Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas in the Empty Nest

There is something different about Christmas this year.  My daughters are busy...away in their own lives.  Most of my nieces and nephews are adults, so the focus on Christmas is more "couple" centered.  My husband and I are decorating our home the way we want to...although Emily did say she hopes that when she returns at semester's end that our house will look like Santa vomited Christmas all over the place...her imagery, not mine!  I think I will choose a more "elegant" design!

Yeah, we are taking it slower this year, enjoying Advent...paying attention to traditions near and dear, old and new.  We have watched a few Christmas specials, like A Charlie Brown Christmas...Its a Wonderful Life and a PBS special featuring the best of the Andy Williams Christmas shows...no door bell ringing, cookie stealing bear though!  During the commercial breaks, we reminisce about how we shared those moments with our families in the past.  This new found nostalgia, sans the over the top gift giving, children-centric, mile a minute all consuming, holiday blitz, feels right! 

We are visiting local merchants for our holiday shopping needs.  Our Christmas cards support UNICEF, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Habitat for Humanity.  We will continue to make donations to area charities, honoring our friends and co-workers...really who needs another Yankee Candle or gift box of summer sausage...which btw, I have NEVER given to anyone...but you know what I mean.  For us, this gift of giving rings true to the real meaning of Christmas.

We'll head to the West Groton Nursery for the 13th time since moving to Groton and pick out our tree and wreath.  We'll enjoy a steaming cup of cider and I will select my poinsettias with hopes of keeping them alive until I can set them out on the deck next summer only to be ravaged by some insect invader...I didn't toss last year's into the compost pile until Memorial Day!  My 2013 goal: Father's Day!

New this year, we are going to head over to Nashoba Valley Ski for their Festival of Lights...just us..romantic like..Christmas carols softly providing a soundtrack to our little rendez-vous.  We love driving around neighborhoods looking at lights and we will think about the incredible displays from our childhoods...the all blue house on the Fellsway in Medford...the wreaths and garland in Stoneham Square...the cheesy tinsel trees at Redstone.  We will oooh and ah and then come home to our simple white candles in the windows and our crazy, ice blue, warm and cool white lights on our Umbrella Pine...who knew "white" lights could look so different!

I am busy planning our Annual Christmas Open House...I love it when friends and family pop in for a nosh, quaff and a hug!  I love the Open House concept...come for a while, long or short...just give me a hug before your leave!  There will be mulled wine, hot cider and lots to eat...there will be gingerbread cookies for the kids to decorate and there the annual Holiday Trivia contest, the questions are always the same, but people get stumped every year... and music...lots and lots of music! 

In years past, we made an annual Barbo Best of Christmas mix CD of our favorite holiday songs...but after 8 years, we have maxed those out, so this year our holiday favor is a lovely bar of chocolate from Theo Chocolates...a fair trade partner with cacao farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo...an impoverished, war torn country, but the chocolate producers are not a focus of the military...cocoa nibs are not profitable for their war effort so they leave these farmers alone...the more cocoa the US buys, the more stable the farms become and the economy grows, education becomes a priority and with our prayers, peace may prevail!  This company also partners with Jane Goodall's efforts to save the great apes and another initiative to provide bicycles to under developed regions in Africa,to promote access to education, jobs and health care!  I am pleased to support this company because these efforts demonstrates what being Christian means to me.   It also makes my inner Santa happy!

Last night as we hit the mall for a few gifts, Bill looked at me and asked, sheepishly, "Why do the kids have to come home so early this year?  I want to enjoy the simplicity of Christmas with you?"  I was flattered and not taken aback...I know what he means.  We will have a happy time with our kids...but for the first time in almost 30 years, we have this time for ourselves...just us fifty somethings...and it is quite nice.  It won't be too long before the next generation will be taking over Christmas...their plans, their homes, making new traditions...so before we become guests at the holidays, we are relishing having this time...our time.

Fear not, the kids will return to the nest about 5 days before Christmas...and welcomed with open arms and hearts! Our families (his/mine) will meet at our respective family gatherings...gifts will be exchanged....awkward family photos taken, intentionally...a new family tradition...and we will muddle through some how...but in these weeks before Christmas and New Year's, we are rediscovering the season...redefining what it means to us....and making plans on how we can keep it in our hearts all year long.

Whatever your faith tradition, may you find what you seek in this season of Peace, Love and Joy...and from our home to your...Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Come on America! Be Thankful!

The 2012  Election season is over (thank goodness!!!).  Thanksgiving is just over a week away.  Scandal is rocking the CIA.  And the other top story?  Black Friday is moving to 8pm Thanksgiving evening...no wonder the rest of the world shakes their collective heads at us.

I get it that the economy needs a boost.  I know there are people who are thankful to have seasonal jobs.  But really, can't we truly celebrate Thanksgiving.... just one day...24 hours? 

Our society is so rushed to buy, buy, buy for the holidays..so much so that Christmas decorations are stocked at the same time Halloween stuff comes out.  We barely acknowledge Veterans' Day anymore.  Will it long before we just skip Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love the idea of coming together with family and friends and celebrating each other and considering all the blessings we share.  I love the opportunity to just BE with my loved ones.  I love the traditions...the recipes...and the history of this holiday. 

We were taught about the Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrating the first Thanksgiving in 1621 as a way to thank God and each other for getting through the first years of a difficult settlement in the New World.  A three day celebration of prayer, feasting and getting to know your neighbor was a the heart of the event.

In November,1623, the Pilgrims celebrated their second Thanksgiving after surviving a terrible drought and saving enough provisions for the winter to come.  It was at this time, Governor Bradford established an annual day of Prayer and Thanksgiving upon which future Thanksgiving customs would hail.  The Pilgrims being an austere bunch focused mainly on prayer and not so much feasting...weather forecasting was not reliable, so food stores were conserved.

