Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Barrio Street

Was Sesame Street always so Latino? How did I not notice this as a kid? I remember Maria, one of the human characters. We all knew that Spanish was her first language. She was nice, and sang and hung out with the muppets and monsters and all was fine. I suppose that occasionally she spoke in Spanish, although I don’t believe it happened often. I clearly recall Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Snuffy, and Oscar—and those guys are all still around, and they’re all still red-blooded North American critters, as far as I can tell.

But when did the Spanish word of the day get started? How did Spanish merit such an honor? The only other language that’s given its own prime spot on the show these days is sign language, and it’s certainly not a daily event. Huh? Where’s the French word of the day? I use those in my writing more than anything. How about a Chinese character of the day, since we know it’s just a matter of time until they overpower us with sheer numbers? Might as well start learning it now. Norwegian word of the day? Hawaiian? Gaillic? Lovely languages, all of them. So how did Spanish win the coveted prize? I know it’s the second-most spoken language here and all, or used to be—who knows now with the way things are always changing. But still—Spanish word of the day? Is this necessary?

And where did Rosita come from? Is she a more recent addition to the show? No other character has a specific ethnicity, as far as I know...

All I know is that we turned on the tube yesterday, in spite of my daily misgivings about television in general (seeing as TV rots your brain cells and all, you know—it’s true). And the episode of Sesame Street that unfolded before me was decidedly Mexican in nature. Spanish words, Hispanic children featured on the videos, Rosita strumming a guitar and singing, in Spanish of course... The final straw was Big Bird, directing a real, true kids’ mariachi band—and the song was “Long Live Mexico, Long Live America.” In that order.

Perhaps I’m a tad oversensitive to this issue; I did, after all, just see a very disturbing video on YouTube showing an American veteran who stormed a flagpole and removed, out of respect, his own flag from BELOW the Mexican flag under which it was flying. In Reno, Nevada. That’s right, this happened in the UNITED STATES. (See for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nONjlZ8YMkA)

We'll be taking a viewing hiatus from Barrio Street, whilst I ponder whether it receives any more airtime in our household. I’ve got nothing against Mexico—when it is located in Mexico, where it belongs. When it’s located in my country, or worse yet in my family room? For the edification (read between the lines: brainwashing purposes) of my naive, sponge-like preschooler? That’s an issue, folks. I ain’t no seƱora, and I’m not interested in becoming. I love a lot of the programming on WQED, and I can understand the attempt to reach many of the under-privileged children of our nation, but this feels a bit forced; I can’t condone handing ourselves over so easily.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cleanliness is next to something

Today’s theme is clean.

First, let me tout a product that I’ve just discovered and love. (I know, I’m a Mel-come-lately, so you probably have one already, but just in case…) It’s the amazing and delightful Clorox Bleach Pen. Forget its wonderful bleaching capabilities on white clothing, and skip directly to Go—Go Clean Your Bathroom, of course!

(Let me say up front that, while this item worked great for me, I have white tile and a white tub in my bathroom—my using bleach was not a risk. I think it would work fine on any tile and/or porcelain glazed finish, but if you have brilliant colors in your crapper, check the fine print on the pen before you go crazy.)

Once colorfast safety has been confirmed, have at it, brothers and sisters!!! This is awesome stuff! It’s a slightly runny, gel-like substance, and because the pen has both fat and skinny tips, you can hit even tough little places like yucky grout lines. Or, rub the thick end on some tough stains in the area around the drain, or on foul brown places surrounding the faucet. It works best if you let it sit for a few minutes before washing the area. Suffice it to say that this wand is the best; lauding it further would only reveal the horrible state of my bathroom before said pen was discovered. (In fairness, I've also heard that those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are very cool, too—but I don't know how they stand up in the tub-and-tile realm.) I would give these bleach pens away to everyone I know as Christmas gifts, except I don’t want to insult anyone with the not-so-subtle implication that their home is less than clean already.

