Monday, November 30, 2009

How a tradition is born

When I was a little girl, we had a Christmas tree forest in our back yard. Not a tree farm, but a random bunch of evergreens. Every year we would go out into the forest with a red rag, pick out a tree, tie the rag on it, and at some point Dad would go cut the tree and bring it in the house.

It wasn't till we moved to the suburbs of California when I was 10 that I discovered that most people actually had to buy their Christmas trees. I found that quite shocking and upsetting. So, every year we drove to the mountains to cut down a tree. As I think back on those days, I suspect that my Dad hated that. I think he would have preferred to go to a tree lot and just toss one in the back of the station wagon. But, that would never have done.

When I had kids I assumed we would all love going out to the tree farm to find the perfect Christmas tree. But in Oregon it was always raining in the winter - or at least on the day we chose to get the tree, so it was just wet and muddy and unpleasant. We tried it a few times with our kids and no one ever seemed to have a good time. Oh, I think my girl understood that there was something rustic and a little romantic about cutting down the tree and having hot chocolate afterward, but... it never seemed to work out as well as the fantasy.

For the past several years we've just gone to Lowe's or a local lot for our tree. It's worked out OK - we always have a tree!

This year we reached a new low. Or, started a new tradition. Last week my girl and I were in our local produce outlet buying our Thanksgiving veggies. While I waited in the long line, she explored a bit and saw lots of Christmas wreaths and garlands and such. She begged to go back on Saturday to get a wreath for the front door.

So, we did, and we saw trees. Cheap trees! Pretty good-looking ones at that. We bought our wreath and pondered. Dare we just buy a tree at the produce market?

At home we floated the idea with the men. Sure, they said, why not? We decided to wait till today and go to a branch of the produce outlet that's near piano lessons. We agreed that Dad didn't have to be there. The kids and I could pick out the tree ourselves.

I thought they'd be a little disappointed. It seemed like the whole family should be there. But they were happy enough when we left the house today. As we walked up to the trees my girl said "that one's perfect!" We had to agree. I went in and paid while they stood guard at our tree. When I came back, I double-checked to be sure it was still the one. "Yes!" she said, "it was love at first sight!" 5 minutes later we had the tree in the back of the truck.

I hadn't expected this operation to be so quick. We had a lot of time to kill before piano lessons. I thought about hot chocolate and how that really goes along with getting the tree. We drove along, looking for a quaint cafe. (We were in a quaint town.) I saw a McDonald's and was about to suggest that when my boy and I both spied the sign that thrilled our hearts. At the same moment we both yelled "Wawa!"

Wawa is the local (regional?) convenience store chain. Like 7-11 only ever so much better, Wawa is clean and always smells like hot coffee, chocolate, and hazelnuts. They have pots of various coffees ready to pour, a hot chocolate dispenser, fresh-ish donuts, and many other delights.

The kids got their cocoa while I fixed up my coffee. It takes a few minutes because they have containers of various dairy and non-dairy products to enhance the coffee experience. I let the kids pick out a donut and we went back to the car. As we sat there for a few minutes sipping and munching and wondering if we really did know the way to piano lessons after all, and why the GPS is in the other car, I thanked my kids for being so easy-going about the tree acquisition. I pointed out that we probably saved $25 on the tree and $10 by not going to a cafe for a fancy treat. I don't know who said "this should be our new tradition - getting the tree at Produce Junction and hot chocolate at Wawa!"

And, as long as we're living here, that is exactly what we will do.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The weight of weight

The other day I had one of the oddest conversations of my life. An acquaintance was telling me about a relative of hers who was underweight and having a hard time gaining. This individual had nothing but sympathy for the skinny young woman as she told how she ate all the right foods for gaining, yet couldn't put on a pound. Yet, when the conversation turned to someone who is overweight, the tone changed. No more sympathy. The overweight person didn't try hard enough, she said. She could lose that weight! She saw no disconnect between her reactions to the two people.

