Tuesday, December 27, 2011

the perfect storm: disney, soccer, christmas

Not a Disney fan.  No.  Not at all.  Yet, I spent yesterday morning and afternoon hurtling down 95 at nearly that many miles per hour, heading straight for the hell mecca that is Orlando, FL.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that in a previous life, I wrote a dissertation that made frequent reference to everyone’s favorite entertainment company.  The whole ridiculous 200+ page compilation focused primarily on childhood and innocence in American Literature, but the subject of Disney came up a lot because apparently, you haven’t truly lived your innocent American childhood until you’ve experienced a Disney product, or more specifically, visited a Disney park.  That, my friends, is a piece of marketing genius that would fill me with unbridled envy if I also aspired to exploit young children for their parents’ money. 

Corporations that prey on children rank low on my list of “best places to spend my money,” and Disney leads the pack. Every Disney product is an advertisement for another Disney product.  This is true of other companies too, but Disney invented and perfected the practice.  They changed the landscape of childhood from the generic to the branded, and I object.

Why then, did I end up sitting in an interminable line of traffic that unfurled before me like a ribbon of tinfoil, glittering in the South Carolina sun as I made my way past Savannah, GA to the holy land?

I’ll tell you.  Two words almost all the more appalling than the destination itself:

Soccer tournament.

I have long stood on the soccer sidelines with a disgruntled look on my face, spouting off in my ornery way about this or that excursion we could have undertaken had the soccer establishment not demanded our time. 

I admit, however, that while I stand by my conviction that kids’ sports take too much time, I’m a little sick of myself and my complaining.  Also, Gareth started high school this year and has set a goal to play soccer in college.  All I needed to hear was the word “college.” If it motivates him, I’m in.  The hope for the team is that our presence at this “showcase” tournament will garner some attention from the many college recruiters who will stalk the sidelines with their clipboards and cell phones. 

Personally, I think it’s too early to talk about recruiting, but that’s the complainer voice in me, and I’m supposed to be suppressing that.  I figure it’s high I time I muster some parental support instead.  I mean, what if he turns out to be a star?  What if we fast forward 8 or so years and find him scoring the winning goal in the world cup with a spectacular bicycle kick to the high corner of the far left post? 

The crowd rises to its hysterical feet, the announcer booms out, “goooooaaaaaal” with untempered and sonorous glee. After everyone strips their shirts off and dances around the field for a bit, the camera zooms in on Gareth’s doting parents, you know, the ones who followed him around the country to help make his dreams come true.   The ones who gave up everything to nurture his burgeoning talent.  The ones who never missed a game. 

How will I measure up under those kinds of expectations?  Hmmmm.  I love him, but I also wanted to go camping every once in a while, you know?  Maybe drop into a museum or take a family bike ride.  Will that play out well in the post-victory interview?  

At least now I have some fodder for the mill.  I will be able to tell them about how I gave up our family Christmas break and drove to Orlando and submitted my family to an onslaught of commercial messages and purchasing opportunities, breaking all my well-formulated ideas about popular culture, our power as consumers, family and holidays. 

I have to wonder: Is this a test?  How is it that my efforts to let go of my anger and resentment for the soccer establishment have led me into the perfect storm of cultural misery that is: soccer tournament, Disney theme park and Christmas vacation. Isn’t that too much to ask?

I will buck up.  I will.  We will avoid the park, visit my brother and his family, spend some quality time with family.   I will have a good attitude, and we will have a good time.  

Can I do it? 

We shall see…

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

the cult of santa

Years ago, when Olivia discovered the truth, or rather, the falsehood about Santa, she burst into some high-powered tears.  After collecting herself, she turned to me with reproachful eyes and accused, “You lied to me!!”  The indignation was palpable.  Years before, Gareth had reacted similarly, imploring, “Why did you lie to me!?” in a great mournful sob.

My sad response:  "I don't know.  What was I thinking?"  

The worst is: I didn't even want to.  I grew up with Santa, so when the time came to introduce my oldest to the big fat man and the chimney, my discomfort surprised even me.  Besides the obvious anti-materialist rant, I had no well-formulated philosophical objections to offer anyone.  I just didn’t like how it felt to tell such an expansive lie—like stepping barefoot into something unknown and slippery. 

My kids tend to be worriers with imaginations as big and fat as the jolly old elf himself.  Their nervous and hyper-curious responses to the news that strange and fantastic beings (tooth fairy and Easter bunny included) would be slinking around our house in the still of the night didn’t encourage me in the storytelling.   

So why did I do it? 

The pressure.  Think The Year Without a Santa Clause, The Santa Clause, Polar Express, and a slew of other Christmas shows in which the general population’s failure to believe in Santa serves as the primary plot-driving conflict.  The oddly confused moral of these stories:  you must believe in something that isn’t true or else be counted as one of the filthy low-down Christmas-wreckers among us.

What if I refused to comply?  Would my kids tell their friends, cracking the damn of Santa lore that shields other children from the waters of truth?  What if reality seeped through that crack, eventually spilling onto my kids’ preschool playgrounds and drenching all those beautiful bright-eyed-Santa-believers with the terrible realization that reindeer don’t fly? 

Did I want to be the Santa-killing mom at playgroup? 

I didn’t dare.  I once lost a babysitting job because my little charge claimed that I told her Santa wasn’t real.  I didn’t do it; I swear.  The mother didn’t give me a chance to defend myself.  She just banned me from the house, as if an alleged Santa whistle-blower were akin to an alleged sex-offender. 

