred houses in less than a year. He’s a real monster.”

I’m not suggesting you indulge in such monstrous Charmin® hijinks. I’m not fond of activities that create unnecessary and unpleasant work for others. I try to avoid dununtas that I wouldn’t want dununta me. Instead, why not make some toilet paper modeling clay? This traditional indigenous folk art is a prison favorite that utilizes toilet paper, water, white glue, and cornstarch.

The following instructions are from Yuckology 101: Vile and Disgusting Activities for Children of All Ages (Dr. Z’s House of Fun–thanks to Linda Hartley for figuring out measurements!):

Provide each person who’s claymaking with a cereal bowl with a quarter cup of water, two tablespoons of white glue, and a quarter cup of cornstarch. Mix well with a finger, preferably one attached to a hand.

Give each person a long piece of toilet paper—about three yards—that hasn’t been used to blow the nose or. . . . . and have them mash their paper into a ball, then submerge it in the water.

Squish the paper over and over again in the water/glue/cornstarch mixture, working it into a ball of dough.

Squeeze the ball of TP dough hard to remove all of the excess water. If it seems too dry, add glue or water, no more than a teaspoon at a time.

Note: These instructions are only guidelines since some brands work better than others; thus the recipe may vary. Some recipes omit the cornstarch and use only paper, water, and glue. The best TP for this activity—prison paper—is not readily available to the general population. However, teachers report that school toilet paper also works well.

Shape the clay as desired, placing finished pieces on plastic wrap or foil. Flat shapes work best. Let dry for two to three days. The clay can be tinted with food coloring, but beware, since this stains if it spills and can make a mess.

You can also seal the shapes by painting them with white glue. After the glue dries, the pieces can be painted. Toilet-shaped ornaments are particularly delightful when hung from a ToiletTree, providing a festive decoration for any holiday.

Take the DollarStore Delights Toilet Paper Challenge: Think beyond its original purpose. What else can you do with a package of four rolls of toilet paper?

I’ve learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. • Andy Rooney


Daddy! There’s A Dead Rat In The Sink!!!!!!

June 12, 2010

For Sunday, June 13, 2010, when I’ll be on the train

I was never unusually squeamish. I could eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it was necessary. • Henry David Thoreau

Sorry, Hank. I am squeamish and my husband knows it. I love gross stuff, but not to nosh on and not around my food. You may remember a recent rant where I discussed the rudeness of those who share surgical shenanigans and accident hijinks within earshot while I’m trying to eat. They need to hush their mouths.

I was in the middle of my Eggs Benedict Florentine when my husband said to remind him to tell me something. We do this to each other quite often, trying to foist off the responsibility for remembering things so that if something important is forgotten, we can share the blame with a no-longer-innocent bystander.

I didn’t remember to ask when we finished our brunch and left the restaurant, but he did and told me what the little boy said to his father who was working behind the bar: “Daddy! There’s a dead rat in the sink!!!!!!” I’m glad I didn’t know about it while I was enjoying my spinach and eggs.

I am not fond of rats. Nor do I like mice. Rodents are not on my love list, although I do like Mickey Mouse even though Robin Williams reminds us that to a little kid, he’s a giant rat. Just knowing that the dead rat was somewhere nearby would have ended my meal; I’m glad I didn’t know.

I can’t stand a hair in my mouth. Just seeing one in my food is enough to make me dump the entire plate, even if it’s a great big cream puff or a freshly-stuffed chile relleno. What turns you off when you’re eating?

You can’t be friends with a squirrel. A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter coat! • Sarah Jessica Parker

The grossest thing I ever found in my food when I was eating out was a large red fake fingernail in the whipped cream of my mud pie at a Claim Jumper Restaurant in Southern California. They didn’t apologize or offer me another slice. In fact, the server acted like it wasn’t a big deal and I heard several of them laughing about it as we left. • W-OZ


Cannibals and Bloody Axes

October 31, 2009

I love gross stuff. It’s probably a good thing that I’m the mother of sons because I definitely prefer snips and snails and puppy dog tails to sugar and spice and everything nice. I don’t like pink, frilly, ruffly things. Black is my favorite color. While I am not fond of real spiders, I am a sucker for any bug- or spider-shaped pin or earrings I see. Embed a scorpion in clear acrylic and I’ll be delighted to hang it around my neck. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I am a better big sister and mom and teacher because of it. I am always ready to create celebrations and costumes no matter what time of year it is.