From 1789 until 1827, days of Thanksgiving were often proclaimed by Presidents...George Washington being the first, who called upon the new nation to spend a day reflecting, praying and healing from the wounds of the American Revolution and the subsequent squabbles among the states still trying to figure this democratic-republican experiment out. Each state or region celebrated these days of Thanksgiving according to local customs and traditions.

In 1827, a magazine writer and author of Mary Had A Little Lamb, Sarah Josepha Hale, campaigned for a national day of Thanksgiving upon which, the nation would come together as one to honor the growth and accomplishments of this grand experiment called the United States of America.  She would petition the federal government for another 36 years before her dream would be actualized.  In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln took Sarah Hale's petition to heart and declared that the final Thursday on November would be a national day of Thanksgiving upon which, he requested that all Americans ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”   And for 112 years, Thanksgiving was celebrated as a day of reflection and prayer.  Over the course of the next 100 years, parades and feasts and family traditions would evolve, and the mood of the holiday would lighten.

In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to move Thanksgiving up a week in order to boost holiday retails sales following the Great Depression (This concept of boosting sales was called Franksgiving...and not in a nice way!).  The idea was not supported and in 1941, FDR signed a bill establishing the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.  It was at this time that Thanksgiving morphed from a day of prayer to the more familiar notion of family, food, football and fun.  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade which started in 1924, is linked to the commercialization of the day, moving away from a day of prayer and giving thanks to spending, spending, spending!

Somewhere in the early twentieth century, the Pilgrims and Native Americans returned to being the icons of the day...lending an historic bent to the holiday, but somewhere in time, and perhaps at the end of the Macy's parade, Santa Claus became linked to Thanksgiving and instead of being celebrated for its own merits and sake, Thanksgiving has become the official start of the Christmas/Happy Holiday season.

And now, the official season of spending, and thanks to our "Blue Laws"outside of Massachusetts anyway, is beginning at 8pm on Thursday, Thanksgiving Night.  How sad.

On the news, I actually heard someone from Target promoting the earlier opening for Black Friday as a way for people to get out and exercise...to work off their turkey dinners....by hitting those sales earlier...wow at long last, an end to obesity in America...Woo Hoo!

I am having a hard time with this.  One of the reasons I love Thanksgiving so much is that is celebrates the blessings we as a nation, as Americans, as families have and can share.  It doesn't matter what religion you subscribe to... it doesn't require life long citizenship... Thanksgiving doesn't require a lifestyle...the day just asks us to stop, reflect, be prayerful or thoughtful and thankful for all that has been bestowed on us as a nation and her citizens and guests.  Thanksgiving is 24 hours...ONE day to be truly grateful and count our blessings and to pray for those who are struggling or have sacrificed to make our lives better.  24 hours...but if you let it, it will shrink to 20 hours and then what?    Halloween has a season as does Christmas...and poor Thanksgiving...the one day for everyone...is being mushed out...Take back Thanksgiving America!  Be grateful...not greedy...spend time with your family and friends instead of spending $$...

There is a Shaker hymn called "Simple Gifts" and it says,
"Tis the gift to be simple,'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."

This is my inner soundtrack for the holiday...As for our home, we shall honor Thanksgiving all day...and I assure you, we keep it in our hearts always.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Is It Just Me or What?

While chugging away on the treadmill during my workout yesterday, I caught The View and Whoopee Goldberg's segment called "Is It Just Me?"  wherein audience members shared cultural, societal and familial observations and Whoopee observed quite humorously back at 'em.

Well, it got me thinking Is it just me...or what?  For example, I recently attended a Red Sox-Orioles' game in beautiful Camden Yards in Baltimore.  It was a lovely, crisp, autumn evening, with a full Harvest Moon shining down on the diamond.  We were absorbed by the game...would the Sox seek revenge against the Birds who spoiled our season last year, or would we be spoilers for the Evil Empire (aka NY Yankees)?  It was a good game, but the Sox lost and it did help Baltimore make the playoffs!

It being Parents' Weekend at our daughter's university, and this being a school sponsored event, we were surrounded by college students and their folks.  Spirits were high and happy.  But...as the game rolled on, and we die-hard Red Sox Fans cheered for our feckless team, I noticed a strange and somewhat dismaying phenomenon...the majority of young people were not watching the game...they were TEXTING.  Here we were in a beautiful stadium (which is celebrating 25 years...just a youngster compared to the 100 year old Grand Old Dame known as Fenway...) immersed in America's Favorite Pastime and these whippersnappers were texting. Much to my chagrin and annoyance, I discovered they were texting people in our own section of the park.  How, you may ask, did I come to this realization?  Well, the first give away were the two girls seated in front of us who after sending a text would stand up, turn around and look for a reaction from the person/s whom they just texted...next they would...I know this may or may not make sense, LOUDLY mouth something like..."DID YOU GET IT?"...or "WAIT...I'LL TEXT YOU BACK!"  or no joking..."LOL!".

This continued for a few innings and my cranky, old self was not amused so I leaned over to my daughter  and in a not too disguised stage whisper asked, "Is it just me or is it totally dense to text people and then stand up to see how they react?  Why wouldn't you just GO and talk to them instead?"  I am pleased  but not proud to report I saw blushing from the row in front of us and the text offenders departed to another section of the stands.

This is not the end of the electronic abuse during the game.  Seated again, a several rows down from us, another group of students were waving and blowing kisses and the like to friends in the University seating...and this didn't bother me at all...but things quickly changed when a young man sporting "our" university T-shirt, returning from the concession area, appeared to have come into to the wrong section...a couple of students started making fun of him...and filming him on their smart phones...complete with commentary..."Oh So and So is looking for his friends...wait, he has no friends...hahaha...".  If he were aware of the taunting, he made a great effort to not be affected...but it was just mean. I was disgusted and so was my daughter...she is involved with student leadership and university orientations and she made note of the offenders and was determined shed light on the unbecoming behavior. 

