Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Piece of Advice #110: Don't wrap your kids up in cotton wool.

Did you have a Big Wheel?  I had one, the ugly orange original, not some fancy, rigged up glitter princess one.  Remember how loud they were, that plastic grinding against the dirty blacktop?  What a great memory.

Gosh, and remember when kids wore shorts that short in a completely non-sexual way?  I spent much of the 70s (by 1980, being 9 years old, I wouldn't have been caught dead on a Big Wheel) hanging out in hideously ugly green/yellow/orange androgynous polyester two piece pants sets.  And my hair was like that boy's.  Ugh, what a horrible decade for fashion.  But, man, as kids we were still allowed to do stuff.

One summer my sister and I built forts out of wooden pallets left behind by the developers who carved out my suburb and stopped more or less with our house.  They dumped a whole box of nails and all kinds of 2x4s and pressed wood a big ravine they dug out behind our house (Hill #1), and we dragged all of it up the hill and got out our dad's hammers and went to work. We made this rag tag shack fort and we were so proud of it.  The boys from a street away came and tore it down in the night, and we vowed we'd build it again.  And we did.  Again and again.  Stepping on rusty nails did not stop us!  Ripping open our scalps on broken wood from low door "frames" didn't stop us.  We had the best time getting sunburned and scabbed and poked and cut and showing those boys we would not be defeated.

We walked and biked all around our neighborhood, all day long in the summer.  I don't even know if my mom even knew where we were.  We were just supposed to be home by dinner and not watch TV. We'd ride over to the park and swing on the rusty swings and fling each other off the paint chipped merry-go-round.  I distinctly remember riding the steep hill down Packer Dr. with my feet on the handlebars and my hands up in the air and, of course, no bike helmet.  No one wore a bike helmet.  No one.  I didn't tell my mom about the feet on the handle bars thing, though.  No, I did not.

Elbow and knee pads too!
There were creepy adults in the 1970s and 80s, but we didn't look at adults as creepy.  Now as parents we read all the time about sex offenders and kidnappers and closed head injuries and we want to protect our kids against all of that.  Of course we do.  But we're getting pretty paranoid.  There's no real reason toddlers need to wear helmets on their scooters.  They're not going very fast and they aren't going to be out of the supervision of adults.  But I've seen all kinds of moms apologize for their tiny kids being "in danger" from not wearing a helmet. 

My son rides a bike and a scooter and roller blades and I've never been able to get him to wear one.  I also can't get him to put a coat on for half the winter, let alone mittens or gloves.  I do not let him wander about the neighborhood because we live in the city, only a couple of blocks away from a middle school in which my cousin's wife remembers seeing one girl shiv another with nail file in the hall.  The houses across the street from the school have had any number of break ins too.  He plays in the park and walks the neighborhood, but I wouldn't be comfortable saying, "Be back by dinner."  I just don't know my neighbors like we knew the neighbors growing up - and I have tried.  Three different neighbors moved out this year, ones I'd gotten to know some. 

Still, I let my son climb trees and slide down icy hills in winter.  I don't make a big deal out of it if he get a boo boo.  Cuts and bruises and scabs and scars are a part of growing up.  Life is full of pains, large and small, and if he doesn't learn to deal with them now, he'll be too weak to deal with larger problems later.  And I'd prefer that he not turn into a huge whiner who thinks it's other people's responsibility to shelter him from any and all adversity in life.  If you let life be the teacher and hand out consequences for homework, they'll learn some important lessons earlier on and probably be more pleasant to be around in the here and now.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Sorry, I can't get behind this blog/Twitter trend.  And it's not because I'm not consistently appalled by the amount of weight Americans have gained over the last 20 years.  I am.  I remember driving home from work sometime in the late 1990s and hearing on the radio that two-thirds of Americans were overweight and feeling shocked.  After that I started spot checking each roomful of people to confirm this and realized that, clearly, we have a problem.  It's not confirmed that obesity causes higher morbidity, but it's certainly correlated with a swath of horrible diseases - diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and strokes, and it exacerbates other conditions like joint problems and arthritis.  That only makes sense; if you load up a person with mobility issues with, say, 10 bags of flour, they're going to find it more difficult and painful to get around.  Added to the fact that people who are obese tend to have become obese by eating incredibly unhealthy foods, and we have a severely health compromised citizenry (and right when we're looking to socialize medical costs too!).  I fully support any sort of research that could provide solutions to turn this trend around.  It's particularly troubling to see children and young people get fat because their obesity will directly impact their overall quality of life and the array of choices they will get to make.

