Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shut up about your organic lifestyle and keep your photos of beautifully prepared food to yourself. I'm not kidding.

     Here's the thing.  I'm not deliberately poisoning my kids.  Yes, they are teens, and we occasionally have moments where we are not blinded by a glowing ball of family love, but I am seriously concerned about their health and well being. As an invested, loving mother, I read books about food, articles about nutrition, blogs about lunch time and snack time and the most important meal of the day.  I know organic is better than inorganic. I know local food leaves less of a global footprint and is usually better for you.  I watched Food, Inc. I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, about the year she and her family tried to eat locally, and were surprisingly successful. I've read the Michael Pollan books.

     But here's the other thing. I can't remember the last time I bought organic, locally grown food.

     Because here's the third thing: I'm broke. All the damn time, I am broke.

     My daughter's first semester of college? It's on a credit card.  God knows when I'll be able to pay that off, let alone the next four plus years of tuition. My high school kid came home last month with the class fees bill in one hand and a cookie/magazine fundraiser in the other. It took the entire year, last year, to pay the two hundred dollar school bill. I have to find eighty dollars for a track uniform and traveling money, before February.
     My car? It's a piece of crap Toyota mini-van, twelve years old, with a semi-functioning muffler. The drivers window takes thirty minutes to roll  up because of tweeky wiring. The side door that is supposed to open and close with a button? Busted. It's been fixed two times already, and I can't afford any more mechanical expertise. The front light is hanging out after a driver's ed type learning experience. Don't even get me started on the gas mileage. So that's the car situation.
     My dishwasher is broken, the sprinkling system is broken, the side window on the house is broken. I try to repair what I can ( type pages are consulted more than a few times a month), but even home repairs take money. The laptop is broken (bought new with a warranty from BestBuy, who refused to fix it, may they rot in bankrupt hell). Are you getting the picture? Many things need money, only a few things get it.

     The girls are savvy; they don't ask for money unless it's absolutely necessary. They are old enough that they know it could be much worse, that many, many people are in a very bad way. They help out, they bargain shop, they do what they can. They are better than good kids, they are great kids. If you knew them, you would adore them. They are the opposite of a bad generation. They know just how far a dollar doesn't stretch. They study, they volunteer, they do chores. Like many terrific people, they deserve better. But when my kids come to me and say they need five bucks for this school project, ten bucks for that one, and come on mom, it's only a few bucks for the school dance/game/team supper/etc, I have to re-budget the week, and sometimes it's the difference between macaroni and cheese out of a box and a real supper with real food groups.
      That decision, the one between boxed pasta and real food? That is the point I'm trying to make. I know how risky it is to feed growing children crappy food. I'm well aware of the potential consequences. Indeed, the idea of certain inherited health problems descending on my children puts the fear of God in my heart. I very much appreciate the gravity of the subject. I think pesticides are a menace. I have no desire to decimate the bees and butterflies. My personal garden is one hundred percent pesticide free. Of course this means that I'm fighting bad bugs and plant decimating fungi with homemade quasi-effective homemade remedies like mouthwash and chewing tobacco, because I can't afford the more effective store bought organic solutions.
     There is a marvelous, independently owned natural food store just down the road from us, full of locally grown food and organic products. It does very good business with the community at large, but not, unfortunately, me. I can't afford to shop there. I can't afford the organic food anywhere. I'm trying to afford enough food for growing teens, period. The the food system is broken: it is absolutely true that it's cheaper to eat crap food, I can attest to that first-hand. I spend hours looking up the 'healthy and cheap' recipes, and hours more searching out bargains at Wal-Mart and Aldies. I wish healthy and cheap were synonymous, but mostly they aren't.
     Lately, I have started to resent all the books, articles, movies and blogs about organic food and pure eating, with their close up photos of beautifully prepared food and articles waxing rhapsodic about the latest supper party with cherished friends and consummately prepared recipes 
     I didn't realize I held anything more than guilt and envy toward any of it until I realized, a few months ago, that I had jaw pain from gritting my teeth while reading yet another summary of a blogging mommy who had changed her family's life for the better because they went green. I became fully aware of my angst after reading a list in a respected health magazine that listed  the ten fruits and vegetables that should never be eaten unless they were certified organic. I'm sure they didn't intend readers to snarl "Eat this, motherf*$%#*" after being illuminated with helpful advice, and I'm not saying I did, but I can't say I didn't, either.
     Listen, I love food. Who doesn't? I love cooking, eating, talking and reading about food. I don't, however, love shopping for food. I don't shop in stores where the food is beautifully presented and the grocers are smiling and helpful and delighted that you are there with them. I am always amazed at the hordes of people who do shop in places like that. Apparently they are doing okay in this economy, because some fruit, bagels, chicken, and rice can set you back sixty dollars in these happy bastions of gastronomy. I, on the other hand, shop in stores where people pick stuff up, stare at it for a minute, and then reluctantly put it back on the shelf. We all wear crappy clothes and look tired. It isn't a joyful experience of choice and prosperity; the stores have bad lighting, no music, hostile, overworked staff, and discounted, dented groceries. There isn't an organic section, but there is food that is significantly less money to buy than anywhere else, so I don't care about the decor or the lack of choice. Even so, even having found a shop that is within my budget, my stomach hurts when I shop. I spend a lot of time looking up recipes, writing out lists, budgeting every extra cent to lend to the grocery bill, and still walk the isles with a stomach ache and gnawing regret.
     I'm done with blogs, shows and magazines that warn me of the dangers of inorganic food and the upsetting facts of the American diet. I know, okay? I KNOW. We're all fat and unhealthy and don't eat enough fruits and vegetables and we're raising children who don't know how to eat. Goddammit, I know all this. I'd be happy, nay, delighted, to go back to the days when my kids were young and ate broccoli and hummus for snacks. The only thing I worry about more than money is my kids future, specifically their health and happiness. But I just can't afford to feed them the way they deserve to be fed, and take care of them the way they should be taken care of. Like I said before, many things need money, few things get it. In the meantime, don't tell me about the dangers of this and the poisons of that, because the one thing my kids are not, is hungry. They eat enough, if not the right things, and that is a blessing that lets me sleep a little at night. Don't take that away from me, too. It's not much, but it's what I've got.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You are only as happy as your unhappiest child?

