Friday, December 28, 2012

xmas wrap up

I had this fab plan to wrap all of our xmas presents in newspaper this year.  Wouldn't it be great? I reveled in how we'd avoid that mountain of wasteful shiny, non recyclable paper that always depresses me so much in late December. 

I announced my plan with unbridled enthusiasm, as if I were declaring "double presents for everyone!" But immediately, I sensed dissension in the ranks. 

Nobody actually said anything, but Steve wrapped A LOT of presents before I could get to them.  He scampered around like a squirrel before winter, stashing everything under cover of one very under average Santa-faced green paper that we had leftover from last year. I didn't complain. I understood that all that paper was headed for the dump anyway, no matter what path it took, so why not let it detour under our tree?

Steve wasn't the only dissenter.  Gareth, in typical teen detachment, didn't even know about my plan until Christmas eve when he reacted with a simple and somewhat disdainful, "What?!"

Olivia, on the other hand, knew from the beginning, and like her father, held her tongue.  When faced with the curled and oblong remnants of paper discarded by her father, she quietly took a piece of newspaper from the pile I had so happily provided.  Can you see me? I'm sitting with hands folded, watching with beaming anticipation to see what she'll create.  As I looked on expectantly, she rolled her father's new Redskins hat up in grey print, scribbled a haphazard purple heart on one side, then tossed the mediocre results carelessly under the tree.

Did I sense an element of resentment there?

Sometimes I really feel like the Grinch, tap tap tapping my long and greedy nails on the table top as I think up new ways to rob my innocent little Whos of their cherished Christmas traditions.  I can hear Olivia-Lou-who now, "Mommy why, why are you taking our wrapping paper, WHY?"

Why?  Well, I just cannot take things at their surface value alone.  I like this about myself, but I know that it sometimes makes me a really annoying person to be around.  I regularly ruin movies while we're still in the middle of watching them, and you know I'm a nightmare on a shopping trip.  It doesn't stop there.  For example: we saw a lit up polar bear in someone's yard the other day. It looked something like this one:

Olivia said, "Awww.  How cute!  Look at the polar bear!" 

Since it was Christmas eve, I figured it was my turn to hold my tongue, but truth be told, I didn't see "cute," I saw this:

And I thought: "Wait.  We're burning fossil fuels to light up a plastic polar bear at a time when the burning of fossil fuels has caused warming dramatic enough to have drowned baby polar bears at a rate of approximately 45% because the sea ice that allows them to rest and feed during long swims has melted due to the burning of carbon-emitting fossil fuels used to (we're coming around full circle here) light up things like this stupid plastic polar bear that, instead of speaking to us about how to save the baby bears, delivers a 'Merry Christmas!' message during a holiday season that's supposed to be centered around the hope of new birth?" 

Yes, I can't stop this paradoxical rant from prattling around in my head as I drive with my family over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house for dinner on Christmas eve.  No matter how you light him up, a polar bear is a polar bear, and I just cannot turn that off. 

So sure, flashy presents look beautiful and festive under the tree.  But to see that, and only that, you have to ignore the trashy truth beneath: that most wrapping paper cannot be recycled, that half of the paper Americans use in a year goes to wrapping gifts, and that household waste increases by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Years with trash from wrapping, packaging and shopping bags, food waste, bows and ribbons creating 1 million extra tons of trash per week (source).   The Carnegie Mellon Green Practices Initiative claims that "if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields."

Forty-five thousand football fields? You had me at "one." 

Since I cannot unlearn stuff like that, I persisted with Grinching up Christmas for my poor little Who family.  I hoped that perhaps I would inspire them with my "beautiful" recyclable creations. 

I felt intent on my purpose, but I didn't expect to have so much fun carrying it out.  I've said before that I break into a sweat at the word "craft," and nothing can clear me out of a room faster than the three letters DIY.  In a doltish sort of way, however, I always enjoyed coloring as a child.  How lucky that wrapping with newspaper turned out to be just that sort of job--but with the added interest of words

Since an article about drone strikes doesn't make good packaging, I found myself searching the Style section and the Sports page for fun headlines and pictures, then coloring them in for what my mother would call, "a little zing." 

Ensconced in our bedroom on the afternoon of Christmas eve, I lost myself in the task.  Steve came looking for me at least an hour later and found me sitting on the bed like a child, surrounded by cut up newspapers, a mountain of broken crayons, and an array of green and red markers.  I actually felt embarrassed.

"What have you been doing in here?" he asked with exasperation.

"Coloring," I said sheepishly, putting down my crayon.

I'm no artist, but I was proud of my creations anyway.  And since the fam knew I worked so hard on them, no one complained about the newspaper under the tree. I think (hope) they appreciated the effort, if not the cause.

Some results:

this gift for steve featured a Redskin returning a ball for a touch down.
no, i have no idea who he is, but steve knew, which is all that mattered.

the front of the post featured
 this mystical wintry picture of reindeer pulling a sled.
i admit i didn't read the article.  i hope it wasn't about something
dreadful like disappearing ice

an advertisement
offered a rare full page of solid red - a gold mine!
(i glued the picture of notes & shopping bags to the front for Olivia, our musician)

this picture of blinds made for some cool horizontal lines
on this masculine package for Gareth - and the ad even said "warm wishes"
Other packages featured Gareth's favorite Maryland Terps scoring a basket, a sports headline about "getting the ball rolling" on a package that contained juggling balls, and a color picture of a sustainably powered house (appropriate, right?). 

the lot of them
In the end, as I began to grow tired, I slapped a random paper onto a gift for Olivia without really looking at the articles. When I turned it over, only two words of the bold-faced headline had wrapped around to the front: "gratitude" and "unite." I couldn't help myself: I took it as a sign. 

"Gratitude" - a reminder to be grateful for what we have, of course.  But since the word appeared just as I finished wrapping, I also took it as a thank you for my recycled wrapping job. 

And "Unite" -  the inspiration to write this post and ask others to unite in using recycled or reusable packaging for gifts.  I really don't know if we can save the polar bears, but I do know that together we can at least save 45,000 football fields worth of paper.  That has to be worth something.

And what of my tortured little Whos?  Of course you know that Christmas "CAME."  "Somehow or other, it came just the same!"

The holidays are winding down, but it's not too late to get started.  Here are some alternatives to wrapping paper we can experiment with throughout the year.

 - old maps
 - old newspapers/comics/magazines
 - recycled and/or recyclable wrapping paper
 - if you can sew, DIY cloth gift bags (thanks for the link thalassa!)
 - purchasable cloth gift bags/decorative boxes (I'll let you google it rather than tell you what to buy)
 - reusable tins
 - cloth ribbons and bows
 - twine
 - recycled gift wrap and bags that you salvage from gifts you are given

Feel free to share if you have other ideas!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

second hand christmas

Do you have to spend a lot of money on a present to make it meaningful?  I know the easy answer: of course not!  So let me rephrase: Do you have to spend any money on a gift to make it meaningful? And what if you got the gift second hand?  Does that fly?