What irked me was no one in the immediate area called them out on it...Is it just me, or are we letting our young people get away with crap like this too often?   Really...I was seated about 5 rows up from these kids and heard and saw the whole thing...and it bothered me...where was the peer and PARENTAL pressure  around them to stop such behavior? 
The young man did find his friends and made his way back to his seat...but I was hurt for him.  Is it just me?

Well...on a lighter note...how about these observations....or is it just me?

When did the response to "Thank You" become "No, Thank YOU."?  I still say you are welcome!

When did hugging replace a handshake as an introductory gesture?  I am a huggy person...but only if I have known your name for more than a minute....geesh...cop a feel while you are at it!  When I extend my hand in welcome, it is not an invitation to grab hold and haul me in for a bone crushing bear hug!

Is it just me, or are today's helicopter parents...who hover over their kids every second of the day...just kidding themselves?  Just because your kid is on a leash or in your general proximity doesn't mean they are safe, well behaved or attended!  I was at a grocery store where I witnessed a couple of moms chatting in the produce aisle.  Each of their toddlers were strapped into a plastic car shaped carrier on the front of the shopping cart, facing each other and quietly sharing boogers.  I gently walked up and offered the moms tissues for the kids...and quickly put my produce back and exited the area. 

When did it become okay to blow off a social commitment with a friend because something "better" has come along?  Maybe it is just me, but if you make a "date" with someone you should follow through with that commitment.  Sadly for me, on more than one occasion, I have had friends cancel on me...like on the day of an event, dinner, outing and tell me it was because something better came along...with these types, I have learned not to make the arrangements any more; the ball is in their court.   Honestly, is it just me, or if your need to beg off, don't you just say, I am sorry, I can't make it?  To say something else has come up that we'd prefer to do is really rude. 

I know that the US is struggling with a weight problem...but is it just me or do more people need to look in the mirror before they go out?  I am surprised each and every day with what I call the Sausage Casing Incongruity...people...yes, both genders...stuff themselves into clothing that squeezes, bulges, cinches and spills their corpulence and well makes them look like...sausages...believe me...buy clothes that drape your physique...use fit, not a size number as your guide...we will all feel and look better if you do.

Is it just me, or do people need to smile more?  I just like to smile...smiling is my favorite...thank you Buddy the Elf.

I know sometimes I sound like an old fuss budget...but that is just me.

Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back to Writing and Finding the Right Words

Call it vacation or a massive case of writer's block, but it has been a good long while since I put fingertips to keyboard...there was that old adage my mother taught me ..."if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.", bouncing about my conscience too.

I struggled with words this summer.  I found opening up Facebook to check in with "friends" to be painful at times.  The vehemence and invective with which people who claimed to be friends assaulted each other and strangers, was frustrating, infuriating and vexing...how many times did I type a pithy response to someone's snarky POV, only to delete it...not wanting to stoop to the snark.

Political ads and talking heads are vomiting nastiness and fear and hate and ignorance...both sides...bad words.

"Friends" took to posting polls and what do you think posits on their pages in an effort to have a civil discussion about current events and politics only to have tempers flare and civility lost.  There has been more than one posting of a cartoon saying "I desperately need a 'hide political posts' button on Facebook so I can still like my friends after the election year is over."  (someecards.com)  Everyone "likes" the cartoon image, but the mean speak continues.

Having espoused for most of my adult life that it is better to DO right than to Be right...(easier said than done; it does take practice)...I opted not to add any fuel to any of the fires.  I kept my words to myself...until today.

Today is the eleventh anniversary of one of the worst days of my life...a life changing day...a faith testing day...and certainly a day that tested my above stated philosophy.  Today is 9/11.

I woke up knowing exactly what anniversary this is...I felt sad.  I was also pretty disappointed in this election year in that what has made the USA stronger since that awful day in 2001, seems to be easily forgotten in favor of the worst politicking I have ever experienced.  That September 11th showed were are better than this.

I felt so lackluster on this beautiful morning that I almost crawled back into bed with the thought of canceling my workout.  But, thanks to my trusty terrier who needed to go out, I got up and got on with my day. 

As I drove over to Westford where my trainer is, I noticed every American flag displayed  along the way and at first unknowingly, I bowed my head slightly, prayerfully, as I passed...my eyes lingering on the stars and stripes longer than usual..I soon became aware of my actions and let them go, unfettered. I was proud to drive down Main Street, lined with American flags.  Tears welled up and a lump grew in my throat.

When I reached my destination in Westford, I got out of my car and I looked up at the hauntingly beautiful, blue sky...an exact copy of that other September 11th, years ago.  I paused and I remembered.

As I entered for my workout, it popped into my head that my trainer...a nice young guy of 22 years, had served in the military.  As luck would have it, I was the only person scheduled for the 9:30 am time slot so I had a one on one training session with Raphael.  I asked him (knowing full well what the answer was) if he served in the military...he said he had and is serving with the National Guard now.  I thanked him for his service and told him that today was not an easy day for me.  He nodded , looking down, and then proceeded to tell me about his time in Afghanistan.  We talked through my strength training session...well, mostly he talked and I listened and sweated...sometimes I cried through my presses and pulldowns.   He told me of a wonderful friend of his, an 8 year veteran of the military, who after only seven days in "the sandbox" was murdered by one of the Afghan soldiers whom he was sent there to train... teaching him to take on the security of his own country...to give that murderer and his countrymen the control they claim they want...but they want to kill the soldiers more. I listened to what he was saying as his eyes filled up and the words caught in his throat...I knew he was saying more... felt his frustration because he is so proud of his service and the honor of his country's cause...but where is the support?...not the lip service...not the words... where are those actions which should speak, no, shout louder than words?

I listened as this nice young man recalled back to when he was eleven years old, and having seared in his mind the image of his school mate...the young niece of John Ogonowski, one of the pilots of AA Flight 11, which hit the Towers that spectacular September day.  Raphael recalls seeing his friend, on a local newspaper's front page picture, frozen in flight, running down the road from her family farm...what she was running to or from, we cannot be sure but it captured for all time what so many of us experienced...conveying the fear and grief of a child and the fear and grief of a nation.  For him, that picture spoke all his words about September 11th.

