Thursday, October 22, 2009

Play Small-ball

I was born in the Bronx and raised a New York Yankees fan. Some of my earliest photos have me donning a blue baseball cap and pinstripes. Many of the fondest memories I have of time with my Dad are watching the Yankees play ball. I was raised to love the Bronx Bombers much like children are raised to love their siblings which makes my mixed emotions over the past weeks are so hard to admit (and potentially earn me getting my thumbs broken by the Yankees Mob). Watching the Yankees face the Twins in post-season play was much like watching my sister get into a fight with my best friend; I’ll always love my “sister” and stand by “her” unconditionally, but I really like my “best friend” a whole lot.

After living outside of New York for over 16 years I understand that a great majority of Americans hate the Yankees. Whether it is over their payroll, tactics, personalities, or history there are many reasons for non-Yankee fans to hate the Yankees. I completely understand the contempt; jealously is an ugly but natural emotion. Regardless, I struggle with many of the same issues non-fans do as the team becomes more a group of hired mercenaries whose soul mission is to win the World Series each year no matter how much it costs or how that cost effects the fans ability to watch games. To the Yankees defense they are not the only team to put forth a high-bucks business model, they just happen to be poster child for the practice.

As the Yankees now face the Angles I am reminded of another reason I just don’t follow my hometown team, or for that matter baseball, like I used to. After watching one homerun after another I realized how boring homeruns are; there’s no strategy, no teamwork, just one person who spends a lot of time in the gym, maybe with a supplement or two, connecting with the ball. My disdain for the homerun driven game spits in the face of contemporary “scholars” who see homerun hitters as crucial to making the game exciting and filling the ballparks. Big brass in baseball turned a blind-eye on the rampant steroid use for simple business reasons; these bulked up super hitters were saving baseball and reviving interest after the strike in 1994 and 1995 soured fans. What this change in players and the game did was attract a new breed of baseball fan, those who hungered for the instant gratification of the homerun. Perhaps the change was necessary given changes to the US overall and the rise of the “me” generation; those who want it all and want it all now.

Personally, I enjoy small-ball. I like it when players work the count. I remember when the leadoff hitter did everything they could to just get on base so they could then steal second and third. A home run was a special treat not a part of your regular diet. As a special treat the home run was fun and exciting, like a trip to the ice cream parlor or cotton candy at the circus. Today home runs are as routine as breakfast cereal is to an 8 year old. Small-ball requires the whole team to work together to manufacturer runs, not just rely on a few superstars to knock it out of the ballpark. Small-ball is what makes baseball a team sport; today’s game is an individual strength competition. Very few players know how to lay down a good bunt anymore. Teams are producing as many stolen bases combined as some individuals used to. The base running blunders we’ve seen in this year’s post season have much to do with the lack of base running practice players get these days; it doesn’t require much skill to jog around the diamond after a home run.

I still love the Yankees, I just don’t like them as much as I used to. I would prefer it if they were a team of players and not just individual guys doing their own thing who happen to wear the same uniform. I still like baseball but don’t enjoy it nearly as much when it was a team sport that required strategic thinking and various skills from each player. Today’s baseball teams are like a band of nothing but tubas; lots of strength, but the sweet music offered by the other instruments is fading away.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quote of the Week

Surrounded by people who love life, you love it too; surrounded by people who don't, you don't.
- Mignon McLaughlin

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I'm Still Standing

I’m back. I think. I am plotting my return from a self-imposed writing hiatus brought to yours truly by something more debilitating than plain-Jane writer’s block; word block. I am no stranger to this odd communication phenomenon. It is so familiar I can tell the signs of its impending arrival much like a tickle in the throat sends us to the pharmacy for some vitamin C and cold medicine. My mind goes blank in mid-conversation, I can’t remember simple words like “dog,” “car, or “beer.” The names of people I see everyday become completely foreign. Simple conversation becomes painful as I struggle to find not just the right words, but any word. I develop a stutter and shut down to hide this inarticulate stranger I become. My most recent struggle with word block was especially painful because I thought I was doing a good job managing what brings about these symptoms, stress, but apparently was not doing as well as I thought.

For most Americans stress-management is as foreign as eating sushi for breakfast; it’s just not done here. Americans could easily be categorized as stress-junkies. Our culture pushes people to take on more; more responsibilities, more debt, more projects, more stuff. It is common-place for people to brag about how busy they are, as if who can fit more into a single day is the ultimate badge of honor. Enjoying a lazy day of doing nothing is tantamount to treason. Who is putting in more hours at work? Who is skipping on vacations and time with family and friends because there is far too much to get done? Who is over-volunteering for a club, a charity, or organization when they barely have time for themselves?

The word block freight train signals that some stressor in my life needs to be dealt with. Addressing the cause of my communication issues often eliminates the block altogether but this time was different. There was nothing I could pinpoint as causing my block. All the things that historically kept me from reaching my upper-stress limits were actively in place; regular workouts, time to read, quality time with people I love, and red wine. Although I was actively engaged in de-stressors, some stress caused me to lose my normally eloquent self.

Eventually I was able to pinpoint what the cause of my stress was; the world around me. Sure, that might seem like a generalistic copout but you can’t turn on the TV, radio, or computer without hearing about the difficult time we live in. Skyrocketing unemployment, plummeting home values, and raging wars caused me to stress out through some type of media osmosis. Reading the paper, watching the news, sympathizing with out of work friends brought on survivors guilt. I still (as of “print” time) have my job. I still have my home. I still have 3 meals a day. I still have healthcare. I still have stability in a world where increasing numbers of people don’t.

Survivor’s guilt is not the only reason for stress. As many corporate survivors will tell you after a layoff, there is incredible pressure to take on more, do more, and demonstrate more value. Employers demand that “survivors” pick up the slack so they can squeeze more out of a smaller workforce, using tough economic times to get more for less. We are told repeatedly that we are lucky to have our jobs, even if those jobs are no longer what we “signed-up” for. Too many find themselves overworked and under appreciated yet unable to express those feelings for fear of losing our jobs.

To weather my stress storm it is important to keep reminding myself that my life isn’t as bad as the media wants me to believe. My home value is in the toilet but we aren’t planning to sell anytime soon. My 401K is shot but I am decades away from retirement. The industry I work for might change dramatically in the upcoming years but the skillset I have translates well to any and all industries. There are many things I could lose if the economy keeps plummeting, but in the grand scheme of things it is those things that I can never lose that are most important to me; the love of my family, my close friends, my education, and my life experiences.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Memorable Meals

It is estimated we spend 7 years of our life eating. For those of us who love and savor our food, that estimate is probably low. Out of the 60,000+ meals we will each consume in the average lifetime, how many do you remember? Most of us can’t remember what we ate last night let alone years ago, but even as time passes and years blur together certain meals make a lasting impression on us. These meals are often memorable not just because of the food, but the friends, stories, and experience behind the meal. Smell and taste serve as excellent reminders of a point in time, an experience, a pivotal moment in our lives. As a self-professed foodie I can recall many “food moments” because a good dinner is just as memorable as seeing a concert or Broadway show. The list below is a snapshot of my memorable meals. Some were remarkable because of the food, but most were memorable because of the senses the meal satisfied other then taste.

Ivy Cottage “Risotto of the Day” Seafood Risotto
My mother, sister Renee’, and I decided to enjoy the process of choosing a bridal shower location and visited several local restaurants for a glass of wine and a shared appetizer. This allowed us to assess the service and experience the food. We sat at the bar at the Ivy Cottage and ordered a bowl of Seafood Risotto with 3 spoons. After taking a bite we each had the same physical reaction; we placed our spoons down in utter amazement and let the flavors envelop us. While the Ivy Cottage didn’t win our shower business (too small for our group) it did win a place on this list.

Manny’s Scallop Benedict
Perfectly seared scallops, salty bacon, and creamy hollandaise sauce; what more can you ask for in an appetizer?

Cinderella’s Royal Table Beef Barley Soup
Soup is among my top comfort foods and is a staple in my diet. We frequently visited family in Florida and never missed an opportunity to see Mickey Mouse and his friends. After a long day of running from line to line we would have dinner in Cinderella’s Castle and the first course was always the thickest beef barley soup served in a pewter bowl. I hold that soup as the standard for beef barley and have yet to find another that matches its flavor.

Umberto’s Sausage Pizza
Umberto’s of New Hyde Park is one of the last pizza joints in NY who hasn’t messed around with their recipe to save a buck. The crust is perfect for folding the pizza and eating it like a New Yorker. The sauce is rich, thick, fresh, and not over sweet, and the toppings plentiful. I don’t often make it to Umberto’s because Alfredo’s of Westbury is closer and nearly as good, but I will always remember the pizza and Italian food served at our Rehearsal Kegger, er, I mean "Dinner" the night before our wedding. The food at our wedding at The Harbor Club was to die for (the Long Island Seafood Bisque was amazing, but unfortunately the only thing the bride and groom had time to consume that evening). We had plenty of time the night before our wedding to relax with our family and out of town guests and savor the tastes of a fine pizza pie.