Gareth asked for a rebounding soccer goal (a net that will bounce the ball back to you) this year.  We were so happy to have some kind of fun and concrete suggestion for him that departed from the typical gift card teensanity that dominates gift giving for kids these days.

Until we discovered that a good rebounding goal comes at a hefty price tag - from $250-$450.  Egad.  Who's having "fun" now? Sure there are cheaper ones, but this is a 15 year old monster soccer player who could probably rocket a ball through the walls of our house if he set his mind to it.  A cheap net wouldn't make it through the end of the year. 

Just for grins, Steve looked it up on Craig's list...and found a high quality net that we couldn't have afforded new, for free.  Needless to say, we jumped on it like black Friday shoppers at Wal-mart. 

But once the deed was done, we got to thinking:

Free?  Did spending $0 take away from the value of the gift? 

It didn't help that we knew we couldn't pull it off as new in a million years.  "Beautifully worn net, antiqued base with a patina of naturally aged rust, and a frame bent with the character childhood play" doesn't quite persuade.

Sure it'd be nice to have, but as a gift?

We didn't know.

It's regulation size, way sturdy and completely functional.  Also, Steve paid in thought and time what he didn't pay in dollars.  He found it, worked miracles to get the way-longer-than-a-car crossbar sort of into the van and sort of safe for the highway.  Then he took it to a handy friend who rebuilt part of the broken frame so that Steve could easily assemble it in the cold one afternoon when Gareth wasn't home.  When he finished, we hid it in the neighbor's yard for a week, then set it up in the wet and the dark at midnight on Christmas eve.  Steve even made a big "Merry Christmas" sign that he covered in tape to protect it from the drizzle until morning.  

Those are the things that count, right?

When we told Gareth to "please take out the compost" right in the middle of gift giving on Christmas morning, his shift from an outraged, "are you KIDDING me?!" to a dawning, "OH, you've hidden something in the back yard!" made the day.   

Honestly, I didn't have much trouble with this choice between giving a used expensive thing for free and not giving it at all.  But it got me to thinking about both our impulse to buy new when we give gifts and our tendency to measure the value of a gift in dollars.

Would we have given Gareth this recycled free gift if we could have afforded a new one?  I doubt it.  And here I was just lecturing to you about the story of stuff.  How disappointing!

Now that we've done it, however, I'd say we're far more likely to do it again.  Not only did we recycle something and save a lot of money, we added personality to the gift by avoiding the now-familiar digital shopping cart scenario.  This gift comes with the story of the find: how Steve had to beat out another taker to make the claim.  It also comes with a dramatic and heroic tale of repair: how our good friend first snapped the pole tragically in half before he magically created a new piece of pipe and saved our Christmas.  Hooray!

I know Steve, who revels in recounting tales of adversity and triumph, will regale us with these dramas for at least the life of the soccer goal.  While I'm sure we'll eventually roll our eyes in the telling, that's just part of the fun.

Oh - and did I mention that Gareth loves it?  He just shrugged off it's somewhat tattered look and pounded a ball into the corner of the far post. 

So as I'm fantasizing about thrift store shopping and regifting next year, I'm wondering, is a white elephant under the tree just another elephant in the room? or is it ok to give a recycled gift and a story instead of a shiny new gift and a receipt?

And if it's not OK, shouldn't we make it so?

Friday, December 21, 2012

solar lights: what the season can afford

image from
We bought ours from
They didn't have good pictures!

In my quest for a green Christmas, we bought solar powered lights for the house last month.  I'd never heard of them until a blogger friend, thalassa, suggested it last year in response to my post on a smaller christmas.

I really did not know what to expect from them.  They earned rave reviews the caliber of "they last all night long!" on Amazon, but I took that with a grain of salt.  As it turns out, I should have taken it with the whole shaker because I'd say they only last for about an hour or two a night.  If you want to stop by for some Christmas cheer, you better do so around dusk.  It's pretty much lights out after that!

I could complain and say they weren't worth the $70 we paid for them, but you know I'm not going to do that. 

First, how cool that we have solar panels (no matter how small) in our yard!  I feel so liberated by that.  Turning on lights without plugging them in feels a little like biking downtown without the fetters of a car.  I love that feeling of being unattached.  Plus, I so appreciate having this technology around for the kids.  We've taken something abstract and futuristic and made it tangible--possible--real.

Except for this pesky problem that they don't work very well. 


Here's the thing, however:  no one seems to be very disappointed by that.  Sure, it'd be nice if the lights gave us just an hour or two more, but we don't seem to want that badly enough to switch back to electric.

I don't know about the rest of the family, but our solar lights have grown on me in part because they aren't faulty.  They would work perfectly well if the sun wasn't so shy at this time of year.  It cloaks itself with a thick winter blanket of clouds and fog, leaving us out in the cold and dark at a time when we need it's warming rays the most.  It has only shown itself for one day since we put the lights up, and even then it turned its face bashfully toward the horizon the entire time. 

Such cowering would never happen mid-summer when the sun's lofty perch emboldens it to stare directly at us with a sometimes punishing gaze.  I know we would have no problem capturing that look and shining it back "all night long" if it were July. 

But it's not July.  And that, my friends, is one of the points of Christmas lights to begin with, isn't it?

December leads us, no matter what our faith, into darkness.  Think, in ancient times, how despairing people must have felt as the sun sunk lower and lower in the sky.   What better way to ward off this despair than with festivals of food and light?  From the yule log, to the menorah, to the star of Bethlehem, to the candles of Kwanzaa, we can find light at the center of faith traditions in December.  Festivals bring hope and cheer in the face of despair.  And there is reason to hope because, once you've come to the shortest day of the year, you know the next day will be longer.  In that sense, the solstice marks a corner of hope for everyone in December. 

To use solar lights as part of our celebration, however, presents us with a paradox.  We need the lights to cheer is in our winter darkness, but that darkness dims the lights.  On the surface, it doesn't have the makings of a great plan! 

Yet the lights inspire.  More than symbolic, they literally reflect the power and light of the sun back to us.  They can only give us what they've received, and in so doing, they manage to extend our shortest days for a few lovely hours before their flicker turns to fade.  In contrast, the ultra bright lights that do shine "all night long" feel almost obscene--like a display of excess during a time of scarcity. 

Earlier in the month, I envied those excessive displays, but over time, I've come to appreciate our meager showing for its seasonal rhythm and its lessatarian leanings.  It offers only what the season's light can afford. 

And we've discovered that's enough.

Monday, December 17, 2012

sandy hook: no words

I dropped Olivia off at her elementary school this morning, watched her walk tentatively through the front doors that usually find her bouncing, and sobbed.