Now for the other clean-related topic: why does my child fear the washing machine? He doesn’t fear the appliance itself, only the freshness it wreaks on his fuzzy toys and blankets. I’ve tried a few times recently to wash his malodorous twin teddies, his favorite spitty blue thermal blanket, his little floppy elephant that has dried booger on its toe… but the moment I get any of those items near the laundry basket, the child objects. In the past few days, he’s really become paranoid; as soon as he sees me picking up one of his favorites, he calls me on it: “Mama, where blanket go? Where you take Ellie?”

I did manage to covertly sneak the most contaminated teddy into the laundry last week—after the boy had fallen asleep for his nap. All went well, and the sanitized bear was back in his bed when he awoke; he never had a clue. I couldn’t get hold of them both, sadly—he was clutching one tightly, and I knew I’d never pull it out of his grasp without waking him.

So, what’s with his love of sullied, tainted soft toys? Is it the familiar stench of them? The well-known, well-loved crusty places? The fact that his favorite toys are never quite dry? Bleaahhh.

Hope he grows out of this; I'd hate to have to involve Hazmat several times a year, but...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Grams for thought

There’s a movie called 21 Grams—perhaps you’ve heard of it—the title of which is based on some loose research that claims a body, passing into death, decreases in weight by an average of 21 grams. Is it the soul exiting the form? Or simply breath being exhaled one last time? Are the cells releasing oxygen, changing form, rearranging molecules, becoming less dense? I have no idea. I’m just sharing the theory with you in order to effectively contrast my next paragraph.

It’s odd, I think, for a body to supposedly become lighter in death, but heavier in slumber. I know, the sleeper doesn’t really become heavier—and yet, if you’ve held that sleeping child as he or she passes into true snooze mode, you know of what I speak.

It was not so easy to discern this transition when my little guy was a mere babe, because newborns always feel like dead weight to me, the floppy unpredictable little things. And then they start working on those neck muscles, trying sooooooo hard to hold up those giant weighty heads. And then, months later, it’s with much joy that you realize the child is actually attempting to cling to you, and that tendency in the little one grows stronger and stronger until he or she can actually “hold on” with arms and legs. That is when the passage into dreamland becomes more evident as you cradle the little one.

And what a precious moment that is, the transition. Subtle twitches in the drowsy one’s limbs become almost imperceptible, there’s perhaps a heavy sigh or two, the inevitable head flop if the child is resting over your shoulder, a barely detectable finger tapping… and then, weight. Heaviness. No movement. Only breathing.

It’s at those moments that I, too, participate by only breathing. Breathing in the sweet smell or freshly shampooed hair, or on alternate nights, the equally pleasing scent of earthy little head, mine to inhale. The sweet, small back and shoulders encased in fuzzy PJs, mine for the rubbing. Warm, soft hair, smooth delicate skin, eyes closed in blissful repose, the sandy lashes lying like fringed, still butterflies. All mine, to drink in as I choose, in the dim light of night. Mine for a limited time, to cherish.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A great-full day

Well, since the last post was such a controversial topic, I think I’ll go with something a little less touchy this time—maybe politics? Ha ha ha. Kidding. I told you this wasn’t that kind of site.

I’ll go with something safe: Thanksgiving memories. They’ve changed dramatically over the years. When I was a kid, we often went to my paternal grandma’s for the meal. Ma-Ma made her famous stuffing balls, I think we usually brought green bean casserole and corn pudding, the ladies fussed over the turkey as it roasted for hours, and I enjoyed what at that time was the highlight of my holiday: exposure to MTV. My grandmother had it, since she resided in a huge apartment in town, while we lived in the country and had far fewer channels. We tweens and teens would gather in the living room, eyes glued to the screen to catch the latest videos (yes, there actually used to be videos on MTV) and then we’d go stuff ourselves, help clean up, and retire to the living room for more viewing, this time in a semi-comatose state.

When I moved out to go to college, Thanksgiving became a time of sleep, eating real food, and doing laundry. The main meal still happened at my grandma’s, occasionally at my great aunt’s, and my sister brought the first great grandchild into the mix—my nephew Tim. Although, I can’t recall him being there every time, because they lived in Washington, D.C. and the trip (especially with a small child) was probably no picnic.