Lamb Burgers at St. Leonard’s Vineyard Cottages
Idyllic weather, gorgeous location, amazing company, fresh and local ingredients, and perfectly paired wines transformed an evening meal at a bed and breakfast into a night I will never forget. After a long day visiting the wineries of New Zealand’s Marlborough region my husband and I decided to hit the grocery store and take advantage of the grill outside our cottage (technically the stables if you are interested in visiting these accommodations). The lamb was full of flavor and perfectly seasoned with rosemary, salt, and pepper, served atop a freshly baked bun with tzatziki. Just thinking of that meal I shared with my husband overlooking the countryside makes me smile.

Café Runtz Pork Roast with Sauerkraut
Parisians take their food very seriously; even a one star restaurant serves meals to write home about. Not that Café Runtz is a hole in the wall, but it is a very modest establishment and not mistaken as one of the city’s glitzy and glamorous restaurants. Serving specialties from the Alsatian region of France, the German influences on the food make the meal a much hardier affair then the smaller dishes in many cafes. The Pork Roast melts in your mouth and the sauerkraut is expertly prepared to complement the meal rather than overpower it. If you are visiting Paris make a point to visit this restaurant; you will not be disappointed.

The Natural Resort in Ko Phi Phi
I can’t remember what we ate, but nonetheless this was a meal I will always remember for the setting. Ko Phi Phi is a remote island off the coast of Thailand and we stayed in a little bungalow at The Natural Resort. One evening the wait staff set a private table down on the beach right on the waterline for us, complete with candles and tiki torches for mood lighting. The servers anticipated our every need and went about their business virtually unnoticed, leaving us to focus completely on the moment. Whether we had the Pad Thai or the Thai Dumplings doesn’t really matter; no meal will ever top the romance factor of that dinner on a beach in the middle of no where.

Amy’s Café Paella, Leicester Square Market, London
I don’t know if it was at Amy’s Café or if it was just a stand set up outside the café, but we entered the market and could almost taste the paella in the air. Head downstairs at the market and don’t be shy to order the large size. My husband and I could argue about the best paella ever (the now closed Café Havana in Minneapolis being his favorite) but the paella in the Leicester market is not only delicious, it will be fondly remembered as a dish enjoyed while sitting on the ground that saved me and my friends from an impending hangover disaster.


Coin de Mer Mussels Gratin
Upon entering the Coin de Mer in Brussels, Belgium we began thinking we might be suckers who walked into the first restaurant that offered us a free drink on the Rue Des Bouchers (aka Beenhouwers Straat). Our fears were quickly diminished upon the arrival of a tray of mussels under a sea of molten cheese; two of my favorite things! The rest of the meal (consisting of more mussels!!) was incredible, but nothing compared to that tray of cheesy goodness.

Amy’s Flank Steak with Tarragon Potatoes
My friend Amy has a signature dish, one that she expertly executes for her friends and family. The meal is simple but delicious, but these dishes are remarkable because they are always eaten with a glass of fine wine in a room filled with the chatter and laughter of loved ones.

Sunday Dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s House
My Grandfather made meatballs with so much garlic and onion that even those with the most iron constitutions would suffer indigestion. Grandma usually served pasta swimming in tomato sauce with a side of ricotta cheese (cavatelli my favorite). Crusty Italian bread accompanied the meal for slopping up the sauce or making meatball sandwiches. This same meal, with some variation on the pasta course, fed my body every Sunday for the better part of my childhood. Through the years I have managed to recreate those meatballs (secret ingredients: paprika and lard) and even managed to perfect the tomato sauce (gravy to those of us with Italian roots). But alas the meal was special not just because of the food served, but because the fun we had playing games, laughing, and spending time with our family. It makes me sad to think how little people appreciate the importance of a slow, traditional meal with their family; I would not be the same person I am today without these Sunday dinners.

Dad’s Beef Stew
Loosely based off of James Beard’s Beef Bourguignon recipe, this meal was a winter staple in the Trombetta household. My sisters and I would help Dad by peeling potatoes and carrots and dumping them practically whole into the broth to simmer for hours and hours and hours. This soup that eats like a meal is best served by the crustiest loaf of bread from Cardinali Bakery in my hometown. I told my father all I wanted for a wedding gift was the recipe and I have tweaked it slightly to make it my own (change number 1: actually cutting the vegetables to bite size!).

Mom’s Thanksgiving Stuffing
American Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and much of that is because it is the one meal a year where my Mother opts to cook rather then call for takeout. Every stop is pulled out and it is an amazing meal shared with our family complete with well over 10 different dishes. The standout dish on the table for me is the stuffing (aka dressing). Mom inherited the recipe from her mother and it is not only delicious but is responsible for a few family members being born right after the holiday (can gas build up actually blow a kid out?). There have certainly been other memorable Thanksgivings in my life. A 5 star chef in Luxembourg cooked an elaborate American Thanksgiving meal for me and my co-workers since we were away from home (and not remembering the name of this fine establishment started my habit of taking a photo of the sign of every restaurant I eat at on vacation). I once celebrated Thanksgiving in Sydney, Australia with a meal consisting of nothing but pie. Last year I hosted a gourmet Thanksgiving for 24 with my husband and Amy. However, nothing beats giving thanks with my family over a plateful of Mom’s stuffing.

Wade’s Chili
My husband’s chili is never the same twice but it is always delicious. Sometimes he uses buffalo, sometimes beef, but his absolute best batch ever was completely vegetarian. My sister visited us and wanted to taste some of this award-winning chili but didn’t eat meat. Wade took time to read every single ingredient and make a completely meat and fish free batch. The chili is award winning and disappears so quickly my Mother gifted Wade with an 18 quart slow cooker so he could make larger batches!

The Food Network ran a special on favorite foods which sparked the interest in writing on this topic (as my husband references in his “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” article). To me favorite food and favorite meal are two totally different things. My favorite food is subject to a different set of criteria than my favorite meal. A favorite food is something that one never tires of, can be eaten every day, and is always satisfying. If someone asks the question “If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be” the answer would probably not be some random food item from a meal on some vacation but something both satisfying and familiar. My favorite meals above range from simple to somewhat elaborate, but my favorite food is something so basic almost every American child (barring an allergy) has subsisted on it at one time or another; the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Organic, natural, smooth peanut butter. Strawberry or blueberry preserves. Whole wheat bread. Delicious!



Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vita Brevis! Carpe Diem!

There are so many topics on my list of things to write about; celebrity obsession, the effect of children on marital happiness, my pesky last 12 pounds to lose. But right now everything I do for a living, write about, think about, and act upon seems so terribly trite. My life, my “problems,” and my musings on American culture feel less important following the untimely death of a college friend. Staring at the glowing screen of the laptop, all I can think about is how healthy I am. How happy that my body can run, jump, lift, dance, and sing. How fortunate I am to have a mind that is sharp, analytic, and balanced. It is a shame that it takes horrible life events to put things into perspective and remind us how lucky we are to be alive.

Wendy, a year younger than me, was a fellow Political Science survivor at Mary Washington College. She somehow possessed personality traits that are often mutually exclusive; shy and outgoing, polite and sarcastic, sophisticated and naïve, anxious and tranquil, silly and serious. Wendy would be the first to challenge a professor, to voice her opinion (to which she had many!), and to take action on a cause she believed in. That same woman who had no trouble going toe-to-toe with our professors would clam up in the presence of a cute guy. Her warmth and charm, evidence of a good Virginia upbringing, made her quick wit and sharp tongue beyond hilarious. Wendy could worry about political strife in the world while kicking back with an adult beverage at a Jimmy Buffet concert. She could communicate volumes and change the world with her smile alone. Wendy could somehow laugh, hug, tell a joke, flirt, answer a question, project her opinion, or get herself out of a pickle just by flashing her pearly whites; the best part was she was so terribly modest she had no clue of that power.

Her life after college followed the path I thought my own would take; job on Capitol Hill, apartment in Alexandria, traveling with friends, and involvement in her community. Wendy was brave enough to follow her dreams, even if those dreams started with a very low paying job as a Congressional aide; I will always be in awe of her sticking to her guns. While her life was short she accomplished more then many could claim in a lifetime twice as long.

Wendy was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer mere days after I received word that a co-worker from my first “real” job lost his battle with the same disease at the young age of 52. Both Wendy and Dave were non-smokers who followed the prescription for a long and healthy life; eat well, exercise, develop friendships, laugh, and love. They did everything we are supposed to do but both received a diagnosis usually reserved for people who make less than healthy life choices. Some people smoke all their lives and die of old age, some people manage to avoid the cancer sticks and die in their 30s. Not that I am advocating people taking up a 3 pack-a-day habit, but sometimes even an ounce of prevention isn’t enough to combat cancer if it is in our genes. To quote another friend “life is so hideously unfair.”