We talked a very little bit about politics...mostly about our shared confusion and disappointment about the war in Afghanistan...he called it a forgotten war...and shadows of Viet Nam moved in my memory.  We talked about praying for every service man and woman's safe return...sooner rather than later.  We talked about honor and service and sacrifice and we talked about his future.  He is so excited to be working towards his Bachelor's degree. 

After my strength training session, I was headed over toward the cardio machines to finish up my workout...Raphael was greeting the next group of women he would help; he kind of sidestepped toward me and thanked me for the talk...it was a good talk.

It was a good talk...it helped me find my words. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Isn't that Special?

I am a fan of the Sunday Morning Show on CBS.  I grab my cup of coffee, the Boston Globe Magazine and watch the program with Bill...and I often learn something new.  Sometimes we have lively discussions about the segments...and I love the closing piece about wildlife in America...ah.

A while back, Simon Baker, the actor who stars in The Mentalist, was being interviewed about living and working in the USA...he hails from Australia...and he shared why he loved being here.  He alluded that deep down, he loves the way Americans share enthusiasm and willingness to offer support, acknowledgment, kudos...whatever you want to call it...for example, here in the US if you score well on an exam, get a new job,create something worthwhile,many a  folk will say, "Good for you!", and mean it, sincerely.  In his homeland, down under, if the same said successes occurred, you are more likely to get, "Of course you did...now don't let it swell your head."

America is the land of hope...the land of opportunity...this ability to look on the bright side is, in my humble opinion, what makes us American.  When presented with a challenge, we rarely say it cannot be done...we band together and find a solution...we help friends and neighbors, strangers here and abroad.  It is what we do.  It makes us special. 

My husband and I are well travelled and we have noted that abroad,  American optimism is often looked upon as arrogance, self-serving and even weak.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard..."so sorry, it cannot be done..." while living in France or visiting many a European nation...I'd own a house on Lake Como.  And the funny thing is when we Americans, would say...yes it can...see, if we do this together, or you do that, I'll do this,  and so on and so on...we would get one of three looks...a head, shaking "no"and  a face emblazoned with a smug, all knowing smile, implying "silly Americans"...a blank stare, with raised eyebrows...implying "foolish Americans"...or the scowl below one arched eyebrow and hands waving back and forth emphatically implying, "Go away, you stupid Americans!"
The trick is to keep at it...work the problem...get the job done...and surprise!!, when the solution is found, the problem solved, the work done...we are all one big happy world wide family...and we say, "Good job!".

I love this Can Do attitude in America.  It is special!

So recently, there has been a lot of hub-bub about a Wellesley High School commencement speech.  The teacher, giving the speech, talked about a lot of things...and he said to the graduates..."You are not special."   Guess what...all heck broke loose!  Of course they are special...and of course he thinks they are...but I understood his message to be that in most cases, everyone is special to someone...that is a commonality...and if it is common, can it be all that "special'?

More importantly, I think he was saying, it doesn't matter if your parents or teachers think you are special...of course they should...but it is more important that you make your life matter...that you and you alone discover what is special about you, your life, the promise of your future...and no matter what you do, where you go, who you encounter...make the most of it for yourself...not to please anyone...not to impress anyone...not to "win"...but to live a life that you consider well lived...and if you please, impress or irk someone...it is a bonus.

Back to Simon Baker's observation...Americans are good at seeing the good stuff...we just need to be more careful not to expect a reward for doing what is good and right. It is our spirit, nature and desire to make the world a better place that makes America special.

To all the recent graduates...best wishes for a life filled with opportunity and challenges.  Do not be prideful; let your parents/families/friends be proud of you.  Keep your expectations real...be prepared to work hard...nothing "handed" to you will mean more than the first paycheck you earn.

Go out and be special...for yourself...in so doing, I am sure people will note not that you are special, but the qualities that make you good, kind, respectful, honest, loving, trustworthy...and much more...but it will be in the doing that we see your unique nature...not in the telling.

God Bless the Class of 2012 and God Bless the USA.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Treats and Prizes

Recently, there has been a LOT of talk about government involvement in our day to day choices.  The topic du jour on talk radio and a few TV shows stems from NYC Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to ban sugary  fountain beverages larger than 16 ounces....no more Big Gulps...Slurpees are demoted to just a slurp...have it your way at Burger King...nope...too much added sugar for the Big Apple.

Believe me, I get it.  I was at the movies Saturday night and saw way too many "Tweens" with ginormous Icees in one hand, poised to wash down the refillable bucket of salty, butter flavored oil soaked popcorn in the other.  There was many a brain freeze during that feature, for sure...Not the choice I ever made for my children nor myself, but these kids and or their parents chose to pay a premium for that junk.  Here's hoping that such purchases are a special treat and not a habit.  But, when the theater disapproves of you bringing in your own snacks, and fails to stock the advertised, healthy snack pack...yes there is such a thing...air popped popcorn chips, fruit and granola bars, fruit chews made from fruit juice and bottled water...what can one do?  Well, for my part, I don't eat at the movies.  I am there to watch a movie, not mindlessly snack...but  I digress.

For those of you who grew up back before microwaves became common, do you remember ever drinking "tonic"at supper?  Soda, tonic, pop...whatever you called it...it was a special treat reserved for birthday parties and holidays...milk and water...that is what growing bodies drank at meal time...with a glass of juice thrown in at breakfast for good measure.  Tea and iced tea were acceptable in my home, once I entered my teens and hot tea was what you drank when you didn't feel well or needed to warm up. 

When my children were small, they were accustomed to the notion of treats and prizes.  Treats were "goodies" that appeared in Christmas stockings and Easter baskets...a bag of chips, a bottle of Very Fine Grape juice for Carrie, Apple juice for Em...maybe some marshmallow Peeps...prizes were little gifts, usually books, puzzles or games, that rewarded good report cards, vaccination day at the doctor's office, or recognition of meeting a challenge...but these were rare and special!  To this day, I will send a care package off to Em at college with love and loads of practical things, but there is also one treat and one prize...something special.