Years passed, more of my nieces and another nephew followed, and Thanksgiving morphed into a hair-raising trip from the great white north, where I was teaching school. Most years I waited until the big morning to drive home, partly because the traffic was light, and partly because then I could get together with friends the night before the big trip. I can remember a few sunrise journeys where I gripped the steering wheel, stealing frightened glances at my predecessors who’d gone a bit too fast and had slid into no-man’s land in the middle of opposing highway lanes. There the abandoned cars sat, station wagons, little foreign death traps, even some SUVs and trucks, all stranded and helpless on that strip of frosted green. One year was especially bad, and I recall counting 13 cars in a relatively short stretch of what must have been black ice the night before. I don’t miss those drives. Thanksgiving was especially sobering because you knew, with growing certainty at each passing mile, that it was just a warm-up for the real hell to follow: the Christmas commute.

Then I moved back to southwestern PA, and a short time later met Todd. Thanksgivings became a very busy time, gathering with multiple family branches in a 2- or 3-day span. I remember the first time I attended his YiaYia’s Thanksgiving meal, because it was the first time I’d tasted spanakopita and grape leaves. I believe I dropped a grape leaf on the floor, the kind of thing you are wont to do in a gathering of strangers whom you want very much to impress. Alas, they did not kick me out of the meal and here I am, years later, now a member of the family. We ate at Todd’s mom’s and at my parents’ home; nowadays, my sister and her husband usually host the meal for my side of the family.

One year was extra-special because Todd had proposed just a few weeks before. Another year stands out because we’d just purchased and moved into our first house. And a few short years ago, I remember being pregnant with my sweet little guy on Thanksgiving. It’s a good thing I really pigged out when I could; little did I know I’d be counting carbs and pricking my fingers for glucose tests in years to come…

And this year? I’m sitting in my own home, inhaling the delectable scent of turkey that roasts upstairs in my very own oven. We’ve watched some of the big Thanksgiving Day Parade, have built amazing things with Duplos, have basted, have played with cars, have basted again, etc. It’s been nice to just chill—especially since my son puked on me three times in one day earlier this week. Yep, stomach flu. It’s clearing up now, and he actually ate something other than saltines and kept it down today—hurray! So, it’s a real blessing that we opted to dine in this year. (Can anything affect your appetite more adversely than being on the receiving end of partially digested food offerings? I think not.)

Hope the turkey turns out great for every household reading this. I truly pray that we can all feel genuinely appreciative of the many blessings we enjoy every day. Life’s too short to live ungratefully.

And perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a few days, we’ll break out the Christmas music here in our home. Perhaps.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oh, Turn It Off (I mean, Oh, Tannenbaum)

Okay, I need to blow off a little steam. Please bear with me. (The pic? The Star Wars Christmas Album. Stoooo-pid.)

One of the Pittsburgh radio stations has begun to play Christmas music. Already! Thanksgiving has not yet arrived, and still I turned on the radio in the car (yes, people, I listen to the radio, not an iPod or XM Satellite radio or any other odd, mutated form of music-related entertainment) and, lo and behold, Christmas music blasted out at me.

And it was terrible music. Terrible. It was the worst Christmas carol ever, as voted by the hubby and me in past years: It was Gloria Estefan’s version of “Let It Snow.” If you haven’t had the displeasure of hearing it for yourself, say a quick prayer that you are spared such punishment forevermore. Another possibility is that you may have heard it and simply not recognized it as that particular little ditty, because it is so very awful and corrupted from the original that it could easily be mistaken for a new and horrible song instead of the horrible remake that it is.

I don’t mind that Christmas carol, nor do I mind most of them. Honestly, I really like quite a few of them. It’s the gut-wrenchingly bad renditions of them that hurt me. Whatever moved Gloria to participate in such an attempt? Blaring horns, escalating to loud, honking musical peaks, strangely discordant vocals instead of blissful harmonies… It’s just the worst. Although, in fairness, I was never a big Gloria E. fan…

I suppose it’s kind of mean to harangue Gloria for her Christmas song. Why would I pinpoint her? There are so, so many bad Christmas songs to choose from. And while they’re not all bad, gosh darn there are SO MANY of them. And how many of these recording artists have ever uttered the name Jesus except to snarl curse words at someone? I’d surely like to know.

