Wednesday, July 25, 2012

come alive! it's a tomato emergency

This is a row of tomatoes.  Or more accurately, 3 (or 4?) rows, blended into one.

I know it looks more like a big green blob, but under the cover of that big green blob lurks a mass of approximately 1 million little green blobs.  A developing "tomato emergency" as my friend Jay has dubbed it.  He should know because, well, he planted them. 

tomatoes layered on potatoes

the day's haul: potatoes, tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, okra

Some people have an eating disorder.  My friend Jay has a planting disorder.  He plants vegetables compulsively in the night, secretly sowing mass quantities of seeds, watering on the sly, then professing not to know how 100 butternut squash erupted in his field while the rest of us were drinking beer in the river.

knee deep in butternut vines

In case you're wondering, Jay is not a professional farmer (as in, he has another job and doesn't grow vegetables for sale), nor does he actually plant vegetables secretly in the night.  He does, however, have access to this large space that he feels compelled to fill with vegetable plants, even though his garden is more of the backyard variety, intended to feed his family and perhaps a few friends.  If you ask him what he's going to do with the produce he collects from a mile-long row of okra plants, he'll just grin and tell you, "I don't know, but isn't it great?!"

more okra than any one person should ever grow

There is a famous quote, tenuously attributed to Howard Thurman:

Don't ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

It's safe to say that planting stuff and feeding people makes Jay come alive.  While I understand that not everyone will come alive in an oversized row of okra, I do believe everyone can come alive through some kind of creative work.  I don't just mean artwork; I mean making stuff: stuff we need (clothes, food, furniture, shelter, etc.), or just stuff we like (chocolate cake, beer, jewelry).  When we create the things we need and/or like, they become pieces of artwork, don't you think?

Our culture focuses so much on the pleasures of convenience that I feel we sometimes miss out on the deeper pleasures of work.  We expect that if we pay someone else to landscape our yard, or paint the walls of our house, or grow our food, then we will feel happier than if we did the work ourselves.

But do we? 

Compare a frozen and microwavable spaghetti dinner-for-one with a sauce made from tomatoes you grew yourself.

For me, the microwave meal skims the surface of what I find satisfying about food. It doesn't even meet my basic expectations of nutrition and flavor. Instead, it puts all of its eggs in the basket of doing nothing. As if doing nothing is a pleasure and convenience we should seek at the expense of all else.

In doing nothing, we miss out on the pride of coaxing seedlings into plants, the sweat of weeding, watering, harvesting, and canning (it's a lot of sweat for sure), the anticipation of hearing your canning lids seal and pop, and finally, the joy of creating and sharing the meal.

It's a deeper satisfaction, gleaned from a deeper investment--I felt this keenly when I "lost" my sweet potato stew last spring.  

Food prepared this way doesn't come in single servings.  When you share it, you can badger everyone incessantly, bragging, "I canned these tomatoes myself 6 months ago! Isn't this the best sauce you've ever eaten?" Or, "How do you like that sauce? Did you know those tomatoes used to be in the backyard?" 

That's what I do, anyway.  Maybe I'm not so fun to eat with?

The point is, have you ever heard anyone brag about a microwave dinner?  In comparison, it's more like a mirage than a meal.  It shimmers enticingly on the counter, makes your mouth water with anticipation, but in the end is nothing more than the appearance of what you wanted.  

How many other things do we experience in this superficial way?  

I'm not saying that everyone needs a tomato emergency, but I do think everyone can "come alive" by going deeper into the process of something.  Most of our work involves part of a job. With little choice, we sell the products someone else developed. We serve the food someone else cooked. We crunch the numbers of someone else's business. How often do we get the satisfaction of going deep, of doing the whole job, or of saying "I made that" and then sharing it with others?

Of course, we don't have time to do this with everything.  I assure you that Jay doesn't "go deep" into the process of making his own clothes.  The garden is enough.  But surely we could all pick one thing: sewing, landscaping, cooking, renovating, brewing, writing, painting, decorating, weaving, whatever. 

Start slow (plant one tomato, knit one potholder, paint one wall).  Pick something you like, something you need, and at whatever pace, go deep into the process of it. 

Make it. 

Share it. 

Follow it. 

Come alive.