I have not posted about the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School because there are no words.  Even as I moved through the motions of our weekend, I heard very little conversation about it.  It seems we are shrouded in a devastating, but quiet grief.

However, when Olivia's school counselor told me they would not be addressing this terrible tragedy, even with the sixth graders, at school today, I was surprised.  I got to thinking about the difference between quiet and silence.

Quiet feels like something given.  With it, we get time and space to absorb, reflect, mourn.    

Silence  feels like something imposed.  It is absolute and feels like denial.

Finding a balance between quiet and silence can be very difficult after such a tragedy.  As a nation, we need to turn inward, to heal in the quiet of our hearts and minds.  We also need to give the victims' families, and the residents of Newtown the quiet they need to grieve.  At the same time, however, we need to speak our condolences; they need to tell their stories, and we all need address pertinent topics such as gun control and mental health care.

We need to be quiet.  Be we can't be silent.

I don't always know how to do that. 

Over the weekend, kids across the country used social media to spread the word to dress today in either yellow and blue, the colors of Newtown High School, or green and white, the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I appreciated and admired this show of support and grief for its quiet, but also for its voice. 

On a day where I didn't know what to do because as a nation, we have failed to protect our children, what a bittersweet irony that it was the children who found a way through the day. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the return of the cheeto and "the story of stuff"

Have you seen The Story of Stuff?  It's a must-see from 2007, so if you haven't, I'd say there's no time like the present! It's way more engaging than anything I might say, and you can always come back to finish reading another day (at least I hope you will!).


Daunted by the 21 minute time tag?  I'll sum it up (but watch it later!).  The gist:  we approach our need for "stuff" with a linear mindset.  That means we make it, use it, throw it away, and then repeat.  Each time we repeat, we extract new raw materials from the earth.  The problem:  using a linear process on a circular (finite) planet means we will eventually run out of both natural resources to make stuff and spaces to discard stuff. 

We know this already, right!?  I know for myself that watching something like The Story of Stuff gets me all fired up with purpose and urgency.  I start marching around, banging my drum of outrage, and ranting at the kids about change. 

Then I find out that while I was watching this 21 minute video, the dog missed her dinner and threw up on the carpet; Olivia didn't dress for a swim practice that started five minutes ago, and Gareth has been standing in front of his school for 10 minutes, wondering why I haven't picked him up from basketball. 

So I put down my drum and hop in my car (yes, burning fossil fuels with dog vomit still drying on the carpet--so much for green waste disposal).

It's so easy to lose our sense of urgency.  But guess what? The infinite creation of trash in a finite space means, in the crudest sense, that we are shitting where we eat. 

Why can't we keep that nasty reality up front and center? I think we all know the answer to that too:  the circle is too big.   When we put our trash by the curb, a truck lumbers up and hauls it away.  Out of sight, out of mind. 

I thought about this after throwing away a half-eaten bag of Cheetos that Gareth left on the counter the other day.  I begrudgingly humor his habit of walking to 7-11 for the junk food I refuse to buy, but did he really expect me to clean up his leftovers and save them neatly for another day? No siree.  I snatched up that offending package and made for the counter compost.  Just as the nuclear looking contents began to topple in with the apple peels and pistachio shells, however, I paused.

"What's in these things?" I wondered.  "And whatever it is, do I really want it in my compost?" 

You see, with the compost, we really feel the circle.  For whatever reason , the squash seeds that we put in there survive the year of bubbling and seething to sprout up in our garden (where we eventually spread our compost).   We eat that squash and throw the rinds and seeds back into the compost.  Circle!  We literally eat what we throw away!

We eat other stuff from my garden as well.  Check this out:

this one looks like it belongs in my post about "collard balls"

It's a horseradish root, not alien testicles from a Stephen King novel.  I made what I hope will be a year's worth of horseradish sauce out of it, and I admit, I take great pride in its Cheeto-free qualities. 

Yes, I know that my foolish son put those neon orange bits of puffed up styrofood directly into his mouth over the weekend.  That is his choice, however, not mine.  As I stood with the bag poised over my compost, I saw clearly that composting the Cheetos would invite "yellow 6" into my circle where it would fester and mingle with my smattering of squash, my "beautiful" horseradish, and my herbs.

Since composting the Cheetos felt only a small step away from eating them, I reverted to linear mode and dumped the rest with their bag into the trash. 

As if that would be better! 

The trashcan gave me room to pretend I had put the Cheetos (and their bag) out of my circle. 

But I had not. 

Realizing this, I took a good hard look in the kitchen trash.  I imagined that instead of disappearing at the curb, all that stuff would go into my yard.  I felt a little ill.  Seriously.  I challenge you to try it.  If you don't have a yard, then look into your trash and imagine it will go into your community common area (with everyone else's trash), or into your local park. 

Now imagine that you will also grow your food in that space.

Would we be inclined to buy a new shower curtan if we knew we'd have to throw the old moldy one into our backyard tomato patch?  Perhaps we'd check the internet for a method to clean the old one instead.  If we did, we'd discover that baking soda and vinegar work great!

And what about all that individually wrapped food?  Do we really want little 100-calorie snack packages poking up for eternity from our rows of beans?

As consumers, we have tremendous power.  Instead of buying new stuff, we can wear out what we have, refurbish and reuse what others have, and repair what is broken.  We have thrift stores, Ebay, Craig's List and Free-Cycle to buy and trade our old stuff.  And when we do shop for new, (especially at the grocery store), we can let packaging and biodegradability influence our decisions.  We can buy in bulk, carry reusable bags, bypass the plastic in the produce aisle, and support the efforts of companies that invest in green practices.

I know the kids are crying, the deadline is looming, and the dog is throwing up on the carpet.  But if we don't want to expire under the great irony that we were too busy with living to save ourselves, then we need to maintain our sense of urgency.  We need to look in the trash can for the return of the Cheeto and get fired up!
That is the circle that binds us.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

the bear and the fly: a tale of xmas cards and newspapers

the kids in "the valley" with names and schools scrubbed out
to protect the innocent

Last year I wrote a post called Philosophy of a Smaller Christmas about how I wish we could all celebrate Christmas in a smaller, simpler, greener way.  The holidays are very earth centered for me, so I get very scroogy feeling when our celebration creates a lot of waste and trash.  

Last year, I laid out a wish list of things I’d like to see get smaller.  This year, I thought I should put my money where my mouth is. 

One of my suggestions was to cut our holiday card list by excluding local people who we see or talk to regularly.  I thought we would use less paper/stamps and mail truck energy while freeing up time to write personal notes to more distant friends.

I feel sort of embarrassed to admit we have 77 people on our holiday card list.  And it usually grows by a few every year. 