Some passions are persistent. Many years ago, I had to redo an elementary school project about a famous American after I chose Lizzie Borden as my subject. I decorated the cover of my carefully-researched report with a construction paper and aluminum foil ax dripping bright red crayoned blood onto the well-known jump rope rhyme about this alleged murderer:

Lizzie Borden took an ax,
Gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

My teacher was horrified and told me to choose from her list of other more appropriate people to research (mostly men and that was part of the problem). Miss Borden was only one of many childhood reading obsessions that ranged from mummifying corpses to the Aztec civilization to the alleged cannibalism of the Donner Party to piranhas and how long it took them to strip the flesh from a cow.

My next memorable encounter with educational disapproval was in college. I was a home economics major and for my nutrition course project, which included a research paper and a class presentation, I choose to explore cannibalism. I was allowed into the vaults of the public library (I was an excellent customer!) and was able to take notes from original documents that included sea captain’s logs that recounted encounters with cannibals and provided recipes for cooking people. My research was thorough and meticulous.

I found recipes and copied them onto 3×5 cards for my classmates. I researched possible calorie counts and nutritional value of human flesh. I discovered that the palms of the hands and the buttocks are said to be the tastiest tidbits, and I shared all of this while my instructor sat in the back of the room and grew visibly angrier as my presentation went on. He didn’t say anything. The class loved it, but three days later, the chair of the department called me in and said that I should choose a different major—clearly I was not serious about home economics.

I got married instead of choosing another major, had a media career, and two sons. My sons are grown now, but I still recognize Freddy Krueger and Jason and Satan Claws and all the rest because I’ve seen their movies (I won’t see any more Saw, though). From Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe to R.L. Stine and beyond, I’ve read lots of scary books too.

I’m currently a university professor who teaches language and literacy courses for K-12 pre- and in-service teachers, and I know that it isn’t just boys who are fascinated by the gross and the gory. Many girls are less finicky than cultural sugar and spice stereotypes might suggest, and also enjoy a safe scare or repellent reading. The popularity of the Harry Potter series and the current cultural obsession with vampires demonstrate that both genders enjoy beasts and goblins and other fearfully fanciful imaginings. In an interview about the bloody elements of his movie, Apocalypto, director Mel Gibson pointed out that given the choice of a story about fairies and a story about trolls who eat children, most children will pick the troll story every time.

I am not sure why I am not easily scared and why I am attracted to everything vile, gross, disgusting, and yucky. Is it because my grandpa used to let me listen to The Shadow and Inner Sanctum with him over my grandmother’s protests? Is it because I was born in Springfield, Illinois, where the Donner Party began their ill-fated cross-country trip? I still have a scrapbook with some of the articles I collected from the yearly newspaper insert that explored their alleged cannibalism. Is it because I had little brothers and sisters who needed to see that their big sister wasn’t scared? I don’t know. But I do know that my fascination continues today.

My demonstration unit for language and literacy class is called Yuckology 101: Vile and Disgusting Literacy Activities for Children of All Ages, and since it’s Halloween, I’ll leave you with a few repellent bits of information from that collection:

Hufu is tofu textured and flavored like human flesh. . .a lot of the pleasure is imagining you’re eating human flesh. . .If you really want to come as close as possible to eating human flesh, this textured soy product will do it. Originally, the idea was to market this product to anthropology students.
• Inventor of Hufu, 2006

I can’t go out the door without buying books. I collect art. I collect spherical objects. I collect postcard photographs of dead babies.
• Edward Gorey on what he collects

Slugs are things from the edges of insanity, and I am afraid of slugs and all their attributes.
• MFK Fisher (1937), Serve It Forth

In the 1860s, Thomas Edison developed a device to electrocute cockroaches.

In ancient Japan, farting contests were held with prizes awarded for loudness and duration.

I hate feet, they’re disgusting. . .what are they even for?
• Peter Andre

When locomotives were first used in Egypt in the nineteenth century, fuels like wood and coal were scarce, so the Egyptians used something they had millions of—human mummies.

The members of the Dixie Chicks occupy their time [on the road] with a game
of “Would You Rather. . .” It’s basically a round of dares: would you rather do this gross, disgusting thing, or that gross, disgusting thing?
• Rhonda Wheeler (June 24, 2005), “Getting Ready for Summer Vacation on the Road,” Medford Mail Tribune, p 1E,

I never drink water because of the disgusting things fish do in it.
• W.C. Fields

Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.
• Nicholas de Chamfort

What were you interested in as a child that still fascinates you now?

I believe implicitly that every young man [or woman] in the world is fascinated with either sharks or dinosaurs.
• Peter Benchley, author of
Jaws and other disgusting things