Friday, July 20, 2012

over 40 and gone polka dotty

Olivia and I went bra and bathing suit shopping yesterday.  How interesting for a 45 year old woman who is approaching the end of her reproductive (i.e. seductive) years to run this errand with an 11 ½ year old girl who is approaching the beginning of hers.  We needed the biggest and the smallest bras, the biggest and the smallest bathing suits. 

With that, I shouldn't say more about what Olivia needed. Considering she nearly decapitated me when I said the word "underwear" too loudly in the dressing room, I feel certain that advertising her intimate purchases on the internet might cause her to melt into a puddle of seething mortification not to be forgotten in this lifetime.

Conversely, I have no problem embarrassing myself.

The shopping for me went something like this: 

Me: "Oooh, this is cute!"  

I toyed with a hot little pink polka-dotted number.

Olivia: "Mom, that says JUNIORS! OMG, you can't wear that!"

"Oh.  Woops.  But wait, why can't I have polka dots?"

"You're too old.  You're so weird." 

So we strolled around the corner to where the "women" shop - you know, us old and fleshy nonbeings who, apparently, have an aversion to color and anything pretty at all.

"Mom, Look!" Olivia giggled as she fit her entire head into a beige double-D cup as if it were a furless aviator cap pulled snugly down around her ears.  Then she remembered that she has graduated from playful child to awkward pubescent tween, at which point she threw the offending garment at the rack, shuttered in a heeby jeeby kind of way, then bolted across the aisle as if it had bitten her with its forebodings of coming womanhood.

After collecting herself, she held up another hefty specimen and admonished, "You cannot wear this."

Hmmm.  Cute and sexy is weird.  Full and frumpy is gross.  My mom-body doesn't fit into the one-dimensional notions of  femininity she sees every day in the media.  Big surprise.

"Where are all the polka dots?!" I asked, ignoring her comments.  We checked the other aisles hopefully, but only found rows and rows of white and beige. 

Practical.  Comfortable.  Supportive

Fine.  I admit I want those things, but I fail to see how a little pattern interferes with the more functional aspects of underwear. 

I meandered back to the Juniors, musing to myself, "Doesn't 'Junior' mean teenager? Why are we sexifying bras for teenagers?" 

I answered myself, "Maybe it's just meant to be cute and fun.  You know, slumber party fodder." 

Standing there surveying the colorful selection, I decided to try a few on.  Just call me crazy like a fox.  I don't actually need "the biggest bra."  I just said that earlier for effect.  I'm more of a C cup if you must know the nitty gritty, and Juniors do dare to go that high (do they think D and F cup girls don't like dots?).   

The blatant injustice of the drab women's section helped Olivia envision me in, egad, a pattern.  I think she saw it as the lesser of two evils, and after all, no one would really know except her and daddy.

I tried on the Junior bras, and guess what?  Most of them were of the push up variety.  They even had labels to that effect.  They put a little steroid in the push up too.  Even with my relatively slight bosom, I felt sure I could not wear them without banging my chin on my cleavage when I chewed.

It didn't help that I've never been a big fan of showing cleavage.  I think it looks a bit like an extra butt encroaching on an otherwise perfectly civilized conversation.  I suppose men like seeing a butt no matter where it's hanging out, but regardless of whether or not you find cleavage appealing, I think we can agree it isn't "cute" in a slumber party kind of way, right? 

So they had sexified the Junior bras after all.   

Forty-somethings get 3 hooks in thick beige spandex.  Teenagers get purple push up with strategic padding? 

This is all wrong.  No need to explain why we shouldn't eroticize teens.  But a quick word about 40-somethings.   I know I said I was approaching the end of my seductive years, but "approaching" is the key word there.  It ain't over till it's over, right?  Who's to say when the real end will arrive?  Older people don't seem in a rush to disclose that information.

Personally, I think women my age have a lot going for them.  We have  knowledge, experience, nerve, and skill in the bedroom (I make it sound like a trapeze act, but don't let your imaginations run away with you!).  Perhaps the problem is that we also have expectations.  We know what we want and how we want it.  Do men feel intimidated by that?  If they do, I don't think dressing naive teens up in alluring underwear is the answer.  

I suppose the rest of the problem is that we also know when we want it (as in, NOT every day.  Or let's be honest folks, not even every week, or month for some).  But hey, when the time comes, we know how to make it count. And perhaps some sexy underwear would help the time come more often!

So I found a few "Junior" bras that were not of the push-up variety and brought them home.  This morning, feeling all young and new-womanish, I stepped out of the shower and donned my gay apparel. 