How did someone with one high school friend end up with 77 families on her holiday card list?  She has a lot of cousins and she married a very likable guy (not a bad thing).

I wonder if you think 77 is a lot?  I know other people who have well over 100.   I also know people who have 25. 

Could we have 25?  I went through our list and cut out all of our super local friends.  These are good friends who we see often.  They will understand when I explain that it’s all in the name of a tree. That got me to 67. 

Then I considered some real “cuts.” You know the folks: we’re never in touch, or we never seem to have the right address, or…it starts to feel not very holidayish to go on.  That got me 7 more names.  We were at 60. 

60 is not 25, but it also isn’t 77.  I reassured myself that it was OK because I also planned to order cards on recycled paper. 
Then all my grand plans were dashed when I discovered we had to order the cards in increments of 25.  I would have to get the list to 50, or we were back to 75. 

Well…have you figured out yet that Steve goes along with all of my green ideas to a point?  Think of him like a bear sleeping contentedly in his den, tolerating this fly that he let in years ago and hasn’t been able to get rid of since.  The fly is always buzzing around taking things away, making things smaller, getting into the honey jar, so to speak.

Sometimes the fly goes too far.

Cutting the holiday cards from 60 to 50 was one of those moments. 

Do you need to know the details of what transpired between the bear and the fly? Or do you just need to know that we ordered 75 cards. 


I’m feeling all pouty and frustrated and not green about this when Steve reminds me of something that happened earlier in the week.

We decided to cancel our paper.  I felt really terrible about this decision because I want to support our local journalists.  I want there to be a paper even if I don’t buy it (so selfish!).   Despite our reservations, however, we decided to do it because the thing is huge (with way more content than we read); it comes in a plastic bag; it operates as a gateway for inordinate amounts of advertising on wasteful glossy paper, and of course, we now get so much of our news online.

Canceling sounds so reasonable, but I tell you, it’s hard!!  When I went online to do the deed, I discovered something insidious about those newspaper guys.  They know that we’ve grown all sad and nostalgic about our ritualized way of wrestling those papers into submission every morning, so in a last ditch effort to save themselves, they make it harder for us to pull the trigger: they make us call.

I couldn’t do it.  Instead, I called Steve and told him: “I can’t do it.”  Relatively indifferent, the bear just twitched his ear, hoping the fly would go away.

Later, after the holiday card incident had occurred, the bear had a question.  “How come we can keep the 25lb newspaper that comes to our door every morning, but the biosphere will collapse if we send 25 extra Christmas cards this year?” 

“Oh.” Says the fly. 

So I got on the phone.  I hoped I would be able to navigate the automated system so that I could jump ship by simply pressing “2” in the quiet and shameful anonymity of my kitchen.  But when I selected the option for canceling, the nice robot told me to “wait for the next available service representative to assist you.”

Darn.  They were going to make me say it out loud.

When I told the nice lady on the other end that I wanted to cancel my subscription, she said, “Oh,” with her voice falling: “I’m very sorry to hear that.” 

Do they train them to do that? My stomach just dropped.  Showing my will of steel, I immediately compromised and agreed to a weekend subscription.  By the end of the conversation, I felt like we were old friends.

In the end, we traded 4 newspapers per week for 25 extra Christmas cards per year.

Miraculously, I think the bear, the fly and the earth will all have a very happy holiday.   It is the season of wonders after all.  J

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

riveting post about the conundrum of fall leaves

kids in front yard - 2001

On Sunday afternoon, I mowed all the leaves in my yard.

Since then, I've been mulling and mulling over how to talk about that.  How do you make a pile of dried and shriveled leaves sound sexy and interesting?

You don't man.  After two days of trying, I've come up empty handed.  But I refuse to give up (lucky you) because the bulk of them presents such a conundrum. 

Every year when the leaves fall, thousands of people bag this perfectly good organic material in plastic and send it to the dump.  Come spring, many of these same people drive to the store to purchase perfectly good organic material, also in plastic, and bring it home to use as mulch in their yards. 

This drives me crazy!

The problem is so obvious (too much energy to get rid of something we shouldn't be getting rid of to begin with), but the solution: not so obvious.

If you must remove your leaves, there are lots of ways to improve this process: use paper or compostable plastic bags for your leaves; find a community garden that will take them for mulch, participate in a county mulching program.  And for god's sake: use a calorie-powered rake, not a fossil-fuel burning leaf blower!

By chance, we don't have to use bags because our county picks up our leaves.  They use a truck that resembles a Snuffaluffagus on wheels: big, brown, noisy, and sporting a vacuum hose big enough to suck a person up into it  (but stay out of there because it mulches too).   The county uses the mulch in public spaces.  They make any left over available to residents at no charge.  Not a bad deal at all. 

Except those darn trucks.  They rumble and lumber along, guzzling gas to power the truck engine, the vacuum, and the mulcher for hours and hours without end.  They come around three times per year. 

Is this necessary? Why do the leaves ever have to leave the yard--especially when we need them for mulch in the spring?

I can only speak for us.  If we didn't rake, we'd live in a mud pit.  Also, the mold that would grow in all those leaves would make us sick.  With 1/2 acre and a lot of mature trees, I acknowledge: the leaves have to go somewhere.

If you only have a few leaves, you can stick them in a corner, or in your garden.  If we raked ours into one pile, however, it would threaten to bury our house. We'd quickly run out of room as the leaves wouldn't have time to decompose from year to year. 

If we tried to spread them out in our gardens, or even around the perimeter of the yard,  we'd still have such big piles the leaves would blow right back out.  Again, enter mud and mold.  Less significantly, gobs of loose leaves in the yard are like mice, they find their way into your house and multiply.  And even if we could keep them out of the house and in the garden, they'd make a layer so thick and impenetrable they'd kill all the plants trying to grow there.

Every year, as we rake our leaves to the street, I fret about this.  While I enjoy the fresh air and the time spent working with family, I inwardly mutter and connive: why didn't I invest in a chipper/shredder?  What's so bad about mud? How much gas does that Snuffaluffagus use?  I could have used these leaves in my compost heap this winter!

And here's where it finally gets sexy (because nothing is sexy like a compost heap).  Remember my smelly compost problem?  It smells because I never add enough brown stuff like dead leaves and dried grass clippings.  I'm always scavenging around the yard for weeds, or a few stray leaves, or a clump of collected grass clippings.

Then this summer, I discovered something very interesting.  Our mulching lawn mower has a bag.  Yes it does.  I actually started asking about this bag a few years ago.  It's amazing - knowledge is power, y'know? 

Yes.  I am the foolish woman in this scenario: ignorant of the workings of lawn equipment and it's paraphernalia.  Like a pre-feminist woman, left woefully uneducated about sex and birth control, I had some idea that there was a contraption to catch this fertile substance as the mower ejected it, but I didn't know enough to avoid being put off by the man who deliberately withheld information from me.  I asked and asked, but never really got anywhere.