I did a quick search on Amazon and found quite an eclectic mix of Christmas albums to choose from. You could be crooning along about the Savior with any of the following: Andy Williams (of course), Amy Grant (of course), Jethro Tull (huh? the flutist rocker?), Jessica Simpson (the cover of this one makes you wonder what Jess has on her mind for Christmas), Nana Mouskouri (remember her? the lady with the glasses?), Raffi (who is this guy? Should I know?), Burl Ives (a given), Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Knight (nothing bad to say about these ladies), Michael Bolton (cornball), Al Green (I’d like to hear this one), Billy Idol (yep, THAT Billy Idol), Beach Boys, Jackson 5, Air Supply, Tiny Tim, Twisted Sister, and so on, and so on. Moody Blues and Jethro Tull got creative and penned mostly new songs for their efforts, but I’m not even sure whether that’s a good idea… I mean, how many really good, fairly recent Christmas songs can you think of? One? Two? Five at most. It’s a tricky business, writing new carols.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself and see what absurdities await you in the land of Christmas listening. And be warned—I’ll be working on my own Christmas album for release soon. If I miss this year, I can always shoot for next Halloween, since that’s likely when they’ll begin spinning the Christmas tunes. I’ll call it “Mel Gives You the Christmas Blues.”

(Get it? A little double entendre there? I can sing the blues for you, and I can also give you the blues by my singing them…?) Okay, then. See you around.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another day, another year

Wow, do I feel old. I can’t believe I’ve been on this earth for so many years. How can it be? I’m still immature, I still feel young (well, in my mind—not in my knees or back or feet.) I definitely do not feel my age…which, quite recently, slipped quietly into its next year.

We’re all growing older every day; why does the subtle alteration of that number drive home the point so ruthlessly? It’s not as if the aging process speeds up on a birthday; we’re aging at the same rate all the time. And yet. And yet. I never even thought I could get past 30. I’m not sure what I envisioned—did I imagine I’d just stop and stay still in the midst of whirling time? Now that I’m approaching 40, I can’t deny it any longer. It’s happening. I’m no spring chicken, and I’ve long left behind the “spring” of my life.

There are, however, some advantages to aging. I care less and less what people think as I hobble into middle age. The shy, awkward, “what-will-people-think?” girl is gone from my life, banished by healthy apathy and increased self-confidence. I’d never go back to being that girl. She was miserable, apologetic, and altogether too easily influenced by the opinions of the world, poor timid pup.

And I’m more certain about my priorities now. When I was a silly kid, I was all mixed up about what was important. Finally, I’m starting to get a clue. People, not things. The kid and my husband, not just me and my own selfish desires. Healthy eating and respect for life instead of taking tomorrow for granted. Safety paired with a grateful joie de vivre, instead of foolhardy risks and much moaning and groaning about my folly in life. Faith in God, not false hope in false gods.

The best part of aging? It happens to everyone. No one escapes unless they opt for the alternative (which isn’t nearly as attractive a choice as getting a little bit older). It’s even happening to the people who are younger than me; I try not to snicker as folks who once ribbed me mercilessly about my maturity are now traveling into their 30s. HA HA—how’s it feel, girls? We’re all lugging around the same decade now, aren’t we? (Hey, I never said I was nice—just trying to be. Besides, they deserve it, the snipes.)

Well, that’s about enough philosophizing for one day. I owe it to my old self to get a sufficient amount of rest, so I’ll sign off for now. Eat right, get some exercise, stretch your muscles, and don’t worry about the numbers—at least not THAT number.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Everyone means EVERYONE

So, I recently posted my happy little Bob Ross essay (see My Dream--Adjusted) about loving everyone as yourself. (I probably made at least one person’s stomach turn.) And then, God read my post, chuckled, and sent me reminders that everyone means everyone.