Underweight = good and deserving of sympathy; overweight = bad and deserving of scorn. I guess that's the way most people think.

I thought it was kind of funny that she went on that way with me, as I am definitely not an underweight person. I can only remember one time in my life when I was close to being slim. It was during a period of my life when I was working full time and carrying a full load of classes at night. I lived on happy hour food and white wine spritzers; microwave popcorn and diet coke. I wasn't very healthy. But I was somewhat happy with my clothing size. It was a short period of my life.

My first date-like event with my husband was at a brewpub. We had a beer and then decided to eat dinner. This was a meat sort of place, and I agonized. A sausage dish looked good, but did I dare? What if he was afraid of food, like so many others I knew? Throwing caution to the wind, I ordered what I wanted.

At the next day's debriefing with my girlfriends at work, they were horrified: "Sausage? You ate sausage? You will never see him again." And yet, I continued to see him, often, and now see him every single day. We still eat sausage, sometimes. I didn't know till much later that he had his own agonizing moments that evening. "What if she's a vegetarian? Oh please, let her not be a vegetarian." Ordering sausage over salad turned out to be the right move.

But, still. I have known what it's like to have every bite scrutinized, to feel self-conscious eating a particular food, to have disapproving eyes calculating the size of that slice of pizza. It's not pleasant. It must be worse for truly obese people. I remember a woman telling me about going out for ice cream after losing 50 pounds. She had more weight to lose; she was still pretty big. But she hadn't had ice cream in a year and felt like she could finally have it, just the one time. But she heard the tut-tutting of people around her and wished she'd stayed home. Of course they didn't know her story. It was none of their business. But they made it their business to judge her.

How much worse will that be with ObamaPelosiReidCare? Once everyone is on the financial hook for everyone else's healthcare, how much more tut-tutting will we hear? Will restaurant employees become mandatory reporters, snitching on fat people who order cheeseburgers? Will people in line at WalMart feel entitled to comment on the ice cream in the cart ahead? "Hey, you should take that back and get some fruit. I don't want to pay for your bypass."

Most overweight people I know work, to some degree, at losing weight. (Oh, of course there are people who do not. I don't know anyone who is happy to be overweight, though, whether that person is actively trying to lose weight, or has never tried, or has given up.) For some it's easy; for some it's not, even to the point of impossibility for some percentage. Just as it's not easy for some people to gain. Odd that one person gets sympathy and the other doesn't.


My boy spent almost the entire day happily reading. He only emerged from his room to eat, do some chores, and walk the dog. I'd picked up Eragon from the library for him. He started it last night and is likely to finish it tonight. It's a hefty book, written, by the way, by a homeschooled teen.

It's amazing that only 4 years ago I wondered if this boy would ever really learn to read and enjoy reading. Teaching him to read was so hard! And here he is, reading the day away.

Aah, what luxury. I wonder when was the last time I could spend the entire day reading. I wonder if I ever will again!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Misbehaving librarians

Joanne Jacobs links to a story about a couple of library workers (not technically librarians) who were fired for mishandling a book they found offensive. (Apparently the book, a graphic novel instended for adults, includes explicit sexual images.) One of the employees checked out the book to keep it off the shelf. She kept renewing it, over and over - till someone requested the book, and the computer wouldn't allow the renewal. The library worker checked on the requestor, and found it was a child, so she canceled the request. At some point, her plan was discovered, and she and a complicit employee were fired.

These two library workers' actions were wrong, but I understand their motivation.

When I was a kid, I had free access to the library. I got there on my bicycle, and had my own card, and could check out (or read in the stacks) whatever I wanted. Of course this was a long time ago now, before DVDs or even videos, and when graphic novels were mostly called comic books (Archie and Veronica, anyone?). But still, I can remember wandering in the "adult" section and reading books I shouldn't have been reading.