I’ve been living with the stain of that accusation ever since.  True or not, something like that can really come back to haunt a person, right?  I could hear the whispers, as I imagined my kids chiseling at the Santa damn with the tiny pick-axes of their truthful words.  The mothers would say: “Well, y’know, she told that little girl when she was just a babysitter years ago.  A bad seed from the beginning!  We should have known.” 

So I caved.  I lied to my kids to save myself.

Our decade of falsehoods ended several years ago, and I’m only left to wonder, what would we have done without Santa?  What would Christmas have looked like? 

I think we would have treated it as we do now.   We pretend Santa is real for the simple honest fun of it.  We hang stockings; we find mysterious gifts under the tree, and the kids even put cookies out on the fireplace.  If this last one surprises you, just know that it wasn’t until they realized the true recipient of the plate (me), that they fully grasped the importance of this particular ritual. 

Perhaps it wouldn’t have been as magical if they’d always known the truth, but it would have saved my kids from their Santa hangovers—the big letdown that follows the great high.  It took several years for them to recover, to stop lamenting, “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas” — a rare confession that means: “I can’t believe Santa isn’t real.”

Thankfully, we have arrived.   Since the full exposure of my lies, the fabric of our trusting family circle has been restored, my kids are out of Santa rehab, and I’m as free from the cult of Santa as I can ever hope to be. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

philosophy of a smaller christmas

Let’s face it, from an environmental perspective, the month of December is something akin to a natural disaster:  lights, wrapping paper, cards, envelopes, junk mail/catalogues, plastic crap (gifts), plastic crap (packaging), plastic crap (decorations i.e. those horrible blow up yard things), and of course, time/fuel spent producing, selling, shipping and shopping for all that plastic crap.  Christmas has cornered the market on waste.

Bah humbug.

Yes, but what are we bah humbugging?

I think the answer is me.


The creation of so much trash just seems counter to the spirit of the holiday to me. A celebration of hope for the future should not discard concerns about landfills and climate change, right? From Christmas to Hanukkah to the Solstice and Kwanza, there are lots of reasons to celebrate this time of year.  Couldn’t that just mean we splurge by breaking open an extra squash?! (OK, a little extreme I know, maybe a bottle of wine to go with it wouldn't be out of order).  

I dutifully read my Laura Ingalls as a child.  Apparently, it only took a stick of peppermint and a homemade doll to make the holiday bright.  What’s wrong with us?    

I think too much stuff at Christmas is like too much water in your chicken broth (I just made 30 cups of that stuff yesterday, so I assure you, it's a perfectly reasonable analogy).  The more water you add, the more broth you make, the less flavor you get.  See?

So here’s my “holiday wish list” (not the kind I usually make):

●Everyone gets one gift—or maybe one stocking.

●Wrap our gifts in recycled paper or reusable packaging.  Maybe the kids could decorate their own fabric Christmas bag then reuse it every year? (yikes…that sounds like a craft– I’d have to put my sister on that one).

●Trash those trashy Christmas lights—they burn electricity, they're made of plastic, and they break every year.  Instead, decorate the house with garlands and ribbons, then light luminaries on Christmas eve and on the solstice. Steve and I have 1 big holiday fight every year, and we can always trace its insidious roots back to the lights. This year, he hung all the tree lights then discovered he’d hung them upside down (with the plug at the top).  The kids and I fled the scene, so I don't know exactly what happened next.  If a man throws a Christmas tree out the livingroom window and nobody's there to hear it crash, did it happen? 

●Listen to holiday music in moderation to avoid side-effects of overexposure that might include: chest pain; confusion; hallucinations; panic attacks, aggressiveness, irritability, hostility, inability to sit still; persistent or severe ringing in the ears; vomiting, diarrhea, or headache; suicidal thoughts or attempts; worsening of depression, and excessive sweating.  I've had some of these.  Have you?

●Only send cards to people I didn't see over the past year. Write personal notes to these people.

● Decorate the house with natural stuff like evergreens (tree, wreath), pinecones, strung cranberries or popcorn, candles (instead of lights) and a variety of crafts/artwork (saved school projects, items purchased from craftspeople, projects developed and executed by crafty sister). 

●Bake with the kids instead of shopping for the kids.

●Use the extra time and money to adopt a needy family, providing them with much the same: 1 gift a piece, a few homemade decorations, and food for a holiday meal. 

Surely these elements of a smaller Christmas would lead inevitably to a bigger  Christmas. 

Wouldn't it be great!?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

there's a lesbian in the gingerbread

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon decorating gingerbread men people with Olivia and 2 of her friends.  I arranged mine in efficient little rows with typical utilitarian zeal, but the girls made a beautiful mess, creating replicas of each other, squealing and giggling with delight at their miniature frosting-laden selves. 
As they bounded around the table slinging frosting, jots, and raisins, I kept to my assembly line.  Then at some point, I heard the word “gay” and tuned in more closely. 
“No, he doesn’t look gay,” answered one of the girls. 
“But it would be fine if he did,” chimed in another. [Think Seinfeld: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”]

Recognizing one of those rare moments when the kids had forgotten about me and had begun to talk candidly with their friends, I willed myself into invisibility.  I studied my cookie intently, fiddled with the placement of the raisins, and zippered my mouth.           

I was so curious: What did these 11 year old girls have to say to each other about homosexuality?

“My Uncle’s gay,” offered the third without even looking up from the frosting mountain she was building.  I could see her in my guarded peripheral vision.
“Really?  That’s cool,” came Olivia’s response as she dug into the raisins. 