I heard all manner of evasive replies: our mulching mower didn't come with a bag--the clippings are supposed to fertilize where they fall.  There might be a bag but I don't know where it is.  I think I know where it is, but I don't think it works.  I found it but I didn't have time to put it on (we've all heard that before). 

Until one day this past July, it finally happened.  Steve used the bag. 

I was so happy!

All summer I collected grass clippings to mulch my herb garden and to layer in my compost.  Then, with Steve out of town several weeks ago, I mowed the first round of leaves.  He didn't want me to do it (men don't like you to change their lawn routines).  It worked so beautifully, however, that even he had to agree. 

As I mowed for the third and final time on Sunday, Steve emptied the composter for winter.  He saw first hand the benefit of including clippings.  My intermittent supply of them had created compost that resembled a layered and stinky cheese - with one layer mild and pleasant and the next rotten and smelly.  During one particularly bad layer, he stood up and said, "I think I'm going to vomit" (In defense of my heap, I think he had a little bit of a hangover).  I dumped my leaves in the pile and smiled. 

Now, instead of a mountain of leaves to be hauled away by the county, I have two piles of chopped leaves that together, could tower over me (instead of the house).  And next time we empty the compost, Steve will have no need to feel like vomiting--hangover or not.


But even though I've reached a horrifying 1,000 words, that is not the end of this not-so-sexy post, because, as you probably already know, I have created a new problem:

The lawn mower.

Ugh.  I know the lawn mower is SO BAD.

I will save just how bad for another post, except to say the EPA claims that 5% of U.S. green house gas emissions comes from lawn mowers.  So, if everyone mowed their leaves, would this prove worse than all those plastic yard bags, all those plastic mulch bags, and all the production, shipping, storage, and transportation involved in our current system?

I really have no idea.  I'm trying to go with the whole philosophy of process and lessatarianism.  My new system is certainly less than perfect, but I hope it is also less than the bad it used to be, and I know it is way better for my compost and garden.

So never fear.  My sexy lawn saga will continue as I try to figure this out.  We need a new mower anyway, so maybe next spring we'll end up with something really earth friendly like this:

I'm just kidding.  That's too old and rusty.  Let's get modern.   Like this!

now we're talking!!

Then I can jazz up my summer lawn care post with the tragic story of my divorce.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

got collard balls?

It sounds like we’re going to talk about something that hangs in a rather grotesque fashion off the underside of a creaky old donkey.  Disappointingly (?), this post will just be about vegetables. 

When I first registered "smallhouse" over at Blogher, I listed it under "family," "feminism," and "food." I have figured out, however, that a food blogger, I am not.  I don’t really want to write about how you cook or preserve stuff. 

I so admire the bloggers that do this (and there are a lot of them!).   Quite honestly, although they spend a lot of time explaining how they do it, I don’t have any idea how they do it.  Most of them seem to have little kids underfoot as they cook fabulous recipes (don’t they have to be original? do they make them up? steal them? I don’t know), while photographing every step of the process in a seemingly pristine kitchen.  They even have fantastic photos of their spices arranged in mesmerizing little pyramids that look like gold dust, or perhaps, cocaine. 

I love looking at those blogs, but making one seems ungodly tedious to me.  Plus, who has time for pictures and recipe writing? I need to get that meal in the oven!

So, while I do talk a lot about food, I’m more interested in the poetry and rhythm of eating than I am in the "how to" of it.  I'm drawn to the activist and spiritual aspects of eating local and seasonal food; you don’t necessarily need a recipe for that.  And while it’s deeply meaningful to me, it’s not always pretty.   So while someone else may have posted a succulent brie spread they've arrayed with candied cranberries and toasted pinenuts for the holidays, today I have: collard balls.

Last week marked the end of our summer/fall farmers' market season, as well as the end of my vegetable coop.  With winter looming and the markets closing, I did a little panic buying last Wednesday.  I returned from the market with, among other things, 4 bunches of humongous collard greens. No, I don’t have a picture.  I actually really enjoy photography, but as I looked at the greens already wilting on the counter, I didn't think photo; I thought freezer. 

I wanted to get them into the freezer while I had time.  But how? you ask, probably desperate for information from this blog that is all philosophy and no instruction.  Well, you clean them, stem them, chop them (optional), boil them for 3 minutes (fancy word=blanch), plunge them into ice water, wring them out, and freeze them. 

Wew! There’s my cooking blog for you, in one sentence.  If you want more, check out  Pick Your Own for tips on picking canning and freezing just about everything.  Anything I  can tell you will have been plagiarized from them anyway. 

I don’t like freezing food because of that double f-word thing.  You know: fossil fuel.  Freezers guzzle it, plastic bags embody it.  I much prefer to can foods, but canned collards?  That spells slime in a jar to me.  As I reluctantly prepared my greens for their individual freezer bags, I had an idea.  When I wrung out the greens, I pressed them into hard balls (enough for one meal), then put them on a cookie sheet to freeze.  Once frozen, I could put them in just one big gallon plastic bag.  Not perfect, but better. 

Here they are (because once I was nearly done, I felt like I had time for photos.  Also, I'm pretending to be an aspiring food blogger--and who doesn’t want to see a picture of collard balls?):


Then I went all food blogger photographer on you and took this:


I've notices that it's a very trendy food blogger thing to focus on just the foreground of your food picture, leaving the ingredients and accoutrements to fade into the fuzzy background (a way of hiding a messy kitchen, I am sure--it's working pretty well for me here). 
Why am I telling you about these “balls” anyway?  Because they will probably be the last thing I store for the winter.  Right now, my refrigerator is packed – turnips, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, ginger, arugula and kale: the last of the harvest. I feel both panicked to eat it all before it goes bad, and sorry to see it go. 

It is no accident that this end of harvest coincides with Thanksgiving.  We rightfully focus a lot of attention on family during this holiday, but family is only half of the story.  Thanksgiving is also about food--a celebration of the food that will get your family through the winter.  With grocery stores that carry canteloupe and blueberries year round, we can easily lose touch with the rhythm of harvest and the battle against scarcity that inspired this holiday.
To be clear, we're not survivalists.  Although I would love to, we don't live off the grid, or even live without the conveniences of the grocery store.  I still buy dry goods like pasta, rice and potato chips.  However, I do everything I can to continue our practice of eating local and organic meat and produce throughout the winter. 

I appreciate this way of eating for so many reasons.  It makes old things new as foods come in and out of season; it instills us with an awareness for the fragility of our food system, especially when a local crop fails and we realize with dismay: no tomatoes this year.  It reminds us to think about where our food comes from, (how it was produced, who did the work, how they were treated), and it teaches us about scarcity so that we can truly appreciate what we have. 