But fat shaming is like slut shaming - obesity and promiscuity are established practices in the western world, and we've reached and passed critical mass for turning it around by social shunning.  When 7 out of 10 people in a room are fat, your trenchant commentary on their expanded waistlines is going to have little effect - except for arousing anger and hard feelings.  Sure, feel free to reject the lunacy of the "Heathy at Any Size" propaganda.  You don't have to believe things just because people really, REALLY want to you to believe them.  But we're going to have to come up with better solutions than tossing epithets like "fatty" and "land whale."  Or snapping pics on our cellphones and uploading them to Twitter.  Seriously, that's just self-righteous cruelty. 

You can give people information, but until they're ready to hear it, or until we install a better system of incentives/disincentives, you can't control people's weight. 

I've heard the argument that social shunning turned cigarette smoking from cool to prole, but while there is currently a lowered status assigned to smoking, it was government intrusion and eventually very, very expensive lawsuits that turned things around for our collective lungs.  It was only after Big Tobacco's back was broken that we all fell in line and denied ever EVAR smoking those cancer sticks.  We then shunted the addicted to roped off ghettos and eventually out into the cold, cold night.  Only people who ride very large motorcycles or work in black fingernail jobs like auto repair management can smoke with impunity now.  The government could probably do the same with fast food (or alcohol!), but it's in bed with Big Ag and Big Sugar - so no dice.  Unhealthy people with unhealthy debilitating addictions are easier to push around too, so perhaps it's not in our government's best interests to encourage it at this time.

Obesity affects everyone - outside of the weight loss/bariatric surgery/dialysis industries - negatively, but this is not an effective answer to the problem. 

Monday, September 16, 2013


Western culture is clearly coming to a breaking point between the two competing ideologies of Liberalism, which has its "religious" expression in Humanism - with or without the atheism - and Christianity, which is considerably weaker than it's ever been in the West, outplayed and outshone by its competitor's easy breezy narcissistic hedonism. 

The two have coexisted uneasily for this last half century, but cannot much longer now that Liberalism has decided to directly and unambiguously target religion and the religious as Evil, and has decided that nodding and smiling is not enough of a response to affirmations of its core tenets of democracy, diversity, unfettered sexual exploration, and redistributionism.  So, here we go.

The Pax Dickinson skirmish of last week, was one of many recent examples of people being fired for saying something - instead of say, doing something - the other side considered going against the narrative and outside the realm of acceptable thought.  My response to it was rather personal as it happened to me, on a much smaller, less public scale a few years ago.  I had done volunteer work for a reader's website for about 10 years and had gotten along just fine with the site's administration and readers all that time, until I strayed from the party line on frats, alcohol and rape, and then people made a lot of noise, called me a lot of names, attempted to psychoanalyze me online, and called for my dismissal.  I decided to resign rather than apologize and (maybe) be forgiven.  Doing thousands - literally thousands - of hours of volunteer html coding behind the scenes no longer seemed so appealing.  The hardest thing for me to swallow was the accusation that my son was obviously in an abusive situation with me as his mother, if I thought the way I think.

I saw the same sentiment echoed in Anil Dash's words about Dickinson: "So, to be clear: I have no interest in playing an agent of Pax Dickinson's redemption. I do not want him anywhere near kids of any sort, let alone teaching anyone." 

Words now = pedophilia or child abuse. 

I was also extremely put off by how the people who criticized me seemed to revel in my newly cast off status, how they gleefully proclaimed, "Google is forever," as if my never getting a job again was suitable punishment for saying women shouldn't go to frat parties and get completely hammered because it wasn't safe.  Justice served!  Maybe someday she and her (abused kid) can starve!  We can always hope!

To be clear, I believe (among other things):
  • Order > Chaos
  • Self control > Hedonism
  • Community > Individual expression
None of those values would have even been questioned by the majority of Americans fifty years ago.

It's interesting, though, to see how the other side reacts when someone of their values wanders past the ideological fence and gets taken down.  The outrage, the cries of unfairness, the accusations of injustice, bigotry, McCarthyism; it's all the same.  In this case, a lesbian Catholic school teacher was fired for coming out and stating she was in a lesbian relationship.  She wanted to express her values, and since this is not in accordance with the Catholic Church's "branding," she was fired.  An entirely predictable outcome. 