“The other friend added, “The only bad thing about being gay is that some states won’t let you be gay.” 

“You mean married, I think” – Woops – So much for my silence.

"Yeah, married.  Why can’t gay people get married?  That’s dumb!”

“I know!” agreed Olivia. “Who’s got the blue? Can I use it?...” and the conversation bounced on to something else.
Wow.  No need for gentle reminders about our house rules: “don’t feed the dog, leave your shoes at the door, and no hate-speech in the house!”     

When I was their tender age of 11, I called my younger brother a “lesbian” with a biting derision beyond my years.  My father promptly marched me to the bathroom to wash my "filthy" mouth out with a bar of good old fashioned Ivory soap.   He paused for a second, the bar poised and ready.  “Do you even know what that means?” he asked.

Not to be mistaken for a less worldly person, I clarified that yes, I knew what a lesbian was.  I had called my brother a lesbian because he was such a girl.

So, at 11 years old, I had formulated that my 8 year old brother was so pathetic he wasn’t even man enough to be gay.


There are so many things to object to in that.  I don't know where to start.

I wasn’t raised explicitly to be hateful towards homosexuals, but I wasn’t raised to be tolerant either.  When you leave a void like that, someone or something will eventually fill it in.  Without other guidance, I had simply absorbed the homophobic messages of the world around me, learning almost by osmosis that homosexuality was a thing to be reviled and that apparently, the only thing worse than being a gay man was being a lesbian woman. 

These words that I knew so little about gave me a place to put my anger; they also gave me a weapon to use against my annoying little brother.

I had learned the power of language. 

Within months, however, my world would change when I discovered that my two closest (and slightly older) friends were in a lesbian relationship with one another.  Suddenly, the words “gay” and “lesbian” ceased to be abstract ideas on which I could pile my frustrations.  Instead, they described people I cared about very deeply.

When he punished me, I think my father hoped to wash away the word, and thus, the thing, but familiarity, a great weapon against intolerance, washed away the hate instead.    

I’m grateful I had friends who were brave enough to teach me that lesson. 

It occured to me as I looked over my neat rows of gingerbread men: where are all the girls?  In the past I've worked so hard to be sure my daughter had girls and women to identify with in her play (you know, like turning the playschool farmer into a woman).  Yesterday, however, I focused more on getting my part of the job done.  I didn't think about gender when I decorated my cookies.  Afterwards, I could see that their neutrality created another one of those voids, one easily filled by the label "gingerbread men."

Language shapes our world.

I glanced over at the girls' cookies.  They looked very different from my neat, minimalist creations.  Most notably, many of them had long hair.

They made girls.  

Of course they did.    And I bet if those girls hopped off the pan and ran out of the oven, some of them would turn out to be lesbians too. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

philosophy of a bigger christmas

OMG – how could Christmas get bigger!?

It’s not what you think.

My Episcopal upbringing stuck just about as well as a band-aid would stick if you put it on while soaping up in the bath.   It doesn’t really matter why, it just didn’t.  For a time, I went spiritually adrift, not sure of what I believed, and by extension, what holidays to celebrate. 

Eventually, I gravitated to the cycles of the earth—to the seasons—as a way of marking milestones, and I quickly discovered that the Christian holidays of my Episcopal childhood fell into this same cycle. 

Who knew? 

I think, actually, a lot of people knew, but I was not one of them. 

For years since that discovery, I have celebrated the winter solstice, and little by little, it has transformed into a sort of revised version of Christmas.  Here’s the story:

From September 21st to December 20th, the days grow progressively shorter because the sun rises to a lower and lower point in the sky.  Ancient peoples feared that the sun would eventually fail to rise at all, leaving them in perpetual darkness.  On the solstice, which occurs on the 21st of December, the trend reverses itself and the sun rises a bit higher, signifying a shift towards longer days. 

Ancient peoples celebrated the return of light with all kinds of very familiar sounding traditions:  they brought evergreens inside to ward off the winter gray, they lit yule logs, caroled, feasted and exchanged gifts. 

Gee, haven’t I done all that before?

Meanwhile, I didn’t have to jump through too many intellectual hoops before noticing that the narratives of the solstice and of Christmas both revolve around homonyms: sun/son.  So the sun appears higher in the sky, bringing us light and hope, at the same time that the son is born under a “bright star,” giving us light and hope.  I can’t help myself: Are they the same sun/son? 
Growing up, I had no idea that the solstice existed. Nor did I understand that my Christmas traditions hailed from pagan customs in place long before the birth of Christ.  Even more interesting, and equally unknown to me: colonial puritans banned the celebration of Christmas in the early 17th century precisely because of these roots.       

So when my sister ironically asked me why I had a Christmas tree and an advent wreath after we stopped attending our Episcopal church, it occurred to me to ask, “Well, if we’re going to be picky (or Puritan) about it, why do you have a Christmas tree?” 

But I didn’t want to be picky about it.  To be fair, neither did she.  She was just curious.

To answer her question, here’s what we’ve ended up with.  I have come to understand winter holiday traditions as different ways of celebrating one thing: the need for spiritual light in a time of physical and spiritual darkness.   The “sun” brings us light and life in a literal way.  Meanwhile, the “son” brings the same in a figurative way while adding a moral layer in the messages Christ bore regarding peace, charity, love and community. 

