Wednesday, April 24, 2013

picture me

The camera and I, we're not close. 

I'm just not photogenic. 

Really.  You can disbelieve me and say I'm too self-critical--that I lack confidence--but in my mind's eye, I look great! I'm a regular hotty for sure!  The problem:  photographs never capture the hottiness that appears so evident to me in my imagination. 

I figured out a long time ago that if I avoid the camera, I can persist in my happy fantasy world.  In the service of that fantasy, I have run from the camera my entire life--even in childhood.

And the stray pictures that some paparazzi-like friends manage to capture against my will? I write off the results as a problem of light, of focus, or the all-encompassing excuse that you've already heard: "I'm not photogenic." (You will notice that the phrase suggests that photography diminishes the otherwise very acceptable appearance of some people, thus preserving all of my self-aggrandizing delusions). 

And so I have lived in this state of perpetual photo avoidance until a few years ago when I FINALLY got on facebook.  I needed a profile picture.  First, I used my dog (who is way cuter than me, even if she does have a bigger nose).

Eventually, however, I succumbed to the inevitable need to present myself as a human being.

I searched and searched through my digital files for a picture, but I couldn't find anything where I'm not either in a big group or wearing a bike helmet. 

I guess that's what happens when you run from the camera your entire life.

So I cropped myself out of a picture with my little niece and nephew. It's at least 5 years old,  and I've used it for my FB profile pic ever since. 

Here's the original:

It's not bad at all, but when I sent it to a website that needed a profile picture of me last year, they rejected it on the basis of crazy eyes that also happen to be red when you zoom in.

Oops.  I hadn't noticed that in the FB thumbnail. 

I could fix the red eyes, but I don't think I should bother, because guess what? It doesn't even look like me anymore.  I have short hair, and as you may or may not know, once you hit 40, a lot of aging can happen in five measly little years.

More important than my appearance, the need for a FB picture made me realize that I've created a photographic record of our family that doesn't include me.  That's not really fair to my kids, right?  They couldn't care less if my profile is weird or if my hair is flat.  So I decided to grow up and dispense with my fears.  If I'm not photogenic, who cares?  I deemed it irrelevant, and perhaps, overstated. 

For the past two years, I have forced myself to sit still and smile at the sound of those dreaded words, "say cheese!"

What could happen?

Well, in the age of digital cameras, the photographer can see the pictures right away.  Repeatedly (repeatedly I tell you!), I have smiled for pictures and had the photographer say, "thanks!" then, looking at their digital screen, "oh," with voice dropping, brow furrowed, "that wasn't a good one.  Let's do it again!" with feigned optimism. 

You can imagine that I'm never too excited about the second try.  So despite my efforts to rise above the unforgiving tenets of light and composition, I find myself two years further along in my life and still largely absent from the family album.  

Enter Listen to Your Mother.  As you may know, I'm in the show.  Hooray! But guess what?  Those pesky producers have wanted pictures.  Bio pics, "spotlight" pics, family pics, they even expect me to stand in front of a video camera this Sunday!

First, they wanted a bio pic for the website.  Pronto.  All I had was my crazy-eyed FB picture.  Could I use that?  Would they rename the show, "Listen to Lunatics?"  No.  It wouldn't fit with the professional, well lit, clever, and personality filled pictures of the other cast-members that populated the page. 


I needed one of those artsy pictures--immediately.

I got frustrated.

Imagine, just me and my old nemesis, the camera, spending a little quality time together, on a too-bright sunny day in my house where every room has at least one window and lots of reflective glass (mirrors and framed pictures). Those are really nice features for a house, unless there's a tornado warning, or equally disastrous, you need to create a self-portrait in soft natural light.

When I finally got one that was at least in focus, our wonderful producer didn't even reject it.  Wew! I was so happy that was over.

Except then she wanted to do a "spotlight" for the website.   They needed more pictures (sheesh!).  I didn't want to republish my first disaster pic, so I did the whole thing again--this time only taking just a few hours instead of many.  Would they notice that this is the same picture I gave them before?--just with a different shirt and better light?


I think I look a little drugged, but I was trying to kill the crazy eyes, so I had to pick between stoned and mad.  I went with stoned. 

