Tuesday, January 29, 2013

liebster love, liebster loser


My good bloggy friend Thalassa over at Musings of  Kitchen Witch has given me a Liebster Award! Thalassa writes a cool and very informative blog about paganism and parenting. She writes openly and without judgement about religion in general and paganism specifically, and her site is an impressive encyclopedia of herbal uses & remedies.  Thanks Thalassa!

But that's not all.  I was also awarded a Liebster by another blogger friend, Katy from over at Katy Brandes Writes!  Katy is a super motivated writer and blogger, always participating in the latest writing prompt or reading challenge.  Her blog is a great source of motivation and inspiration for reader/writer enthusiasts! 

Here's the mortifying thing about Katy's award: she gave it to me in July.  Is there a Liebster Loser award?--given to unappreciative bloggers who neglect their blog award duties?  Send it on over.  

All I can say for myself is that there seems to be some kind of time warp in the blog world.  I just cannot believe how fast time has gone by since I started blogging--or since Katy so generously gave me this award in July. 

But better late than never, right?!

According to the rules, I need to paste the award logos into my post (check), answer the questions asked by my nominators (coming up), then pass those questions, or create a new list of questions, to my own nominees (nominees must have 200 or fewer followers).  And, of course, notify my nominees. 

In the interest of brevity, I'm going to cheat a little and combine the questions from the two awards.  Here we go!

1. Favorite book?

Impossible question (I have commitment issues).  For today I will say Toni Morrison's Beloved.  I read it as both an undergraduate and a graduate student.  I also taught it a few times--and I'm still not tired of it.  I love it for its beauty, its complexity, and its pain.  Toni Morrison's look at community and love fascinates me.  She shows how both can so selflessly give and so selfishly take.  People are complicated beings!

2.  Do you read real books or e-books? 

Both.   E-books use electricity, but real books use paper.  Hmmm.  I feel lost in e-books (I can't see the cover; I can't get a visual on how far through it I am; I can't see or feel anything, really--just an isolated and alienating square of digital information). But you can get an e-book instantly (dangerous for a book-a-holic like myself), and you can travel with a pile of books in one thin contraption.  For the real books that I do read, I'll get new if it's a gift, otherwise, I've been trying to use the library to save paper--something I never did in my book collecting days.  It's sad to send a book back when I'm done, but it's so fun to go to the library!

3. Which art form offers you the truest expression for yourself? 

Writing.  Hands down.  I play piano and enjoy photography, but I wouldn't say I'm expressive in either.  I am a technical pianist, always short changing the more nuanced aspects of playing music.  And in photography, I make it up as I go, so if anything comes out well, it's usually an accident.  That's fine, but I don't know how expressive that is.  From writing, however, I get a deep sense of satisfaction.  When its done, I'm pretty much splayed out there on the page--for good or bad.

4.  Favorite genre?

I'll read anything but romance. 

5.  What always makes you laugh?

Funny stuff, of course!  However, I'm very inclined to laugh when I'm not supposed to - during class when I was a kid, or when someone burps or farts in church, or when I'm supposed to be angry because Olivia put shaving cream on Gareth's pillow for a joke.  If I'm with someone else who's also trying not to laugh and they snort, I will probably pee my pants.

6. What always makes you cry? 

Well, sad stuff!  But also, sports.  A dramatic victory (not a dramatic loss) will always make me cry.  I cried when the U.S. hockey team won the gold back in the 80s.  I cried when speed skater Dan Jansen finally won Olympic gold in the 1994 winter games.  I even cry at the end of the super bowl if it's a close game, and I really really hate professional football.  A hard won victory and suddenly my eyes are brimming.  Weird, huh?

7. What is one thing that you can’t do that you’d love to be able to do? 

Sing.  Some people would say that I can sing, but it's not true.  I can carry a tune within a very narrow and oddly low range. Maybe I'm a tenor? I don't know.  It's a terrible teaser for me because I can usually only sing part of any given song.  My father and his parents have excellent voices.  For some reason, I only got half of their vocal chords. I feel a little ripped off by that.

8.  If you were given the opportunity to spend one more day with a friend or family member who has passed away, what would you do?