To commemorate both of these things, we have all the trappings of Christmas, including lights, a tree and an advent wreath.  We even have a nativity scene.  The evergreens of the tree and the wheel-shaped wreath symbolize hope in the return of light and life.   However, we also light the candles every Sunday according to the Christian tradition of joy, hope, peace and love.  We light the 4th candle on the solstice for the “sun” and the white candle on Christmas eve for the “son.” 

The nativity scene depicts the birth of Christ and reminds us of his teachings.  It also stresses the importance of family: it portrays a family, it belonged to my grandmother, and it acknowledges our Christian family heritage. 

There's more, but I fear there's a law about blog posts that exceed a certain unspoken word count. I feel sure I'm approaching or surpassing that limit, putting me at risk for some sort of blogocide, so that's enough for now.

I don’t think I explained all this to my sister when she asked.  I’m sure her eyes would have rolled back in her head and stuck there.  But I like this rich tradition that we have woven. 

Whether a person finds light in the sun, God, Christ, advent candles, lights on a tree, or through light in other traditions such as the Jewish Menorah, what I think matters most is the celebration itself and the community, good will, and hope that it inspires. 

We can all celebrate in our varied ways, with puritan zeal or not, but if we can also recognize this commonality of purpose and circumstance, that human beings come together in winter darkness and are held together in holiday light, even better.    

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

charming anecdote: is "frickin" a cuss word?

There are so many “mommy blogs” full of cute stories about darling little toddlers and their antics.  I have a million such gems tucked away in my kids’ journals (you may have heard of these: archaic paper based books where I kept notes about my children with something called a ball point pen). 

If I’d been blogging in those distant times, I would have called it Schnook and Noodle and I’m sure it would have been marvelous.  Ahh, what could have been! 

I would have recounted all manner of amusing tales about how my bright-eyed and pudgy cheeked children asked questions such as, “do ants have tongues?” and “what color is the world?”  I would have proudly recounted the happy discussions that ensued as I reveled in the clever acuity of my children.  

But those days are gone. 

As a mother of an 11 and a 14 year old, the cute factor around here has about run its course.  So last night, instead of marveling together about the anatomy of an ant's mouth, my first born and I argued about whether “frickin” is a cuss word.

It matters, you see, because, upon learning that I had so brazenly presented his charming heinous with a vegetarian cabbage roll for dinner, he looked upon said roll in outward disgust and let a string of hostile mumblings came slithering off his suddenly fork-like tongue: “zishmbr blgrmp so stupid, mpgro brmpr a FRICKEN jokmprblr.”


He looked up in less than sweet boyish defiance.  “wuh?”

“Did you just call my dinner a “frickin jokmprblr?”

“No…Well…So?”  and here it comes: “frickin isn’t a cuss word!” 

I begged to differ, explaining that I didn’t think anyone who sits down to a table and uses any variation of the “f” word in reference to the food should be allowed to partake of that food.  And besides, what about the mysterious “jokmprblr?”  I don't think that was very nice either. 

So I sent him to his room without any dinner.  Just like the old lady who lived in a shoe.  Or no, didn’t she at least give the kids broth before banishing them to their prisons? No broth around here.  No bread either.

I know how this plays out.

Him: charming victim, child.

Me: old lady in shoe, bitch

But hey, after all: it was an organic cabbage.  A hold over from the co-op, so local too.  And the tomatoes?  The first of the summer canning. You don't mess with that, y'know? 

This morning, I told him in our post-explosion debriefing:  "A little respect for the cabbage roll is in order here, don't you think?"  Having regained his schnookish charm, he agreed with only a hint of a rolling eyeball.  But he  maintained his position on “the word,” insisting he’s even allowed to say it in school.  

I told him I didn’t frickin care.  Respect the cabbage.  

We laughed. 

And that’s my endearing anecdote about my darling little boy.   

Sunday, November 27, 2011

thanksgiving meets "the blob"

It was only a matter of time before the ooze of black Friday would creep under the door to Thanksgiving like The Blob. 

Does that mean we should throw up our hands and flee the theater in a frenzied mob? As consumers, we have great power to shape the world by closing our wallets. 

I had hopeful visions of echoing store aisles, yawning employees, and disappointed store managers sitting around on Thursday evening, surprised to discover that Americans have their priorities straight after all.

Instead, frantic shoppers vied for the last waffle iron with flecks of mashed potatoes still clinging to their snarling lips.


But let's not dwell on it.  This craziness stems from the actions of a few. 

Most of us refrained.  Didn't we?

For us, Thanksgiving officially started when two vegetarians (me included) slunk to the basement under cover of darkness to shamefully submerge a cold and fleshy bird into a bucket of icy brine.  What can I say except that we love the carnivores among us.  Thanksgiving, like most else around our house, is about food

We didn’t shop for each other; we cooked for each other. 

We stood in the buffet line, not the checkout line.

 We wielded the pepper grinder, not the pepper spray. 

We traded playing cards, not sales coupons.

We cleaned up in the kitchen, not in electronics. 

We lamented our full bellies, not our empty wallets.

And the only thing close to a brawl occurred on the basketball court where three generations of men: my father, husband, son and nephew scrambled desperately for possession of one ball.  No riot gear necessary. 

When it was all over, Steve and I curled up under a blanket with both kids to watch a movie for free.  My teen and my tween in one place with no arguing?--the bargain of the century, right there in our own living room. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

feeling "hairied" at my mammogram

As if the whole breast crushing mammo experience isn’t nerve-wracking and humiliating enough, try enduring it with hairy armpits.