Note that children are once again involved.  It's really starting to heat up over children and who gets access to their minds.  This is because we're splintering as a society into groups - not even cohesive groups - but everyone knows that children are the future, and if people can choose how and where and why to educate their children, they may not choose as directed.  Should be interesting. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Twitter and humanity

It was reported today that Business Insider today fired Pax Dickinson for his history of "offensive tweets" on Twitter.  Business Insider characterized it thus:
A Business Insider executive has made some comments on Twitter that do not reflect our values and have no place at our company. The executive has left the company, effective immediately.
A bit coy, but whatever.  I guess Henry Blodgett doesn't have to tell us whether Dickinson will be eligible for unemployment or not.  He's busy bending over to please a bunch of implacable harpies.  Apparently this whole thing was sparked by someone named Nitasha Tiku who noticed that Dickinson has little love for feminism and became all OFFENDED.  Commence Twitter firestorm, and emails fired off to Blodgett calling for him to axe Dickinson, and a day later he is no longer working for Business Insider and his reputation is in the dumpster.

You ever get the feeling that the adults are not running the show anymore?  That we are now living some large landlocked Lord of the Flies experiment with the angry, hysterical kids getting all the pork?  I mean, honestly, who cares what a segment of people on Twitter think?  Do none of these company heads have the basic fortitude to simply reply, "Thank you for your concern," and hit delete?  And what is with all of the asinine snark?  Is douche one of those words that you can just add any noun to in order to enhance its basic quality.  Douchecanoe?  Are we in 7th grade?   Don't people get that the brogrammer tweet was supposed to be self parody?  And why is it kosher to mock his name?

Again, are we in middle school?  I feel like we're in middle school, and the teachers are long, LONG dead.

I don't always agree with Pax's tweets, but I've found a lot of them funny.  I felt the same way when I was an expat in Russia and would get together with other Americans.  There's nothing funny about the fact that Russians use a spoon to eat their cake instead of a fork.  Unless you and everyone else in the room have had the experience of picking up a fork and being laughed at for it.  Then it is hilarious.  Just hilarious.

Here's my serious question to all the people who ganged up to deprive Dickinson of a job, are rejoicing that he's unemployed now, or are happily making comments threatening his physical safety:  what are you supposed to do if you actually, truly don't believe all the humanist, progressive propaganda the news media/educational system/corporations shovel at you day in and day out?  Think but never talk?  Talk only in whispers amongst your family and hope a neighbor doesn't hear and report you to the Party?  Because it gets old, really really old absorbing it all day long and never venting.  Do you enjoy mouthing a creed you don't believe in?  Somehow, I think not.
I mean, what if you don't believe white people are the source of everything that's wrong in the world?  What if you think traditional gender roles worked just fine?  What if you think the overall impact of religion was - gasp - positive for humanity?  You can't say these things at work any more.  Or in college.  Or high school.  Or in news articles about cops being shot during traffic stops. Not without being downgraded for it.  Or suffering endless anti-religious trolling.   Or being fired.  And apparently you can't say them on unrelated social media either.  Teachers have been fired for status updates, and kids get sent to jail for making sarcastic comments on Facebook.

Does this seem a little controlling to anyone else?  I thought in this brave new post-modern, post-Christian world we were all supposed to live and let live, to accept diversity, to coexist.  To tolerate each other.  Who goes around gunning for the jobs of people they haven't even met and feels all righteous doing it?

Ironically, it's the behavior of these people spouting off their humanist values that make me sigh for humanity today.  We are so tribal, and ever ready violently vanquish anyone from an "enemy" tribe and whoop it up at the post blooding celebration.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Piece of Advice #109: Don't deliberately sabotage your looks

At the risk of being accused of pulling a "Kids today..." curmudgeonly rant, it does seem like many young people are deliberately making themselves unattractive, and I do not understand for what purpose. 

And I'm not talking about the tattooing/piercing/branding trends, although I find myself horrified by those as well.  I get that those are a fad, fed by our narcissistic cultural urge to be unique while still being conformist.  I'm talking about people who seem to want to make themselves look as ugly as possible.

This week my family and I were standing in line at a store and two young women came in.  They both had shaved their heads in some sort of hideous long Mohawk, but the second one was also grossly overweight, had two sets of spacers in her earlobes (in orange and green), and was wearing an incredibly sour expression.  Everything about her was off-putting.  I tried imagining what she would have looked like circa 1985 (or, heck, circa 2000), and while she would never have been stunning, under different circumstances, she could have been attractive.  But everything she had done to herself made her look more tribal, more sullen, more hostile, and it had to have been deliberate.

Was she motivated by some sort of self-loathing, I wondered - did she choose to repel people rather than wait for them to reject her?  Or was this some sort of political or sociological statement she was trying to make?  Was I supposed to notice her or was I supposed to avert my gaze? 