Now, my kids have their own library cards. They can check out any book, as far as I can tell. But they can't check out movies except those in the children's area. That means they can't acccess the MacGyver DVD they are watching right now, National Geographic nature documentaries, and R-rated fiction movies. That's a little inconvenient for me, mainly because once in a while we'd like to get more than the 4 DVDs we can take out at once. But, we manage to get by.

It would be nice if each book or movie could be assessed on its own content and coded in such a way that a child can't take it out if the content is too adult-oriented. But that's just impractical. I suppose there are parents who wouldn't want their 10-year-olds watching MacGyver. And it wouldn't stop anyone from reading something they shouldn't while in the library.

Most of the comments on the news article were very critical of the library workers. Many pointed out that it's the job of the parents to monitor their child's reading material. Yes, that's right. But I don't think people can depend on that. I look over the books my kids check out, but I doubt everyone does. And if my kids were, say, going to the library on their own after school, I might never know what books they had.

I'd like to think my kids wouldn't hide inappropriate books from me, but I know it's a possibility. Actually, I wish that there were no inappropriate books in the public library, but I guess not everyone would agree with my decisions on what could stay and what would have to go. (Yet, they should. I'm so reasonable.)

Words, and images even more so, stay with us. You can't unsee something. Kids do need to be protected from their own curiosity sometimes.

I don't have an answer to this problem, except to be vigilant with my own kids as long as I can.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fast food wasteland

Tomorrow is my girl's last soccer game of the season. It's also the earliest: 8:30 am. Ugh! We've been really bored with breakfast lately and I thought about taking the kids through BK on the way to the game. They like those nutrition-free but tasty french toast sticks. But no. Here in the fast food wasteland the nearest Burger King is 4.6 miles away, and in the opposite direction of the soccer field. There is a McD's close by, but my kids despise the Egg McMuffin. (Sigh) They find the pancakes pretty nasty too, as they are used to Dad's hearty (not rubbery) whole wheat beauties on Sunday mornings.

Back in crunchy-granola Oregon, there were fastfoods everywhere. I can still picture 2 BKs within a couple miles of my house, and on the way to just about anyplace I could be going. But then again, Chick-Fil-A (closed on Sundays) can't survive there. Heathens. But we don't like the idea of the chicken/egg thing they serve at breakfast anyway.

So, I guess it'll be oatmeal tomorrow. But there's a bright spot: the coach is bringing Dunkin' Donuts for after the game. I'll bring a big thermos of coffee.

My little soccer player wondered today if the trophies will look the same as last year, with every girl the MVP. I can't imagine any reason they wouldn't be.

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Abandoned blogs are a little troublesome. When I come across one, I always wonder what happened to the blogger. I imagine all sorts of terrible things.

But I don't have an exciting abandonment story. More like, a lack of exciting stories.

I thought about relating the story of our standardized test day, but ran out of time and then - it was old news. Or maybe about "dvd school" which is a way to get some schooltime in when everyone is sickly. Hey, if kids are watching "Finding Nemo" in science class, then surely Nova episodes are OK. Then there was the anniversary of the Berlin Wall, which brought up a lot of memories, but... the day passed and it seemed irrelevant. (Not those kinds of memories - I've never been to Berlin.)

I could write about how sick my Boy Scout and I have been, and how he missed one of the most super-fun campouts of the year - for the 2nd year in a row! - but why record that memory? Better to try to forget about it. And hope for next year.

I could mention that I'm starting to get spam comments and had to add word verification to stop it, but... no one comments on abandoned blogs anyway.

There are always books to write about, but that requires actually reading the whole book. I've been enjoying Alison Weir's bio of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Not a fast read, but a truly fascinating one. My kids would like me to get off the computer and go read The Poisons of Caux, right now! If all goes well we'll finish that one over the weekend.

But next week is Thanksgiving and we're planning a great feast with some friends and life is looking more exciting. So maybe this isn't totally abandoned after all.