I know what you’re thinking—“uh…SHAVE!”  Believe me, I considered it.  I stood in the shower this a.m., razor poised, pit lathered, but I couldn’t do it.

Why?  Or better yet, why should I?

I imagine some personalities might enjoy the shock value of lifting an arm to surprise their poor unsuspecting doctors with a soft mass of brown hair.

Fine for them, but that’s not my style, my intent, or my desire.

I don’t want to make a statement to anyone with my body.  In fact, with the typical college-aged eating disorder in my background, I’m more inclined to wish my body would disappear than show any bit of it off.  But perhaps it’s partly due to that history that I feel hard-pressed to conform to any standard of beauty that society wants to impose on me, even the mandate for bodily baldness. 

It didn’t help when a friend explained how a hairless woman’s body more resembles the body of a child than a mature woman.  Ugh!  I looked again at the skin-and-bone forms showing off from the racks in the grocery checkout line.  I scanned the skinny shiny legs, the smooth and unnatural pits and bikini lines, the bony rib cages that poked through where there should have been cleavage.  I saw them for what they were:  women pared down to look like tweens in grown up clothing.   Yuck.

The presence of hair, among other things, marks our passage to womanhood. Yet society deems us more sexy without it?  Hmmm…It does seem odd, doesn’t it, that the minute our young daughters sprout a bit of underarm fuzz we hand them a razor and instruct them to eliminate it.  Why do we insist they retain the appearance of the 10 year old body they're supposed to be leaving behind?  

Many women, after a lifetime of cultural conditioning, find their own body hair “gross.” I counted myself among them for many years, but now I think it’s much grosser to suggest we’re sexier after we’ve razored and naired ourselves into prepubescence.  This idea seems especially poignant right now, in the midst of the Sandusky scandal at Penn State.  Clearly, we should be ever-wary of sexualizing the child’s body.

One way to distinguish a woman’s body from a girl’s is hair. 

For years, I shaved only in the summer, secretly letting my tabooed hair grow under cover of winter.  As much as I understood shaving as a relatively new and completely unnatural imposition on women, after a decade of doing so, I had to admit my own body hair offended me.   I couldn’t undo that conditioning overnight.  After all, we categorize a woman’s shaving habits as hygienic, so we react to a hair in the pit the same way we react to a booger in the nose—better do something about it quick!  I didn’t want to be caught with boogers in my nose any more than anyone else.

Then one spring, I somberly got in the bath for my annual first shave.  Time to reluctantly erase my womanhood so I could greet the summer sun with the smooth and slippery legs of a child—“like a pair of uncooked hotdogs!” exclaimed that same friend.  Ew.

Half way through the task, I examined my work, putting one hairy leg next to its silky counterpart.  I was surprised that the shaven leg looked gross to me.  Bald, slippery, naked…Weird.  Weird like my husband’s leg would look if he shaved it. 

For a moment I thought: “I’ve done it!  I’ve stepped out of ideology; I’ve changed my own paradigm!  The shaven leg is gross and the unshaven leg is…” I looked at my other leg.  Weird.  Wierd, a little gross, hairy. 


There I sat in my bath, alienated from both of my legs!  “What the heck do I do now?” I said out loud.  I simply could not turn that other leg into a slimy raw hotdog.  But it would take all summer to regrow hair on the one I’d shaved.  I do have enough fashion sense to know that if I plan to go unshaven, I need two hairy legs. 

With no other choice, I defiled the other leg, stripped it of its womanliness for the sake of consistency, and vowed it would be the last time. 

It was. 

That was 11 years ago, and I'm happy to say that the paradigm shift is complete, and has been for a long time.  My legs feel completely normal to me. 

But the pits.  The pits are another story still.  I cave in and shave them every summer.  I’ve tried not to, but it’s hard to stand on the deck of a pool, timing my daughter's swim meets with a bunch of strangers, holding my arms self-consciously close to my sides to prevent even a tell-tale bit of fur from poking out. 

Underarm hair is more prominent and somehow more offensive to people.  I struggle with this disapproval.

Which brings me back to the mammo today.  It’s November and I’m at least a full month into hairy pit season.  I didn’t want to shave.  I stood in the shower this a.m. and imagined myself sitting in my mammo gown feeling harried, in a cold nervous sweat over a new breast lump, with no deodorant allowed.  I didn’t like that picture, but I also didn’t want to shave. 

Ultimately, I thought back to that day in the tub so many years ago, and I put the razor away.     

If anyone noticed, they didn’t say.  They didn’t even blink.

I thank them for that.

And my films came out negative to boot. 

I thank them for that too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

feast and famine

When you eat seasonally, you have to get used to feast and famine, often at the same time.  Feast of whatever is in season, famine of just about everything else.  Right now, it is the season of greens: mustard, kale, chard, collards, arugula, bok choy (if you’re lucky!) and cabbage.  Love this stuff, but I’m a little starved for a cucumber, a spear of asparagus, maybe a snap pea or two! 

As much as I love greens, and celebrate when the first bag of fall lettuce shows up in my weekly share from the CSA (community supported agriculture), my love grows a bit stale about this time of year.  It’s like an infatuation for a boy who suddenly wants to see you every day, except with greens, it’s every meal. 

You see, twenty-some-odd people pick up their bag of CSA vegetables at my house every week.  Some of them have grown weary of the incessant flow of leafy stuff and the nightly challenge of how to get it stored, cooked and eaten before the degrading tendrils of time can consume it instead. 