This way of eating has a spiritual aspect because it puts us in rhythm with the earth as it changes around us.  Each season gives something and takes something.  Honoring that cycle feels almost like religion to me.  It also has an activist element because we reject so much of the industrial food system we disagree with while supporting sustainable farming in our community.  Finally, it's not perfect.  I cringe at the stuff I still buy from Trader Joe's which is based far away in, egad, California). 
Our attention to the cycles of food make Thanksgiving a really important holiday because it marks the end of abundance.  We celebrate that by overindulging, by symbolically (and sometimes actually) fattening our selves so we can better survive a winter of scarcity.  By the end of the holiday weekend, I will probably have plowed through the last of the fresh green stuff in my fridge.  We will be sure to appreciate every last bite before we hunker down to spend a winter cozied up in our small house with a big freezer bag full of...collard balls--and the hopeful idea that we have enough.

With that, let us go forth and eat pie!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 16, 2012

body politics at the pool: an old bird goes swimming

Remember how I got all fired up about body image after watching Miss Representation? I posted my fat roll on the internet; I railed against misogynistic media moguls; I stood my ground: forty-something; pudgy, and proud? Remember that?

I went to the rec center to swim yesterday evening.  Because I tutor after school, I usually workout in the mornings when everyone else is at the office.  That means I take yoga with people who need instructions like: “Don’t cross the midline on this if you’ve had a hip replacement!”  

Old folks.  I just love ‘em.  Not only because I’ll be one soon, but because they have a certain humor and humility about them.  Also, they understand that a fully functioning body is a thing to be revered, but not necessarily looked at.  When I do yoga or swim with them, no one judges my ass.  If pressed to express some kind of interest, they’d only make a functional inquiry like: "Can you still sit on it?"  Who wouldn’t want to hang out with folks like that?

However, when I entered the locker room at 5:30 last night, I discovered the lovely old folks had taken flight.  In their stead, a ginormous gaggle of high school girls greeted me; their swim team apparel flung like exploded feathers in a great mess about the place.  As they chirped and primped en masse, I marveled at the crowd of them.

I think I’m a typically modest person.  I fall somewhere between the lady who needs a private dressing room and the lady who blow-dries her hair wearing nothing but a pair of skimpy flip-flops and bright red toenail polish.  But I love my body, remember?  So I found a smidge of a spot where I could put my bag and began to unpack and undress.  I tried to blend into the crowd around me, but I couldn't help it, a song from my childhood began to play in my head.

So true.  One of these things just doesn't belong!  I may as well have been wearing that hat with the twirly thing spinning on top. I slithered into my suit as fast as I could and got the heck out of there, seeking the cover of water.

But it didn’t end there.  Apparently, I'd missed the flyer that announced "beautiful hour" at the pool.  Usually, I could find all of my old-folk friends in the deep end doing water aerobics to Rock Around the Clock.  Instead, as I came up for a breath, I noticed a whole crowd of 20-somethings gathering on deck.  They appeared to be looking for a place to swim.  Weren't they supposed to be at happy hour somewhere? To my chagrin, a hot young guy ventured over and got in my lane.  Really?

I suppose now is as good a time as any to remind you that this is the season of armpit hair.  Sigh.  I haven’t shaved my legs in more than ten years, but every summer, I succumb to suburbia’s poolside imperative for shaven pits.  I just can’t take the pressure.  Once the summer pool closes, however, the razor goes away.  I’m not a very hairy person, but after two full months of growth, trust me, there’s enough there to note.   Plus, my very tight swim suit has gotten even tighter over the past year, so parts of me clamor to get out of it as I lumber across the pool.  This is no fashion show.

Wondering if I'd have the guts to do backstroke, I pretended to clean my goggles so I could check out my new friend.  He was brown, muscular, and sort of beautiful in the water.  He had a sun tattooed on his shoulder and some kind of mesmerizing bird across his shoulder blades.  I realized, as I forced myself back to my workout, that aside from my very sweet niece, I almost never spend time with 20-somethings.  My house regularly bulges with young men--but they are teenagers.  When I look at them I see boys, and you can bet that when they look at me, they see an old hag.  And that feels exactly like it’s supposed to.

But this guy was no boy.  When he finally started to swim, I thought I might save face on technique.  I followed him with a surreptitious eye, hopeful that he’d turn out to be a flailer in a fancy suit, but alas, he had a smooth stroke and an intense flip turn—an ex-swim team type for sure.  

I can’t compete with that!  Even if I could do a flip turn, no way was I going to tip myself over, like a duck diving for fish, and show my padded backside to everyone on deck! 

So what to do? 

Well.  I think you already know.

Just keep swimming.

Yup.  Just keep swimming.  And try not to look quite so freaked out as Dory while you do it.  Oh.  And try not to think about her buddy, the whale:

You'll be pleased to know that eventually, I got into my workout and forgot about Mr. Beautiful with his svelte body and his trendy tattoos.  When I finished, I heaved the bulk of my sodden self out of the water, shook myself dry (right down to my padded tail feather) and waddled walked, unvanquished, to the locker room. 

The moral of the story?  Of course, all of us middle-aged folks can and should love our bodies.  But a word to the wise: it's a hell of a lot easier to pull that off if you can steer clear of beautiful-hour at the pool.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

yet another election post: kids, twitter, and victory!

Did your kids pay attention to the election?  We got just a little fired up around here. 

The debates came off like Super Bowl parties, with Olivia making popcorn for the events, Gareth asking to stay up past midnight “to see who wins,” and me hollering “foul!” at the TV like I’m Steve watching the Maryland Terps in the final four. 

Meanwhile, Twitter stepped victoriously out from under the shameful mantel of secret-late-night-addiction and took its long-coveted place at the center of “family time.”  Like a 1950s family mesmerized by the antics of Howdy Doody, we gathered around my computer to snuggle and giggle and gawk at the endless stream of humorous political tweets that galloped through my account. 
Lest you mistake us for a hypnotized bunch of jelly brains, you should know that Twitter is interactive!  Olivia especially thrilled at inventing very mature less-than-140-character quips for me to tweet like: “My 12 yr old daughter thinks Mitt looks like a 50 yr old Ken Barbie.”  

Oh, we laughed.

During the VP debates, Olivia became a Joe Biden fan.  Now she giggles with glee at the idea that this boisterous, guffawing, laughing-too-loud, tell-it like-it-is-whether-you-like-it-or-not-guy, whose sometimes indelicate honesty so resembles hers, will be around for another 4 years.   She loves him enough that I’m thinking, “Hmmm, maybe she’ll slap a poster of him up over that horrible Niall Horan poster that currently takes up half the wall in her small room. 

Then I’m thinking, “Ew. Perhaps we are taking our politics too far.”