Wendy battled her cancer the same way she tackled life; head on with equal doses of humor, strength, courage, and sometimes anger. Despite her poor prognosis she continued joking around with her friends and family, even naming her cancer Earl after a Dixie Chicks’ song; that Earl had to die, goodbye Earl. We followed her blog religiously as Wendy kept us up to date with the ins and outs of her life and her cancer treatments. Her candid honesty was sometimes brutal, but more often brilliant. We cheered when there were signs of tumor shrinkage and cried when her cancer spread. She opened up about her struggle with hair loss and in turn received a boat load of hats from far and wide. We shared her excitement about her upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic and felt immense disappointment that she couldn’t enjoy her passion of travel one more time. Through it all Wendy was not a cancer patient but still her opinionated, open-minded, bacon loving self who happened to have cancer.

Earl ended up being far too strong and aggressive, taking Wendy from us after only 32 years of life. Her Facebook page, which now serves as a make-shift memorial for all those who miss her, includes a powerful reminder for all of us. Wendy left for us a quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption; “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Her legacy will live on in the spirit she so generously left to her friends and family and her reminder that life is short. Seize the day!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quote of the Week

Thanks to Amy for sending these fun words to live by...

Be what you are.
Give what is yours to give.
Have style.
Dare.

- Stanley Kunitz, American poet


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Losing my Religion

Holidays are a time to gather family to eat a fine meal, connect, and create lasting memories. Religious holidays are often the reason for formal family gatherings, filled with time honored traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. Some of my most vivid childhood memories took place at my Grandmother’s or parent’s dining room table during these holiday celebrations and I attempt every year to bring that magic to my own home when hosting. The one holiday we consistently host every year, not splitting between Minnesota and New York is Easter; my obligation to travel home for Easter ended during college. We love entertaining and hosting family and friends for Easter brunch but the irony of this being “our holiday” doesn’t escape me. Easter is, even with the advent of the bunny, a very religious holiday and I don’t believe in the reason for this season.

For several of my formative years I was dragged kicking and screaming to a “megachurch” with so many members it required large movie screens so the back row wouldn’t miss the three hours of worship. Followers prayed out loud, threw their hands up to God, and supported the preacher and his brood of children through weekly offerings. I would not be surprised if snake appearances and people fainting in the aisles actually happened, but they kept that stuff away from Sunday school area. Even in my youth I was clever enough to see through the smoke and mirrors of this cult. The “leaders” used unhealthy tactics to keep people coming and giving week after week; making the congregation feel guilty about their thoughts, uneasy with their bodies, disempowering their ability to learn, think, feel and believe in themselves. This wasn’t faith, it was a money making business, and the business plan included preying on people who had no faith in themselves and making everyone feel terrible so they needed “healing.” In bible school we learned to love our neighbors but hate non-believers and gays. We learned that we were all beautiful in the eyes of God, but men were more important in his eyes. Upon declaring I didn’t want children, I was told there was something wrong with me and I needed healing because women were put on earth to make more disciples. Needless to say this experience left me very cynical about organized religion and more then a little battered by their belittling, sexist teachings. Through the years I returned to the denomination I was baptized under, Lutheranism, but often attend not for the word of God but for the music; where else can you get a good performance for a tax-deductible donation?

This disdain, fear, and suspicion of organized religion led me to look at the world of religion from a magnifying lens. Studying political science after attending a cult-like church only deepened my cynicism of organized religion, examining social conservatism’s heavy reliance on the relationships between politicians and religious leaders. Those seeking power throughout history often used religion to achieve political objectives. Church services became a strong campaign medium, promoting candidates and causes through the exploitation of faith. “What Would Jesus Do” morphed into “Who Would Jesus Vote For” and congregations nationwide faced the ultimate peer pressure from their church to conform politically. “Followers” learned that that voting differently then their church leadership was an act against God. A few church leaders were so vocal from the pulpit about their political standings they were charged with violating the terms of their church tax-exempt status.

Separation of church and state is a nice idea in theory, but governments rely heavily on religious organizations to teach and enforce a code of morals and ethics. Even the most secular societies recognize religious holidays, encourage worship attendance, promote religious donations through tax-deductions, and support faith based volunteerism; religion is a tool used to maintain a happy, healthy, and reliable population. Religion teaches lessons like “thou shalt not kill,” “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and “forgive those who sin against you” but it is society as a whole, therefore government entities, who benefits from basic moral lessons. Religion is used as a means of enforcing order, law, and control in chaotic societies. Throughout time government, rulers, dictators, and other leaders recognized the power of religious faith; often people who would rebel against political leadership would blindly follow their religious leaders. Naturally many politicians and preachers recognized the benefits of combining forces; politicians get more votes and a better behaved populace, churches get tax breaks, attendance laws, and greater recognition.

There are plenty of churches and teachers that are true to God’s word, uninfluenced by political agenda, but my struggle with organized religion includes the historic interpretations and writings. I don’t know whether the Bible, or any other books like the Torah, Qur’an, or The Book of Mormon, is truly “holy.” Did messages get lost in translation, misinterpreted in a “game” of scripture telephone? Are holy scriptures more a reflection of the writers’ beliefs than divine message? Have we taken fictional literature and declared them God’s word? Were the messages in any or all these holy books manipulated to serve the political and social needs and beliefs of the very humans writing the verses? Our cultural rules of “polite conversation” and “don’t discuss religion and politics” make it nearly impossible to engage in any intelligent conversation on these difficult questions; it’s much easier and less volatile to discuss celebrity gossip.

People can say I’ve lost my faith or that I am a heathen but I’m not alone. According to recent data nearly 25% of American Christians and 60% of American Jews question the existence of God. 70% of Americans with a religious affiliation think salvation can be found in a variety of religions and not just the one they practice. Churches are closing in record numbers and many churches face decreased attendance and an aging population. Many churches now close on Christmas, unable to draw in people who are too busy opening up their Santa presents. Practicing Catholics and Evangelicals are often at odds with church teachings on birth control, abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex. Muslims and Jews often eat bacon, forbidden by both religions. More and more people pick-and-choose what they believe in; practicing the parts of religion they like and leaving the rest on the table. I just happen to be on a very strict diet when it comes to organized religion.

This week I celebrate Easter even if that makes me a hypocrite for questioning whether I believe Jesus was the son of God or his ascension into heaven. I consider myself a spiritual person despite my skepticism of recognized world religions. I do believe in a higher being and she is not too happy with how we humans have distorted and manipulated her teachings or planet. I believe in not one but many higher spirits that would be more pissed at how we rape our soil, overpopulate our land, pollute our water, torture our creatures, discriminate, and hate than eating meat on Fridays during lent. This Easter Sunday I celebrate the changing of the seasons and pray to the gods above that our earth continues to provide the bounty on my family table. I applaud the Lutheran Church and the University of Minnesota's Eco-Palms program; ensuring leaves used for Palm Sunday, for a growing number of churches, were harvested in an environmentally sensitive manner by workers getting paid a fair price. I am thankful to those churches that promote acceptance and togetherness, organize their communities, promote volunteerism, and deliver services for the greater good. I thank the heavens above for providing me with the strength, will, intelligence, and determination to succeed in my “chosen” profession. I give thanks for the family and friends who provide me love, support, guidance and remind me of what is important in life. Most of all I celebrate living in a country where I can question its religious and political leaders without fear of persecution or crucifixion.

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Summary from my “Facebook 25
23. I am not religious. I celebrate religious holidays because of tradition and family togetherness, not because of the true meaning of the day. Christmas for me is a celebration of winter. Easter is a celebration of spring. I (occasionally) attend church because it is a place to listen to cheap, beautiful live music. If there is a higher being then I think there is more than one required to do all the work required of higher beings. I guess this technically makes me a neo-pagan for those who must put me in a neat little religious box.




Friday, April 03, 2009

Feast or Floodin’

“Why would people live there?” This question is often asked when a part of the world suffers from a catastrophic disaster; hurricane, tornado, fire, earthquake, drought, famine, volcanic eruption, blizzard, flood, et cetera. Sometimes the answer is easy to comprehend. Californians deal with earthquakes and fires in return for good weather. Residents of the dry Denver desert fight over water rights but have mountains to admire and slopes to ski. Miamians spend hurricane season at Home Depot buying tape and plywood to protect their homes but lazy days on the sand and surf make up for that inconvenience. The risks of living in these areas have rewards that people from major metropolitan areas can understand, but those urbanites are baffled when catastrophic news arrives from a place like Fargo, North Dakota, or Moorhead, Minnesota.

Admittedly I would never live in Fargo, North Dakota; I already experienced enough of a cultural seismic shift moving from New York to Minneapolis. I know many “big-city” dwellers residing on both the left and right coast who cannot comprehend why people live in “fly-over” states like Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota to name just a few. Disasters that strike these areas, whether it is a flood, tornado, or blizzard, leave your average urban/suburban American wondering about the sanity of residents and seriously questioning why people rebuild and return to these places after surviving the wrath of Mother Nature.