Apparently, bra executives have invested in some new lift-and-separate technology because, as I was getting dressed in the rest of my clothes, I noticed I kept bumping my arms into myself.  As in, my breasts seemed to be a lot closer to my armpits than they used to be.  I hadn't noticed that at the store.

So now I'm walking around in my cute polka dots trying to feel all young and sexy with my arms held stiffly out to my sides to make room for my rearranged appendages. 

I guess I should be happy that there's no chance of cleavage! But really, I just resent how the underwear aisle so narrolwy defines women as teen/attractive or not-teen/frumpy.  There's a lot of gray area in there.  Let the young girls have fun, but in a modest way (will Olivia really be asking for a zebra striped push up bra in a year or two?).  Meanwhile, we women need hot pink bras with 3 hooks, polka dots on 2 inch straps, and double-D and F cups in prints.  And personally, I could go for a cute bra that positions my breasts somewhere on the front of my body where they belong!

Monday, July 16, 2012

waiting for obama

This and all the following pics were taken by my friend Lisa.  Thanks for sharing Lisa!

According to NPR, VA is "the new Ohio."  Finally, after years of election day obscurity, we'll get some attention! 

Being in a swing state means your phone rings off the hook and attack ads crowd your TV.  But it also means the president himself might come a-knocking to personally ask you for your vote.

That's how I ended up waiting for Obama.

Last Thursday, I arrived at Obama's local campaign office right on time: 5:30.  That's when ticket distribution was scheduled to begin for the presidential rally I hoped to attend on the coming Saturday. 

Did I think I would stroll in and carelessly collect said tickets as if I were seeking admission to a JV soccer game?

Yesiree, I did.  Sometimes I surprise even myself with my naivete.

By the time I arrived, the line had begun to wrap itself around the building for the second time.  I had told Olivia I'd pick her up from the pool in an hour. 

Not so.

I showed up without sunscreen, without water, without a plan.  The only thing I'd brought was resolve.  I wanted to see our president.  My line-mates were similarly unprepared and similarly committed.  No one talked of leaving.  Instead, we looked in our hats for entertainment, chatted about healthcare reform, and joked nervously about right wing extremism.  Standing together in that throng, we felt strong and full of promise. 

After an hour, a volunteer informed us that we had virtually no chance of getting tickets.  Oddly, we weren't swayed.  We just shrugged and stayed--feeling hopeful just in the do-nothing of waiting.  Waiting for Obama. 

As the hour dragged on, and the sun beat down, we supported each other in our quest.  People bought and shared water, took turns leaving to use the bathroom, and strategized about where to get dinner.

After three hours of standing, word came that they only had 50 tickets left.  We were about 150 people back, but still we stayed.  When we heard that the tickets were gone, we didn't want to believe it.  Someone speculated that the messenger was an imposter.  The family behind me left reluctantly.  I hesitated.  Another woman from the campaign confirmed the news.  The older man next to me put his hands in his pockets, resolving:  "I'm not leaving until I get to the door."  Some dispersed.  Others held on. 

Finally, I went home, disappointed, but surprisingly bolstered.  After all the comaraderie, I felt as if I'd already been to the rally.

I was just explaining this to Steve when a friend beeped in to tell me she'd gotten an extra ticket.  Bolstered or not, I would go to the rally after all! 

So Saturday afternoon I found myself in a familiar situation: Waiting for Obama. 

This time I stood in a line that wrapped around a parking lot instead of a building.  Again we waited with uncertainty.  Despite having tickets, would we all get in?  And even if we did, would we get shuffled into overflow where rumor had it we'd watch it all on TV? 

Relishing the shade of one lone tree, we kept the faith.  We talked about our common politics and gazed, a little dumbfounded, at the group of protesters who had assembled across the street.  One held a bullhorn through which he occasionally said, "no more debt" in an oddly subdued voice.  Many held homemade signs that protested Obama's policies.  None of them advertised a pro-Romney message or agenda.  The party of "no" in action. 

I looked down the line of people in front of me and saw so many welcome contrasts to the all white and mostly over-40 crowd across the way.  We came in all manners of beige, brown, black, yellow and white.  We had dressy, preppy, casual, grungy and cool in our line.  We had babies, kids, teens, parents and grandparents.  We laughed and celebrated.  We anticipated.  Despite being hot, thirsty and tired, no one complained. 