I'd love to get a few hours with my maternal grandfather.  He died when I was fourteen.  I regret I never pressed him for the details of why he claimed that my siblings and I are the direct descendants of King Philip, or Metacomet, the Wampanoag chief who fought the settlers so fiercely in King Philip's War 1675-1676.  In case you have a big gaping whole in your history of the U.S., I'll tell you, the Wampanoags lost!  Those pesky pilgrims, from which I am also descended, drew and quartered Metacomet, sent his hands to Boston and displayed his head on a stake outside the town of Plymouth.  Nice!  The thing is, official history claims that Metacomet's wife and son were sold into slavery in the Dominican Republic.  If so, how could he have left a line of descendants in Rhode Island?  I have discovered other families on line who also claim a connection to Metacomet.  Some argue that his wife and son were not sold away (there is no ship manifest listing their names), but rather, whisked away by Indian sympathizers.  Interesting!  I'd love to hear my grandfather's response to these claims.  He insisted on our heritage very adamantly, pointing emphatically at my chest and telling me to "never forget I was descended from a killer Indian chief named King Philip."
9. Do you write? 

Absolutely, but not fiction.  I can't come up with a story to save my life.  I'm currently seeking an agent for the memoir I've written about my experience as a graduate student and adjunct professor of English. If I could ever get that off my plate, I have ideas for two other books, one of which would be to collect an oral history of King Philip - if that's even possible.  I try not to think about it too much since the old folks who might hold the secrets to my past are probably dying off as we speak.  The pressure.

Enough about me!  I'm awarding my Liebsters (pick whichever logo suits you!) to Balancing Jane, and the old jaw jaw.

I have a real soft spot for Balancing Jane because I once lived this life she's living: parenting while teaching college-level English and earning a Ph.D.  When people used to ask me how I did it all, I always said, "badly."  Somehow, Michelle adds blogging to her list of responsibilities, and manages to do it very well.  Her blog, a reflection on popular culture, politics, feminism, parenting and some things academic, is smart, eclectic and real--without being presumptuous.  Hooray for Balancing Jane!

As for the old jaw jaw - what a great title, and I like that we both share an affinity for lower case letters!  Allama's blog is also smart, honest, eclectic and stridently leftist and feminist--all good things in my mind.  Allama writes about popular culture and politics in insightful and brazen ways from the other side of the pond.  She also makes me laugh.  Hooray for the old jaw jaw!

Thanks again to Thalassa and Katy for my Liebsters, and best of luck to Michelle and Allama, I hope you have fun with your awards!  :)


Saturday, January 26, 2013

what's in the pot?

I'm cooking stock--a lot of it--hoping for about 36 cups.  There's something so completely satisfying about this pot, simmering and smelling so heavenly on the stove.  It seems a culmination?  A witch's brew? A recycling? A pot of healing power?  I don't know.

Why do I get so inspired by a pot of soggy boiling stuff? 

I think it brings together a lot of things.

I remember sitting with friends in college, eating some sort of frozen meal - a creamy, but fat free, chicken cordon bleu, I think.  I held up a forkful of this "delicious" frozen dinner and said with amazement: "They can turn anything into food!" 

If you asked me to eat that same meal now, I know I'd gag in the trying. 

I also remember the first time it occurred to me to question the source and content of my food.  A friend of my sister's, Mary, had researched the possible causes of her husband's cancer.  Mary told my sister she believed people were getting sick from all of the preservatives and additives in food.  My sister repeated this to me in almost hushed tones.  "Really" I said, in that weighted way you do when you've just heard some very juicy gossip.   I can't say a light bulb went off bright white and hot over my head, but it set to humming in a dim but persistent glow.  Was our food safe? 

Already foodies who loved to cook, my sister and I set out on a journey.  It wasn't a mission at first, just a journey.  It involved a little accidental discovery here, a little shock and outrage there, a medical problem or two thrown in for good measure, some research as it came our way, and overall, a general pattern of gradual adoption and change.  We're still hunkering our way down the path of it now. 

There are so many different reasons for avoiding highly processed or industrial food.  From health, to the environment, to ethics.  You don't have to learn about them all at once.  You don't even have to care about them all at once.  It would take years before I would begin to avoid the preservatives and additives that Mary warned us about.  Her concerns simply served as an impetus that set us off, to find our own way. 

I started with organic milk in 1998.  I remember the first time I bought it, paying twice the money (about $3.50) for a half gallon than I used to pay for a whole gallon.  This felt like a huge extravagance to me (one I, of course, hid from Steve like another new pair of designer shoes), but I was learning about the "true costs" of cheap food, so I made the leap and spent precious extra dollars on just that one thing. 

Doing it, I felt empowered, like I could change the world.

Over the next few years, I heard increasing rumblings about organic food, but Gareth was a toddler, and  I was buried deep in my Ph.D. program.  We ate fresh and homemade meals, but our food choices centered around creativity and pleasure more than they did politics or spirituality.