Most perplexing is how many of the same people who wonder why money is spent rebuilding cities and towns on our nation’s great rivers think nothing about rebuilding and protecting places on our shoreline. Hurricane drinking and gumbo eating tourists think that rebuilding New Orleans is critical because of its cultural and historical importance although its contribution to our national economy is miniscule at best. Golfers and beach bums wouldn’t think twice about protecting and saving homes and businesses in coastal places like Myrtle Beach. It would be considered unpatriotic to question rebuilding the World Trade Center in New York although its location will forever be a terrorist target. People rarely question the sanity of people living through disasters in these “desirable” areas but are perplexed why anyone would want to live by raging rivers, deal with brutal winters, or be hours away from the nearest Target. Those who wonder why anyone lives in the middle of our country should all be thankful they do; the “fly-over” states might not provide US residents with popular vacation destinations, cottages on the shore, or Mardi Gras but they do supply us something very important that should never be overlooked; our food.

The human race is fueled by food and much of what we are accustomed to eating still comes from places affected by natural disasters; farms in the mid-west and California. Food doesn’t come from your grocery store; most of it comes from our nation’s heartland. People forget the dependence their diets have in far away places in our industrial food chain and if they did not get their food from places like Nebraska it would come instead from China and I personally won’t even feed my dogs food from China. Those who are mindful about where their food comes from, locavores attempting to live off of land as close to their homes as possible, are well aware of how much our food supply depends on far away farmers. Kansas and North Dakota supply most of our wheat, Iowa and Illinois are responsible for a bulk of our feed corn production, and Minnesota produces most American’s Thanksgiving turkeys. If residents of flood plains in the mid-west decided to throw in the towel after a disaster and move elsewhere the effects on our food-chain would be felt worldwide. We shouldn’t be questioning why these residents decide to stay, we should be forever thankful that they do.

Many thanks to all of those citizens who roll up their sleeves in times of crisis saving their homes, farms, communities; and, in turn, our lives. Thank you for showing us the power of a community that works together and asks not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their neighbors. Thank you for electing competent citizens to your local offices who are capable of managing the complex logistics of disaster preparation and recovery. Thank you for reminding those who are all but disconnected from their family and neighbors that when the fit hits the shan those people who can rely on and help of a local network fare better then those who have to turn to strangers. Most importantly, thanks for all you do to keep our bodies running.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Trickle Down Weight Loss

Last year I decided once and for all to stop dieting and learn to eat healthy well-balanced meals with the hope of someday attaining a healthy weight. After embracing a healthier lifestyle my weight initially climbed; I had been starving myself prior to this epiphany and needed to reset my metabolism. After climbing back to ‘pre-starvation diet’ weight the scale has started to trickle downward again, slowly but steadily. Losing weight slowly through lifestyle changes is proven to be the most permanent and effective way to maintain a healthy weight; but unfortunately I, like many women, have a one major issue with trickle down weight loss.

Our faces and neck are often the first places people report noticing weight loss. The scale goes down and people start saying “your face looks so thin” but the fat-pants are still tight. If you continue to lose weight beyond the thin-face then upper arm definition starts peeking out from beneath a former layer of fat. This period is often marked with increased usage of tank tops and cap sleeved shirts. Just when we begin to gain a little body confidence we unfortunately begin losing the part of our body that most of us would prefer to keep; our boobs.

Losing weight from the top down is one of the cruel ironies of dieting, fitness, and weight loss. The very areas that most women despise, our hips, butt, thighs, and tummy, are the last to disappear. Yet our breasts, the one body part that even the waif promoting fashion industry likes large, shrinks before our eyes. For most of us lucky enough to get the “T” the “A” isn’t far behind; karmic balance. I know life isn’t fair, but this really isn’t fair. I’ve dropped 2 cup sizes in 15 months, but only one butt size. This isn’t just in my head, during a recent trip to buy undergarments the following traumatic conversation occurred:

Sales Woman: “What size are you?”
Bombchelle: “38D”
Sales Woman: “Oh no you’re not honey, let’s measure you.”
Bombchelle: “I was just measured in November, I’m pretty sure that’s right. I lost a little weight but I already dropped from a DD to a D.”
Sales Woman: “It’ll only take a minute.” (tape measure enters scene) “36C.”
Bombchelle: “WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!? You’re kidding, right?”

The good feminist in me shouldn't care about the size of my breasts; just think of all the bras I can burn that no longer fit! The drama in Victoria’s Secret is still traumatic for so many reasons. If I continue losing weight slowly (and healthfully) the size of my rear end will take another year to match my incredible shrinking chest. Rather then being well-proportioned I’ll have a heavier bottom then a luxury cruise liner making the suits I have to wear for work very difficult to purchase. On top of this, the Blonde Bombchelle moniker has just as much to do with embracing my curvy, voluptuous body as it does my hair color (which is causing its own drama, turning strawberry blonde in my “old age”). I wonder what cup size Marilyn and Mae sported since silicone was not an option for them (or, frankly, for me). Is there a minimum cup requirement for bombshell status?

If it sounds like I’m whining it’s because I am. After working out hardcore for a year and losing 15 pounds what do I have to show for it; tinier tatas.



Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quote of the Week

It's sad to grow old, but nice to ripen.
- Brigitte Bardot


Friday, March 27, 2009

Background Check List

Statistically speaking age at the time of marriage is the number one factor in measuring how long the union will last. Those who get married very young are more likely to see the inside of divorce court then those who wait until their mid-twenties and beyond. Social scientists indicate a number of reasons why the age people get married is such an important factor in success; education, stability, and maturity just to name a few. Every 18 year old thinks they belong to the mature adult club, but they are missing the life lessons that can only come from navigating the complex world of personal relationships. Meeting new people, surviving a breakup (romantic or platonic), living on our own, learning new skills, and travel are just some ways we learn more about ourselves and others on our path to personal fulfillment. It is thought that those who marry too early in their inter-personal maturity cycle miss out on key developments necessary to figure out what and who really matters to them in life. We learn about ourselves and our needs from each person we interact with. I am not a relationship expert or accredited social scientist, but in hindsight it is interesting to analyze my own relationships and what I learned about myself and the world from dating trial and error.

Even if you only watched one talk show episode in your entire existence you more than likely heard the following phrase uttered by a woman scorned; “but I love him.” These four words are often muttered out of the mouths of women who are trying to defend the reasons they stay in an awful and physically or emotionally abusive relationship. He stood me up on a date but I love him. He cheated on me but I love him. He got another woman pregnant but I love him. He beat the crap out of me but I love him. Women who utter these words have no self-respect nor have they learned an important maturity lesson; you can love someone deeply and profoundly and not have a successful relationship or marriage with that person. This lesson applies to more then just the obvious bad relationship signs of abuse and infidelity. It might sound completely unromantic to those who have not “been around the block a few times” but the Beatles were wrong; love isn’t all you need. It is possible to fall in love with someone but still not have the elements necessary for a lifetime commitment. Understanding more about yourself, your goals, and your needs and how they conflict with a person is necessary to know when to walk away from an otherwise good relationship. Too many women (and men) stay in a relationship (or get married) to the wrong person because they are comfortable, stable, and ignoring the subtle signs of doom. Even worse, we often think the conflicting behavior, opinion, or attitude will change over time; people rarely change. Learning this lesson is eye opening but frightening. When it comes to relationships we cannot always trust our heart but we must listen to our head.

Warning signs are ever present during bad dates and in bad relationships, but we often don’t recognize those signs until it is too late. The sound of our brain screaming “no” to pursuing or continuing a relationship is undeniably muffled by the heart screaming “yes.” Our hearts lie to us when we are lonely, depressed, bored, or feeling a little desperate. Common sense is the first thing thrown out the window in affairs of the heart and it is important to have a mental (or physical) list of relationship “must haves,” “nice to haves,” and “no ways” allowing good judgment to prevail over lust and infatuation. New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a piece on Father Pat Connor who educates teenage girls on “whom not to marry” before they walk down the aisle with Mr. Wrong. Father Connor’s lessons on what traits and qualities make good husband material reminded me of my own “who can I date” list. Created in jest with friends one night to after one of my more amusing dating disasters, this list proved a useful tool in weeding out a few prospective boyfriends before anyone got hurt. Some argue against the laundry list of dating requirements claiming that they are unromantic, eliminate potential good matches, and make women and men too picky. For those who feel that way go ahead and waste your time in a string of dead end and unhappy relationships, everyone else can take notes on their life experiences to help speed up their process of elimination. Here are some qualities that were on my list (in no particular order):

No jealously or possessiveness: Some women (and men) think people show love when they are jealous or possessive. It seems cute at 16 but at some point it is important to learn that men who are jealous and possessive lack self-esteem, don’t trust you or your relationship, become controlling and manipulative, and should be kicked to the curb at the first signs of these negative qualities.

Macho Man: There is no bigger turnoff for me then the whole macho man showoff routine. I wasn’t looking for an ultra-sensitive “girly man” but the exaggerated sense of power, strength, and dominance often demonstrated through actions like bar fights is repulsive. Machismo is nothing more then men indicating that they think they are better than you just because they were born with a penis and this well-educated, equal rights advocate has no time or tolerance for men like that; romantically, personally, or professionally.