First, there’s this woman I know. She’s kind of a mess. She used to be more of a mess, I gather, from the alarming little excerpts from her past that she occasionally drags out into the glaring light. So, all things considered, she’s doing much better now than she used to do. But she still struggles with a number of issues. And she calls me. Sometimes it’s not for days, even weeks. And then I am pulled (wriggling and squirming) back onto her radar, and suddenly there she is, at odd times, for no reason sometimes, and more often because she needs something.

Now, let me say that there are people in this world who consistently make us thankful for caller ID. You know exactly what I’m talking about; these are the few folks in our lives who drive us to pay that extra fee. I’ve revealed to you what a cheapskate I am…and yet I pay that stupid monthly charge just so I can see the caller’s name pop up on the handset. And I confess to you now that the last two times this woman has called me, I have not answered the phone.

I feel bad about it.** I do. I’m not sure what to do. I know I should take the call. But I also know that the call is likely to bring about a request of some kind. Nearly all the calls do. (I can't be certain, since she never leaves a message.) And for the past few days, with a snotty-nosed kid, a ceaseless cough of my own, errands to run, etc. I just haven’t felt like fielding the various needs that I know will be expressed if I click the Talk button and say “Hello?” very casually, as if I don’t know who is waiting on the other end.

So, there it is. I’ve told you. Now you know what a hypocrite I am. Because, surely, isn’t this person one of the “everyones” that I’m supposed to love? But wait—it gets worse.

I was in a store yesterday, glancing around me, and then my focus became riveted a few aisles over on a very tall, elegant man, dressed in a miniskirt and heels. And I tried not to look at him too pointedly, but I kept stealing surreptitious glances at him. I couldn’t stop. It was awful, the way I kept staring while trying not to stare. He’d gone to lengthy efforts to be a convincing female. The skirt, the giant heels, even pantyhose (a very tasteful nude shade—no tacky “suntan” for this fellow), some makeup. He was wearing a wig, too—not a bad one, but obviously a wig. Nice neutral eye shadows and lipstick, the skirt wasn’t too very short, above the knee but not utterly tasteless like some of the styles nowadays… And yet, he was a man. Inarguably, a male. And there he stood, looking through some ladies’ shirts on a rack, minding his own business. And I was kind of weirded out. I guess the old adage is true—you can take the girl out of the small town, but you’ll never get the small town out of the girl—and I can say with some certainty that I never saw a character like this in all my growing-up years.

I was mentally shaking my head at him, perplexed and a tad judgmental, and all of a sudden I felt an unmistakable nudge in my soul, and in my mind I heard the word “everyone.” That’s everyone, there, little Missy. Even a mammoth cross-dresser who’s searching for the perfect Christmas blouse. You don’t know him, his heart. You don’t know what he’s been through, whether there was abuse, whether his parents loved and accepted him… You don’t know.

And it’s true: For all I know, the respectable looking manly guy who was sidling closer from the other direction could run toward me, knock me down, grab my purse and flee, and perhaps this lovely, cosmetic’d fellow would trip after him in his huge high heels and knock him upside the head in order to retrieve my bag. It could happen.

I don’t know. All I know is I’m supposed to love them. No matter what. Boy, is that tough. For me, for them—for all of us. I’ve heard it’s possible—but we certainly need divine assistance to make it happen.

With love,

** BTW, this phrase—“I feel bad about it”—is correct. For any of you out there tsk-ing in my general direction and feeling annoyed at a former English teacher for misusing grammar, I say to you that the word “feel” is a sensory verb, and therefore must be followed by an adjective, just as any non-action verb would be. When you misbehave, you would never say, “I am badly.” Or, when describing an unflattering outfit, you’d never say, “I look badly.” That sounds as if you can’t see well! No action is occurring, so bad is correct. If I said I felt badly, I’d be accusing myself of fumbling, inaccurate touching skills.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My dream—adjusted

So my dream has always been to move out west. The real west, Big Sky country, with Rockies in the background of every vista, small cabins crouching at the feet of big mountains, huge sunsets, and—most important of all—sooooo much space. Vast expanses of emptiness. Just me, perhaps a handful of loved ones, and lots and lots of room. Even my localized versions of the dream share that spaciousness. I picture ten or twenty acres with my house squarely in the middle of the acreage. A tractor is a must, maybe a horse, plenty of access to free firewood for the fireplace or wood burner, a garden in the summer… but neighbors? Not a must. I think I could do all right without them.