My mother used to say this phrase. All the time. ALL the time.
I hated it. I used to tell her she was co-dependent on her children; she would laugh, but she didn't take it back.
You are only as happy as your unhappiest child? Nonsense, I would say. How about, you are as happy, if not happier, as your happy child? Surely this is the essence of co-dependency, this shared misery? This cannot be good mental health, I said.

I didn't just hate the idea behind the words, I hated the words themselves. Things were the way they were; homey catchphrases didn't express, define or change my reality. I thought my mother oversimplified things, I thought she didn't have her own emotional life. I thought a lot of things back then.
Now? Now I am the mother of two teen girls. People, I will tell you, this world is HARD on teen girls. Teen girls are, frequently, very, very sad. Oh my god, are they sad.
Lately, I am sad, too. My teenage self would writhe in disgust, would spout heated words like "co-dependent" and "their life isn't your life." I am a slow learner in everything, even so, I am surprised by just how sad I am, when my daughters are sad.
Sad is like happy: simple words for un-simple emotions. To say I hurt because my children are hurting is like saying the ocean is big. Words fail me. Words have failed me all year.
I had actually forgotten about the stupid phrase. I had blocked that thought for decades. And then this year happened. Both of my children are on antidepressants. Both of my children currently struggle with anxiety, body image, self-esteem, self-loathing, millennial pathos. Both of them have come to me, in the middle of the night, a few months apart, and told me they didn't think they could handle things anymore. Both are struggling with sorrows beyond bearing, both say they won't ever be happy again.
I have lived long enough that I know it isn't true. But right now? It feels true.
I have spent sleepless nights weeping quietly into pillows, while an almost grown body curls into mine with the sweet, trusting sleep of a child. I have tucked bed covers burrito style around my daughters, tight, to keep them safe, unconsciously sighing along with my child from the relief of old habits. I have gone to bed alone and awoken to the forgotten sensation of pins and needles in my arm while a child burrows into my side, head pressed into the softness of my bosom, searching for animal comfort, a safe, warm body.
I remember that I would rather let my arm literally catch on fire than disturb a sleeping child.
The dumb, ridiculous phrase came into my head in the middle of the night. I was gazing at her sleeping face and thought, "I am only as happy as my unhappiest child."
In my mind, I rose from bed, walked to the kitchen, and slammed my head repeatedly against the wall. In my mind, I am stronger than this. You can't even needlepoint it on a pillow; that's how stupid the words are. In my mind, I got back into bed and used my aching head to form intelligent, well reasoned arguments against cliche' ridden vapidity; I sorted out all the reasons why a semi-intelligent adult could still live a happy, fulfilled life while sympathizing with her upset daughters. Happy adult to the right, sad teens to the left.
I almost wish it worked, the way it worked in my mind. I almost talked myself into it. I know the difference between sympathy and empathy. I embrace the idea that the cornerstone of good parenting is stability. The idea that my child's successes and failures are MY successes and failures is repugnant to me. These concepts have always worked out for the better, in my little family.
This year is different. This year the children are sad. This year I am sad, too.