Foodie: One might say I am passionate about food. I love a good meal, love to cook, love an evening out at a fine dining establishment, and love trying new dishes. It would be impossible to share my life with a person who didn’t have the same feelings for food. It only took a few dates with a guy who openly admitted he ate not out of enjoyment but because it was a requirement for staying alive to realize this. He would plan day long dates without any stops for nourishment and look at me strangely when I begged to stop for dinner.

Cheers: I like wine with my dinner, love a cold beer on a hot afternoon, and have an affinity for fine scotch. I didn’t judge men who didn’t drink but they often judged me so it was best to avoid teetotalers. This predicament didn’t happen very often giveen I predominently met men (including my husband) in bars.

Adventurous: Not necessarily jump out of an airplane adventurous, but after a string of dating boring homebodies it became apparent that I required someone who liked to enjoy new experiences, learn new things, and grow as a person. With my love of food I also preferred to date men with adventurous palates and often used the pizza test; if a date ordered nothing but a plain cheese pizza with no toppings the date would end with a handshake and a nice to meet you; have a nice life.

Respectful: How a person treats a waitress or bartender speaks volumes about them. If someone is nasty to servers, talks down to them, and treats them like second class citizens beware; chances are this is how the person will treat you after the honeymoon period is long over. I waited tables and tended bar during college and was amazed at the number of men who acted like they were showing off to their date by ordering around the “help”.

College: Having a college education was a necessity. This is not saying that people who attend college are smarter or better then those who don’t, but my experiences in college shaped much of who I am and sharing my life with someone with similar experiences was very important to me. I went out with a few guys who didn’t go to college and the differences in life experience were too hard to overcome. These were also the same men who expressed jealously and contempt towards women who earned more then them and given the pay gap between educational levels chances are that would become an issue in the long term. Some of these men openly asked me to dumb it down around their friends. I like being smart and don’t think it is something I should have to hide or apologize for.

Dogs: I am a dog person and although I didn’t have a dog during my dating years there was never a question that some day I would have a dog, or two, or three. Men who didn’t like dogs, didn’t want dogs, or thought of dogs as anything less than furry blessings from above didn’t get past the first date.

Children: I am what the childfree community refers to as an “early adopter;” someone who knew from a very young age that they did not want to have children. Even possessing this knowledge about myself I still dated a few people before realizing the effect of this on long-term romances. I wasted my time, and the time of some amazing men who met many of my other criteria, not sharing this tidbit about myself up front. It is kind of a weird thing to bring up, but eventually I realized how important it was to just throw my not liking nor wanting children out in the open early rather then wasting my time and energy with a man who wanted to have 2.4 kids and the white picket fence.

Smoking: No ifs, ands, or butts; after kissing a smoker I realized it tasted like I was licking an ashtray. Not sexy. Nor is the use of any drugs; total deal breaker.

Friends: If someone is a loner there is usually a good reason. Often the loner has a crappy personality that appears a few months/years into the relationship.

Challenging: One might describe me as strong, tenacious, and opinionated. I tended to attract men who were quiet and looking for someone with a more domineering personality. They were fun at first, allowing me to take over the relationship with little to no push-back. After a while these men bored me to tears. No doormats please.

Taller: This is not very PC; I tried to date men who were vertically challenged and the relationships came up short (pun intended). There is nothing small about me and my 5 foot 9 inch frame, often described as statuesque and voluptuous. My inability to handle a relationship with a shorter man has much to do with my lifelong mental and physical structure with my weight. Dating a man shorter then me made the weight struggle worse and I realized I just feel happier and more attractive when I am with a man who makes me feel a little thinner and smaller.

Italian Men: Also not very PC but as a part-Italian girl growing up surrounded by Italian men I learned many lessons about what I did not want in a romantic relationship. (Most) Italian men are jealous, possessive, macho, sexist pigs. They are egotistical Mama’s boy drama queens who think their shit doesn’t stink and the world revolves around them. They believe they are God’s gift to women. Women, in their opinion, were put on earth to have their babies and it is there right to marry those women but keep a few girlfriends on the side. Even if an Italian man somehow escaped his upbringing without obtaining any of these negative characteristics, chances are I would tower over them wearing simple flats. I am still looking for an Italian man out there to defy the sterotypes and prove me wrong on any or all these observations. If you exist and are single let me know; I have plenty of interested friends.

Do you have a relationship checklist? If so, what is on your list?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quote of the Day

If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model. Kate Moss? Well, she would have been the paintbrush.
- Dawn French

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This Body is Just Right

Victoria Beckham is looking a little thick around the middle lately, isn’t she? Posh seriously has lost control of herself and should lay off the cheese doodles and get her fat ass into the gym. It is seriously pathetic how she is just stuffing herself into size 00 clothes; like squeezing ten pounds of potatoes into a five pound sack. She’d better watch that weight or her husband David might turn his eyes elsewhere. How can she even go out in public looking like a two-ton heifer?

Making any reference of the twig-thin Victoria Beckham having even an ounce of body fat on her is nothing short of ridiculous. Promoting that Posh Spice has a figure any woman can or should strive for is just as ridiculous yet magazines publish her diet and fitness secrets with such enthusiasm you think they found some lost scriptures. Her ultra-skinny body and obvious disordered eating are not healthy; her diet lacks diversity and includes calorie restriction mimicking malnutrition. Mrs. Beckham’s reported lettuce, strawberry, and edamame diet, standing at a dangerous 900 calories a day, is not something that women and girls should attempt but they do, following dangerous celebrity diets like they were prescribed by their doctors.

Even worse then the promotion of a “thin at all costs” culture is chastising women publicly who do not fit within some impossible mold created by fashion giants who would rather dress shapeless girls then women. Jessica Simpson is the latest celebrity falling victim to public scrutiny about her weight. She joins other strong, healthy, beautiful women like Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, and Drew Barrymore who found themselves on the cover of magazines after committing what is apparently the worst offense in Hollywood; packing on a few extra pounds. Celebrity mug shots for inexcusable offenses get less press then celebrity “fat” pictures sending a poor message to the world; it is more acceptable to commit a felony then to eat a cheeseburger.

Canonizing waifs and crucifying curves is mentally and physically damaging to the millions of people who suffer from, or on the brink of developing, image and eating disorders. In recent years many tabloids started publishing stories on women who were too thin, almost in an “effort” to appease eating disorder awareness groups. These “efforts” are nearly as damaging to the human psyche as publishing “fat” photos. Celebrity women can’t win the weight game and in turn all women and girls learn that they cannot win. We are either too fat or too skinny. We are either too tall or too short. We are either too happy or too sad. We hear the old adage that you can never be too rich or too thin but are then ostracized for being too successful or to skinny. No where in these messages do people learn how to be healthy.

We are in the midst of an eating epidemic where people who fail at starving themselves to nothing give up for a life of obesity and its related diseases; hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer. In between too fat and too thin is just right but how do we understand what just right is in a culture that actually calls that fat? When newspapers and tabloids attacked Jessica, Tyra, Jennifer, and Drew their weights did not classify as overweight or obese but were in the healthy “just right” range. Rather then declare “this is what healthy looks like” newspapers and tabloids sent a loud and clear message that healthy is fat.

Celebrities starting fighting back, commenting positively on the bodies of the media’s latest fat scandals but the fight needs to continue. About the worst thing that can happen from Jessica Simpson’s “fatgate” is for the celebrity to come back ultra-skinny in record time, sending a poor message that women’s talents are worthless unless they are also thin. Jessica Simpson is a gorgeous woman with a beautiful voice who is currently sporting a figure reminiscent of the most iconic woman in our country’s history; Marilyn Monroe. I hope she doesn’t go on some crazy crash diet, revealing her "new and improved" body to generations of women who will receive the message that starving yourself is healthier than maintaining a healthy weight. She and the media have the chance to promote healthy but if healthy doesn’t sell magazines we’ll likely see another woman sellout to societal pressure to be too thin.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Quote of the Week

Every man dies. Not every man really lives.
- Braveheart

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ROL

Money and I have a decent but fleeting relationship; we have fun together but often part ways very quickly. I am incredibly responsible in many aspects of my life with a thriving career, well-cared-for dogs, strong personal relationships, (somewhat) good eating habits, and a healthy exercise schedule. However, when it comes to managing money I am a complete moron. I am sure if I really put my mind to it I would be half decent in the realm of saving and investing but the whole process is rather boring and time consuming. For years I felt guilty about my poor saving habits, made excuses about how little I contributed to my retirement plans, and had various financial advisors frown at my monetary choices. But, after looking at my recent statements I no longer feel guilty; I feel vindicated!