Then I did some reading: Your Organic Kitchen (a cookbook) by Jesse Ziff Cool in 2000, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser in 2001, and The Healthy Kitchen  (another cookbook) by Andrew Weil, M.D. and Rosie Daley in 2002.  These three books introduced me to the realities of mass produced food and the attendant need to eat local and organic whenever possible.  The books came out over the course of three years, so I had time to absorb and process the information. 

At the time, organic vegetables showed up in the grocery store about as often as salami showed up at the doughnut shop.  Still, I fell into the rhythm of seasonal eating, organic or not. I began to feel annoyed with my usual cooking magazines and their insistence that I rustle up fresh tomatoes or cilantro in February.  Never a fan of fast food for its obvious health implications, I also began to think, for the first time, about food choice as connected to something larger - a petroleum dependent industry laden with questions about the ethical treatment of animals, use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, loss of biodiversity, and the disappearance of the small family farm.

My new convictions about food gathered steam after that.  I discovered my organic CSA (community supported agriculture, or coop) in 2003.  My sister randomly met a woman who ground her own grain for bread (and who taught us to do the same) in 2005.   And at some point, we made a trip to a local pick-your-own farm and came home with 90lbs of strawberries between us.  I don't know what came over us--some sort of bizarre frenzied panic to gather way more than our fair share?  We had all of those berries either in a jam jar or the freezer before the sun went down that night, so I'd say we officially had the fever.  We canned applesauce that fall and gradually added other things like tomatoes and peaches as the years went by. 

Over those same years, I'd gradually shifted my produce shopping from the grocery store to the farmer's market, supplementing what I got from my CSA with food from other local farmers.  I had a growing sense of control--I thought I had it all figured out!  Then, in what felt like a huge setback, Olivia was diagnosed with food allergies and sensitivities in 2009.  To resolve digestive issues, rashes and trouble with excessive hyperactivity and inattention, the doctor advised no wheat, gluten, dairy, egg, or peanut. No food dyes, preservatives, additives or refined sugar either.   She couldn't eat my homemade bread!  More eye opening, however, she couldn't eat most of what we had in our cupboards: cereal, cookies, crackers, pasta, cheese sticks, yogurt, carrots dipped in ranch, granola bars, pretzels, toast, sandwiches, waffles, butter. 

While this news turned our worlds upside down for a time, it also taught us the hardest of all the lessons about food:  regardless of where we got our produce, we also needed to stop eating all that crap that populates the shelves in the bone dry desert of nutrition we call the center of the grocery store.  For Olivia's sake, we had to, and in so doing, came to understand the real meaning of eating whole food.  That means food that hasn't been divided up into its smallest parts then recombined in unnatural proportions, pulverized, salted, sweetened, packaged and shipped. 

Living without it sounded so complicated, but it turned out to be so simple.  When we went to the grocery store and read labels, there was very little Olivia could eat, right down to the ketchup (complicated!), but when we started out with meat, fish, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole gluten-free grains like quinoa and millet, there was very little Olivia couldn't eat (simple!).  Olivia's body was telling us it only wanted real food.

And the changes transformed her, both physically and mentally.

Figuring out this new diet really turned up the power on that light bulb over my head.  I now had a sense of urgency burning hard and bright.  By then I'd also read Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.  I stepped up my efforts to eat locally, canning a wider variety of foods each year, finding Polyface Farm for our grass fed meats, and last year, finding a winter coop through a fruit vendor at my farmer's market. 

This year, I've discovered something I should have know more about a long time ago: winter markets!  More on that in another post, I think.

So, you see, when I tell you I'm making stock, I think what I'm telling you is that I have this story in a pot on my stove.  It holds celery and onions from my winter coop, the carrots frozen from my summer coop, chicken carcasses we've kept frozen and recycled from several previous meals of whole, local and grass-fed chickens, and the herbs (save the bay leaves, salt and peppercorns) dried from my herb garden.  It sounds a little bit like I'm a wizard.  Should I tell you I hand pumped the water from my backyard well?  I won't--I didn't. 

On one hand, it took me longer to get that pot boiling than it took to put it together, but on the other, it took me fifteen years to put it together.  Stirring it periodically throughout the day feels deeply spiritual - a culmination of a lifestyle, of a season of eating, gathering, storing, loving and coming together in one delicious place.  Even better, the end product will go into the freezer to serve as a homemade base for multiple future meals.

While I say the pot of stock feels like a culmination, I don't mean to suggest it's an end point.  I still have a ton to learn. I have broccoli frozen in the garden right now because I never bothered to pick it!--plant killer - see!? I'm still wondering where I can get local grain for my flour; I marvel at how full my grocery cart is every week, despite all my efforts to prepare food myself, and where the heck is my vegetable garden!?! 