Now I'm trying to work out a rehearsal time for the show.  Since the director and I live far apart, she wants to SKYPE, or do FACETIME! Noooo! 

I have never Skyped (surprise). 

And Facetime?  Well, I didn't even know it existed until I accidentally made Olivia a Facetime contact on my new iphone a few months ago.  I didn't discover my mistake until one day, while showering, I realized that I'd forgotten to give her money before she left for the mall with friends.  Hoping to get in touch with her quickly, I hopped out of the shower, grabbed my phone and hit "Olivia."

Imagine my shock when, instead of her number, an image of my wet and naked breasts shone back at me from my dialing phone!

Naked facetime with your tween and her friends! That is the way to get over your fear of cameras!

Luckily, Olivia does not have an i-phone, thank-you-almighty-powers-of-the-universe-for-that-piece-of-brilliant-parenting, because, in my panic, I could not figure out how to shut the damn thing off.  Finally, dripping with water, hysteria, and profanity, I just turned it away (please somebody turn it away!), until the call ended automatically. 

Was I being too coy? too camera shy?  Perhaps that would have been a good time to snap a profile pic for twitter? I do need one of those, you know, and I did say I wanted more personality in the shots.

Or maybe not.

Ah well. I'm sure I'll survive my Facetime rehearsal, and even the show on Sunday.  I can't make any promises, however, about how I'll look in the video, or how I'll look if you snap an unauthorized photo of me while I'm on display, but it's okay.  Go for it, because I plan to steadfastly ignore what I saw during my naked Facetime chat and focus instead on an image of you, dear audience, in your underwear.  That's fair enough, isn't it?

I hope so, because despite my fears, I hope to "see" you on Sunday!

If you haven't already, you can order tickets here!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

itouch? more like i-out-of-touch

A year and a half ago, we bought each of the kids an itouch for Christmas.


For Gareth, he'd reached the age (14 at the time) where it gets hard to buy gifts.  He needed a new ipod, so why not buy the newest one?  Technology has a sort of inevitability about it, doesn't it? At some point, you feel like you have to upgrade.  Disappointingly, we fell into that trap.

As for Olivia - well, I knew she was too young for such a "toy" (11 at the time), but it was a sympathy buy.  She had some things going on in her life that made her days extra difficult.  Among those things: food allergies and sensitivities meant she couldn't eat most of what other kids ate.  Her days were filled with denial: No, you can't have that donut for swim team donut Friday.  Sorry, can't have a cupcake at lunch, even if it is your best friend's birthday.  No sandwiches, no pizza, no mac & cheese, no ice cream or candy.  The list goes on. 

For once, I wanted to say YES!

So I did.  I said "Yes! You can have that itouch that you NEVER thought I would buy for you!  Aren't I the best mom ever!?!?

The giving part of parenting is so easy: the faces that light up, the leaps for joy, the thank you!thank yous!  That's why this job is so hard, right?--it's usually much better for them if you have the guts to say, "no."

It all seems like common knowledge now, but at the time, I really had no idea what we were buying.  (Really, you have to watch the latest gadgets like they're pine nuts under the broiler.  Blink and you find yourself with a disaster.).

I regretted my decision immediately, when on Christmas day, I heard Olivia asking Gareth to help her get started texting.

Texting!?  I thought it was just an ipod with games!? 

It got worse a few days later when we drove to Florida for a soccer tournament. We'd borrowed The Hobbit on CD to help us pass the time together, but the dynamics of that changed when the team's goalie needed a last-minute ride.  Lengthy dwarven folk songs, sung in the narrator's sonorous baritone (and my harmony), didn't strike the same mood of secret family absurdity with a high school aged friend in the car. 

When, on top of that, Olivia decided Tolkien had solidified her distaste for works of fantasy, we gave up on The Hobbit.

Which opened the door for those two boys to sit in the back seat, hooked up to their respective devices, in complete silence for the entire trip.  I could have interrupted them and forced them to unplug, but I have to admit, I was fascinated.  How long would it last? Surely they would get bored!?  No.  They played games or listened to music all the way to Florida.

Since then, the list of things I don't like about the itouch has only grown.