As they watched various pundits and politicians stream across the TV (because, as all good well-rounded families know, Twitter is so much more fun if you watch the news while you tweet), they’d ask, “Is he/she good or bad?” 

How easy for us to order their world: lining people and opinions up in neat little columns for them to digest and arguably, carry into adulthood.  You see, most kids adopt their parents’ political views with little consideration for other perspectives. 

Ouch.  That’s a lot of responsibility.  It’s also very tempting.  Think of it, the opportunity to create a gaggle of political little-yous running around voting your way and proving how right you are for a lifetime! 

And for us, this will happen sooner rather than later because I realized: Gareth will vote in the next presidential election!

I tried to do the right thing: to represent Mitt Romney with more nuance, but I may as well be honest.  I failed miserably.  Why couldn’t I have gotten the more moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower, or the benign Gerald Ford to work with? 

Flummoxed, I did the next best thing.  I told the kids that I should be more fair and admitted that I just couldn’t dig deep enough.  My aversion for Mitt had temporarily run the well of fairness dry.  So I told them what I thought Romney would say if he were in the room, then I told them how I’d squash every one of those pesky arguments with the relentless whap! of my unforgiving fly swatter. 

I actually think this is OK.  I disagree with the relatively new idea that balanced news should paint every viewpoint in a positive light.  I think balanced news should do its best to represent every viewpoint for what it is.  If it’s a bad idea, we shouldn’t sugarcoat it in the name of misguided equity. 

So I didn’t.

Meanwhile, election night finally came.  I vowed not to watch:  too much stress; too much speculation; too much waiting.  Steve put on a movie and I…(sigh)...logged on to Twitter…and…you know you can’t properly appreciate Twitter without the news… 

So we watched and tweeted and laughed and barely breathed.  When it got late, we tried to make Olivia go to bed, but the beauty of living in a “small house” is that you can still participate in a family conversation from your bedroom.  Hearing the commotion when Ohio fell to Obama, she reappeared, eager to share in our celebration.  And why not? 

By late night, only Gareth and I remained.  He wanted to see Romney concede, but the guy took too long.  Didn’t he know this was a family event?  All these high school-aged Democrats who wanted one last glimpse of him had to be up at 6 am! 

No matter, we had plenty of HAPPY to carry us through the next day, and the day after that!  I recognize, however, that the kids’ happiness still derives more from our feelings than it does from their independent views.  We will continue to work on developing their political literacy, hopefully helping them to see the big picture and to think for themselves. 
In the meantime, I feel our parenting success lies in having at least shown them that there’s something even more interactive than Twitter.  It’s called: Democracy!

Monday, November 5, 2012

vote Obama: hatred just isn't our cup of tea

By a string of unimportant and not interesting events, I visited the grave of Jefferson Davis last weekend.  Remember that scoundrel?  He was the president of the Confederacy.   His ambiguous headstone claims he was a "Defender of the Constitution." 


He said cool stuff like:

"African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing."

He also said, "We recognize the negro as...our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude." 

As I stood there looking at his statue with the Confederate war flag run up the flagpole behind him, I thought about hatred.  Thank goodness those days are over. 

Except wait.

No, Mitt Romney hasn't argued to reinstitute slavery.  At least that still rings ridiculous in our political landscape.  But only that.

So much of the Republican platform smacks of hatred.  Hatred for women (attacking reproductive rights), hatred for minorities (attacking the safety net), hatred of LGBT people (defense of marriage), hatred of immigrants (opposition to the Dream Act), hatred of the old, the sick, the infirm, the unemployed, the working class, the middle class...the 47%. 

Then they roll all that negative energy up into a racially based hatred for our president that they can barely contain.  Words and phrases like birther, food stamp president, shuck and jive, and boy come to mind. That's not to mention the shameful frontyard "lynchings" of empty chairs in Texas and my own state of VA that occurred after the debates. Nor the racist protest poster I saw at the Obama rally I attended back in July. It portrayed President Obama's face, superimposed onto the face of a monkey.  I just couldn't believe the ignorance, the audacity.

Is it ironic or fitting that the name of the movement that brought all of this hatred to the fore is "The Tea Party?"  A bunch of folks sitting around sipping Oolong and Darjeeling feeling all civilized, right?  They imagine their tea party is all inclusive.  If you're a woman, they'll let you make the tea.  If you're a minority, they'll let you serve it.  If you're an immigrant, they'll ask, with their pinkies raised, if you could be so kind as to go home and grow it. 

Bullies never play fair.

Bullies also don't like it when they don't get their way--and they certainly didn't in 2008.  I think that over the past four years, the visage of our black president has driven them stark raving mad.  In their  frenzy and froth, they've taken a lingering backlash against civil rights and whipped it up into a super storm that challenges even the power of Sandy. 

Don't despair.  You know how a child that plays hard also crashes hard?  I think the Tea Party is like that.  I believe we have such power to squash it tomorrow.  The reelection of president Obama would be a referendum on hate and a rejection of the backlash. 

So if not for healthcare, diplomacy, the economy, student loans, the safety net, veteran's benefits, renewable energy, and climate (as if all of that isn't enough!), then stand tomorrow, on the side of tolerance, compassion and community.  Vote for President Obama so that we can move Forward to face our economic woes together.

Vote Obama to show the rest of the world that hatred just isn't our cup of tea.

Monday, October 29, 2012

holding my breath: a tale of teen driving

Do you remember the first time you discovered the real meaning of the phrase, "flying down the road?"
From my perch in the back, I hung casually over the front seat, my elbows crooked up under me, my head swiveling back and forth between my older sister and her friend, David. As I did my best to look cool, David maneuvered the torpedo of a car up the hill of a narrow residential road near our house.  He leaned back like a man in control, his left arm extended casually to the top of the wheel, his right hand gesticulating its way through the laughter of our conversation.

At 14, my parents had granted me the much anticipated privilege of riding home from school with these worldly teenagers.  They knew David; he was a “nice boy.”  I caught my first giddy whiff of freedom as I laughed, probably too loudly, at his jokes on that day.  When we crested the hill and began to speed down the other side, I sat up straight on the edge of the green vinyl upholstry, both hands gripping the front seat for the leverage you need when you’re not wearing a seatbelt.  The big sedan harrumphed over the uneven road in that barely-touching-the-ground kind of way that only a big car can.  When I bounced so high I bumped my head on the roof of the car, we all hooted and hollered to the sky of invincibility.  We were flying!

Many years later, I watched Gareth ride his bike for the first time down a hill by our house.  His little red two-wheeler wobbled precariously as he picked up speed.  His wonky helmet sat cockeyed on his precious little head; his legs pedaled furiously.  If I could have seen his face, I’m sure it would have exuded pure exhilaration.  Me?  I clutched my hands to my chest and held my breath. 