But still, I'm so rewarded by where I am in the process, because it is the process, not the end point that matters, right?

So if you're feeling overwhelmed, like you could never get a pot to boiling like that in a day, well, you're right.  You can't.  But that doesn't mean you can't make it at all. 

What do you have for your stock today?  Whatever you have will be good enough.  If you see yourself as simply on a continuum towards preparing more eco- and body-healthy food, then no day's cooking falls short; it's simply another step on your journey. 

Perhaps this blog could be to you, what Mary's cancer theories were to me.  A spark.  The impetus to question, to act and to find your own path. If you've gotten this far in this horrendously long post, then I assume you have some kind of interest in the subject of food and where it comes from.  If so, I'd suggest you find the thing that matters to you and follow it.  Pick something to read, or a documentary to watch.  See what inspires you, what outrages you, what makes you move. 

Follow it and see what ends up in your pot!  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

the boys next door

Note: I was so honored to read an abbreviated version of the below essay at this year's Listen to Your Mother DC show!

When my son was born, 15 years ago, I gazed at his angelic little face and anticipated the things I'd teach him: Say please and thank you! Always wash behind your ears.  Be sure to share!

And oh, while we're having this little chat, no gang raping, OK?!

No? That last one wasn't on your list?

Mine either.

But, you know what, I think it should be.

You may have heard about the high school boys who were accused of raping a drunk and unconscious sixteen year old girl in Steubenville,OH.  Lesser known is the story of another young man, a Steubenville High alumnus, named Michael Nodianos.  Nodianos appears in a video making vile jokes about the incident.  Giggling, he says things like “she is so raped right now” and she’s “deader than a doornail” (as in, dead drunk).

There are a million directions to go with this horrifying and offensive story, but I want to focus on a statement by Nodianos's lawyer. He said, "[Michael] sincerely regrets his behavior and the effect it has had on all parties involved, especially his family. He was not raised to act in this manner."

I find the last part so interesting: "He was not raised to act in this manner." I imagine he wasn't, but apparently, that wasn't good enough. What exactly does it mean to not raise your son to laugh about rape?

I'm not blaming Nodianos's parents. This question is for everyone, including me. I think it's important to ask because I recognize this whole situation. Do you?

It reminds me of my own college years, where I found myself immersed in a party culture that was downright predatory.  Groups of young men who were hyper-focused on sexual bragging rights did insidious things: from groups that created point systems to track their exploits; to young men who agreed to spy on one another’s sexual feats; to boys who would say anything to make a girl feel special; to date rape; to drunken rape; to gang rape.  An intoxicated girl at a party was nothing short of prey.

Sure, I knew a lot of nice guys who would never engage in such practices, but that doesn't change that rape happened a lot. The worst incident I knew of differs little from what occurred in Steubenville. A friend of mine went to a fraternity party. The last thing she remembers is sitting at a table in the party room. When she woke in the morning, she found herself in a strange bed, naked. She could tell from the pain that she had been raped and sodomized. She found her clothes and shoes in a different room, a horrifying fact that suggests her naked body had been passed among multiple assailants in multiple rooms.

I think this kind of thing is far more common than people think. And the perpetrators aren't necessarily psychopaths.  They're the boys next door.


Our boys grow up in a culture that normalizes violence against women. Our media blames the victim and our lawmakers talk about "legitimate" rape while our video games, television, film, advertisements, music and readily available porn all tell our sons to seek their masculinity through violence and sexual conquest. In a rape culture such as this, women come off as pawns, stepping stools, obstacles, or play things.

Put all these ideas in the boiling pot of a young teen's head, then add alcohol. Fold in a little group psychology and sprinkle with peer pressure. Top it off with a dash of drunken girl. Stir.

We create monsters out of otherwise run-of-the-mill, responsible young men. They don't break other laws; they perform well in school; they treat their friends and family with respect, but they treat women like trash.

How can we stop it?

I think one thing is clear. We won't stop it by simply not raising our boys to tolerate or perpetrate rape. Such a passive approach leaves room for rape culture to teach those things for us. We need to prosecute offenders, of course, but we also need to actively and explicitly push back, to teach our boys to value women as human beings before they have a chance to treat women otherwise.

How do we do that?

We can model positive male/female partnerships at home.  We can beef up their media savvy by talking about how certain images objectify women.  We can talk about responsible and intimate sex, and finally, we can talk about rape--especially the kind that might not seem like rape to them, the kind that happens between friends or acquaintances, or at parties.