I used to think that, compared to my mother's parenting years, I had it hard managing screen time for my young children.  Things have changed so much just since my kids were little, however, I've changed my tune.  In those archaic days, our biggest concern was 24-hour cable TV.  To my chagrin, you could get Barney or Teletubbies at any ungodly hour.  To combat that, I limited "screens" to 1 hour a day.  In retrospect, we stuck to that easily.  When various gaming devices came into play, time for those counted toward the same hour of screen time.  Even so, it was a long time before that happened.  I didn't buy Gareth a Gameboy until he was in 2nd grade, and I still considered that an outrageously young age to introduce such technology.  Now, with baby/toddler apps and smart phones so commonplace, I wonder if it's not a rarity for a child to live seven whole years without engaging with an interactive computer device. 

While limiting time, we also limited space with ease, insisting on no TVs in the bedrooms and having just one computer in a public place for all to share.   How lucky that those bulky appliances couldn't come in the car with us, or on a camping trip, or to grandma's house!   

I changed all that ease of parenting when I gave my kids an itouch.  Sure, they can listen to music (the original reason for buying this regrettable piece of technology).  But they can also play video games, message, engage in social media like Facebook and Instagram, download and watch movies, or watch shorter video on YouTube or Hulu, all while they're sitting on the toilet if they want to. (I would institute a no itouch in the bathroom rule, but quite frankly, I just might be hoping they would drop the wretched things in the toilet by accident.  That would solve all my problems, wouldn't it!? (Way to go me--great parenting advice here!).

I try not to be resistant to new technology.  I can see many benefits, but I also see little moderation.  Gaming, texting and other social media can be addicting, even for adults (thinking of my own twitter haze).  Many kids don't have the discipline to engage with balance, which gives us parents one more thing to police--and that at an age when we're trying to impart the twin pillars of responsibility and freedom. 

I tried to give my kids autonomy, but instead, I'm realizing they've gradually lost their ability to enjoy downtime without technological assistance.   How is that possible after all the effort I put in during their elementary years!?

Disney used to have a public service add that asked kids to go outside and play for "one hour" a day.  Our family used to laugh at how turned around that was.  How about the opposite, we'd say: "let's go outside and play all day, and only come in for "one hour" of screens!"   They'd melt my unconventional mother's heart by saying "stupid Disney" under their breath while chuckling and shaking their heads. 

Now, I would love to get my teens one full undirected hour every day.  I would love for them to feel real boredom.  I remember driving for hours in the car with my family with nothing to do but stare out the window...bored to tears.  But boredom is just another word for the space needed for self-reflection and creativity.  Boredom prompts us to come up with new (and very individual) ideas about how/what to play, how/what to be, and how/what to think.  Our true selves sit quietly, waiting to be discovered, in boredom.

The portability of this technology really blindsided me, but even though Gareth is on the verge of sixteen, I'm not giving up on boredom.  I need to regroup and figure out how to expose my kids to technology and quiet, new apps and their own new ideas, shares/likes/friends and solitude. 

I have some thoughts on how to get started (including digging out the old ipods so we can detach music from screens), but I'd love to hear how others manage these insidious little boxes of distraction.  And don't tell me if your kids don't have one--I'll just melt into a pathetic green puddle of envy!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

drug testing for food? i want to click "stupid"

I saw this on FB last week.
I don't need to tell you that I didn't hit "like." In fact, I found myself wishing Facebook had a "stupid" button I could click instead.

By coincidence, this posting appeared in my newsfeed directly below the first.

Photo: Interesting infographic on triggers/causes of homelessness:

The second graphic represents demographics for homelessness rather than food stamp recipients, but I still found it interesting that these two posts showed up together--especially given that the latter shows drug and alcohol use as the least of all listed "triggers" for homelessness. 

Of course, this graphic comes without sources, so the numbers could be skewed toward a particular agenda--most likely relating to jobs.  It's certainly worth checking the numbers if you're interested in this topic. 

At the very least, however, it illustrates that homelessness is a complicated problem with a variety of causes that require careful consideration.  The image asks you to give that consideration.  It doesn't ask you to point fingers or pass judgments.  This is the kind of information I like to see shared on Facebook, albeit with citation.