Back to the olden days...remember when dessert was also reserved for special times...going out to eat, birthdays or celebrations?...We only got doughnuts on Easter morning, or when my grandparents came for a visit...cake was for birthdays...ice cream was a weekend treat from time to time, but during the week, you ate your supper and if you were still hungry, you could have some fruit. There was no such thing as "if you eat your peas, you can have dessert"...you just ate your peas.

Snacks were not commonplace either.  One ate  three squares a day and had a little something to tide you over after school...cookies and milk, apples and peanut butter, carrot and celery sticks, or maybe half a sandwich...especially when school lunch was served at 10:30 or 11:am, and dinner was at 6pm!  But we didn't have junk food...it was too expensive and it really served no nutritional purpose...then something happened in the late 60's and early 70's...the Radar-range...or as we now now it, the microwave...the invention that would modernize the kitchen, free time for the working mother...and introduce a whole generation to processed foods.

Want a snack?  Toss in a bag of Orville's popping corn and voila, hot buttery popcorn...loaded with salt, trans fats and Lord knows what else in the line of preservatives, additives and chemicals. HOw many times did you eat a whole bag of microwave popcorn by yourself, when the bag was meant to serve four or five people?  We now know that most microwave popcorn, is pretty bad for you...unless you make up your own in a brown paper bag...(you can find the recipe at my other blog, The Cook's Concern).  Before we knew it, kids were eating pizza rolls, bagel bites, mac 'n' cheese, leftovers and so on for a snack...and sitting in front of the TV...being fed images of sugar cereals, soda, fruit flavored candy...super sized this...happy meal that....and gladly, Americans surrendered to the convenience...the novelty...the salt, fat and sugar that triggers the feel good centers in the brain, and we became addicts to junk.

Instead of farmers' markets, supermarkets...mega-markets...warehouse stores...became our food sources...fresh produce and dairy were relegated to the opposite sides of stores, with a vast mine field of overly processed food haunting and taunting children with cartoon characters and bright colors in between...It is no secret we "eat" first with our eyes...so these marketing techniques were designed to draw in the Sesame Street generation as our economy's earliest consumers...and TV had told working parents that choosy moms choose XYZ, and Kraft Mac and Cheese is the cheesiest...ya...so? 

Do you think people would have been so enamored with "Happy Meals" and foot long subs, if we called them FAT food instead of fast food? 

Anyway, my point I guess, is, we are having this national argument about too much government in our lives...legislating us from the bedroom to the kitchen...in our cars and yards...but where is the discussion about the usurpation of our lives by a food industry whose primary interest is to create food addicts...and not feed the nation, truly feed...offer sustenance, nutrition...from one of the world's greatest resources of food? Did you know that McDonald's sells different types of burgers around the world?  I mean, in Europe, they sell a smaller, higher quality beef patty, lower in fat and salt, and feed Americans a burger that is 20% larger, poorer quality beef and very high in sodium?  Why?...because we have been programmed to accept low quality in exchange for cheap and fast.  We have been trained to equate fat, salt and sweet with flavor...but in reality, it ruins our taste buds and we don't know what good tastes like.   We need to get our priorities straight.  We need to accept responsibility for our choices...and if business or our government seeks to limit our choices...we need to do something about that too. 

It is appalling to me that one out of four children in the US will go hungry again tonight.  It is astounding that nearly 30 years after the Reagan administration declared ketchup a vegetable, that the government still maintains that premise. Blink and the food pyrmamid becomes inverted, blink again and we have a pie chart (ironic in a stupid kinda way) and now we have a plate with the USDA recommendations for balanced nutrition...but too many, meaningless changes have bred apathy toward the guidelines.

It infuriates me that there are food deserts in our country and that companies like Whole Foods, Wegmans', Trader Joe's...all pretty good retail, food outlets, refuse to establish markets in depressed areas, because they know the demographic can't afford their products and therefore weaken their bottom line.. heaven forbid, you shift the profits to shape a smarter and healthier consumer! It peeves me that local government allows that mentality to succeed...just imagine living in Washington D.C., southwest neighborhood  and having to do your grocery shopping at a gas station because you cannot afford to go to the Giant or Target in the Northwest section of town Adams Morgan or Georgetown, where these markets are located...I am not making this up...in our nation's capitol...this exists...there are families who will have beef jerky for their protein source tonight.

I appreciate Mayor Bloomberg's concern, but I think his solution is silly.  Limiting the size of sugar laden beverages to 16 ounces still feeds the sugar habit...who or what will stop someone from buying three or four cups of the 16 ounce size?  We need to teach people about health and nutrition...and if that means taxing the 42 ounce Big Gulp to pay for the educational programs...fine.  Oh, and how about taxing the profits of the companies producing junk food, to help offset the costs of childhood obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and depression...diseases influenced by these types of foods.  Let's serve our nation's children REAL food in school...support farm to table programs.  Bring back "home economics" and health classes...build partnerships between markets with smart business models and schools...build a better, wiser, healthier consumer...or if that is too much trouble then leave people alone to make thier own choices, good or bad.

And finally, my fellow Americans...take responsibility for your family's health and nutrition.  Frito-Lay is not twisting your arm to by yet another bag of Doritos.   May I suggest the following?...Learn to feed your family....grow a garden...or support a community garden.  Support stores and restaurants that use local and seasonal products.  Understand portion control.  Visit a farm and taste what food should taste like...reclaim your kitchen...toss the microwave...plan a menu, make a shopping list...learn to live and not just subsist...return to the notion that somethings are treats and prizes,  saved for special occasions.