So I told my son about Steubenville and Nodianos's video. I told him how the rules can feel suspended when you're drinking at a party, but that the morning will always bring accountability to the girl, the law and the self. I told him I knew women who were raped in college--that it wasn't uncommon. I told him he should never touch an unconscious or incoherent girl unless he's trying to help her. I told him that one day, he could find himself at a party where friends might suggest he have a go at the “dead” girl in back.

What would he do?

The most obvious answer, "don't rape the girl." But beyond that, beyond what he wouldn't do, what would he do? I realized as I was asking him, that I didn't necessarily know the answer.

These kinds of rapes occur, in part, because bystanders tolerate them, so we agreed he should stop it if he could.  Yet, I admitted I could easily imagine a situation where that wouldn't be possible. In that case, I suggested, he should get out of there and call the police. I insisted that whatever he did, he could not be a bystander. I asked him to think of his sister--he would want someone to help her.

I speculated that he would probably need new friends after all that, but who needs those kinds of friends anyway?

Finally, I told him he could always talk to us about anything.

Of course, like Michael Nodianos's parents, I don't think I've raised my son to perpetrate, tolerate, or laugh about rape. But the Steubenville case made me question what I had done to explicitly raise my son not to do those things, especially since he's grown up in a culture that repeatedly tells him it's OK.

I'm glad he and I had this talk.  I know I haven't solved the whole problem, but by giving him the gift of a little forethought, I'm doing my best to send this one young man out into the world with the understanding that a woman might be a number of things to him: a friend; a confidant; a partner; a lover, but never a toy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

dead lizard in the freezer, and other tales of woe

I may as well tell you now, there's a hamster in there too.

Yes.  This is the same freezer where I stored 20+ whole chickens for winter (we're down to 16, btw).

I wonder how you feel about house pets of the desk-top variety: fish, reptiles, rodents?  

I don't feel good about them at all. 

Even before I understood that reptiles and fish use electricity to run heat lamps and filters, or that hamsters and bunnies require litter and bedding that cycles weekly into the trash, or that all desktop pets require enclosures--aquariums or cages that get old, nasty, and inevitably, empty, I did not like the idea of them.  It's just not right to breed animals for captivity, or alternatively, to take them out of their natural habitats, and stick them in a glass enclosure full of mostly plastic crap, for a lifetime of handling and observation.

Of course, I planned never to own one. 

Until we had kids. 

For all the good my convictions did me, they may as well have sent me home from labor and delivery with an all-purpose habitat tucked into my new-mother's kit.  Here you go Mom: some complimentary jumbo pads, some sample formula, a bulbous nasal sucker thingy you'll always be afraid to use for fear it might slurp the brains right out of your newborn babe's head, and a 10-gallon aquarium to help you teach junior about power, captivity, bacteria, and tragedy before he reaches the tender age of seven.

Our saga begins when Gareth's aunt gave him two hermit crabs for his sixth birthday.   Allstar, with his shell painted like a shiny new soccer ball, would not last the day.  By bedtime, he lay limp and motionless on the bottom of his sparkling new terrarium as Gareth wailed in his bed nearby.  Was it the shock of the move? Probably.  It would take Sporty, our more stoic crustacean, a full month before his legs shriveled up and fell off in what seemed, at the least, an uncomfortable death.  Happy birthday Gareth!

Years later, that same aunt gave Olivia a tropical fish.  We killed Fluffy in just a few months, forgetting that we couldn't turn down the heat for a weekend away in the dead of winter with a warm water creature swimming about happily in a room temperature bath.  We returned to find Fluffy floating belly up, like a silvery pink ice cube in her newly arctic bowl. 

Pescacide.  We really didn't mean to do it.
To her credit, Olivia managed to keep her replacement fish, Cotton Candy, alive for two and a half years - a rousing success in what has proven since to be a dubious record for our family. 

After the fish, Olivia begged for a hamster.  She argued that she'd proved her worth as a pet care provider with Cotton Candy.  Besides, Gareth had a lizard, so why couldn't she have a hamster? 

Yes, Gareth had a lizard.

So we got Tucker, a teeny panda bear hamster that Olivia adored.  Tucker endeared himself to us quickly, but like a rodent on crack, he ran maniacally on his wheel all night. We marveled at his energy until, after a mere six weeks, Olivia found him curled and precious, but stone cold dead, in his nest.  Apparently, Tucker had just plain tuckered himself out.  His little heart must have given way.  We buried him tearfully, as all good pet owners will do, in a shoebox in the back yard.