Does any parent breathe while they’re doing this letting-go-thing?

I haven’t yet. 

On Friday, as I unloaded my tutor supplies from my van, an unfamiliar red car pulled up in the driveway.   “Who’s that?” I wondered as I observed a teenager behind the wheel.  The back door opened and out climbed Gareth, hauling his back pack behind him with an unmistakable swagger. 

I had not given permission for him to ride in cars with other teenagers, so I was unhappy that he’d done so without my permission.  I stuck to that line of commentary for the afternoon, reprimanding him for getting in the car when he knew I would disapprove.  But inside, I wondered if a new milestone had arrived. 
The school thinks so: last year the soccer coach required parents to sign a waiver allowing underclassman to drive to practices with upperclassmen (even though it was never necessary).  The state thinks so: many of Gareth’s friends have gotten their learner’s permits.  Gareth thinks so: obviously.  I guess the only remaining question is: what do Steve and I think? 

He is 15 years old and a sophomore in high school.  I was only 14 that first day I went “flying.”  Of course, I don’t ever want Gareth to careen down a hill like that.  But in the same breath, I don’t want to deny him that feeling I had: the independence, the invincibility, the sheer being.  Teens have to get that somehow. 

I also think it’s a little hypocritical for me to deny freedoms to Gareth that I enjoyed at his age.  I don’t really buy into the idea that we live in a more dangerous world.  We live in a different world with different threats, yes, but more dangerous?  I’m just not sure.  Only luck kept me safe on the day I went soaring down a narrow hill in a wide car.  The reality is that most of the time, we are lucky.  We’re lucky every time we come to the end of a day and crawl into the safety of our flannel sheets with our families intact. 

Rather than suffering more danger, perhaps we are just more fearful.  Perhaps we are less comfortable living in a world where bad things can happen on the day when luck doesn’t show up.  We try to guard against this by regulating danger away (banning kickball, tag and running(!) on the playground, or keeping our kids on a short leash in the neighborhood).  

I have tried my best to resist this trend, to give my kids more freedom--to raise “free range kids,” when I can.  I don’t really know how good I am at it, quite frankly, but I try.  It takes guts to let your kids walk to the pool and cross a four-lane street by themselves when the other moms say it’s too dangerous.  If something goes wrong, you will not only suffer loss; you will suffer judgment. 

Despite all this trying, when it comes to cars, I admit I’m a bit of a disaster.  Having been privy to what happens when luck takes a nap, I know how quickly the familiar insides of a car can turn alien with the aura of injury and death.   Those experiences have left me scarred, and I admit, I feel terrified by the idea of letting Gareth go out into the world in a car.  “Free-range” evokes sweet bucolic images of chickens and children running around harmlessly in a field full of dandelions, doesn’t it?  I don’t see a car anywhere in that picture. 

But perhaps I just never noticed it.  

I can’t keep Gareth locked up in a bird cage just because I feel afraid, right?  I’ve backed myself into this cliché now, so I’m obligated to ask, is it time to “let him fly?”

 Ugh.  I think it is.

With a little trust and a lot of luck, I need to let him go.  He won’t get a free pass or anything, but when necessary, with kids we know, and with prior permission, it’s time to let Gareth, drum roll:  ride home from school with a teen driver.   It doesn’t sound like much, but I know it’s a slippery slope.  We’ll start with riding to and from school with upperclassmen.  Then it will be his friends driving, and then it will be him (he’s young for his grade).  Eventually he’ll be driving to friends’ houses on the weekends, and finally, he’ll simply be “going out.”  I’ll only think I know where he’s going. 

I can’t stop this progression.  I can only stand behind with my hands clasped to my chest, holding my breath. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

laughing with the left

Gareth joined us to watch a recording of Steven Colbert last night.   The show had all of us rolling. 

It was the first time we watched with Gareth, and I got to thinking: what a great way to teach kids about politics.  I certainly don’t think comedy should be anyone’s only source of news, but it seems comedy could be a good vehicle for engaging youth.  You usually have to know something about what’s going on to get the jokes, after all.  

And it doesn't hurt that comedy can make even bad news entertaining.

For example, Donald Trumps bizarre pseudo-extortionist offer to pay $5 million for Obama’s college transcripts struck me as a disturbing.  I didn’t think there was anything funny about this grotesque show of money until Steve Colbert got hold of it. 

 60 second parody of Trump's offer
It’s crude, yes.  But it had a triple positive effect.  First, it allowed us to talk to Gareth about Trump’s stunt with laughter instead of the more bitter or cynical tone I might have adopted after first hearing the story.  Second, it gave us a context for discussing power and money in an election where their connection has become so exaggerated.  Third, and most importantly, it helped us show Gareth how cool his parents are because we can laugh at a joke about dipping balls into people's mouths.  egad.   

So, I'm thinking about how I might be on to something:  I'm thinking we can exploit comedic news programs to engage Gareth in political discussions!  Imagining how that would work, I realized, “Wow. People on the Left are really funny! We have a ton of material to choose from!” 

Win or lose, it seems like it's a lot more fun to be a Democrat than a Republican.

They have Fox News with its flashing lights, dramatic music and low-intelligence messages of fear and doom.  We have Steven Colbert making fun of Fox with his faux-Fox set, his mock drama, and his clever spoofs on their stories and reporting styles. 

They have the blustering of Bill O’Reilly with his arrogant and oversimplified messages of outrage through which he hopes to breed indignation and suspicion for all things Left. 

We have the blustering of Jon Stewart who, rather than instill us with outrage, uses humor to relieve us of it.

 "Chaos on Bullshit Mountain" - from a month ago
 and an unfortunate 10 minutes long, but still has me laughing

And good god, they have Rush Limbaugh.  If you dare venture to listen to his red-faced, spittle-laden hate-speech for more than sixty seconds, it will surely leave you feeling that you need a shower.  I don't begrudge Rush's right to say what he wishes, but I’d trade his world where hatred rules, for Bill Maher’s “New Rules” any day. 
Bill concluding his argument that if we can't manage to tolerate offensive language in others,
 we end up with "The Least Interesting Man in the World." 
If all that’s not enough, we have Andy Borowitz on Twitter:

Romney: "Not only do I believe in drones, I am one." #debate

Sarah Silverman on line:

Sarah: "Let My People Vote!"

and Saturday Night Live on the old fashioned telly: 


Spoofing the first presidential debate

Everywhere I turn, someone’s making me laugh about an election that otherwise makes me want to cry.  That has to be good for my health, right?

With our country so polarized, and our political commentary so full of vitriol, I am grateful that our family can rally together around laughter instead of hate.

And no, it is not lost on me that I just posted a bunch of videos full of crude jokes and profanity and claimed them as something my "family" can rally around.  I guess that's the beauty of having a teenager!

Keep smiling!   J