Friday, June 29, 2012


                                           Somebody that I used to know, Star Wars version.
                                Much funnier than the South Park episode about the same subject.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


                                     Here lies Sock.

Pretty colors, lovely yarn, good needles: sock had every advantage and no excuse for its behavior.

Sock led a short, irritating life and will be missed by no one.  
I ignored its tiny woolen tears and scratchy promises to do better next time, and, as promised, laughed and laughed while I unwound the little bastard.

Here are the Sock's remains: more interesting and amenable on Gir's head than it was capable of being in all of its fourteen frogged incarnations. 

Ever since I learned how to knit socks, I've always had one or two to work on, to carry around in my purse and keep me entertained while watching tv or in long lines. I thought I would miss not having one to work on, but I don't. Not at all. 
After all the aggravation, I find the general lack of socks very peaceful. 
Maybe Sock was, in its own tedious, unhelpful way, trying to tell me that it wasn't really a sock. Maybe it dreamed of curling around an arm, soft and warm, the way the best gloves do. Maybe Sock was a rebel with a cause who longed to break out and morph butterfly-like into a small shawl, or even a beret, thus paving the way for other sock yarns to follow. Maybe Sock, poor old Sock, is a martyred hero who will rise from yarny ashes to become something better than it dared dream of, like a cat sweater. 

Rest in pieces, Sock.

Speaking of laughing while you kill something; Bob Schneider

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I might be killing a sock tomorrow.

     My pedicure unintentionally matches the sock I'm knitting (kid #2 says that showing this much joy over matching toes/sock and then taking a picture of such is more proof that middle age is a curse beyond bearing).

This is what crazy looks like.

     I've used this yarn before and loved it. I've used these needles before and loved them. I've used this exact pattern many times before and loved it. The colorway is a pretty blend of blues and greens and tweed mixes of both. For some magical reason that escapes me, I loathe this sock. I've frogged the heel eight times. I've frogged the leg three times. Nothing is enormously, specifically wrong, just a few fiddly, easily fixed problems, and yet I've come to despise this sock with the kind of deep, personal hatred that I usually reserve for Best Buy. 
     I feel like I have to finish this sock, and then the pair, because that's what you do, right? You finish what you start.  I'm going to have to reach deep inside my soul for the fortitude to even knit one more row. I might have to watch some Nike commercials. This sock is making me wretched. To wit:

Dear sock, 
All your friends knitted up just fine. 
I know comparisons might upset you,

but honestly, what is your problem?

Surely you know me well enough by now

to sense your future is in peril. 

Even the needles have noticed

that you aren't trying.

Is it the pattern? I have others.

Maybe the thought of being worn on a foot bothers you?

I've got a fingerless mitten pattern,

or maybe a shawl.

I bet it could work.
I don't tell you this because of any love for you, 
it's because I'm trying to do right by you,
but you better get your shit together 
or I'll laugh and laugh while you unwind into nothing.

P.S. You make me crazy and not in a good way. I'm watching you. 
someone who probably shouldn't own sharp pointy sticks right now


Sunday, April 15, 2012

oceans, birth control, and evolution (oh my)

Documentaries we watched this week:

Aliens of the Deep
Directed by James Cameron (the Titanic Guy). This was beautifully filmed and very interesting. I liked that JC kept the deep sea scientists talking about complicated issues in a laid back, easy going and organic conversation throughout the movie. The scientists themselves were incredibly likable and humble, and I loved that they would practically jump up and down inside their cramped submersibles when they were excited about something. They are wonderful examples of passion and education, and the ninth grader didn't seem bored or baffled even once (this is unusual) during the length of the DVD. Highly recommend.