He's a good distance from the compost heap.  I promise.

To console Olivia, we acquired Oreo, another black and white hamster, this one sort of fat and very lethargic. Oreo required an entirely new habitat (more plastic crap), just in case Tucker had been sick.  Oreo was a girl, but she came with heavy assurances that she "probably" wasn't pregnant. 

And she wasn't. 

But after about 5 months of watching Oreo do absolutely nothing, my kids called me in hysterics one afternoon. Oreo was finally doing something!

I'm a tutor, so I took the emergency call while sitting with a student who also knew Oreo.

Gareth: Mom, you have to come home.  Something's wrong with Oreo.

Me:  Hon, I'm with a student.  What's the problem?

Gareth:  Mom, I'm telling you, you need to come home.  Something's wrong with her.  She must be having a baby.

Me: Oreo's not having a baby.  She couldn't be pregnant; we've had her for too long.

Gareth:  OK (huffing patronizingly), then tell me what's coming out of her!  There's blood!

Me: What? How much bl--?

Gareth:  OMG! There's a foot.  Mom! I think there's a foot coming out of her!

Olivia:  Shrieks. of joy? terror?

Me: What?! Tell Olivia to calm down--I can't hear you. How can there be a foot? What kind of foot? [what kind of foot? what did I think, a hoof was coming out?]  That's not possible!

Student: Mom, Ms. Deb says there's a foot! A foot!

Student's Mom: A foot?  Really!?

Me: No, there cannot be a foot.  THERE CANNOT BE A FOOT.

Gareth: Mom, I'm telling you, there's a foot....OH!...Oh, I don't know.

Student:  Oreo's having a baby!?

Me:  I don't think so, honey.

Student's Mom:  Is it possible? How long do they gestate?

Gareth:  Mom, what do I do.  Ew! What is that!? WHAT IS THAT?!

Me:  I don't know--I think a month.  Definitely not five months.  Gareth, calm down.  What's happening now?

Gareth: I don't know, but there's definitely something coming out.  Maybe it's not a foot.  It looks--oh gross!

Olivia: just plain shrieking

Student: Oreo's having a baby!

Sadly, (but really, thankfully), Oreo died by the time I got home.  The poor thing really did suffer.  Looking back, I wonder if she had "wet tail."  She didn't have all the symptoms, no diarrhea, and she ate pretty well, but it explains the lethargy, and wet tail can culminate with "rectal prolapse."  Yes, Oreo's rectum turned inside out and came out of her anus. 

The kids were traumatized.  Olivia wanted to bury her right away, but it was rainy and dismal outside.  I had to get dinner on the table.  Dad wasn't home.  So we put Oreo in the freezer to await some sunshine.

As awful as that experience was for everybody, the death of a desk-top pet is not the only thing that can go wrong with them.  Have you ever thought about what happens when they live?

Like a foolish bride who focuses on the wedding day without considering the weight of the marriage, we bought Gareth a bearded dragon for Christmas when he was seven (before the hamsters).  We presented it to him on Christmas morning with great anticipation of his ecstatic reaction and only a vague grasp of the 6 to 12 year commitment we had just made to putting lettuce and crickets in a cage.

Some people have a real affinity for reptiles.  I don't think we are among them. Lizards don't come when you call, snuggle under your chin, or even look at you with anything but the coldest curiosity. And you can forget about fetch.  Gareth tried to love him, but he was frustrated by Twister's unwillingness to be held, and stung by his early attempts to bite. 

Really.  I have no idea what we were thinking.  A pet you can't really bond with that requires very specific heating, lighting and nutrition?  Feeding and caring for Twister became a source of daily nagging and frustration for Gareth, and a source of angst for me.

I couldn't believe I had to endure so many years with this poor creature trapped in my house where he had no hope of ever feeling the Australian sun on his thorny back.  And without that sun, he didn't thrive.  By the time we figured out that our drafty old house, with its then meager insulation, was just too cold (despite our use of various expensive heating elements), his legs had been irreparably damaged.  He would  flop awkwardly about his enclosure for life.

After six long years of that (a span that encompassed the lives of 2 fish and 2 hamsters), Gareth found Twister sunken in his substrate one day, flatter than usual, with little grains of sand collected around his eyes. 

Twister was gone. 

Nobody cried, but I think we all felt a deep sadness, not so much for the life lost, but for the life lived.  He needed something better; we'd owed him something better, but we didn't have a desert in our back pockets. 