The lack of enthusiasm for all things financial actually makes my plummeting profile easier to handle. Math is not my forte but upon a quick examination I have lost just about 20 cents of every dollar I’ve put away since 2000. Essentially if I would have just shoved that money under a mattress rather than be responsible and put it into my 401K, mutual funds, IRA, and stocks I would have 20% more than I have right now. Finally my monetary irresponsibility worked in my favor! Had I listened to the “experts” and been more “responsible” with money through the years my investment losses would be even more devastating. One could argue that all the money I spent rather than saved is also a financial loss but I disagree. I opted to invest in other things through the years. Although the ROI on these “investments” cannot be calculated by an accountant the ROL, Return on Life, cannot be disputed.

Many of my friends and co-workers followed a savings strategy that they believed would allow them to retire early so they could enjoy life. Taking the “responsible” route meant working like dogs, squirreling away every dime they earned so they could retire while they were “still young enough to enjoy life” and do things. Even before the economic downturn this logic didn’t work for me; we don’t get any younger and life should be enjoyed now. Dreams of retiring by 45 required sacrificing the here and now for the possibility of enjoying life later. People forget that later on might not come, that every day of life should include some level of enjoyment, and that we are young once and should take advantage of that youth. People are now realizing just how possible it is to work hard and have nothing to show for it when investments sour. I am glad I have more to show for years of labor than my now worthless 401K; a healthy ROL.

Perhaps ROI is easier to quantify than ROL because the calculation for ROL is different from person to person. Most people, although adept in understanding the return they get on their monetary investments, don’t understand or appreciate that the money they spend can have a good, or bad, ROL. People often spend money on stupid things that do not yield good ROL while bypassing those things that do. I am just as guilty of making worthless purchases that yield little to no benefit while bypassing those things that bring me measurable joy.

Through the years I realized I have a great affinity for shiny things, fine wine, good meals (and the kitchen items that make those meals happen), leather purses, camera equipment, fuzzy puppies, books, and quality bath and beauty products. I love to spoil dogs, family, and friends to make them smile. Cheap, processed food will never again pass my lips. Group fitness is worth every penny beyond cheap gym memberships. The world is a vast and beautiful and there is nothing I enjoy more then traveling to exotic destinations and staying in the most posh hotels. My house might be worth less then what it was purchased for nearly 4 years ago but it is still the home to many of the most amazing and happy memories I share with friends and family.

Many people might find my “investments” wasteful, not sharing the same ROL I get from seeing the world, entertaining friends, wearing nice jewelry, buying organic for my family and animals, eating, drinking, looking nice, and making memories. Conversely I have trouble understanding the ROL others get from spending their money on things like cars, electronic gadgets, nick-knacks, and raising children. ROL requires figuring out what makes you happy and focusing your disposable income on those things. If you can afford to buy a new car every year, understand it yields negative ROI but makes you very happy then it is a wise investment in your ROL.

Do I wish my retirement savings were at their pre-economic slump levels? Absolutely! But I am incredibly appreciative that I have more to show for the past 12 years of employment besides a depleted retirement account.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Quote of the Week

Not to make an excuse for not writing in a couple of weeks but...

When an illness knocks you on your ass, you should stay down and relax for a while before trying to get back up.
- Candea Core-Starke


I hope to be writing again as soon as I kick this cold.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quote of the Week

You live longer once you realize that any time spent being unhappy is wasted.
- Ruth E. Renkl

Friday, February 20, 2009

Games People Play

From a very young age our feelings are protected and sheltered with “words of wisdom” that take the pain out of difficult moments but inflict long term damage. It all begins with our mothers and teachers telling us that the boys bully and tease little girls they like. What seems like an innocent way to explain that little boys are sometimes little shits becomes a dangerous long-term lesson. Women go through life hearing the same basic statements over and over again; “he is just too afraid to call because he likes you,” “he is a jerk because he is trying to get your attention,” “he likes you he just hasn’t figured it out yet,” “he hit you because he likes you so much he cannot contain his emotions.” The lies aimed at protecting the feelings of those we love turned the beauty of courtship into the world of gaming. “He’s just not that into you” is hard to hear, harder to say, but are often the most honest words we can deliver. How much different would the world of dating be if more women shared this phrase with their friends and loved ones?

When it comes to the pursuit of romantic relationships we learn “the game” as young girls and “refine” it throughout adulthood. Women are explicitly taught that men tease us when they like us, play cool and aloof when interested, and aren’t interested in women who seem “desperate” or “easy” which translates loosely to “interested.” Our mothers, friends, classmates, and co-workers perpetuate these lessons as a means of protecting us from the hurt and pain of rejection. Men who actually are interested in us become invisible; women are unable to recognize the true signs of love since they are so busy looking for the cues and clues learned to master the game. We learn that relationships are full of swinging emotions and drama, and run from relationships that are comfortable and stable.

What we don’t learn from the “Rejection Protection Program” we learn from Disney; someday my prince will come. After Disney brainwashing women hone their advanced gaming skills through the romantic comedy where we learn the road to perfect hair, perfect grades, the perfect job, perfect body, and perfect life is to find the perfect guy and get him to fall in love. This hypothetical prince is supposed to sweep us off our feet, fall in love at first sight, read our minds, love our mothers, paint our toenails, sing us love songs at bars, and rescue us from the mean cruel world. Men don’t stand a chance of meeting those lofty expectations; if there is no immediate spark, romantic first meeting, or storybook beginning then women decide with little personality analysis that you are not “the one.”

Conflicting lessons create enough confusion and chaos to make it nearly impossible to be “normal” in the pursuit of love. Piling the crushing self-esteem struggle that plagues most women, especially in their younger years, on top of the messages we receive from the world and you have the perfect recipe for dating disasters. Many women feel they are too flawed to be loved. If a man shows too much interest many women will draw the conclusion that aforementioned man has something wrong with him. The only possible reason a man could be head over heels interested in a woman with bad skin/a wide butt/cankles/crooked teeth/big feet/an outtie belly button/armpit fat/hairy knees is if he too has some deep, hidden issue. So the generally nice and interested guy is rejected leaving women fixated on men who show no interest, convincing themselves if they can just lose weight, cut their hair, hike the Himalayas, learn to surf, bungee jump, or pick up six foreign languages then the out of reach guy will certainly fall in love. If a woman is able to catch the attention of the jerk that didn’t show interest in the first place she often makes something out of nothing. She will romanticize a crappy relationship and play it like bad stock. The relationship continues well past its “use by” date because there was an incredible investment of time, money, and pride. Just like Wall Street, sometimes it is necessary to sell short and walk away from a bad investment.

Obviously I can only assess “the game” aspect of love and relationships from the set of eyes attached to my female body. I can only speak authoritatively and intelligently about the systematic programming that our friends, our family, and our culture perform on women to screw us up so royally in the arena of romantic relationships. However I imagine that men themselves go through their own programming by the world around them. Men hear messages that women only go for the “bad boys” and act like jerks because of that. Men learn that women don’t like a man to come on too strong because it scares them and then become distant and aloof. Men act disinterested because they don’t want to be too eager and chase a woman away. Men are warned that women are only after two things; their money and having their babies. Men experience women who change dramatically after a few months because those women can no longer keep up “the game” of pretending to be someone else, thus concluding that all women are liars. Men hear from other men that women are not worth the trouble. There is also a somewhat pervasive issue with men wrongly learning that it is okay to break off a relationship by simply disappearing. Men accuse women of playing games without realizing they are playing right back.

My biggest disappointment in the recent movie “He’s Just Not That Into You” was its focus on the “exception” rather than “the rule.” According to the movie (and perhaps the book I have yet to read) the rule is if he (or she) doesn’t call, write, or ask you out then he (or she) “is just not that into you” and you should just say “screw it” and move on (my own adlibbing). The “exception” occurs when one catches the guy who showed little to no interest in the first place. “The Rule” could actually be a good message for women (and men) to watch and learn but doesn’t make for a very good romantic comedy. The lesson should be that we are each important, beautiful, special, and amazing in our own ways and deserve to find love with a person who appreciates and loves us right back. If someone doesn’t embrace you for who you are, appreciate your talents, hang on your every word, and spend their days dreaming about you then move the hell on and forget about becoming “the exception.”

Everyone learns their own set of rules even if they don’t buy the game. It is up to each of us to recognize our own patterns and break them. Women must understand that Disney isn’t reality. They are worth being loved rather than played. It is okay to dump and be dumped. A person cannot be deemed “the one” or eliminated from contention in a 6 minute speed date. Sticking around with someone who is “just not that into you” is a waste of time for both parties; then and only then can the vicious game cycle be broken. 6 billion people grace this planet and if you are willing to get out there and meet people there is a good chance of meeting a few that are just not that into you. Breakups and rejection, while painful and personal, doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you (or them) it just means there is another person out there who will be into you, and we all deserve that.

