Friday, April 29, 2011

Local Streets

When I was in high school, we had a talent show. One of the kid bands that performed was "Local Streets." I remember having no clue that that was a reference to the signs, as you are driving on the highway through the Bronx...instead of saying "bypass" and "business district," the signs that lead you off locally say "Local Streets" above them. Anyhow, this blog is not about bands, high school, or even New York City, it's about local streets.

Ever since I have started using GPS on my trips, I can stray. I am no longer prisoner to highways and easy routes. I can meander and get as lost as I want. I can explore and find little neighborhoods and town parks. I can feed my curiosity for finding out what an area is REALLY like. You probably suspect and maybe, if you travel a lot, know how similar the beltways, byways and suburbs of all US cities look from a fast moving car.

In a related post, I can also get myself into a completely dangerous neighborhood without having a clue beyond hearing gunshots and seeing women working the corners. There are both benefits and drawbacks to exploring the local color.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Religion of Peeps

Or...false idols? Which is it? Peeps. They come out at Easter. Their advent, tortuous during Lenten restraint and fasting, eventually hails the coming of our Lord. Their bright, neon colors herald Easter uniform, marshmallowy lines, they patiently await the risen Christ. Alleluia.

Pretty over the top, no? Not to Liam. Liam, who does inherit his mother's tendency toward the obsessive, was completely and utterly locked onto the concept of Peeps on Easter morning. We even had a little altercation which ended in a packet of Peeps finding themselves dramatically at the bottom of the trash can. Liam could not escape his muse. Not fewer than a hundred times, he spoke of his love...Singing, muttering, and conversing of nothing but the small marshmallow birds for HOURS.

My favorite of all his lines was after I tried to insert a lesson between his courtly love songs. I tried to tell him that the Easter Bunny, like Santa, comes to help us celebrate. In this case, he helps us celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. Liam, wove this beautifully into his dramatic fawning. "Peeps are the greatest ever! They are the best at helping us remember Jesus!"

Clever boy. Peeps for Jesus. Way to find a loophole.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wishful Thinking

Frederick Buechner, one of my all-time favorite religious writers, once changed my life with a little book called Wishful Thinking.

Today, this quote spoke to me...It reminded me of my gnawing hole theory from some time ago.
"Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him."
— Frederick Buechner (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons)

But, what I like about Buechner's quote is his absence makes the heart grow fonder supposition. This is not to say, "chuck God and all He is and you will find him." But, it is to say that there is a place in all of us that is empty and seeking. This drain hole, whirlpooling down, sucking into it all with which we would hope to fill it. Nothing fills it and it is precisely this that allows it to be filled so completely by God. Better contentment comes for having felt the panic and unease of that "gnawing hole" and its gnawing hold on us.

"Whether you call on him or don't call on him, God will be present with you."
— Frederick Buechner

Saturday, April 16, 2011


This is my favorite week in the Christian calendar -- Holy Week. It holds on each side of it contrasts and marks our transition from death to rising, darkness to light, sin to grace. I love the wholesomeness of this week. You even get the bonus of a Passover seder supper thrown in in the middle quite often. It's like a round meal.

And of the entire week the precise pivot point that is my favorite is the Easter Vigil service. This is the moment when we await the moment of transition. The service is rich with symbolism. The lights are off, the altar is unseen, then, after the lessons are read, we celebrate the resurrection. Lights are flipped on, the music changes from solemn to ebulient. We walk away, basking in new life.

Matthew 28:1-10
Jesus Is Alive

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.

His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, "Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.

He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.' Behold, I have told you." Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.

And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.

Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."


Friday, April 15, 2011

Gleeful Child

Last week, I went out and bought myself a treat with a tiny bit of my winnings from my NCAA pool. I went out and purchased Glee Karaoke Revolution for my Wii. I got to play with it for exactly one day. It was very fun, but now it belongs to Elena. She's in Glee club, singing happily...ALL THE TIME CONSTANTLY. I've created a monster.

And now, in addition to joyful singing of the same ten songs all day long, we also have our first crush on a movie star. She's "in love with" and "wants to marry" the one who sings Defying Gravity and moves really fast to Push It. Chris Colfer, who plays the flamboyantly gay, Kurt. She doesn't even know his name, but today wanted to make sure that some day she could change her name if she were to someday marry "that guy from Glee who I'm obsessed with."