And please don’t misunderstand; we have great neighbors. They’re kind people, they’re thoughtful, they watch out for each other, are generally fond of our son and the other kids in the area, most of them drive slowly, and by and large they’re considerate about noise or mess. I honestly think we’re blessed to have such neighbors. But neighbors aren’t a must. I could probably do okay without them. I guess I’m a bit of a loner; I’ve never had much trouble entertaining myself.

Here’s the problem: our church is very much in support of living in community with one another. For real. As in, doing helpful things for each other, taking meals to people who need help, offering to run errands, opening our homes to each other, etc. And it’s a biblical concept. Over and over, our pastor (whom we both really like and respect—Todd may even love him) has pointed out clear, inarguable Bible scripture that dictates we genuinely care about and help each other, especially other believers in Christ. The whole concept of the church is that it’s a familial community that shares everything. The second greatest commandment? Love your neighbor as yourself. I can’t find any loopholes there. I’ve looked. I’m really supposed to love my neighbor. Love him.

And who’s your neighbor? Everyone around you—not just on your street, but around you all during the day. The annoying negative braggart at work, the lunkhead down the street who starts his Harley at 6:00 AM, the needy sort-of friend who always requires a ride or favor or money, maybe a family member who’s making you a bit batty. All of them. We’re to love them.

And how does this all fit into my dream of moving west and living among wild animals, perhaps some livestock, and lots of aspen trees? I don’t think they’d count as neighbors. So, that’s a bit of a situation. I can’t see how I can love my neighbors if I’m living the glorious, quiet, uncomplicated life of a hermit. I can’t be a good community member if I refuse to join the community. I can’t perceive the needs of all my neighbors if I don’t know them, spend time with them, let them into my world.

The toughest part is that I’m genuinely beginning to see how I, too, benefit from my community. Overall, I’m better with them than I am without. I am reminded of this nearly every day, when I talk to a friend on the phone, email a gal pal from Bible study, look forward to choir practice so I can see how everyone’s doing, etc. These exchanges make my days more enjoyable, cause me to count my blessings instead of cursing my bad luck. Watching others who exhibit grace every day, even in hardships, causes me to try harder, to work toward a better version of me. And helping others? The fact that we are able to do so at all is a reminder in itself of how much I’ve been given—given to share, that is.

Slowly, surely, it’s beginning to feel good to share. I still fight it sometimes—I’m human—but I know that the more I do it, the easier it will become. And the more I do it, the more I’ll find goodwill in my heart instead of bitterness and isolation.

So, I’m working on an adjusted version of the dream. I’ll get back to you with details as they emerge.

P.S. No, I can't claim credit for the photo--someone named Punit Sinha took it. I am borrowing it, since we didn't have a digital camera when we were honeymooning out west.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A funny little exchange with the boy

“Mama, did you drip paint here?” I'm on the floor and he’s sitting in my lap, facing me; he's pointing to my neck. We’ve talked at length about drips of paint, because we’ve had some painting projects of late, and also because the painters who preceded us at this house were rather careless—we’ve found drips in the driveway, in the bathtub, on the bathroom floor, etc. Drips of paint are quite familiar.

“No, honey. What do you mean?”

“Right here?” He touches my neck, and I realize he’s talking about a small mole I have there. “You drip paint here?”

“No, babe. That’s a mole. They grow on your skin.”

“What you hit that on?” He looks concerned; now he thinks it’s a bruise.

“No, honey—it’s a mole. It grew on my skin there. It’s okay, it’s not a bruise.”

He reaches out with his little hand, grabs the thing, and starts twisting it as if to remove it by force. Ouch! “No, Marcus, it doesn’t come off. It’s okay—it can stay there. Look, I’ll show you more of them on me.” I do. Of course I can’t find any on him—his fair skin isn’t even freckled like his dad’s. It’s just creamy smooth flawlessness. And here I am, pocked and marked, sitting before him like a warty frog. The whole conversation makes me giggle, and I tell him, “You’re silly and you make me laugh.” He laughs too, and we hug and then he starts climbing all over me and the offensive mole is forgotten.

