Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Witch House or Fairy House?

Probably because I've either been a student or a teacher for most of my life, August seems like the end of the year and September is the beginning. I always make resolutions for the "new year" around this time. Last year, one of my resolutions was that I was going to walk Daisy to school every day. Being that it is a mile each way, which is a little long for a kindergartner, and pushing the double stroller was like pushing a freight train uphill, we found it challenging to do it all the time but we probably walked about a quarter of the school year (OK, maybe an eighth).

This school year, I have the same resolution as Daisy will be a big time first grader. I made up some games to pass the time on our walks and reduce the whininess factor. They might sound boring but they're fun with little kids. There's Cat Bingo, which involves yelling "Bingo!" as loudly as possible when you spot a cat. The first person who yells it wins and guarantees that every kitty within hearing distance is running for cover, making the game more challenging. Another one is Animal Safari, which involves searching for animals (real or fake) and trying to memorize the list of animals spotted during the walk. We also play the good old standard I Spy.

But Violet, the three-year-old, made up a game that we play a lot recently. It's called Witch House or Fairy House. It involves looking at each house and determining if a witch or fairy lives there. At first, I could predict that the houses that looked neat with flowers blooming in the frontyard would be fairy houses, while the ones with peeling paint and weeds would be witch houses. But now, it seems that we are stereotyping less. There are fairies who live in rundown houses, and there are witches who live in houses with manicured lawns. Daisy and Violet carefully consider each house . . . hmmm . . . before deciding, yes this is definitely a place where fairies cavort, or this is definitely a place where witches feast.

What I like about the game is that whatever the final decision is, I can definitely see their point. Why, yes . . . that is very witchy, or wow, what a frou-frou fairy house that is. It's an exercise that illustrates what a tenuous connection there can be between perception and reality. I imagine that if anyone stepped out of a house immediately after the judgement had been made that we would see something mysteriously fairy or witch-like about the individual. It makes me think about how easy it is to see something that isn't there or miss something that is there just because of our own biased perspectives. Do you know what I mean?

Sunday, July 19, 2009


On my way into Whole Foods this morning, I notice a man sitting on the sidewalk out front. I have a tendency in recent years to walk by homeless people without giving eye contact. Maybe I'll say hi and smile but I rarely give money, especially since being unemployed. There are many social services available in this area, to the point that people are rumored to travel here from other parts of the country to access them. And I have the perception that many addicts who may or may not have a place to live will collect money on the streets until they have enough for their next purchase, instead of working or showing up at the soup kitchen sober. I'm not sure if that's a completely fair perception. I admire my mom for being someone who ALWAYS stops and gives food or money if she can. She says it's their karma if they're dishonest.

Anyway, Violet stops and smiles at the man on the sidewalk. She hasn't learned to put on her social blinders. He's muttering, difficult to understand, and I herd the girls inside the store. I start thinking about how I'm not very generous with people on the street and what it would be like to be hungry and sitting in front of a grocery store abundantly filled with beautiful, expensive food. My life is easy in comparison to someone in that situation. I can't afford to shop at Whole Paycheck often, but I can afford to support my new Kombucha habit, which requires frequent stops at natural food stores. But the guy sitting out front doesn't ask me for anything, and he's smoking a cigarette and drinking what looks to be coffee.

We return to the car and the guy starts to mutter again. Daisy, Violet and I are all wearing sunglasses and just before I close the driver's side door, he asks me if I have an extra pair. Actually, I do. I find them under some CDs in the center console. They have a decorative piece that is broken off one of the sides but are otherwise fine, so I hand them to him through the window. He walks away then comes back with a pinecone. The kids are excited and fight over who gets to hold it. It is a really nice pinecone. Funny that he gives us something of so much value to the kids.

Daisy asks me why I gave him the sunglasses. I explain that he was homeless. She wonders why he would want sunglasses. I explain that being outside all day would make sunglasses really appreciated. She's worried that I gave him women's glasses, and maybe he should just go buy a men's pair for himself. I explain that he doesn't have the money to buy sunglasses. I think that's a safe assumption, and I'm trying to teach her the concept of money as a scarcity.

She wonders what he does in the rain. She decides he must stand under a tree but then is worried that trees aren't very good shelter in the rain. She wonders how he lost his house and thought that he should have grabbed an umbrella before he left. She thinks that maybe we should have given his pinecone back, and why did he give that to us anyways for a pair of women's sunglasses? She wonders what his house looked like and if there are people who miss him. I'm used to her stream of consciousness style of conversation, so I mainly listen, occasionally attempting to provide a quick answer as she takes a breath between questions. Her line of inquiry shames me in its clarity and compassion.

I realize that although cash flow can be an issue, I have plenty of things in my life, and I should look for more opportunities to share. I do have a habit of setting out bags of stuff that I would otherwise donate to Goodwill by my mailbox. It's fairly common in my area . . . people leave stuff out for free by the curb on a regular basis. Many years ago, one of my rentals didn't come with a fridge. Walking home one night from who know's where, I found a free working fridge about a block from my house and then a free dvd player in the original box a half block away. I felt like I had won the lottery.