Today she scared me a little bit by telling me she really, really wants to kiss him everytime she sees him. Yikes. But, before I freaked out too much, I remembered Ricky Schroeder (for this was in the day of Silver Spoons, before he was too cool for Ricky and became just Rick). I just loved him. Posted a picture from the local newspaper TV Guide, in black and white on my wall (yup, no Tiger Beat for this gal). I used to kiss it every night and, to this day, I remember the LONGING, such incredible optimism that I would get to meet him and kiss him. Somehow, someway.

So, this is all normal, right? Right. Except, then I realized I was 12 when Silver Spoons came out. Oh. Gulp.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recompensory Gifts (Alternative Title: Can't Buy Me Love)

I've been left with a bitter taste in my mouth for days about the mommy debacle of last week...missing the Special Friends Breakfast. If you didn't see it, read back a few days and you'll see it. I have been wracking my brain to come up with something I could do that would make up for my actions. I toyed with the idea of eating lunch with her at school (MOM! Too embarassing). I was going to bring in a "Special Friends Snack" for her whole class, which she agreed to, but then didn't give the teach the note which informed her that I would be coming in....hmm...

So, I finally decided on donating some books to the classroom library with an inscription from Elena's special friends. I picked two of her favorite books and then one by one of my favorite authors.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sunday Dinners

When I was a little girl, I remember heading to my Grandma and Grandpa's every Sunday for Sunday Dinner. Sunday dinner occured at approximately three or four in the afternoon and in the winter was held around the giant expanse of dining room table. Whoever was in town was invited, there was always enough to go around. Grandma loved to cook and Grandpa loved to carve a roast. I would stand by as he carved a fresh ham or rib roast and beg for scraps like a puppy. The top of the fresh ham always had little squares scored in it, was rubbed with garlic and salted and peppered to perfection. Grandpa would flick a postage stamp of crispy crackling off and hand it to me dangerously on the end of the carving knife. As the square of fat melted on my tongue, I was in heaven.

But it wasn't just about the food. There were family walks and games in the yard. There were afternoon movies (one showing of The Blob with Steve McQueen left me night-paralyzed with fear for months after). In the summer, the meal was moved to the screened in porch. The glass top table had ironwork around it on which I always remember barking my knees when pulling my chair in. Summer fare, was fresh tomato and basil from Grandpa's garden with olive oil (always Pompeian). There was always dessert, often just ice cream, but we didn't have dessert at home, so this was another big deal.

I don't even know how many times we went to Sunday dinner, but in my memories, they were a fixture in my early childhood. I remember the Sunday we brought our new puppy, Samantha, in a box between my sister and me on the back seat, to show off to everybody.

And now, my kids are making these same memories, thanks to their auntie my sister, who is spearheading this revival of our childhood tradition. They go to their Grammy and Boppa's house for Sunday dinner each week. There are walks with Grammy, exploring the lake and hunting for treasures (rocks and sticks, mostly). There's a room that is mostly an attic that they call "Beantown" because it's where they go on rainy or cold days to get their beans out. Elena calls it "Beanstown" because she doesn't catch the reference to Boston and because she is way more literal, being only six. It's carpeted with an crib and twin mattress. There's a stool for launching from and at guardrail to stop them from rolling off. Sometimes there's a game or we bring our Wii.

Most often there are many generations present at Sunday Dinner. This can make for some politics, but every bit of political unrest is worth it for the traditions we are forging and the memories we are painting.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The School That Cried Wolf

Does anyone else feel overwhelmed by the number of missiles, fliers, notices and booklets sent home from their elementary schools? I do. I have reached capacity. Plus, with me, her dad, and so many other caretakers always emptying the backpack, sometimes things get missed, and because of the sheer volume of incoming mail, things are bound to. Unfortunately, this week I missed something big.

Never mind that I had to work. Never mind that when I saw the notice that said "Special Friends Breakfast" I thought it had to do with special needs kids. Never mind, that I remember doing a quick read of the flier and thinking it had to do with signing your child up to outreach to incoming kindergartners. No never mind all that, I screwed up big time. It turns out the "Special Friend Breakfast" was a time for the kiddos to invite one special person from their life into have breakfast with them. Elena was one of only two in the class that didn't have a special friend present at the event.