As for the first graphic - or message: I really can't stand this kind of propaganda. It oversimplifies a complex issue and asks people to pass a thoughtless judgment that serves their own self-righteousness far more than it serves any effort to actually address the often separate problems of addiction and hunger. 

I imagine this message circulated because Representative Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill earlier this month that would require states to test 20% of their TANF applicants at random.  (TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is a federally funded but state run food assistance program).

I wonder if the thousands of people who so righteously "liked" the idea of drug testing thought about any of these questions:

- What is the rate of addiction among food stamp recipients? (Most people seem to agree only that we don't really know--but this also means that reliable numbers that justify drug testing don't exist).

- How much would drug testing for TANF applicants cost?  Who will profit from that? And where will the funding come from?

- Will the expense of testing surpass the savings incurred by purging people from TANF?

- What about the children of welfare recipients who fail drug tests?  Are we planning to deny them a meal too?  How will we find and feed those children without the parents' involvement? And how much will that cost?

- The message implies recreational drug use. What about addicts? Should an illness disqualify a person from receiving food assistance?

- Is it realistic to expect that when you deny a drug user food assistance, their hunger will motivate them to stay clean?  Or is it more realistic that hunger will motivate them to commit a crime?  If so, will it cost more to incarcerate them than it would have cost to feed them in the first place?

As of now, it seems Florida's recent attempt at drug testing serves as the best example of how this works out.  Florida managed to test 4,086 welfare applicants in 2011 before a federal judge questioned the law's constitutionality and put a stop to it.  Of those 4,086 screenings, only 108 applicants (just 2.6 percent) failed the test, and most of those failures were for marijuana use.  If you weigh the cost of testing against the savings in denying food assistance, then you see that this brilliant program cost Florida taxpayers $46,000.  They could have saved that money if only they'd done the humane thing and offered food instead of a little plastic cup.

Facebook is a funny thing.  I don't really want to fight with my "friends," and I'm actually very glad that we don't have the option to click "stupid."  But still...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

sure signs of spring

Freed from bulky winter socks, I sleep barefoot, wriggling my toes in cool flannel that caresses the arches of my feet.

I take my computer outside to write under the pine tree with my goofy doggy dog in tow.  Together, we succumb to the ever distraction of a bird who calls to his friend in a distant tree.  I can't help myself but wait for the answer.

When I change into my suit at the pool, I save a quarter on a locker because I can fit all my clothes into my backpack.

I rode my bike to the grocery store on Monday, and I didn't even have to talk myself into it.

My house turns luminous at 5pm because something about this season's tilt of the planet lets the late afternoon light come through the back window just so. 

The market has fresh spinach and blue eggs and green onions, and the pale yellow of morning sunshine.

I am reminded that the van's passenger window won't go down. Darnit!

We open boxes of clothes, laughing with surprise at the familiar things we'd forgotten.

My composter, nearly frozen for months, begins to melt and "cook"--just when I thought it would overflow.

I cut the year's first fresh oregano.

Bright colored sleds, yet to be returned to their attic haunt, look suddenly garish and tacky on the carport, like haphazard relics of another era.

Coffee is too hot, soup too soupy, "comfy comfies" too comfy.

I cave and eat artichokes from California.

I can see into my freezer.

I quit worrying about why a teenager would insist a hoody can ward off the winter wind on a twenty degree day. 

And when it's really quiet, I dare to think about the red of a fresh strawberry.

How about you? 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

boutique milk, meet lessatarian

I found this at the farmer's market last weekend (It was full at the time!).

Sort of local (from PA), organic, grass fed milk in a reusable glass bottle.


Except for $3.49 a quart: ouch. Ouch! OUCH!!!

That's $14/gallon!

I am new to this particular market and I think it's turning out to be more of a farmer's boutique than your typical farmers' stand.  In it's posh locale, and with its 200-400% markup on things like milk, eggs and organic vegetables, I'm finding I'm out of my league.  In fact, I have to wonder if I have the proper boutique attire to wear for tomorrow morning.  Do I have the right shoes? The right bag?

Can I not go in my pajamas?