A personal note: Unless you fall in love with your pizza delivery person finding love requires “getting out there,” meeting new people, taking chances, and giving chances. Sometimes dating it is hard, awkward, scary, funny, annoying, and downright painful but this makes us stronger, wiser, and teaches us important lessons about people and ourselves. I met wadE in a bar; it wasn’t romantic, we didn’t have a spark, he was cute enough to approach and chat with but otherwise wasn’t “my type.” We hung out, became friends, shared laughs, dated other people, and somewhere along the way realized “it’s you.” We could have easily brushed each other off because we lived 1000 miles apart and weren’t the other’s “type” (admittedly I thought he was cute enough for a little “fun” but didn’t fit my preference of tall, lanky, dark haired, with a foreign accent and he thought I was “out of his league” and probably a bit obnoxious). It took us a while to develop our happy ending, getting over our how we didn’t fit the other’s mold, and realizing how we were actually a good match. If we would have rushed into becoming “exclusive” we would have quickly extinguished any chance of letting our feelings grow organically. We did not have the love at first sight Disney relationship, but I’m pretty darn happy we fell in love anyway.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
This piece adapted from my response to Alex on simpleprop.com

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quote of the Week

We have the Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities.
- Bill Maher

Friday, February 13, 2009

Eight is Enough

Congratulations California! It’s a boy, and a boy, and a boy, and a boy, and a boy, and a boy, and a girl, and another girl. The California taxpayer deserves congratulations for this “miraculous” birth since they will be shouldering the financial burden for the long-term health and well-being of Nadya Suleman’s octuplets; from their hospital costs, to their food, and their education. These costs are in addition to the estimated $3000 a month in assistance the single mother is already receiving for her first six children. This human incubator expected the world to accept her and her litter with open arms and bestow gifts and grandeur. Much to her surprise, and mine, the world is not throwing her a big baby shower and is finally asking; when is enough *enough*?

Human interest story reporters are like flies to feces at the announcement of any birth ending in “tuplet.” The media circus canonizes mothers of “tuplets” as saints for birthing a litter size that would make a Great Dane quake with fear. Microsoft Word spell-check does not even recognize the word octuplet and stops at septuplet (7). Early news of the “Suleman 8” followed the usual human interest story formula; announce birth, celebrate the miracle of survival, interview parents from previous “miracle” births, wheel and deal for the exclusive interview with the new parents. Then the news started leaking; there were already six children, the mother was single, she hadn’t worked in years. Nadya and her family learned the hard way how fragile the pedestal of a faux-celebrity can be. Her plummet from media darling mother has everyone from publicists to Pampers’ running the other direction. Even her own mother called her daughter's decision to keep expanding her family "unconscionable." Nadya Suleman has not and will not be receiving the usual free benefits that many mothers of high multiples get; there are no diapers, formula, car seats, 16 passenger van, or 14 bedroom houses, or television deals from A&E pouring in. Instead the family is receiving backlash and death threats from a citizenry already burdened with a monumental budget deficit and unemployment rates nearing the double digit mark. If she had any plans to fund her children through record book deals or a gig on reality television she and her publicists better come up with some new plans or hope people in the United States are too blind to realize that buying, watching, or reading anything that the Suleman’s produce encourages other people to risk the lives of their children to make some cash.

It is not just Californians who should be up in arms at funding these children. Federal assistance from an already strapped social security system is available to any and all of these children if their premature birth yields long term complications. It is also reported that the OctoMom's sole source of non-government income is $50,000 in student loans. Did she obtain a student loan to continue her education and instead used that money to have more children? So in addition to bilking the taxpayers of the State of California and the United States she also took money from a limited pool of student loan money leaving another legitimate student without the cash necessary to actually attend school. And who will pay when she defaults on all those loans? If she goes back to school she will attend a CalState institution and plans on using their campus daycare; now her daily daycare for fourteen children will jack up already rising tuition and fees. Did you know in fourteen states taxpayers and people paying medical premiums are funding people like Nadya Suleman to get pregnant? Even if Nayda was a gainfully employed health insurance carrying citizen, we should all still be outraged; have you ever stopped to think that the high costs of fertility treatments and multiple births could be a contributing factor to the rising cost of insurance premiums and an overtaxed healthcare system?

Investigations of the fertility specialist entrusted to care for Nadya are underway to determine if any violations occurred, whether he should maintain his license to practice, and ultimately whether the state will file criminal endangerment charges against him. Doctors learn in medical school “primum nil nocere,” roughly translated as “first, do no harm.” Creating a situation where it is impossible for a child to be born at term, of a healthy weight, and highly possible of triggering maternal complications and death is certainly harmful.

The Hippocratic Oath, the pledge made by physicians to practice medicine ethically, includes the following passages: “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.” Implanting more embryos then a woman can safely carry is overtreatment. According to the March of Dimes a multiple birth is 6 times more likely to end in preterm labor then a single birth; the stat is worse with each additional child in the birth, and babies born early are infinitely more likely to suffer from long-term disabilities or die at birth or in infancy. Taking a “gamble” with that many embryos is just as dangerous if not more so than drinking, smoking, or walking a tight rope while pregnant. Recent reports indicate crack babies have few long term effects; smoking crack while pregnant less risky for the long term health of a baby then being part of a litter of fetuses. There is no doubt that the doctor, who claims he was just abiding by the wishes of his patient, violated his responsibility to first and foremost ensure the health of his patient and her offspring. “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick” is an assertion made by doctors in the Hippocratic Oath. Doctors have an ethical responsibility to ensure that treatment and the result thereof does not financially, emotionally, and physically bankrupt the patient, their family, or the healthcare system.

A book could certainly be penned by dissecting every aspect of this “miracle of modern medicine” but unfortunately I do not have time to write a book, even if I am not busy raising fourteen children. This analysis of my own time, or lack thereof, as a childfree woman without the responsibilities of parenting makes it even more dumbfounding how Nadya Suleman can claim on national television that she is “responsible,” a “good mother,” and denies the label of “selfish.” How is having children you cannot afford and sticking the bill to an economically unstable state just because you always dreamed of having a big family anything less than irresponsible and selfish? Even the riskiest gambler in Vegas would think twice about the odds on “a gamble” the OctoMom made with her own life and the lives of her children. A “good mother” would not risk orphaning her six living children with such a gamble nor would she take such a gamble with the lives of her unborn children. Most mothers and fathers I know feel like they are not able to spend enough one-on-one time with their children and they have far fewer than 14, of course they also have to spend much of their day at work so people like Nayda can stay home and have their children supported by the government.

Nayda Suleman had the audacity to judge people criticizing her “unconventional” choices while taking no responsibility for how those choices will yield higher taxes and healthcare costs for those same people. If her drive and desire to have an insane number of children is not enough to demonstrate her compromised mental capacity then the delusion she will be able to raise her children on her own once she finishes her master’s degree in counseling should be enough to convince anyone in that very same field that she needs help. The average master’s level counselor in California makes $43,000 a year; anyone who thinks that is enough to raise 14 children in Southern California has to be crazy. What is sad is how Nayda Suleman turned to a fertility specialist rather than a mental health specialist to fill the obvious void she felt in her life and how the medical community let her. Even sadder is how the Department of Health and Human services requires a woman seeking sterilization to undergo a counseling session to avoid having children yet it is not required for women seeking fertility treatments (although encouraged).

At least some good is coming from this situation. People are finally starting to openly ask some difficult questions. Is bearing children a right of everyone or a privilege to those who can afford to care for them? Should a person be considered “infertile” and receive treatment if they already have a certain number of children? Should there be limits placed on the number of embryos a doctor can implant? Is implanting too many embryos malpractice? Is choosing to have children you cannot afford to provide food, shelter, and clothing to tantamount to abuse? Is medicine defying the natural order of “survival of the fittest” by creating children who were not conceived as Mother Nature, God, or whatever higher being you believe in, intended? Should mental health counseling be required for anyone seeking fertility treatments? There will always be debates regarding treatment guidelines and decisions in medicine; there is a delicate balance between “can” and “should” and the case of the Suleman Octuplets is an example of when medicine pushes well past the boundaries of what should be done.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Quote of the Week

Sisters is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship.
- Margaret Mead

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Safety Dance

Lawmakers in Nebraska recently amended a safe haven law that allowed parents to drop their children off at designated “safe hospitals” or police stations, avoiding punishment for criminal abandonment. This type of law exists in all US states to reduce the cases of infanticide among parents who kill or dump their newborns. What made the Nebraska law unique prior to the recent amendment was the absence of an age stipulation thus allowing parents to leave a child of any age under 18 without retribution. Much to the surprise of lawmakers, teenagers started flooding the safe-haven hospitals as parents from Nebraska and states far beyond used a law meant to save infants to save themselves from their out of control children. People pointing fingers at who is responsible for the needs of these children; laying blame on everyone from government, for providing little to no support to parents in need, to the parents themselves for not taking personal responsibility to care for or control their offspring. Social advocates are crying out for more mental health benefits and protestors are claiming these parents are lazy and gave up too easily on their responsibilities. Through it all no one is asking the question; why did these parents have children they couldn’t care for in the first place?

I feel sorry for the parents who felt they had no other choice but to leave their children with authorities. I don’t feel sorry because they should receive more support from their state or local governments or because they reached the end of their rope; I feel sorry because these parents probably never realized that having children was optional. How many of these parents did not receive proper education on practicing birth control? How many of these parents were ill-equipped financially, emotionally, socially, or physically to have and raise children? How many family members, churches, communities, and news outlets are guilty of preaching the benefits of having children without providing the fair and balanced reporting of all the challenges and drawbacks?