How did I find this out? She just opened her folder and pulled out a beautiful little butterfly magnet she made at the breakfast, while sitting by herself. She wrote a sweet note to her special said:

April 8, 2011
Dear Friend,
Thank you for being the best friend in the world. I hope you like my letter and the breakfast. Also being kind to me.
Love, Elena

My heart hurts.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Scariest Thought Evah

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I had a really frightening thought. Let me set the scene a bit first. I was snuggled up in bed, reading. Right before picking up my book, I used my phone to check emails, Facebook and tomorrow's weather. Then, after reading, as a last activity before drifting off, I shut off the light and checked Facebook updates. I often can be seen hunkered down under the covers, hand, claw-like gripping the phone, blue glow on my face from the tiny screen.

Anyhow, this time, the question I posed myself was ridiculous. Of course I knew the answer, but I it literally panicked me to think about it. I asked myself to consider what if I was forced to choose between having a cell phone, having MY Droid Pro and my kids. Of course I would choose my kids!! What if I had to choose between Facebook and my kids. Again, of course, I would choose my kids. Computer, kids? Kids!

It wasn't that I didn't know the answer, but the panic I felt at the prospect of losing any of my connectivity. My gut reaction tells me this addiction I have to technology is serious. I decided to put this question in an imaginary jar on an imaginary shelf with other thoughts to be considered later. I pulled it down this morning and started this blog. In the light of morning, the thought is not threatening anymore, but it is still an interesting one to consider. I asked myself, why does it panic me so to think about losing this connectivity? And, how could I lessen this addiction?

The first question is pretty obvious as to why. Many of friends exist only in an online world. For a long time, I lived with a man who wasn't into socializing and suffered from depression. I cultivated online relationships as a way of connecting with the world around me. I have even met some of these people in person and found the friendships to be as true in person as they were in the virtuality of my computer screen.

As to how to lessen this attachment, that's a harder question to consider. The first thing that springs to mind is to cultivate more in-person friendships, but sometimes I just don't have time for in-person...I only have time for a five second status update and then the stream of responses that come in - conversations held over a day long period of time, instead of intensely over a lunch or dinner.

My second thought is to impose some time constraints on my usage. Do I need a timer to set? Should I turn off my phone at night when I get home so I can focus on time with my kids? Should I not use my computer until they kiddos are in bed? Probably. I think there are a lot of changes I can make on this front and today, with the opening of an imaginary jar, many ideas, like lightining bugs are buzzing around me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Dr. Dylan, Er, Mooney....

When I started up with new healthcare, I had to find a new dentist. I don't know about you, but I absolutely LOATHE finding new health practitioners. The only thing worse than trying to find a new dentist you like is finding a new therapist you like! But, I digress. I usually hit the AMA site and check out where my doctors went to school as some guide. This time, however, I tried something else. This dentist was different. He had a website.

It was the page about his dad that got me. I had to go see this guy. He's quirky, but he's wonderful. He's efficient, but yet makes you feel like he has all day to spend with you. He wears slippers in the office, it makes you feel like he's invited you over for dinner. He talks about interesting things: parenting, movies, pop culture and music, especially Bob Dylan.

Boy, does he love Bob Dylan. I have been to see him three times now and never has anything besides Bob Dylan been playing. Today, I had myself in chuckles trying to decide whether the whine of dental drill actually drilling my tooth, or the nasally, repetitive sound of Dylan whining over the speakers was more annoying. But then I thought about it, I wouldn't want him to play anything else. I love that when I come over to his place he wears his slippers, and that sometimes he doesn't have anyone working the front desk, so I hear my name being called out from the back room over the sound of a drill, "Kristen?"