I know his skin won’t always look this way. He won’t always mistake a mole for paint, or a little bruise. He won’t always try to twist and rub away my many imperfections with his small hands, although I’m certain he’ll become much more familiar with all of them as he ages and gets to know “everything,” thus realizing his mother's idiocy.

He won’t always be my little boy, on my lap, giggling with me about a mole. And that makes me rather sad.

P.S. I needed to write this today because it’s been a bear of a day. Molars are coming and they’ve temporarily turned the kid into quite a crank-butt. So, it’s nice to recall this moment from a few days ago and remember who I’m really dealing with here.

P.P.S. To any veterans reading this: THANK YOU.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Worthwhile extravagance

You might think from reading my “parasite” post that I’m a complete cheapskate who spends her life at yard sales and dollar stores. I do spend an inordinate amount of time looking for bargains at various locations. However, I do endorse a few lovely little luxuries. Yes, they cost more than I like to spend; and yes, they are worth it.

I’ve been reminded of one of those worthwhile luxuries in the past days, because my down comforter came out of hiding for the cold winter months. I’d forgotten how delightful it is to curl up under a down comforter. Todd described it as a perfect nest. It’s lightweight, it accepts and then returns your body’s warmth, it even has a nice crisp sound to it when you shake it out. The same can be said of high thread counts in the world of sheets; as soon as you surpass 300 threads per square inch of fabric, the sheets just get smoother and silkier—and never in that cheap, polyester silky way. The high thread counts wear better, too.

Some other household luxuries? Well, we were blessed with an All Clad connection (cooking aficionados and/or Emeril fans will recognize the cookware name). One of our in-laws has a father who used to work there, and that employment history has brought us gifts of some nice, heavy pots and pans that I use every day. May I simply say that All Clad rocks. I fully expect to still be cooking up meals in these pieces when I’m an old lady, assuming I make it that far. Food just turns out better when it’s prepared in quality pieces, and this brand is made to last a lifetime.

I could go on and on about luxuries in the kitchen: real sea salt, Madagascar vanilla extract, a French coffee press instead of an automatic drip machine, rich dark chocolate (Lindt offers some reasonably priced indulgences)… You get the idea.

Other small luxuries? My real Irish fisherman’s sweater comes to mind (I found it at a second-hand shop years ago, of course). A bigger luxury that Todd and I both appreciate is the Mac we purchased instead of a PC (worth every penny). If he were by my side right now, Todd would probably offer up the luxury of high-quality outergear and/or sporting equipment; he’s likely searching for some excellent hunting clothes as I write this. Something I wish I’d splurged on? The cordless phone. The one I bought instead will serve the purpose, but just barely…

How about you? What everyday extravagance can improve your mood in an instant? Share with a comment—then we all can treat ourselves or our families in small but sure ways!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Another loss

I don't normally post more than once per day, but a tribute was in order and I didn't want to wait:

What is the worth of one devoted dog?
A dog that started life as princess pup,
Then dropped in status with each newborn child—
And ended up the 8th in line. But still,
Was faithful, patient, loving, never nipped,
Gave special care to kids who needed it,
And never asked for more than biscuits, or
A comfy guest bed on which she could rest.
A dog like that? A rare and wondrous friend.

Rest in peace, dear Kena. You’ve been a member of my sister’s family; thank you for your years of service and companionship.

Contemplating the big sleep

Well, we’re really, truly nearing winter now. I watched darkness fall just before 5:00 pm last evening, and I knew with a sinking heart that I could deny it no longer.

Why do I dread it so? It’s not that bad, really, hunkering down earlier for the evening, shutting the curtains before dinner instead of after, turning on more lights a little sooner in the afternoon. It’s not as if we’ve been playing outside in the afternoon lately—it’s been pretty chilly—so the early darkness hasn’t brought about any big change in our schedule. And yet, I’m suddenly filled with apathy and ennui. I know there are exciting times to come, lots of fun fall events, Christmas preparation. I just can’t put my finger on the real reason for the mood shift.