There is a lesson I learned from my Religious Education, Jesus taught us that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day...if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime (the Alice Anne Corollary... and then he can help feed those who are still learning...)  Makes sense to me.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Woman of a Certain Age

I woke up this morning…5:55 am to be exact to Rod Stewart wishing I be ‘Forever Young’…as I swung my arm over to bang the snooze alarm; I realized I was in the throes/throws of a blistering hot flash… I was throwing off sheets, blankets, the dog…yet, I had to smile and wish myself a happy birthday.
Last year, I was fifty.  This year I am in my fifties…a fine distinction, true, but as a woman of a certain “age” it is an important distinction.
As a woman of a certain age, I am now on my first daily dose prescription drug…ugh…got that early birthday present a couple of weeks ago.  After a cool winter, my hot flashes have returned, just in time for mood swings out on the golf course and this time around, not only do I have my own personal summer, I have my own personal, nighttime sauna…or flop-sweat as the case may be…beautiful.  Why is it that my flashes are so hot, rivulets of personal dew pour down every valley, channel or crevice and ear wax melts into pools in my ear, but I cannot burn away a few extra pounds?  It is a puzzlement!
Something else has happened since being 50 has become being in my 50’s…I have a confidence I have never known before this time…I am not so concerned with how much “time” I have left, but more,  what am I going to do with all this time…creativity has begun to bloom for this woman of this certain age.  Although my eyesight may be a bit blurry, my insight seems to be clearer than ever.  I have always been observant, but now  am keenly so…intuition has risen to a new high and with that, the spontaneity I used to fear, is not so much a bother…I am getting better at ebbing and flowing…. I still have work to do in that area of personal growth, but I am getting better.
I am going gray and kind of loving it.  Natural highlights, which my history and genes have given me.  When folks see my gray, some say something…nice, good, others not so good, but most look quizzically.  My goal is to make gray look great…to be the trendsetter!  I don’t want to be that woman who looks like she is trying too hard to be who she isn’t or wasn’t.  I want to look like a woman who has lived.
I realize that I will never be a size eight again.  I have healthy, curves…about 20 pounds more ample than I should be, and to lose that weight is an achievable and admirable goal.  My doctor tells me I am healthy…could be a bit more active and I want to be, but all the same, I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman of a certain age…apologies to Helen Reddy!  Okay, I am not invincible, but don’t get up all in my business...I am who I am.
The reality is, I have stopped worrying  so much about what other people think because, I don’t really know what they are thinking…for years I supposed I knew what people thought, I surmised, I speculated, I sweated the small stuff and I have come to realize that it wasn’t at all about what others thought of me, but what I was thinking of myself.  Well, that will continue to be the most likely scenario and I have decided to think better of myself…the gift of a certain age…
I am still on a quest for a purpose driven life, but in this past year of reflection, I have learned that part of the “purpose” is me.  I can be about, do and dream for me…that is what it means to be a woman of a certain age…I have earned it and I deserve it.  I am enhanced by my past but, I am not defined by it.  I am a work in progress, again…for me that is what it means to be a woman of a certain age.
Happy birthday to me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Choice Words

I have a favorite curse word…Schei├če.  In the ten years since I began using it, I have not heard another person, outside of Germany, use it. I learned a remarkably versatile swear in French, but I mostly reserve that one for inner dialog!  I utter my favorite under my breath usually during sporting events, like when Tom Brady might throw an interception, or when JD Drew would come to the plate during a particularly clutch point in the game, swing at a pitch that EVERYone in the park knew was going to be high and outside.  Because my favorite cuss is in a foreign language, I don’t feel so nasty when I use it, but I use it sparingly, for my own satisfaction, never to assail someone else’s sensibilities.  I strongly believe there are a time, a place and a choice for such words.