These weary soldiers, in the battle against wasted vegetables, sometimes “forget” to pick up their bags.  What to do with the left-over piles of orphaned produce?  I give away what I can, but my go-to foster families have limits too. 

Then, there’s the hoarding impulse that shamelessly and selfishly tells me to keep it, cook it, freeze it for myself—if I only had more time!  And the guilt: the guilt of wasting something I won’t have at all in just a matter of weeks. 

As I write this, I can almost hear the green stuff in my fridge.  It’s clamoring out of my vegetable drawers, crowding out the condiments on the top shelf, and seriously smothering the Sam Adams tucked in the back.  It’s like The Little Shop of Horrors in there! 

I battle onward:  salad for lunch, stuffed cabbage for dinner, greens in my morning shake, left over cabbage for lunch, mustard greens and fish for dinner…Oh the curse of the feast! 

I actually groaned at the generous bag of mustard I pulled out of my CSA bag yesterday.  And the cabbage—you should have seen the size of that cabbage!  I could have slipped it into one of my kids’ soccer bags and no one would have known the difference.  

Perhaps nature inflicts this surplus on us by design.  Like parents who make their teenagers smoke a whole pack of cigarettes, or drink an entire six pack of Guinness beer in a risky lesson about indulgence.  Nature sneeringly gives us leaf after leaf, saying, "go ahead, have another, just one more"—until you’re literally turning green yourself. 

So I’m made to despise fresh greens to prepare for the long winter without them? 

Maybe so.  It’s true that hankering for a deep red tomato I am not.  My overindulgence during the bounty of August will carry me much further into the cold of winter before I begin to crave the fresh tomato and basil salads that will make me faint with pleasure come July. 

So I have feasted—with gratitude, for months.  And I’m feeling ready.

In one week, when the CSA and the farmers’ markets close until June, I’ll lose my connections to local produce.  No more fresh and light stuff on the table.  Instead, on cold nights we’ll feast on soup, stored potatoes, canned green beans, and meals like spaghetti and pizza, made from our canned sauces.  Eventually, we’ll tire of these warm and hearty concoctions, but right now, I can’t even imagine that day. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

sunday drive-by

Yesterday was Sunday.  That means I had to interrupt my typically peaceful and relaxing morning walk to perform death defying feats of evasion, leaping regularly with my dog over the ditch on the side of my road to avoid the cars that came careening, yes careening, around the corner and down my street.

You see, there is a church at the end of my block. 

These drivers, who so often catapult past me and my dog, taking out mailboxes and white-knuckling their steering wheels, with eyes locked on the prize of the distant parking lot, are going to hell church.  When did the traditional "Sunday drive" become a "Sunday drive-by?"

And I'm so shocked by the offenders.  These are not young male drivers maneuvering hot red sports cars; these are folks of the gray-haired variety, in camel hair coats and big high powered sedans.  Others are primly dressed couples in mini-vans who have kids wearing clip-on neck ties and mary janes lined up in the seats that blur past me. 

My street is also a cut through for rush-hour traffic, but the Sunday drive-byers put the weekday commuters to shame.  Perhaps the insurance companies should move those who claim to attend Sunday services to the high-risk category? 

Shouldn’t worship of any variety inspire good?  Whether you call it serving God, serving humanity, or being mindful, it all amounts to the same thing: leave this earth a better place than you found it. 

Like camping: leave the campsite nicer than when you arrived.  

If you speed through someone's neighborhood, ironically catching a little air as you crest the hill just outside your church parking lot, I think you've pretty much canceled out any brownie points you might have accumulated by attending in the first place.  In fact, you just might come out with a deficit.  I'm pretty sure that if God bothered to notice that you arrived in church at all, he/she also noticed how you got there. 

So, the next time you're late to worship, despite your best efforts to leave on time, make the world a better place by slowing down and embracing your lateness.  Walk tall when you enter the sanctuary, interrupting the opening prayers.  Whisper to your fellow parishioners with a scrunch of your nose and a knowing nod of your head, "we drove the speed limit." 

They will lift their chin and say "Ah, yes," and smile at you appreciatively because they know as well as you and I:  it's not the destination that matters so much in life as the journey.

Friday, November 4, 2011

shalloween: an afterthought

“Mom, I don’t know what to be for Halloween.”

“I thought you were going as a beaver”  (her inexplicably odd choice for a favorite animal).

“I was, but I also might go as a famous singer – maybe Katy Perry.   I can’t decide.”


“But I was thinking, that’s probably just an excuse to put on makeup.”

“Hmmm.  Maybe.”

“That would be dumb.”

OK, I decide it’s time to weigh in:

“Well…no, it wouldn’t be dumb, but I’ll just point out: you have the rest of your life to wear makeup.  This might be your only chance to dress up as a beaver!”

“You’re right.  [pause]  I’ll be a beaver.  Oh! or a “beaver princess!?”

Beaver princess it is.  Egad.

And how awesome is that! These days, corporate advertisers suck the imagination out of every kid thing they can get their hands on.  Whether birthday party supplies, coloring books, t-shirts, shoes, backpacks, or Halloween costumes, they slap the latest cartoon phenom, or Disney channel mega star on the front of it.  The kids never get the chance to have their own idea. 

How cool to reject it all. 

And on top of that, not only has she already noticed that some girls use Shalloween as an excuse to dress alluringly, but she also had the presence of mind to note how “dumb” that would be.