I know these contrasts do not represent a scientific cross-section of party demographics, but even so, I relished my place in the Obama camp.

After three hours of standing in line, we finally gained entrance to the school gym where a variety of people spoke before the announcement came that "The POTUS is in the house!" 

Music blared.  Cameras whipped out. 

Really? I thought.  Would he come dancing in?

No.  The song finished without an appearance and another started.  And another.  We helped the lady with the baby.  We made room for the kids to stand in front; we speculated about the delay; we bounced on our toes; we strained our necks.  We waited for Obama. 

And finally, he showed:

And, of course, it was awesome.  I've never seen a president in person before.  That was thrilling enough, but to see President Obama, who has such command to inspire at the podium, filled me with hope about the upcoming election.  I needed him to do that.  I expected him to do that. 

What I hadn't expected was that I would feel equally inspired and equally hopeful before he ever showed, as I came together with so many likeminded people.  I hadn't expected that I would get so much positive energy while simply waiting for Obama.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

thanks freddie, for wearing a skirt

A gaggle of 11-12 year old girls took shelter from the heat at my house yesterday.  I thought it was cool that one of the girls’ older brothers, a 15 year old, joined them for a game of Rummy Royal.  The unlikely group listened to music, dealt cards, laughed, and argued the afternoon away. 

Since they managed to occupy themselves for several hours, I didn’t intervene when I heard them move to the computer.   As I washed the dishes, however, I did turn one bionic ear their way, expecting that the 15 year old’s internet interests might not jive with my ideas about tween entertainment. 

It didn’t take long before I heard a high-pitched chorus of “oooh!”  “eeeew,” and “OMG!” coming from around the corner. 

Me: “Olivia! What are you looking at?” 

Olivia:  “Huh?”

Me, drying my hands: “What’s on the computer? Is it appropriate?” 

Olivia cuts me off as I round the corner:  “It’s appropriate.  I promise.  You know that guy?  He sings that song. You know.” 

I’m overwhelmed with information.

Olivia:  “You know, that guy.  He sings that song where everyone shakes their head in the car.  Is it Queen? He’s dressed like a girl!

Me:  “Oh, Freddie Mercury?”

Friend following behind Olivia:  “Yes, we promise.  It’s appropriate.  Just uhh, highly weird.”   She rolls her eyes back in her head in an exaggerated way.  Everyone nods knowingly.

I peer over their shoulders, and there he is:

He’s singing, I Want to Break Free.    

Me:  “He’s not weird.  He’s one of the most amazing vocalists in the history of rock!” 

They disperse, mumbling and giggling among themselves.  I guess there’s nothing like a nosy mom to suck the fun out of Youtube.   

I return to my dishes thinking about, “appropriate” and “highly weird.”  I guess I should be glad for Freddie that he made it to “appropriate,” especially considering that MTV (shockingly) banned the video back in 1984. 

Still, I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness for the “highly weird” part.  The video is funny and entertaining, but it has a point too. “I Want to Break Free,” expresses a pained desire to escape the limits and oppressions of normal, especially those that surround gender roles and sexuality.  With arm pit and facial hair hanging out, Freddie doesn't hide his masculinity under women's clothing, rather, he asks us to accept it in a different form.  It bums me out that anyone would still call him “weird” after nearly 30 years.  Will we ever get used to seeing a man in a skirt?

After the kids go home, I feel obligated to speak up for Freddie.  I ask Olivia what she thinks about the video.  She thinks it was funny.  I agree, but I add that his costumes also challenge us to open our minds about how women and men should act, dress, and love.  She asks if he liked wearing women’s clothing.  I tell her “probably,” but that he didn’t seem to think we should care either way. 

She answers: “I get it.  He’s a leader.  He’s doing his own thing.”  Then she adds, “I like that about people.” 

Man, do you think she just tells me stuff like that because she knows I want to hear it?  I hope not because such statements makes me sooo happy! 

I tell her, “Yeah, me too.” 

So thanks Freddie, for putting on a skirt and helping me teach my daughter about the pressures of conformity.  You really do have to stay on top of these lessons, I’ve discovered.  Otherwise, the status quo will dress up in the innocent guise of a friendly teenager, march through your backdoor without even knocking, and draw arbitrary boundaries around normal while you’re busy washing the dishes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

earth: full, pantry: empty

Like a lot of folks, I’ve read and watched some scary stuff about our economy and the environment in recent years. We face a warming climate, overpopulation, crippling trade deficits, a seemingly insurmountable national debt, peaking oil and water supplies, and a food production and distribution system that depends on all of these other at-risk factors to keep our rumbling bellies full. It’s too much to think about, really.