But leaving something out by the mailbox is a lazy act of kindness. Next time I'm cleaning out a closet, I think I'll set aside stuff that someone might need then keep it in the car. So when I see someone who I would normally pretend not to see, I will have something to offer. It seems like this would be better than teaching my kids to walk right by without acknowledging that a human is sitting there.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I've been working to solve a glitch in my unemployment for the last few weeks. I stopped receiving checks at the end of May for no apparent reason. I don't qualify for unemployment from mid June until mid August, but missing those two weeks made things even tighter than they have been. So you can understand how psyched I was when I noticed that the mail had come this morning, which is much earlier than normal, AND my unemployment check was sitting there.

To celebrate, I took my daughters out to breakfast. As we were eating, I noticed through the window that a van had just pulled up outside. Several teenagers and a few younger kids emerged from the van with a couple adults. One of the teenagers had these huge headphones on, and he was doing some really crazy dancing out in the parking lot while waiting for the rest of his group. It was noteworthy enough that I pointed him out to the girls.

I had been half listening to this conversation behind me involving a mother and her three teenagers, who were tourists and were trying to decide how they were going to spend their day. The family behind me was white. The group that came in the van was black. After hearing the mom behind me remark on the dancing, I suddenly heard her say to keep an eye on him because he was apparently next to her car just in case he was a distraction while her car was being broken into. I glanced back at the kid. He was a really expressive dancer but didn't look like he was in the middle of commiting a crime.

As we left the restaurant and walked to the car, we passed the van and it was obvious by the stickers that it was a van owned by a church. The dancing teenager was part of a church group. Now I know that being religious doesn't equate to being law abiding. But of course neither does being black equate to being criminal. Still a little work to be done around racism in this country.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reality TV

I like reality TV. I would say it’s a guilty pleasure, but there’s really no guilt. The popular opinion seems to be that reality TV is proof of the decline of Western Civilization. Well, I can say with some confidence that the decline of Western Civilization was already well established in the heavy metal years (if you’re not convinced, see The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years). It’s not that I like all reality TV shows, but I like the genre because I am (obviously) easily entertained by people’s actions and possible motivations, especially in unusual situations. And I have to say, I’ve been in social situations where people are stiff, not talking, and maybe it wouldn’t be the ideal time to bring up something controversial like politics or heavy like the economy. Throw something like The Bachelorette into the conversation and suddenly everyone in the room has something to say because of watching, hearing gossip, or hating. It's an ice breaker.

On Monday nights after getting the kids in bed, I am guaranteed an empty living room around 8 p.m. My husband is as committed to avoiding The Bachelorette as I am to watching it. Tabitha and I have an occasional habit of madly texting each other throughout the evening, possibly as late as midnight since we DVR and watch it at different times. During the season premiere, there were so many texts that my husband came running downstairs,“What is it? Did something happen?” I explained that we were discussing The Bach. He wondered, "What could you possibly have to say?" I scrolled through my texts . . . um, let’s see . . .

“Are you watching”

“Im at the first greet its so embarrassing”

“I had 2 hide my face”

“Its hectic”

“Wow those guys are catty”

“What do you say to an angel best quote so far“

“Just you wait lots more cringers”

And that was just the warm-up. If you went through my text inbox now, it would look like a middle school girl had hijacked my cell phone.

“I like ed”

“I luv jake”

“Omg r u watching”

“Wills got to go”

Another recent reality show that I found endlessly amusing was True Beauty. The premise was a group of people were invited to compete for the title of the Most Beautiful Person in the World. What kind of person thinks: I just might be the most beautiful person in the world? The twist was the contestants were secretly being judged on inner as well as outer beauty, so the producers set up situations such as a cyclist being "hit by a car" (it was, of course, all pretend) in front of a contestant just before an important moment in the competition. Some of the contestants stopped and helped in these situations. Others maintained their focus on themselves and breezed right by, not batting an eyelash. Boy, were they humiliated when they were shown the video clips of their thoughtless and selfish behavior in front of the judges. I don’t mean to sound judgmental. Depending on the day, my response to a situation might appear altruistic or egocentric (but for godsakes, I hope that I would help a person hit by a car right in front of me). It’s all part of the human condition.

I’m not going to argue that I’m doing anything of social importance when I watch a reality TV show. I’m not enriching my mind or embodying the best values. I won’t let my kids watch. I just really like to be entertained for entertainment’s sake once, maybe twice a week. And this is honestly what it reminds me of . . . a long time ago, before TV and movies and computers, there were stories like the Iliad that people recounted for entertainment. And those stories were filled with love, arrogance, betrayal, sex, deception and violence - all based loosely on real events. I think there’s a real human need for distraction from the grueling nature of actual reality, and there’s no need to apologize.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Secret Admirer

Stuck at home on Friday. Kids came down with some sort of vomiting bug the night before. Daisy was active from 4:30 to midnight; Violet took 12:30 to 3:00.