Yup doc, it's me. I'm here and feel lucky to be able to come over and hang out for a half hour or so...even if you did find a cavity and have to drill it out.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Confidence Welcomes Contempt

I am working on another crackpot theory, but it's not fully formulated yet. The crux of it is that people who move confidentally through the world, receive more criticism from their peers than those who are not as assured. The flip side of this equation is that those that are insecure and lacking in self-esteem and self-confidence, tend to be the arrow slingers of insults and put downs. Their discomfort of themselves so colors their view of the world, that they cannot see the positive attributes of others. They hone in on weaknesses. If the self-confident character has cultivated their ability to rise up above the miasma of negativity around them, the low-self-esteemer will find the one insecurity or Achilles heel of their target that will bring them down. Why is this?

The theory I am working on is not THAT this relationship exists between the two personality types, for I believe it does, but why. I have lots of thoughts that have not yet gelled. I would welcome your thoughts on the subject. Why do you think? Also, state what personality type you think you are in your answer. Thanks!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

This Just In: Typewriters Are Hip?

The New York Times reported this last week:
Why celebrate the humble typewriter? Devotees have many reasons. For one, old typewriters are built like battleships. They survive countless indignities and welcome repairs, unlike laptops and smartphones, which become obsolete almost the moment they hit the market. “It’s kind of like saying, ‘In your face, Microsoft!’ ” said Richard Polt, 46, a typewriter collector in Cincinnati. Mr. Polt teaches philosophy at Xavier University, where he’s given away about a dozen typewriters to enthusiastic students and colleagues.

Another virtue is simplicity. Typewriters are good at only one thing: putting words on paper. “If I’m on a computer, there’s no way I can concentrate on just writing, said Jon Roth, 23, a journalist who is writing a book on typewriters. “I’ll be checking my e-mail, my Twitter.” When he uses a typewriter, Mr. Roth said: “I can sit down and I know I’m writing. It sounds like I’m writing.”

And there’s something else about typewriters. In more than a dozen interviews, young typewriter aficionados raised a common theme. Though they grew up on computers, they enjoy prying at the seams of digital culture. Like urban beekeepers, hip knitters and other icons of the D.I.Y. renaissance, they appreciate tangibility, the object-ness of things. They chafe against digital doctrines that identify human “progress” as a ceaseless march toward greater efficiency, the search for a frictionless machine.

That doesn’t make them Luddites. For many younger typewriter users, the old technology rests comfortably beside the new. Matt Cidoni, 16, of East Brunswick, N.J., keeps a picture of his favorite machine, a Royal No. 10, on his iPod Touch so he can show it off to friends. Online, he is a proud member of the “typosphere,” a global community of typewriter geeks. Like many of them, he enjoys “typecasting,” or tapping out typewritten messages, which he scans and posts to his Web site, Adventures in Typewriterdom. One of his favorite typecasting blogs, Strikethru, is run by a Microsoft employee. In Mr. Cidoni’s world view, there’s nothing technologically inconsistent about such things.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Mr. Cidoni said. “I’ve got an iPod Touch. I’ve got a cellphone, obviously. I’ve got a computer.” He also owns about 10 typewriters, which he uses for homework and letter writing at — get this — speeds of up to 90 words a minute. “I love the tactile feedback, the sound, the feel of the keys underneath your fingers,” Mr. Cidoni said.

Tom Furrier, who owns the Cambridge Typewriter Company in Massachusetts, has sold several typewriters to Mr. Cidoni and said that high school and college students have become a staple of his business. “I kept asking, ‘What are you kids doing here?’ ” he said. “But it’s been this growing thing. Young people are coming in and getting in touch with manual typewriters.”

I am having trouble swallowing some of this. Not because I didn't used to love to drag out Dad's old typewriter from the basement to "play office." Certainly not because I don't like words, or even the objectness of things. No. It's this whole concept of "thinking better while using a typewriter" that is lost on me.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are writing a big proposal or paper or story...Now imagine you have to get it right the first time. You have to have an iron clad outline in your head. You have to think through every word before you write it down. There is no CTRL-C and CTRL-V. Even bolding has to be preconceived. Maybe it's the way I work, but the only thing I can imagine getting right "real time" is a journal entry where words can be less exact and the order of thoughts on the page isn't completely integral to their meaning.

Plus, typewriters are so heavy! Just when we've finally gotten laptops down to a reasonable weight why on earth would I want to lug a Smith-Corona with me? Reminds me of this old blog.