And so we don’t.

Deer in the headlights? Ostriches with our heads in the sand? Or perhaps a creative double-jeopardy-kind-of-combination never before seen in the history of denial: we have our heads in the sand and our asses to the headlights: doomed, paralysed, and willfully ignorant.

Before I crush you with negativity, grab yourself a beer, a coffee, or perhaps a tub of ice cream, and watch Paul Gilding’s fairly optimistic TED talk The Earth is Full. Or if you prefer, you can read an interview with him about his book The Great Disruption. Or, egad, read the book itself! (I haven’t yet).

Gilding is a genius. Not for his science, not for his research or business acuity, not for his synthesis of information.

For his attitude.

He somehow argues that when the poor abused fan we call earth spins into the imminent shit storm of ecologic and economic calamity he predicts, we will have our finest hour. 

Gilding contends that not only is the earth warming, it is full. He cites the Global Footprint Network to argue that it takes 1.5 Earths to maintain our global economy in its current state.  Add that we expect the population to quadruple by 2050 and things look dire indeed.

If that's not enough, there's a catch-22.  While we need to reduce our rates of water consumption, CO2 emissions, and soil degradation to sustain the earth, we need to increase these things to sustain the economy.

With our present methods, we cannot do both.

Don't worry.  That wasn't the positive part.  This is:  Gilding argues against despair.  From a position of hope he claims humans are good in a crisis.  We are innovative, possess an incredible capacity for change, and when pressed, repeatedly come together to achieve "whatever it takes" with speed and efficiency.

Reading this, I feel like a child getting a pep talk from my mom.  Yes we can!

He admits that there will be pain and suffering in our lifetime, possibly even a collapse of our civilization, but ultimately, Gilding argues, we will come through it for the better ("it won't hurt" says mom at the doctor's office, "you'll just feel a little pressure").

I appreciate the positive angle, and I see how Gilding’s attitude makes his rather devastating news more digestible.

But I can also read between the very wide lines. System collapse means empty shelves at the grocery store, no gas at the pump, water scarcity, heat, and cold.

In the worst case, we’re using dollar bills for toilet paper (now that’s going green!) and defending our meager vegetable plots with stolen guns that we don’t know how to use.

Sitting alone at my computer in the dark of night, bleary eyed in my Twitter Haze, I got a little scared. Shouldn’t we prepare for this coming-apart-at-the-seams? I mean, what will it take to be one of those upbeat innovators who comes through the “pain and suffering” part to enjoy the new sustainable world? When the Care Bears flit around on wind turbines, bounce carelessly from solar panel to solar panel, and slide giggling over the arches of renewable rainbows, I want to be there.

And who can I talk to about this desire, these fears?

Even though the naysayers repeatedly discredit themselves with faulty research and ad homonym attacks on credible scientists, their noise creates uncertainty for lay people like me who are unschooled in the details we need to fully understand what's going on.

Let’s face it. Nobody wants to be called Chicken Little, and anyone who talks about societal collapse and catastrophic climate change in the mainstream takes that risk.

I checked Gilding’s credentials and those of the sources he cites. Very solid. And to be truthful, a lot of this wasn’t new to me. I read Storms of My Grandchildren by NASA scientist James Hansen. I read The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler. And besides, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a climate scientist for that matter, to understand that we cannot create infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Period.

I decided I'd rather be safe than sorry. I would collect necessities, but secretly. No one would have to know.

Why secretly?

Because I'd rather be a big chicken in private than Chicken Little in public.

Pathetic, I know.

So surreptitiously, I set out for the grocery store with a mission: save myself, save the kids, live to see the future! Then I got overwhelmed. How do I store months’ worth of water for four in a “small house” without anyone knowing about it? Where would I put all those canned goods? Will we have to eat them before they spoil if the sky doesn’t fall? Blech! How often do I replenish? (that’s expensive!).What about other necessities like tampons, band aids, BAKING SODA?!  The list started to explode.

In the end, I came home with an extra bag of rice and three bars of soap.

It’s true. I don’t shop well in a crisis.

So bring it on: resource wars, floods, starvation, dehydration, gun fights in the potato patch:

We'll be lathered and ready.

How about you?