I may let an expletive fly when I drop an egg on the counter, bark my shin on a table, or when the cat knocks the picture frames of the bookshelf…again.  But it is the very rare occasion when people hear me swear. This is so, by design and desire.  I was reared in a world where nice people choose their words and consider the consequences of those words.  I can count on two fingers the times I heard my parents utter a cuss other than “dammit” and that never in conjunction with the Lord’s name.  When frustrated or faced with some sort of horse hockey, Mom would say “Bilge water!”. I use that term, as do my children, to this day, as a preferred expletive.  But, once, my mother sliced her hand with a knife and she swore so loud and clear, it moved me to drive her quickly to the hospital.  The time my dad cursed was when he discovered that a suitcase, containing his entire summer’s military pay, tumbled off the top of the station wagon somewhere along the New Jersey turnpike, lost forever. When they cursed, it meant something. My mother died of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 51.  If there were ever a time when folks would accept and understand a few choice words, it was then…but she never swore and she was a pillar of dignity to her last breath.
Growing up at a time when swearing was a sign of ignorance, coarseness or perhaps rebellion,  I had heard about George Carlin’s comedy routine “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (aka Filthy Words).  I knew a few and had even tested social norms by using some in my tom-boy days and in tom-boy ways. I got spanked or my mouth washed out with soap when I got caught, too.  When I was old enough to listen to the sketch via my cousin's recording of it, I was a bit shocked. I was mortified that I may have sounded like that to others.  I resolved to do my best to never use those words.  I decided I was smarter and more creative than stooping to that baseness, that vulgarity. Carlin did me and, I think, most of America a favor by poking fun at the government’s regulation on obscenity. For me, I learned that those words have impact and meaning and should be treasured, locked away until utilized at an appropriate time, if at all.  Much like the Supreme Court’s opinion on obscenity, I know it when I see it, hear it or am subjected to it.  Somewhere, somehow, prime time and cable TV took away the security from being assailed and thus, in my humble opinion began the decline of American society. It seems that there are only three maybe, four words left that cannot be uttered over the airwaves. With each obscenity and profane word foisted on us whether we like it or not, we grow numb to their impact and akin to violence in visual media; we are rarely shocked. This abdication of our sense of right and wrong, our insouciance about social bounds or lack thereof stains our moral fiber and sense of decency.  With each thoughtless foul mouthed utterance, we become less than what we should be. 
As I have grown older, had children of my own, and served in a profession that seeks to inform and improve the mind, I often found myself challenging young people to stop swearing and THINK…explore their vocabulary and stop people in their tracks with an amazing array of words that clearly, meaningfully and perhaps most importantly, respectfully convey one’s position, thoughts and feelings.
I recall a time, just a few years ago, when I popped in up at Groton-Dunstable High School and grabbed a quick hug from two of my daughter’s friends as they left the building for the day.  As I moved to enter the building, I heard the young man say to his girlfriend, “Hurry up B----!”  I quickly turned on my heel, eyebrow arched painfully high, and asked him, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?!”, and then turning to the young lady demanded that she never let him speak to her that way again.  She is a beautiful, intelligent, woman who should never be thought of that way, never mind being verbally assaulted especially by someone who claimed to love her.  They both apologized to me and him to her and I returned to my task at hand.  In all likelihood, they had a few choice words for me once I was out of earshot, but in the four years since then, they have never cursed in my presence.  I hope each time they get a hug from me, they recall that lesson, what I hope they recognize as a gift of civility.
My eldest daughter rarely swears.  She has taken her grandmother’s philosophy about language to heart.  So, when she does swear, she means it and people know she means it.  My youngest, however has a more casual relationship with colorful language!  I am forever bringing to attention that she seems to be using a particular four letter word starting with “s”, as a place holder, much like we used ‘um’ and ‘ like’ back in the day.  And today, the f-bomb is so prevalent in common vernacular, it has little or no impact on the younger generations.  I have to admit when I hear it used in mixed company, I blush and squirm in my discomfort.  
There is a popular TV show entitled Inside the Actor’s Studio.  The host, James Lipton utilizes a survey devised by French TV personality Bernard Pivot and based on Proust’s questionnaire.  Celebrities are asked a series of ten questions, one of which is, “What is your favorite curse word?”  I am usually, pleasantly surprised when most of the folks asked, pause, thinking long and hard, I hope with a modicum of embarrassment, before blurting it out…and it is almost always bleeped by the censors…but I can read lips.  The other thing I‘ve noticed is about half the people offer a rationalization of when and why they use their particular favorite and the other just let the word hang, speaking for itself.  In almost all cases, the audience roars with laughter and approval.  I have to admit, there are times when a well-chosen epithet, uttered with impeccable timing and oft improbable circumstance made me guffaw.  One of my favorites comes from a cute, little, romantic-comedy called “Return to Me”, starring David Duchovny, Minnie Driver and Bonnie Hunt, who also wrote and directed it.  In one scene, the character portrayed by co-star Jim Belushi, in a stage whisper, calls a  person as a “rat bastard”…and we don’t think much of it until…enter comedic timing and improbable circumstance… a his little “son” blurts out the same sardonic phrase, catching his screen parents and us off guard and we laugh. The scene and the language were not gratuitous…the discourse gave us a snapshot of a somewhat “normal” family and as the scene resolves with parents reacting, overreacting and left shaking their heads, we see that language matters and we do the best we can to shape our families to be better.
Free speech is often a common thread in discussions these days.  This week via NPR, I learned of a high school senior who was expelled for tweeting a sentenced laced with profanity. The incident is still being investigated, but the gist of the matter seems to beg the question, when is it appropriate or not for such language? I’ve been privy to folks engaged in the topic, who shared favorite curses, colorful epithets, vulgarities, indecent turns of phrase… and I choose not to engage in the conversation.  Honestly, I am not impressed with the arguments in favor of gutter language as a matter of social discourse.  Also, I feel like I am darned if I do and darned if I don’t speak my mind, so thus far, I err on the side of caution and held my tongue.
For some reason, I am able to be more forgiving of cussing on the page…I suppose it is because I am intelligent enough to see it coming and can edit it in my mind’s eye and ear.  For example, if the f-word shows up on the page, I read it as “f-word” or “f-bomb”, not the four letters spelled out…that is just my thing and it suits me fine. I can choose to stop reading if I don’t like it.   I am aware that profanity on the page usually requires thought as to how it will help establish a scene, mood or move the story along.  My frustration and angst arise when people are compelled to spew profanity and obscenity to titillate or self-gratify. “Oh, oh, look!” cried Mary, stabbing the air frantically with her crooked finger, “There is a child out on the ledge of that high-rise!”....and then her boob fell out of her blouse.”  Admit it, you’ve all read or seen some variation on the theme…for me it detracts from creativity, although my husband might argue he lives for that stuff…<sigh>.
When people choose to curse and exploit a situation or because as adults, it is the thing to do, I feel a transgression against civility and an assault against language itself is occurring. From over-paid athletes to political leaders oblivious to open mikes, the disregard for one’s place as a role model and public person is so commonplace that it almost feels wrong to be offended when these high profile types do swear.  However, I feel disrespected.  And this conundrum is not limited to the public sector.  Once, when I was with dear friends, and someone I consider family used what to me is the most despicable and deleterious four letter vulgarity every conceived, and before “tuh” of the last letter left his lips, my hand shot up and slapped the echo of that word from existence and left a bright red mark upon his cheek.  I immediately apologized for slapping him, but told him that the sting of my hand would go away soon enough, but the memory of him using that word was graffiti-ed in my mind and forever changed how I thought of him.
As the course of recent cuss word dissertations has continued, it’s made me think about Carlin’s Filthy Words.    One night, as I tossed and turned, perturbed by the day’s earlier confab, I came to a stark realization.  Most, not all, but most of the curse words are some sort of derogatory statement directed at or about women…whether as an action, a label or vulgar description of female anatomy.  No wonder I am uncomfortable.  I guess this is another good reason to not shut up and bear it.  How can a foul mouthed, cavalier orator know that I am offended and degraded by the power of words if I do not hold that person accountable for the choice of words expelled into a decent world?  I have to be prepared that that person may not care how words can hurt…or that they hurt me…but it is certain that if I do not speak my piece and peace, nothing will change.
Being a teacher of history and politics, I find the first amendment a marvel and a privilege granted the citizens of the US.  Freedom of speech is one of those tenets upon which we build a creative, free society. We have the right to pray, protest and be provocative.  We demonstrate, promote and promulgate.  We can stand up in a crowded theater and drop and F-bomb…but do not yell fire…you will find yourself violating other’s rights to be safe.  But, can’t one argue that when you use foul-mouthed bloviating to focus on self-interest, you are doing the first amendment and your fellow movie-goers a disservice?  I think so.  Using a profanity for the heck of it, or to shock people or worse, hurt people is protected speech, is your right, but is it correct…is it really the  best way one should communicate?  I find it sad and ironic that “society” is more upset when people pray in public, but if you start cussin’…meh, folks aren’t that bothered.  
Back to the recent discourse on filthy words, a couple of people indicated that the f-word was their favorite word…it’s so multi-faceted…could be used in so many interesting ways…so say they.  I find it overused, insipid and trite. More often than not, when I hear that type of language, I tune out.  You may think I am a prude…go right ahead, that’s your opinion…your judgment.  I have my opinion, my judgments too…this is the consequence of our choice words.
 My favorite word is annihilation, but it doesn’t really work as an alternate expletive, so I’ll often turn to another of my mother’s favorite words, phantasmagoric. How’s that for an “ph-bomb”?  Imagine using that in place of one of the seven words you cannot say on TV…. It may get people’s attention and start some thinking about what you have to convey.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When In The Course of Human Events...