People assume that everyone can and should have children without thinking of the consequences of those assumptions. How is giving up a child, or teenager, you cannot support any more socially and ethically irresponsible then suppressing the reality that raising children is not all fun and games? Rarely do people assess a person or couple and formulate the opinion that they should not have children. On the contrary society perpetuates the belief that all people should become parents. As any childfree person can attest to there is a huge amount of pressure from friends, family, strangers, and the media to conform to social norms and have children regardless of capacity to care for and raise those children. Parents who utilized the Nebraska Safe Haven law could have conceivably been on the receiving end of “bingoes,” insults heard by the childfree, before creating these children they ultimately couldn’t handle. Is someone guilty of convincing them to go against their instinct with arguments like “it’s different when they are your own,” “it just comes naturally,” or “everyone has kids, it’s just what you do.” Even more common, did they just not even stop and consider that having children might not be right for them?

The children surrendered to Nebraska authorities serve as reminders that there are some people that parenting does not come naturally to, that sometimes it isn’t “different when they are your own,” and some people are not fulfilled by their children. People have the right to understand all that raising children entails; go in with open eyes or don’t go in at all. It is socially irresponsible to pretend that parenting is easy, to canonize families who have more children then they can raise or afford, or to promote the myth of the perfect family. Not every child is born “perfect,” not everyone women is healthy enough to bear children, and not every person has the support network necessary to raise a healthy and happy child. Am I advocating policies that allow parents to “throw in the towel” when the going gets tough? No, I am advocating we all take responsibility in promoting a country where people fully understand the pros and cons of having children and have the ability and support to choose the path most appropriate for them. It is not the responsibility of the state, the country, or the taxpayer to take care of people’s children, but it is the responsibility of each of us to openly and honestly discuss parental responsibilities for people who are not yet parents and support those who choose a childfree life.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quote of the Week

Pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors.
- Frank Gifford

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Facebook 25

The Facebook 25, also known as The Narcissistic 25, is a forward going around facebook encouraging people to share 25 unknown facts about themselves with friends. There are no pre-canned questions so the survey is free-form and allows the writer to expose as much or as little as they desire. In the spirit of social networking I participated in the Facebook 25 with mostly boring tidbits about me, but some could be considered “explosive” enough to share on this blog and discuss.

1. It is difficult to think of 25 things that people don’t already know about me. I am not what one would call quiet, secretive, or mysterious.

2. Somewhere during college I realized many of my grandiose dreams of becoming a politician, constitutional lawyer, or author required sacrificing my desires to pay off my college loans, travel the world, enjoy time with my friends, have time to read books, take up photography, and get a few dogs. Many dreams are mutually exclusive to others and require choosing a few so you don’t lose them all. I thoroughly enjoy what I have, and do not regret what I walked away from.

3. If anyone told me 15 or 20 years ago that I would be married by 26 to a guy from Minnesota that I picked up in a bar in Chicago, I would have laughed and had them committed to an insane asylum. Glad I didn’t follow some life script we dream up in our youth; reality is often more amazing than our dreams.

4. I love food. Whether it is a gourmet meal at a fine restaurant, a wonderful dinner cooked in my home surrounded by friends, or my daily peanut butter and jelly sandwich; I derive great enjoyment from eating and preparing food.

5. Food doesn’t love me. Not that I have food allergies or anything (well, besides aspartame causing my head to explode). My metabolism is not what one would call fast. My weight gain record is 11 pounds on a one week cruise at 13 years old and 16 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas more years than I can count; impressive stats really.

6. People watching is a national pastime. I love sitting in a park, café, mall, airport, or city street and just watching people go by. I like making up stories about their lives; what they do for a living, where they live, and what they are like based upon the way they carry themselves, what they wear, and who they are with. The thing with people is their reality is probably crazier than any fictional life I imagine for them.

7. People make judgments about us each and everyday based upon nothing more than their split second analysis. Because of this I learned to project more confidence then I really possess; people respect and admire confidence. Underneath this steel exterior lies a whole host of terrifying insecurities.

8. Not all men (or women) are created equally and life is not fair. This is not saying I believe in discrimination, this is simply stating that we are all different and should learn to accept, embrace, and respect those differences rather than pretending we’re all the same. Life would be boring if we were each good at the same things. We each possess unique strengths that make us who we are and should spend more time bettering those strengths rather than succumbing to our weaknesses.

9. My Dad told me in fifth grade that I wouldn’t be a gymnast because I was too tall, a dancer because I was too klutzy, a professional athlete because women wouldn’t make money in sports, a supermodel because of my large build, an astronaut because I was afraid of heights, or a vet because I would never be able to put an animal to sleep. This was devastating news at the time but in hindsight good advice and the toughest form of love. Why spend life trying to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole when we can find what we are good at and be the best at that. I’m glad someone told me at 11 rather than finding out years into pursuing impossible dreams.

10. I am smart; not Einstein smart but I would beat most of the US population in a battle of wits and intelligence. This is one of my strengths and I wouldn’t give it up for all the grace, good looks, agility, or metabolism in the world. I am not bragging but think we should be able to embrace our assets without fear of offending those who do not possess the same strengths. It is a shame that somewhere along the line intelligence became “uncool;” something that people, especially women and teenage girls, thought they needed to hide. Just as not everyone is a gifted athlete, musician, artist, writer, actor, comedian, singer, dancer, cook, etc., not everyone is blessed with intelligence and it is a gift that should be embraced like any other.

11. I am only 5 foot 9 inches which I fully understand is 5 inches taller than the average for American women but I am still not happy about it. Nothing is more beautiful or commanding than a woman over 6 feet tall and I feel like I was ripped off by 3 inches.

12. I was not always comfortable with my height as it limited my dating options; I tried but couldn’t be with a man smaller than me. It pains me to admit that I am attracted to men who are large enough to protect me and allow me to wear high heels (specifically 3” heels that make me 6 feet tall). Betty Friedan and all the feminists before me are rolling in their graves as I admit this as a personal shortcoming (excuse the pun).

13. I was almost born on August 13; my mother spent most of that day in labor and I was born shortly after midnight on August 14. It dawned on me last year that my birthday would be different if I was born in any other US time zone besides Eastern. This is just one of the millions of odd and random observations I make constantly.

14. 14 is my lucky number, this could be because it is my birth date but I really like how it sounds in other languages. Catorce. Quattordici. Quatorze. Vierzehn. Fjorton.

15. I am not very good at foreign languages and by not very good I mean terrible. I feel like such an ugly American when I travel overseas because no matter how hard I try I cannot communicate in any languages but English and Spanglish.

16. My favorite personal feature is my smile and the Crest White Strip is the best invention of the past 10 years.

17. I get calls from every charity on the planet due to my being a sucker for sappy telemarketers. I finally had to set criteria for who received my finances because I am (unfortunately) not rich. I never donate to overseas charities; there are enough problems in the United States that require my time, attention, and money. My focus is often on helping animals in need; as far as I’m concerned people can take care of themselves.

18. I love dogs, big and small. This is not a secret at all, what I don’t normally admit is I like dogs more than I like most humans.

19. I am not a jealous person, but will always be a bit green with envy at the relationship my sisters developed with each other after I left for college.

20. Going away to college had a profound impact on my life and who I became. Leaving my comfort zone of home, family, and a small town to spend four years meeting new people from a variety of backgrounds expanded my world in ways I cannot begin to explain. I fondly remember my college years, not because of the late nights, difficult professors, fatty food, and crappy keggers, but because college is one of the only times in life where we are surrounded by people of similar intelligence and encouraged to explore ourselves, think freely, engage in heated debate, question authority, and grow.

21. People often think I am older than my age, including many who mistake my mother as my sister. My mother loves this and I am forced spend exorbitant amounts of money on face creams and sunscreen in self-defense.

22. I play violin and sing but do not do either very well. It took me many years to realize my position of first stand in the high school orchestra and spot on the choir had more to do with my leadership qualities (getting people to come to rehearsal and practice their parts) than my musical abilities. No matter why I had my experience I am grateful to read, understand, and enjoy all types of music (except country).

23. I am not religious. I celebrate religious holidays because of tradition and family togetherness, not because of the true meaning of the day. Christmas for me is a celebration of winter. Easter is a celebration of spring. I (occasionally) attend church because it is a place to listen to cheap, beautiful live music. If there is a higher being then I think there is more than one required to do all the work required of higher beings. I guess this technically makes me a neo-pagan for those who must put me in a neat little religious box.

24. I regret not keeping a journal through the years, but I was so busy making a juicy past that I did not have time to keep memoirs of it. Actually, that’s probably for the best now that I think about it, less evidence.

25. No one is more amazed at the number of facebook friends I have than me (currently nearing 500). I am incredibly fortunate that in my life has crossed paths with such a diverse group of people across the globe in only 33 years.

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