Gotta love her!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

it takes serious green to be seriously green

And that sucks!  I do little things every day to try to reduce my carbon footprint.  And I’ll keep doing those things because they give me hope; they give me peace of mind.  But like most people, when I do something, I want to do it right.  I want to do the little things AND the big things. 

When I saw Who Killed the Electric Car? a few years ago, I vowed to my husband: we’d never buy another gas guzzler.  The film highlighted yet another way we have been manipulated, as a culture, into filling up.  From the sprawling development of the suburbs, to the ripping up of perfectly useful streetcar tracks, to our poor public transportation system, we have never really had a choice but to purchase gasoline by the gazillions of gallons.  It burns me up—like expensive fossil fuel in an internal combustion engine, you know? 

Meanwhile…someone killed my car a few weeks ago, totaling what was supposed to be my “last” gas guzzler. 

I intended to drive that 9 year-old rattle trap for 3 more years, until Gareth graduated from high school.  By then, I was going to have miraculously saved up a whopping 40k to buy an electric car (err…that wouldn’t be the college fund, would it?).  And I was going to have my solar-business-owning friend rig up some solar panels to charge it.   Steve told me I was pipe-dreaming from the get-go.  Of course he was right, but I held to my fantasies.  “You never know!” I thought. 

Well, I was right too.  I certainly didn’t know.  I didn’t know my car would end up in the junk yard before I could work my $40,000 miracle.  The accident has forced my hand.  To replace the van, I have only the pathetic $4,000 we got from the insurance company. 

Dammit – where’s that last zero?!

Oh – got it. Instead of buying a 1 year old car, we bought a 10 (see it there?) year old car.  Since no 10 year-old-electric car exists, a “new” guzzler sits in my driveway looking thirsty, waiting for me to screw on the tags so I can hurry off to the gas station and fill ‘er up like a good little enabler. 

It turns out I’m green alright, green with envy for all the folks with enough green stuff to buy the green stuff. 


Thursday, October 27, 2011


You know what I mean.  Too much plastic crap, too much plastic crap, and oh yea, too much plastic crap. 

I’m not so much into it—the Jason-esque amputated limb in plastic chains, blood and guts kind of day.  If I’m going to bother to celebrate it, I more prefer a holiday with some real guts.  Some meaningful spiritual historical guts.   Earthy guts. 

What the heck does that mean? 

It means I want to know what I’m celebrating.  Many holidays find their origins in the cycles of the earth, and Halloween is no different.  It was traditionally a day when people believed that the veil between the living and dead stretched thin, allowing the dead to haunt the living.  Treats were left out to pacify evil spirits (origins of trick or treating).  Fearful people carried candles in gourds to ward off lingering souls (the origin of the jack-o-lantern).  

It’s no wonder this day focused on death.  The date marked the end of the Celtic calendar and the end of the harvest.  Life-giving plants withered and died, the leaves, strangled for chlorophyll, lost their green and fell to the ground. 

What of the people who depended on those plants for sustenance?  They must have seen these natural deaths as both a symbolic and a literal foreboding not only of the long winter ahead, but of their own mortality.  I suppose then, that it wasn’t unreasonable for people to let their imaginations run away with the worry that an occasional ghoul, or goblin or even a dead ancestor might come out to snatch them up in the “spirit” of the season!

Of course, I don’t believe in evil spirits, but if we’re going to pretend, I think the idea that one might curl its ghostly fingers around my soul is much creepier than the idea that a guy in a hockey mask might chop me up into bite-sized pieces.  After all, we’ll all meet our deaths eventually—and that’s what’s at the root of this, right? 

The more than vast majority of us will never meet Jason along the way. 

So what’s to celebrate in this? – our inevitable demise?  

Well, there’s always the element of fun in being afraid. In a sense, we mock death by dressing in silly or scary costumes, and ironically, we eat enough candy to kill us. 

In case you’re truly in the dumps about your mortality, the season pacifies us by answering death’s call with an extraordinary show, turning out the warm and comforting brilliances of red, yellow and orange in landscapes of magnificent proportion. 

Didn’t the trees get the word? 

And if the colors aren’t enough to cheer us, an incessant breeze lifts us, the crisp air invigorates us, warm food traditions of soup and chili assure us. 

These changes create a natural rhythm of life that includes death.  The beauty of fall and the fun of Halloween help us observe, accept and even celebrate that cycle. 

So, instead of a commercialized Shalloween, complete with Hollywood inspired gore and petroleum filled plastic decorations (that could never thump like a good squash), we fill our house with colorful gourds (to set the mood), eatable pumpkins (for soup, bread and freezing), drying herbs from the garden (to flavor the long winter), spooky ghosts and jack-o-lanterns (a nod to the wayward spirit).  We make chili.  And yes, we trick-or-treat. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

a hoarder at heart

Last canning day!  

I guess we’re “locavores.”  We try to eat seasonally, organically, and locally.    

We eased into this – as anybody must, I imagine.  I am to the point where I attempt to preserve as much as I can for the winter. 

I try to be flexible about it – often still buying the faves I just can’t give up like lemons, bananas and ginger.  Other times, I get a little out of hand, like the time I brought a bushel of black-eyed peas in a yard-sized trash bag to my niece’s birthday party and made my kids sit on the deck and help me shell them—our fingers turning a dirty purple while everyone else munched on salsa and cheese dip.  Since then, I try not to act so much like a desperate squirrel.

We eat local and organic food to address a variety of practical concerns that include oil consumption, pesticide use, and the quality of produce shipped over long distances.  Storing food for the winter, however, also hits on some sort of DNA-imbedded hoarding instinct of mine.  There’s something so satisfying about a cupboard lined with brimming jars.  They assure me of our potential to survive the winter—even if there is a grocery store less than 2 miles away.     