Clearly, I need a new place to shop, but that won't help the milk situation.  This is the first time I've seen milk at a farmer's market around here (not to mention organic and grass fed).  I'm sure this contributes to the expense. 

Regardless of whether I'll be buying it, however, this boutique milk has got me to thinking in my usual way about food, sustainability and scarcity.  In Northern VA, you can buy plain old milk from Walmart for $2.50-$3.00 a gallon.  At Trader Joe's, you can step it up and buy organic milk, shipped from Massachusetts and grown without antibiotics or hormones, for $6.00 a gallon.  And, surprise! if you're feeling high on the hog, you can buy "local," small farm, organic, grass fed milk, shipped in from the much closer PA, and delivered in a reusable glass bottle, for a whopping $14.00 a gallon.

Does this price escalation illustrate what our food should really cost? Each jump in price (more than doubling each time) shifts a little bit more of the environmental costs back to the consumer. As we move up the price ladder, we remove the cheapening (and polluting) influences of herbicides and pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, grain production, transportation, and finally, disposable (even if they are recyclable) plastic jugs.

I should note, by the way, that I'm sure we could knock a few dollars off the boutique milk price if we simply moved that market out of its boutique neighborhood.

Just sayin'.

Still, is this what it would feel like to bear the true costs of food?  Over the course of this week, I have treated this very expensive bottle of milk as if it were the elixir of life, held precariously in an ancient and irreplaceable Grecian urn. I set the bottle carefully on the counter so as not to break it. I poured it with precision so as not to waste one drop. And I slid it furtively, and selfishly, to the back of the fridge when Gareth arrived home from school with his refrigerator raiding friends.

Milk?  Sorry, we're out.  You'll have to have water.    

Oh the shame in the hoarding! But no way am I going to let those big boys slosh my $14 a gallon milk down their fronts in a fit of careless teen aged thirst.

Despite my concerns, however, I recognize that I come to this dilemma from a position of privilege.  The windfalls and scarcities that come with eating locally have taught me a great deal about the value of food, but those lessons have occurred within the confines of how well we can adhere to the principle of sustainable eating, not within the context of whether or not my children will suffer from malnutrition, or unthinkably, starvation.

I know that many many people can not afford to consider purchasing even one quart of this milk.  In light of that, I have to ask: are we supposed to take cheap food away from people who can't afford to eat without it?


That doesn't change, however, that the cheapness of our food is no more than an illusion. If we don't pay on the front end, the environmental costs will still pile up on the back end.  Eventually, everyone must bear those costs - rich and poor alike. 

By coincidence, as I mulled over my boutique milk yesterday, I heard an interview with New York Representative Louise Slaughter on NPR.  She argued that 80% of our antibiotic use goes to livestock and that such overuse leads to the creation of antibiotic resistant superbugs.  These bugs, she continued, threaten to destroy one of the greatest medical discoveries of our time (antibiotics).  To drive the point home, I saw the same argument in this article from Mother Jones after I returned home later in the day.

If we render antibiotics ineffective, then many of us will die, no matter what our socioeconomic status.  And that's  just one example of the trouble created by big agribusiness.

Sustainable milk, or food for that matter, must be affordable for everyone.


Community gardens, food assistance programs that tap into local food sources (like the Our Daily Veggies Program run by our local nonprofit) and an increase in local, small, and price-competitive family farms all come to mind. 

And what about lessatarianism?!  It's not hard to think of consuming less of a thing that comes at $14 a gallon, right?  If we reduce consumption, we can maintain our budgets while purchasing higher quality food (even in small quantities) and rejecting at least some of those cheaper unsustainable choices.   

It's at least a start.

In the meantime, I'll search for a new dairy vendor.  While I'd love to see my cows grazing in idyllic green fields and leaping over organic Swiss-cheese moons, no need to dress them up in Versaci pin stripes and Armani loafers for the occasion.  I know sustainable food is more expensive, and that darn glass bottle is so luxurious, but we really should leave the boutique prices on the truck! 

**Modification: at the market this a.m., I discovered the milk gets less expensive as you buy more.  You can get a half gallon for $5.25, which makes a gallon $10.50.  Still outgrageous, but less than I originally said.