I voted in the Presidential primary today.  It is my right to do so.  More importantly, it is my responsibility to do so.

Never in all my years have I found it so difficult to get out to vote.  I am sick, sick, sick over the vitriol and histrionics that resonate in politics today.  Statesmanship has been replaced by gamesmanship.  Personal opinions have usurped facts and a malevolent spread of spitefulness has eroded the virtue and value of perspective and point of view. 

I used to love friendly political debate and discussion...even with a level of heat...you know, passion.  I found that by having lively discourse, I learned and evolved as a political being.  That is the great gift of growing older...you never stop learning and teaching...well until recently.

I don't know if we can find the source of the hatred and insidiousness of our political rhetoric in the ashes of 9/11, but it seems to me that is when we became a nation divided...us versus them, rich versus poor,  left versus right...but in the decade plus since that awful day, I have felt like our representatives and to a great extent, the people around me are more interested in being right rather than doing right.

I don't talk about politics outside of my immediate family any more...not since I attend a  PBS based forum on race/ethnicity and history, back in 2008, at which I was characterized as a racist by a young woman who didn't know anything about me except for the fact that I did not vote for Barrack Obama...she did not care to understand my decision...didn't care to know who I did vote for and why...she just knew that because I did not make the same decision as she, I must be racist.  What hurt more than an eager, first time voter making a rash assumption was that in that room among my friends and neighbors, no one disputed her assertion...when I attempted to engage in a civil discussion, she declared I had nothing to say she wanted to hear; as a teacher, a little part of me broke...as a parent...another part was disappointed that a child would be so disrespectful in what was supposed to be a community forum...and as a historian...I began to fear that revisionist and politically correct lenses were skewing politics and civility in such a way that one was either right or wrong.

Somewhere and somehow in the past decade, politics, which is rife with problems became a theater of absolutes.  Long gone are bipartisan actions...compromise is dead.  And the old adage, "Let's agree to disagree", has fallen off the face of the planet.  I am right...you are wrong...that's the sentiment of the times.

George Washington must be rolling in his grave.  In his farewell address, announcing that he would not seek a third term as president, Washington asserted that "the alternate domination of one party over another and coinciding efforts to exact revenge upon their opponents have led to horrible atrocities", and "is itself a frightful despotism".  Washington was telling us, while understanding the fact that it is natural for people to organize and operate within groups like political parties, that every seated government sees opposing political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power  and take revenge on political opponents....so for 231 years, with the advent and evolution of each political party, we have seen the just call to public service morph into absolute power corrupting absolutely. 

Instead of a country of, by and for the people, we are a country of, by and for Super PACS, entitlements and too many people screaming, 'what's in it for me?"

Tip O'Neill once wrote, "All politics is local."  I think he meant that to freely and thoughtfully govern, public servants should  look from whence they came for the needs, necessity and direction of those asking to be governed.  Today it appears Alexander Hamilton's vision of the elected elite knowing what is best for the people is coming to light again...and this sentiment knows no party, but is the efflucence of many career politicians.

What else strikes me as painful during these times is the broad brush of "labels" that people use to characterize political opinion...if that jackass Rush Limbaugh makes a horrific and hurtful statement on his radio show, he speaks for all conservatives...he doesn't.  There is plenty of idiocy and asinine behavior all around and how you align yourself politically need not be a damnation of one's own personal character.   

I have been a student of politics and history most of my life...it is a passion.  And, as a reflection and result of how I was taught, I have found a spot on the political spectrum...and much like an octopus on roller skates, I find myself with feet all over the place when it comes to different issues...but mostly, I find myself in a new place on the spectrum as my family's needs and circumstances and my own person changes.

When it comes down to it, my political views started with a faith based lesson...if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day...if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime...the goal is to see that no one is hungry.

So, I voted today...and as so many people point out...if you don't vote, don't complain...so I guess I have a license to whine for a while...

To people who are firm in their beliefs, convictions, causes...exercise your right to vote...each vote does count.  Be grateful to live in a country that grants this exercise of freedom.  Heed President Washington and don't condemn a person because we have become ensconced in this web of political labels...nothing is absolute.  Don't hate so much that you cannot hear what other people are saying...don't become so inflexible that growth stops...sometimes we have to walk before we can run...sometimes the common good needs to be addressed before personal liberty can be exercised...be patient, be productive... do the right thing...and do not measure a person until you have walked a mile in her shoes.

And...let's demand that politicians stop their sandbox squalling and stand up, lead and serve.