It’s a good thing canning hits on this ancient nerve, because quite honestly, it’s a pain in the neck.   And I’ve done my best to make it even harder!  A few years ago, I renovated my kitchen and made a big fat goof.  I bought a stove with a horrible cooktop that will not accommodate a canner.  Consequently, I have to use my camp stove in the back yard, monitor it constantly to be sure it hasn’t run out of fuel, and run my jars in and out of the cold air (which could cause them to crack). 

To prevent the propane from running out before I can finish, I heat the water on my electric stove inside.  So I also run frantically back and forth with boiling pots of water yelling “out of my way!” and “get the door!” 

To make it worse, it rained almost every time I canned this year.  When it rained, I moved the stove to the carport which, conveniently, floods with little provocation.  On one occasion, I had 14 quarts of spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove when I looked up from my cauldron to notice that it had been raining all day.  Somehow I missed that forecast. With more sauce than I could ever fit in my refrigerator, I had to forge ahead. 

So there I was, carrying pots of boiling water through the cats and dogs, hunching over a huge stubborn and unboiling pot, standing in an ankle-deep river, listening to thunder roiling all around, and trying not to think about lightening. 

I was hot from the canner, cold from running through the rain, and sweating from both – my hair a soggy mat.  And I usually look so ravishing!

Yesterday, at least I had sun.  Under pressure to get Olivia to her soccer game on time, I shoved heaps of pears into jars, slung ladles of syrup over them, threw them in the canner and proclaimed the season complete.  Finis!

Now, with everything “put up,” I feel incredibly relieved, but equally satisfied.   It’s time to eat!

Or…perhaps to just sit back and relish.

During the fall, I tend more toward the hoarding than I do toward the eating.  I guess you could say I have trouble letting go.  I hesitate to open jars in case we need them for “later.”  In early spring, however, I’ll behave like a true schizophrenic and start zinging jars off the shelves, ordering my kids to “eat more peaches!” because God forbid we have anything left when the first strawberries come and we start all over again. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

the butt of the question: airsoft or errsoft?

Gareth, wants an Airsoft gun.  Ugh.

I “raised” him without toy guns or play that modeled violence. 


My dreamy new-mother fantasy lasted until preschool—a whimsical magical place that taught my innocent first born about numbers, colors, seasons and…perilous space-aged, laser-fied, contests to the death. 

Once those maniacal miniature ninja assassins enlightened my little angel about shooting (funny how it’s always other people’s kids who model negative behavior, never your own), Gareth commandeered everything in the house (the legos, the tinker toys, the link’n logs, the playdough, even the pretend ketchup and mustard) for battle. 

But this "natural" fascination with firearms didn't suggest to me that I should entertain it.  I mean, some kids "naturally" play with their own poop, but that doesn't mean we should let them! Kids have lots of urges that we teach them to control, don't they?  Most kids behave really selfishly until we teach them to share.  Others want nothing but sugary foods, but we teach them to eat fruits and vegetables. 

Why not discourage their interests in guns and violence?

I believe that the household models a miniature nation.  We make things in the home the way we want them in the world.  Likewise, through their play, kids practice the grown-up behavior they observe and may eventually adopt. 

I'm not suggesting that toy gun-wielding children grow up to be mass murderers, but I do think that kind of play normalizes a mindset that accepts “battle” as a legitimate way of solving problems i.e. the military and war. 

So my little mini-nation had been invaded by a ninja assassin.  What to do?  We justified that Gareth’s games were creative, didn’t involve screens, and often occurred in the glorious outside. 

To register our disapproval, we refused to buy toy guns.  I also refused to participate in what Gareth called “fighting games.”  So if he wanted me to play with him, he had to find a different activity.

Gareth squished the playdough pistols back into their containers years ago. 

But now, at 14, he wants a toy gun that actually shoots things. 


I suppose there are worse things: drugs and sex come immediately to mind.  But really?     

And he knows me well.  He lobbied for the gun by claiming it will get him off the couch, away from the video games, and outside. 

Um…mowing the lawn would do that too.  Does he realize that?

Still:  smart angle. 

Smart kid.

Smart alec.

Yet I’m swayed.  Crumbling.  Pathetic.  In fact, I’ve already given in. 

My logic: he already plays Airsoft when we go away with friends to their farm. They lay out battle fields, teams and strategies then hunt one another for hours.

I persuade myself it’s a glorified game of tag that is creative, imaginative, outside. 

Haven’t I said that before?

Maybe it’s ok.

BUT, maybe it’s not.  Doesn’t it mimic war? 

I know it does.  BUT we’ve modeled nonviolence for so many years, “using our words,” taking spiders outside like good little pacifists.  Could Airsoft undo all that?

Probably not.  BUT, I don’t want him to own a gun – toy or not. 

BUT he has grown.  He needs to start making his own decisions.  As much as we show him guidance, we should also show him trust and confidence. 

BUT …everything has a “but” in this post—right down to the guns themselves!

BUT, letting him own the gun breaks a longtime rule, insinuating my approval.    

BUT, he’s going to buy it with his own hard-earned money.

BUT, he will keep it under our roof, play with it in our yard.

BUT, he’ll play anyway with borrowed guns.

BUT, I don’t want him to own a gun – toy or not. 

OK – I’ve definitely said that before. 

And so it goes.