We resolved to at least give him a dignified burial. We wanted to respect his little lizard life.  But it was pouring and cold outside; Gareth had an indoor soccer game; I had a grant due. 

So we put him in the freezer for safekeeping.

And that's when I found Oreo. 


We had forgotten to bury her.  It'd been months. 

If you think that's bad, now I have to confess that it has since been over a year since Twister joined Oreo in that frozen purgatory between life and our backyard garden.  I completely forgot about them until the same student who bore witness to Oreo's dramatic final hour looked at me this week and asked:

Where did you bury Oreo?

Me (choking on my water): Oh! Um, we didn't bury her...yet.

Student: Then where IS she?

Me (stalling): Hmm?

Student: Where is she!?

Me (mumbling): Um.  I think she's in the freezer.

Her eyes bugged out.  I tried to change the subject by reviewing the rules of silent-e.  I hoped desperately that she wouldn't think to mention anything to her mother about the crazy tutor who keeps dead pets in the freezer with her winter larder.  That can't be good for business.

Now that she's asked me once, I know she'll soon ask again, so I suppose I've stumbled upon New Year's resolution #2:  Bury all frozen dead critters.

Got it.

As for future desk-top pets?  There won't be any. 

I can affectionately thank Allstar, Sporty, Fluffy, Cotton Candy, Tucker, Oreo and Twister for teaching me, not so gently, what I always already knew: it's just not a good idea.

Friday, January 4, 2013

pms: the werewolf within

Standing in line at the grocery store this morning, I felt a kernel of annoyance.  It didn’t take long for the seed to lay down some roots and get to some serious sprouting.

It was the mother in the line next to me.  She spoke to her toddler in an incessant sing-songy stream of nothingness that made me want to pull my hairs out, one by one. 

“See junior, there’s a cart! Can you say cart?  And the milk, yes that’s milk.  No junior, not now.  For later.  Aren’t you smart, yes that’s the juice.  Juice is for breakfast.  What did we have for breakfast today?  You’re right!  Pancakes!  Good remembering!” 

I started to feel itchy about my neck.  I rolled my head around to alleviate a kink.  I shifted from antsy foot to antsy foot. 

Still she went on:

“Yes junior, you can push the cart, just not too far.  GOOD JOB!” 

I raised my eyebrows, bugged out my eyeballs, and took a huge shoulder raising breath. 

“No, no, Junior.  That’s not for you.  Good listeni—”

Just before hair sprouted from my forehead and jowls, just before my canines elongated at the scent of this juicy well-behaved child; just before I roared a shocking “SHUT UP!” at this poor oblivious mother, I realized it. 

The transformation was upon me.

Why do folktales so consistently represent werewolves as men?  Surely the stories of these fictitious beasts, who cycle with the moon from perfectly civilized human beings into maniacal spittle spattered monsters, derive from the hormonal ragings of not-so-fictional menstruating women. 

Right? (I’m in no mood for contradictions).

You know, werewolves will attack, even if unprovoked.  I realized as I stood in line, with fur erupting ominously from my chinny chin chin, that I had no business being there, endangering innocent children like that.  I could have used an early warning system:  flashing lights, a siren, and a calm but robotic woman’s voice directing customers and anyone else with a beating heart, to clear out and seek appropriate shelter.  Is there an app for that?

Once it gets a hold of you, no pills, no amount of meditation, yoga or intense exercise can calm the beast.  The only true remedy:  isolation.  Set me loose in the woods at night where I can crash through trees, gnaw on a mutton chop (organic & local of course), howl and rant at that great maddening orb of a moon that would never talk back or take offense.  Doesn’t it sound glorious?!

The next morning, having forgotten the blood and the gore from the night before, I could awaken in my own lovely skin, as all werewolves do, oblivious to my transgressions.  I’d smile sweetly at my unscathed children and wonder vaguely why they spent the night locked in the cellar with their intrepid father. 

Alas, without the benefit of isolation in a great wild wood, I instead found myself in that grocery line, baring my teeth with menace at a perfectly innocent mother and child. 

For everyone’s safety, I raced out of the store and locked myself in the house where I waited in blissful solitude until 5pm, when I could subdue the thirsty beast with a nice woody cabernet.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

the year in search terms

I love New Year's.  It just might be my favorite holiday.  I think the thing I love most about it is that it's NOT Christmas.  Most people celebrate the winter holidays for an entire month.  By the time we get to the end of that, pine needles have turned brittle and have fallen in rustling showers from their place on the stem, decorations, on the verge of gathering dust, suddenly feel like clutter, bakery has grown tiresome and stale in its containers, and I'm ready, as I am every year, to check myself into cookie rehab.