A week or so ago the local shelter put up pictures of new dog and cat adoptive families, and one couple was strikingly unattractive.  Both the man and the woman were heavy and dressed like itinerants, but the woman had dyed her spiked hair a fluorescent pink, and had an illustration from The Giving Tree tattooed all over her shoulder and arm.  Why, why, WHY? 

Neither of these women were physically ugly in their basics, but they had made themselves so with their clothing/ornamentation/lifestyle choices.  I'm not talking about people who have let themselves go or people who, for instance, have inherited unfortunate dental problems but can't afford to get braces.  I understand laziness and poverty.  But I don't understand self-sabotage.

The fact is that even if you are not in the dating market, your appearance does affect how people perceive and, therefore, treat you.  Your choices about what you wear and choose to look like affect the choices people make in how to treat you.  We all may secretly dream of being treated according to our inner selves, but people judge you on what they see, and if you look scary, hostile, threatening, sullen, unapproachable, outlandish, or just plain ugly, they will treat you worse than if you were beautiful, attractive, or even plain.  Most of us aren't beautiful, but we can at least strive for clean, pleasant, and unremarkable.  You may think, "I'm not interested in meeting anybody," or "I'm not looking for a job," but the way you present yourself now affect the way people will feel about you and talk about you when recommending (or not) you for anything in the future. 

So don't wreck your looks on purpose. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Piece of Advice #108: Be prepared

In general, my philosophy is "Have less stuff."  But for the stuff I do have, I try to buy quality, hold onto it, and take good care of it. 

Actually, I'm not really a very good minimalist.  I've spent the last decade or so stocking up on old lady detritus picked up dirt cheap at rummage and garage sales.  Sometimes I think if I died and they held an estate sale, people would wonder how old I was?  75.  80?

Except the decor's not right. 

I have a sewing machine and a fabric stash I got mostly second hand.  I've got all kinds of canning equipment.  I have flannel sheets and enamel pails, old guy tools, jars of herbs, and a set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1954.  I have wooden train tracks and camping equipment and garden tools and walls and walls of books.  Children's books, history books, books about politics and geography, economics and science.  I've got books on raising rabbits and books on herbal remedies, I've got books in Russian, dictionaries in 7 different languages and a small collection of old hymnals.  No, I'm really not the poster child for minimalism. 

But in my defense, I got nearly all of this stuff second hand, most of it is sturdy and exceedingly practical and has been used (by me, even), and I've carefully organized it so that it's at hand when I need it.  If my son needs a costume for school, I can make it.  If he grows out of his size 10 pants, I've got the next four sizes in boxes, by size, for him to look through.  If my kitchen faucet develops a pinhole leak that, hypothetically say, sprays you in the face when you turn the water on, I've got a reasonably comprehensive set of tools, or, failing that, a decent selection of duct tape.  My pantry's stocked and my freezer's full.
A long time ago, I read about The Pantry Principle in Amy Daczyczyn's The Tightwad Gazette.  She talked about it in reference to cooking.  She said that she never cooked by recipes, in the sense that she had to assemble all ingredients in order to cook a meal from a magazine page.  Instead, she stocked her pantry over time so that she always had the basics and cook a decent meal from them, making substitutions if necessary.  Like Amy, I don't cook from recipes.  I take a trip down to the freezer in the morning and pull out a roast (or some brats, or a whitefish fillet) and while I'm down there I look to see if I've got any frozen green beans left or if the potatoes in the pantry look like they might need to be eaten sooner rather than later.  Later, when I'm making mashed potatoes, I'll think about what's in my herb garden that could be used and I'll grab a handful of parsley or dill and throw it in there.  I'll buy butter, olive oil, or honey in bulk and mentally keep track of how much is left.  I am continually in the process of stocking up.  And I never run out.  I mean, really, almost never.  Before a storm I don't have to go to the store because I know there's plenty of toilet paper and batteries and blankets and water in the house already.  My challenge is using up the stuff I have, turning the pantry over so nothing goes past date or completely stale.  Not that you can't use stale.  There are a hundred good uses for stale, if you can think out of the box.

I've extended The Pantry Principle to most everything, and it does save time, money, and peace of mind.  About the only thing I can't do this with is our cars, except for adding oil and antifreeze - I just don't know enough about auto repair.  So when my car leaks coolant like it is right now, I'm at the mechanic's mercy, more or less, because I'm not good with cars and I haven't stocked up.  I keep thinking I should do something about that.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Opting in, opting out

The New York Times Magazine has a story this week entitled, "The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In."  It's about the high profile, highly educated women of Generation X who, after working in high powered jobs, made the specific choice to stay home with their children - and are now regretting it.  Or not.  Or something.  I'm not sure what the point of it is other than to express, again, that women aren't happy, even when they have choices or have had full agency to make choices because they can't have it all. 