The Education of Shelby Knox
Summary from POV: The swift rise in federally funded, abstinence-only sex education under the Bush administration is in the headlines today, sparking an intense national debate about our responsibility to teach teens the facts of life. Those supporting an abstinence-only approach say that teaching anything but abstinence just encourages teens to experiment with sex. Opponents say that withholding information about condom use and birth control will only lead to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.Into the culture wars steps 15-year-old Shelby Knox of Lubbock, Texas. A self-described "good Southern Baptist girl," Knox herself has pledged abstinence until marriage. When she finds that Lubbock has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the state, and her county's high schools teach abstinence as the only safe sex, she becomes an unlikely advocate for comprehensive sex education, profoundly changing her political and spiritual views along the way. "I think that God wants you to question," Shelby says, "to do more than just blindly be a follower, because he can't use blind followers. He can use people like me who realize there's more in the world that can be done." Here is a story for our times, where the combustible mix of politics, family and faith aren't as predictable as the red state/blue state divide would suggest.

     This is an interesting and timely documentary. Shelby is a Texas girl with a questioning brain, Christian upbringing and supportive family. After finding out about some shocking teen pregnancy and STD statistics for her town, she wants to know why her high school only teaches abstinence and campaigns for a more in-depth sex ed curriculum.  She is honest about the natural desires and pressures teens have today, and she comes across as heroic. I thought she was a terrific role model for my daughters, and I appreciated this documentary as valuable input in my ongoing discussion with my kids about sex.
     This hasn't really got anything to do with this documentary, but I had the Dixie Chicks song "Lubbock or leave it" in my head during the whole DVD, and I kept thinking what it must have been like for Natalie Maines to grow up there. You're an interesting place, Lubbock, Texas.

     Speaking of interesting places, the last DVD my daughter and I watched this week was called Kansas Vs. Darwin.  This movie covers a controversy that came to a head before we moved here.  I have had occasion in the short time we've lived in Kansas to hear locals talking about the school board hearings, but I wanted a closer look and was happy to find this at the library. This documentary is the weakest of the three we watched this week. The directing is somewhat uneven, and the sound is rough. I could hardly hear some of the dialogue because music was being played so loudly over some of the interviews. The pacing was a problem for me, it seemed like the directors made a point over and over when it could have been made once or twice.  I just looked at the official website and it says the movie is only 82 minutes. Hard to believe, frankly, this movie seemed loooong. So. The movie itself is a little rough. 
     The subject matter is another story. Three school board subcommittee members wanted the Theory of Evolution to stop being taught as fact and Intelligent Design to be signed off as legitimate curriculum. Cue the madness. The teachers and scientists for Evolution were so angry they refused to show up to the hearing, but lucky for them an excellent attorney took their case (good thing SOMEONE showed up to argue their side). 
     The entire event could stand as exhibit A for why separation of church and state is an excellent idea. I get the religious argument, if only because I grew up hearing various versions of Intelligent Design touted as Truth, Period.  However. Feeling strongly about something has never, ever made it true. Wanting something to be true doesn't make it true, otherwise I would be a triathlete who bottles her own award winning tomato sauce and owns a local book/tea/yarn shop. It sounds lovely, and oh how I want it, but it isn't actually true. Feelings don't equal facts. This is what the argument boils down to, in my opinion. Group A feels very, very strongly that something is true, Group B says, nope, you can't prove that, and if you can't prove it, you shouldn't teach it. Rock and a hard place. 
     I wish I could say I loved this documentary, or that it moved or shocked or enlightened me, but I would only recommend it if you are a student of this specific controversy, or maybe if you have no idea what the fuss is all about, this could be a starting place. Evolution vs. Intelligent Design is an incredibly important argument and I think it deserves a better documentary than this one. 

Dear teen girls,
this is not a good look for you:

     In other news, I'm addicted to a zombie trilogy. This is quite unusual, because I'm not into this monster genre at all. The zombie movement has pretty much left me cold (except for the Walking Dead...oh no, does this mean I'm into zombies? Please Lord don't let it be true), but these books are SO GOOD. The world building in these books is so skillful and the author has such a light, careful hand with plotting that a world post zombie rising seems totally plausible. Mira Grant's detailed explanation for the zombie virus is believable, as are minutia of daily living in this particular apocalyptic world.
     The main characters are a brother and sister team of self employed news reporters who run a blog called After The End Times. Bloggers are the new war correspondents because the big name news corporations handled the initial Zombie Rising so badly, treating videos of the first zombies like a joke. The blogging community, on the other hand, not only reported the first outbreaks correctly, they also advised their readers on the most effective methods of killing a zombie (from their combined encyclopedic knowledge learned from watching countless horror movies) and started a list called The Wall of all the people who died in the Rising.
     The zombie action isn't revolting, unlike every other zombie book/tv show/movie/etc.; the focus is on the fighting and the plot rather than body parts dropping off and tired, overdone gore. Mira Grant goes out of her way to make the point that the real monsters are the secondary characters: politicians and other various authorities. Shaun and Georgia (she goes by George; the names are a hat tip to George Romero and Shaun of the Dead) have a measure of sympathy for the zombies; the zombies are the end stage manifestation of a deadly virus, horrifying but not inexplicable.
      Shaun and Georgia are a likable blend of youthful optimism and professional smarts. They are devoted to each other and to the pursuit of truth. The dialogue is true to life (I can absolutely understand siblings telling each other to eff off as code for "I love you" and a sister telling her brother that she will kill him if a zombie gets him), and they are business partners as well as close-knit family. Their strengths and weaknesses are perfectly balanced, they literally and emotionally have the other's back. These are characters I care about; when they are in danger (which is almost always) I catch myself holding my breath. You know you are reading a good book when you can't put the book down, but it's so good that you try to read slower so it lasts longer.
      Book one (FEED) is from Georgia's POV, book two (DEADLINE) is Shaun's, and it will be interesting to see what Mira Grant does for book three (BLACKOUT).  At the risk of hyperbole, I CANNOT WAIT for book three...I want it now. I should be thinking about May in terms of my daughter's senior graduation, or my family reunion, but all I can think is "What happens next?! I want to know NOW."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Websites I liked this week:

Least helpful reviews on the net (mostly Amazon).
 Favorite reviews so far (people who missed the forest for the trees and accidentally burned them all down).


These next sites want to help stamp out reviews like those above:

The National Repository of Online Courses. It's a free (my favorite word) site with online courses. My ninth grader is working on the Civics course this week, and it's terrific. Well organized, well written, easily understandable so the student can work alone, and the student sets the pace. There are a ton of really excellent educational lectures and courses, for high school and beyond, but most of them are not free.

I am thinking of subscribing to this one : , also for the ninth grader. It's only thirty five dollars a month, and the courses look pretty good. Thirty five bucks is pretty damn reasonable, especially in light of some online schools which are hundreds of dollars by the time you've worked through the course load.

This next site is dedicated only to writing, and my daughter and I have only just started to explore the site, but so far it looks very practical, helpful, and well organized. It's an interesting concept. I am having a really difficult time trying to teach my ninth grader how to develop writing skills beyond the basic essay, and I am hoping this site can help us.

One more site with various web listings that claim to be free (I haven't spent much time looking through the individual courses yet);

Two websites that I hear advertised on NPR all the time but I'd never bothered looking up till this week: (funded by George Lucas) and (the Annenberg Foundation). These aren't school classes so much as resources for educators. The resources seem to be free, the classes for credit are not.

One last site that I used this week with the ninth grader: I love this site. I love that NASA is trying really hard to combat all this Doomsday nonsense, I love that they are spending time and money to educate people, especially young people, and I love the list of websites under 9-12 grade learning.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Funny pics and my woeful attention span online.

I've been looking for Scandinavian style hearts online so I can print them out and copy onto tea towels and embroider them, and such is my attention span online that I ended up saving pictures that couldn't have less to do with my original goal. Not a Scandinavian or a heart in sight. Some of these might be fun to embroider, though.

The best and tastiest kittycat in all of Catlandia. 
Also the most patient.

Sometimes I want to write thank you notes to people. They give and they give and they give. 

You're making it too easy, Patriotic Dude. Sorry, I meant easie. Another giver.

Not very applicable for a tea towel, but it could be an awesome crafted yard sign.
Maybe I could decorate the skull with rhinestones. Sparkly!

I'm so hoping this isn't photoshopped. 

Now this one could possibly be embroidered, but I suspect all the white is above my skill level.


Oh no they are not! You take that back right now!
(Look at the expression on this guy's face: it's his I HAVE IMPORTANT NEWS face)

I remember those days, when I would rather suffer any agony rather than wake a baby.

An inspiration to lawyers everywhere; a giver in spirit and deed.
True Story: there's a law firm in Boca Raton that has

Who-Can-I-Sue in giant letters on the side of an equally giant building. 
Boca Raton, another source of endless giving (also keeping it klassy).