New Years also offers us a momentary respite from time, where we can stand on the pinnacle  between two years and take in a panoramic view, looking backward (to celebrate a good year or terminate a bad one) and forward, to the promise of what's to come. 

In the spirit of looking back, I want to offer some thoughts and lessons learned from the search terms that brought readers to my blog, for good, bad, or otherwise, during 2012. 

First, I learned not to use high profile phrases or images if they don't directly relate to my topic. My very early post wicked witch of the west? has drawn more hits than any other post I've written, but I'm sure it's the least read. The people searching for "Almira Gulch on a bike," who land on my site almost everyday, might find the image they're looking for, but they're hardly an audience predisposed to read an article about bicycling to the grocery store. Not my best marketing effort!

I also learned to never include pictures of Olivia in posts that contain the word "tween."  Or perhaps, just don't ever use the word "tween."  Can you guess why not?  Creepers using horrifying search phrases like "cute tweeners in sexy underware" (sic) have landed more than once on some of my posts about the kids.  I didn't have pictures of Olivia on those posts, thank goodness, but that was only by luck.  It seems like a person's computer should self-destruct with the entry of word combinations like that, but since it doesn't, I simply strive to be more careful. 

Sometimes it's not such a bad thing that creepers find me.  I can't say I'm sorry that people who search with phrases like “think that the u.s. gymnastics team is hot,” and “a very sexy jordyn weiber," end up on my post glamolympics.  While I doubt too many of these people actually read the whole post, I'm hopeful that my rant about the sexual exploitation of minors shames at least a few of them.

On a different note, one person came to my post take that Mr. media after searching with the phrase, "sad that I'm fat." Seeing these words made me sad too.  I imagined this unhappy person sitting all alone at his or her computer, feeling too large and looking for what? thinness? affirmation? hope?  I was glad I could offer him/her a few words about my own struggle to find self-love in a world that judges far too harshly.  Maybe it helped.

Speaking of my own body image, one day the words "fat roll hanging over pants" appeared in my stats.  Since the phrase essentially quotes my post on the subject, I looked at it in fascination: had someone googled my fat roll?  Really, I don't know what to say about that. 

The same goes for the fact that someone came to my post over 40 and gone polka dotty by searching "women 40+ no bra pictures."  I can't make anything of that without knowing the motivation for the search: to ridicule? admire?  I just hope this person wasn't in league with the person who searched for "disgusting fat huntress pics."   I can handle being a  bra-less fat huntress just fine, but no need to bring the word disgusting into it, right?
From all that, you'd think I wrote a blog full of lurid posts about sex and breasts and fat.  You'd never know I spend most of my time waxing on about far more mundane topics like food, the environment and politics.  I could tell you about how people find me using less remarkable search terms like "no poo" and "teen driving," but their being less remarkable and all, why mention them? 

What really makes me happy is when people find me by searching terms I made up, like femily and lessatarian.  It doesn't sound anywhere near as sexy as bra-less fat huntress, but I get a real kick out of the idea that I've created new vocabulary.  Honestly, I had no idea this blogging thing would be so fun! 

So creepers be hanged, you can be sure to find me here, ranting away in the new year. 

Which brings me to another part of News Years I like: the looking forward.  We generally do this through the tradition of New Year's resolutions.  I'm not big on resolutions that reaffirm tired old promises about health, weight and fitness, however.  We should strive for health and fitness every day, right?  Instead, I try to set goals intended to enrich my own life or those around me.  One year I resolved to write a song; in another I committed to learn to make bread, and in yet another I committed to starting a blog!

This year, I want to buy a houseplant and see if I can keep it alive. 

It's true.  I'm a plant killer.  Does that shock you? The good news is that I'd like to reform myself.  Can I make 2013 the year of the houseplant?  Or will I report back this time next year that words like "extreme dehydration" and "aggravated planticide" have generated a multitude of hits on my posts.  I suppose only time will tell.   For now, I'm enjoying my little forward looking fantasy that I could one day be the kind of person who has a house full of greenery, carefully nurtured and tended by me. 

I hope, now that I've dangled that high-interest hook of houseplant-wifery in front of your noses, you will stick around with me in the coming year.  And that makes this a good time to thank all my friends, blogging and otherwise, who have come back regularly, encouraging me in this endeavor by reading, commenting and sharing on other social media. As a thank you, I'll leave you with the
last thing I really love about New Year's: The song Auld Lang Syne.   

Emily Smith Band
Scottish Music Festival Tour 2008
Found this version on Twitter today

Happy 2013!