I think typewriters have their place. They are great toys for kindergarteners. They are great fun for playing office. The clicking sounds they make are great if you are trying to make a pretend news cast and want the sound of a news ticker in the background (yes, I have used them for that in the past, too). For now, I'll keep my Word and backspace and cutting and pasting. If that makes me unhip, it would not be the first, nor most likely the last, time.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Mooned Over My Happy Meal?

I used to get a chuckle out of the Denny's meal "Moons Over My Hammy." But, today I got a chuckle over the real I was pulling into McDonald's, a teen (probably only about fourteen or fifteen) gave us a full moon. I was so taken aback, I annouced it to the car. "Oh my! We just got mooned!"

Of course, all the little people in the car wanted to know what a moon was and I had to explain (since I had been the only one visually privy to the sight). "It's when, as a prank, or just because they're being silly, someone pulls down their pants and sticks their fanny out, showing it to the world." I laughed, but then, realizing I probably wasn't setting the best example (I have many parenting moments like this), explained the concept of indecent exposure.

In my mind, I was picturing my children as pubescents and thinking that mooning the passing cars from McD's front lawn was fairly inocuous. There are so many things teens can do that are worse, vandalism, sex in someone's car, drinking, playing games of real bodily danger, or even just sulking miserably. These kids were being silly and light and the brave mooner was getting a real kick out of himself. It was all in good spirited fun.

As I was reflecting on this scene later, when the kids had gone to their dad's and I had time to rediscover the thinking part of my brain, I realized one of the reasons that my mind is so open to mooners. I grew up in a family where mooning was silly and good fun. I remember a caravan of cars going from the ice cream shop to home and my mom mooning out the slanted back window of the Pacer. I swear I even remember her father, my grandfather mooning someone!

No wonder, I thought to myself, I come from a long line of mooners.

Further Understanding of Momzilla

I am reading the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and am just basking in new information. I am apparently ten years late to this party, but appreciate it just as much as if I were reading it just off the press. The information in it is timeless, the thesis interesting and the examples absolutely riveting to me. The more I read, the more I realize I am a person who thrives on learning about how people and communities work. I bet I would have really enjoyed taking a Sociology class!

Anyhow, that long introduction is distracting me from my real mission here today. Something I read in this book, on pages 148-149 to be exact, has given me insight into my mother-in-law. In the past, I have written, incredulously I might add, about the actions of Momzilla in my life and marriage. Previous blogs can be found here and here and here and here.

One of Momzilla's pervasive characteristics is that she always wants to get to the bottom of things. By bottom, I mean BOTTOM. She doesn't just dig a little and let it drop, she digs and wheedles and needles until she breaks you. She breaks the people she loves. She breaks strangers. She breaks acquaintences. She breaks sales clerks, accounts receivable and customer service reps. Anyone who has to run counter to her. She tries to bring down the world around her to convert them to her viewpoint, persuade them to see things her way, or to pinch a penny.

I have long been perplexed by this behavior. First of all, it's so self-important. That YOUR opinion or YOUR belief or YOUR concept of what is right to be paid, eaten, worn, driven, etc. is the only way, shows such a narrow-minded viewpoint. But also, it cannot make Momzilla happy. It seems, in fact, to make her miserable. The complaining, the ire and the railing that are the outpourings of her incessant challenging of the world must be exhausting. But why? For a long time, I figured it was because she needed to make others unhappy because she was so fitfully unhappy. So uncomfortable in her own skin, she couldn't bear to see anyone else at rest. She needed attention, needed to mobilize the world to her end.

A concept I am going to transcribe from The Tipping Point below, pretty much agrees with my theory, but takes it a bit further. It's a quote about the Bernie Goetz, the man who, in the early 90's in NYC, shot four black youths on the subway fairly unprovoked, or at least his reaction of shooting them was a bit more extreme than the situation warranted. This is about where in NYC Bernie chose to live, in one of the seemliest neighborhoods in Manhattan. See if you can see what this passage revealed to me:

Bernie Goetz chose to live in a neighborhood that was falling apart...seductive to him because of its deficits and discomforts it "provided him with a comprehensible target for the rage that lives inside him. By focusing on the external world, he need not deal with his internal one."