I don’t really think I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. In truth, I’m not sure I completely believe in it. There are some relatively recent, popular disorders that I just haven’t made up my mind about—SAD, and Epstein Barr, and the innumerable forms of ADD and ADHD… Anyway, I don’t recall this listless feeling when I was a child. Perhaps I was too distracted by the anticipation of things to come, but I don’t know; we’re turning back the clocks much later this year, and I can’t imagine that I got too worked up about Christmas way back in October, which is when we used to make the time adjustment.

So what gives? Is it the knowledge of winter approaching, the upcoming snows and ices and shoveling marathons? Is it my horror at the thought of dressing myself and a 2-year-old in winter gear each time we venture out the door? Perhaps it is the vision of little old me, traversing a messy, filthy, snow-covered parking lot with a loaded grocery cart and child in tow.

I don’t know for sure. I only know that I feel a tad heavier, a tiny bit less hopeful, slightly cranky. I think about naps more and walks less. I have inexplicable snacking urges, less stringent rules about the state of the house, fewer inclinations to do chores and more interest in pointless, stupid TV shows.

I think I have officially made the transition to pre-hibernation mode.

Monday, November 5, 2007

How parasites shop

I like to think I’m pretty economical, that I can stretch a dollar. Todd and I live intentionally sparkle-free lives; we drive old cars, eat at home most of the time, he packs his lunch for work, I’m a regular Pennysaver and Craigslist participant, the kid and I seek out free fun at the library, take walks in the parks, etc. You get the idea. We try to live simply and inexpensively. Part of this is because we must, but truth be told, part of it is because we genuinely enjoy finding a bargain.

My favorite places to seek those bargains happen to be second-hand shops and sales. I have a local Goodwill that I frequent, we hit the church rummage sales sometimes, and there’s nothing better than a neighborhood garage sale on a warm Saturday morning. Sometimes I drag Marcus on these little forays; he’s quite familiar with the regular shopping spots. (He actually asked me today if I got my teeth at Goodwill—no kidding. Could I fabricate such an odd quote? You know it must be true.) I wouldn’t say that I pride myself on finding some of my favorite things in the midst of other people’s discarded goods, but I also wouldn’t say I’m ashamed of it. (Sometimes I think that the real shame belongs to people who spend ridiculous amounts of money on this stuff in the first place.) I do enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the unlikely Ralph Lauren skirt that’s in mint condition and cost me $3, or the Banana Republic sweater I found for $2… It brings me great satisfaction to step out in a name-brand outfit that didn’t even cost me a tenspot.

But pondering my second-hand hobby recently, I realized with some chagrin that I’m a parasite. All this time I’ve been thinking that I’m bucking the system, that I don’t need to live at the mercy of this season’s fashion, spend hundreds to update my wardrobe, invest thousands in furniture. The reality? I’m just as dependent on the whole goofy materialistic way of life as the initial purchasers of all these goods. If the person who first bought that $2 Ralph Lauren skirt had suddenly decided to save her money, where would I be? I couldn’t pick this stuff up cheaply if someone else hadn’t splurged on it in the first place.

So, I’m not really bucking the system. I’m just operating in a different system…but it’s not so very different, really. I spend less money, but I’m a cog in the greedy, fickle, buy-more/buy-new wheel just the same. I need those spendthrifts to help me maintain my lifestyle. My way of life requires that a consumer must consume; whether or not that consumer is me doesn’t really matter.

I'll be biting my tongue next time I'm tempted to ridicule someone's extravagance, because now I'll picture myself, a little leech, clinging to a bloated underbelly.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Something to hang in my little boy's room

Hi, all. I just wanted to show you my latest painting because I was happy with the way it turned out—and that doesn't always happen, let me tell you.

[Warning: shameless plug to follow] You probably know that I'll do commissions for a very reasonable fee (no people portraits, though—never could do those). Heck, I've even bartered with people; I once painted a bouquet for a big bag of handmade soap, and right now my next scheduled animal subject will be horses...for a horsewoman/beading aficionado who made me a lovely turquoise necklace. Something to think about with Christmas coming quickly quickly quickly!