Well, duh.

Life is hard.  Life isn't fair.  Life doesn't come with a guarantee.  We make choices.  No one ever promised you a rose garden.  Pick your cliché, they're all true.

The first woman they profile, Sheilah O'Donnel got divorced after about a decade at home - in the custom home her husband had built for them.  She decided being a stay-at-home mother was disempowering and disenfranchising and skewed the balance in her marriage and caused all kinds of problems in her relationship with her husband:
At her peak, O’Donnel was earning $500,000 a year. But after her first two children were born, O’Donnel’s travel for work became more difficult. She gave up a quarter of her earnings in exchange for working three days a week, but felt marginalized, her best accounts given to others, meetings often scheduled on her days out of the office. “I felt like a second-class citizen,” she said. Even with the reduced schedule, the stresses of life in a two-career household put an overwhelming strain on her marriage. There were ugly fights with her husband about laundry and over who would step in when the nanny was out sick.
So O'Donnel - a la Mary Chapin Carpenter - got the heck out of Dodge and now has a small apartment and a midlevel sales job.  And no husband.  Whee!

The Times profiles two other women, whose stories I was more sympathetic to because they didn't actually break up their families for seemingly frivolous reasons.  The tone of the article seems to be, "You'd better work, honey, because men are unreliable.  It's just safer to support yourself."  Which harkens back to that 2nd Wave feminist idea that women should - must! - all work outside the home because then we are all equal, equal workers, indistinguishable. 

I'm not saying that women shouldn't work or that girls shouldn't be trained for a vocation or learn valuable skills.  I went back to work last year, and it turned out to be a very good thing because my husband is getting laid off in a few weeks, and we will have at least some income to live on until he finds another job.  And, of course, life does sometimes intervene.  Accidents happen, work peters out,  people die or become incapacitated, spouses sometimes leave.  Skills are good to have. 

My point is, Sheilah's husband wasn't the one who stopped being cooperative, who stopped supporting his family.  But somehow, the Times puts Sheilah in the victim role here.  It also really bothers me that feminists frame the working/staying home dilemma entirely in terms of how it affects women.  What about the children?  Sheilah was home for over a decade; did her children not benefit from the time they spent with their mother?  Did Sheilah not benefit from spending time with her kids?  That, to me, is far more important than what the pillows in her new apartment are like. 

I stayed home with my son because I wanted to be with him.  I wanted to know him.  I wanted to be the one from whom he learned his numbers, his letters, his morals, his values.  Not everyone can or even wants to stay home, but I went through a huge effort to have him in my life, and I wanted to be with him.  Now, it's true, he won't remember those years.  Already he doesn't remember how things were when he was a baby.  But I remember, and it's a blessing to me.  Yeah, I had to sacrifice my career as a librarian, such as it was, and, yeah, I had to become financially dependent on my husband and it did change the dynamic between us somewhat and sometimes I felt, I suppose, lesser, being a non-working person in a society that values everything in monetary terms.  But I had time with my son.  I invested my energy in him.  Will it pay off?  I hope so.  There are no guarantees in life.  He's happy, he's secure.  I gave him that, and I feel proud of it.

When I read stories like Sheilah's, I can't help thinking of my grandmother, a teacher and farmer's wife, who kept on keeping on when her husband was struck by lightning and rendered bedbound for the better part of a year.  She kept making dinner, running the farm, raising her boys.  She went back to work to keep money coming in, and you know who never complained that she wasn't fulfilled?  My grandmother.  She went and read to her mother-in-law who had had a stroke and needed the company.  She taught Sunday School.  She was grateful to have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep and a family who loved her.  Great woman, my grandmother.  God rest you, Amy Coleson Pettigrove.  He cracked the mold the day you were born.

Everything runs right on time, years of practice and design
Spit and polish till it shines. He thinks he'll keep her
Everything is so benign, safest place you'll ever find
God forbid you change your mind. He thinks he'll keep her

For fifteen years she had a job and not one raise in pay
Now she's in the typing pool at minimum wage

Today is my 15th anniversary.  I've kept the house clean, made healthy meals, repaired things that broke, shuffled my kid to school and basketball and scouts.  I've taken the dogs to the vet and taught myself to cook and garden and make medicines, prayed for my husband when he was away and traveling unsafe roads, and listened to him when he was tired and discouraged and scared. 

And all I have to show for it is: a clean house, a healthy family, rambunctious dogs, a happy and secure kid, a pretty little garden, shelves full of canned goods and herbs, and a loving and appreciative husband.  Poor me.