Being indoors all day breeds creativity. Daisy suddenly turns to me and asks for paper, markers, scissors and tape. She tells me she will be the mailman and Violet NEEDS a secret admirer. She furiously colors a page then goes upstairs to her younger sister’s room then comes back and starts another one. I know to gather the supplies she needs then get out of her way when she has a vision. She’s a little bit of a tortured artist as very few of her ideas easily translate into something that can be made without a background in engineering.

Fortunately, love notes from a secret admirer are a relatively simple concept. In this instance, it involves drawing hearts and other pictures on a piece of paper then cutting out and taping on various other designs, including the “stamp.” I’m folding laundry when Daisy comes down the stairs and bellows, “IT’S TOTALLY WORKING! SHE IS SO HAPPY AND SURPRISED ABOUT HER LOVE NOTES!”
Who does she think her secret admirer is? “MO-OM! BE QUIET!?” I AM talking quietly. You’re the one who’s yelling! Whispering, “She doesn’t know who it is . . . she said ‘Is it our doggie? Pinecone? Baby Glue? The tortoises? The lizards? The fish?’ She has no idea WHO it is!”

Daisy continues to generate and deliver several love notes and in reality, Violet continues to throw them aside unimpressed. Violet makes her way downstairs with thumb in her mouth, holding her blanket. I can tell she’s tired and can’t go to sleep because of the large volume of deliveries being made to her room.

Daisy runs after her, handing her yet another love note. Violet tosses it aside with no expression on her face. Daisy squeals, “That’s from your secret admirer!” Violet stares blankly at her.

Defeated, Daisy walks away with her head down then returns, declaring dramatically, “SHEEEE HATES LOVE!”

I think I may have just glimpsed the future.


Thursday, July 2, 2009


I’m not a very patriotic person. I think nationalism represents a limited worldview. However, spending four years in the Middle East as a kid cemented my appreciation for this country.

My fifth grade teacher in Saudi Arabia had us write essays comparing life there to life here. I wrote something like you couldn’t just walk down to the corner in your shorts to buy a Coke at McDonald’s in Jeddah, but I liked that my friends were from Ethiopia, Thailand, Jordan, the Philippines and Texas (Texas seemed exotic to a kid from California).

If I was to write that essay today, I would focus more on the lack of basic freedoms. My mom couldn’t drive. It was a crime punishable by death to practice Christianity (so my parents took us to a secret born-again Christian church . . . why be boring?). The weekends there were Thursday and Friday, and on one of those days, “justice” was violently meted out in public squares. There were stonings of “unfaithful” women and hands were lopped off of thieves. There were also beheadings. One of the adults that my parents knew had gone to watch, and the crowd excitedly pushed the Westerner to the front so he could get a good look. I once saw one of the long jagged justice saws with an old man sitting regally next to it. I swear I could see blood on the blade.

There were police who patrolled public places, enforcing the laws of Sharia with their clubs. We heard rumors of bare arms and legs being hit by the clubs, but I never saw it happen. When outside the compound, we wore long-sleeved dresses down to our feet but were allowed to leave our heads uncovered. The Saudi women were shrouded in black from head to toe. (I was always curious about the Saudi women. What did they look like? What were they wearing under there? I liked to watch them take off their abayas in the airplane after landing in Europe. They were often beautiful with sophisticated make-up and designer jeans.)

But what I focused on in my fifth grade essay was the lack of Coca Cola and McDonald’s. There was no Coke because the bottling plant was in Israel, so it wasn’t allowed in the country. Indeed, people of the Jewish faith were not allowed in the country, and I don’t think that’s changed. There was one McDonald’s but it was in Riyadh, the capital.

Coming back to California each summer was like heaven. I can’t really pinpoint it, but there are certain smells unique to each country and the SMELL of the U.S. would relax me, as would the sight and sound of language that I could understand. The casual feeling, even the abrupt rudeness of the people working at LAX, made me happy.

But here’s the thing that gets me. I also gained an appreciation for Saudi Arabia. I would go as far as to say I have a feeling not unlike being homesick when I think of it. There are things we used to eat such as schwarma and Vimto soda that I would pay good money to taste again. I didn’t even like schwarma that much when we lived there . . . you know, that roasted meat on a stick surrounded by flies, which is sliced into fresh pitas with pickles and parsley. I would often opt for the weird tasting hamburger, which I miss as well. I’ve yet to find anything exactly like either back home.

There was also the Red Sea . . . the sticky feeling of the saltwater drying on my skin in the hot, humid air. The translucent purple jellyfish resembling UFOs that my friends and I would throw at each other like frisbees. There were the shopping trips to the suk where we haggled in tiny stores filled with 18 and 24-carat gold jewelry or pirated tapes and other unauthorized merchandise. The shiny solid brass teapots and decorative camels for sale, displayed on the ground at the side of the road. How everything shut down several times a day for prayer, which you would hear from the towers throughout the city.

So it makes me think . . . if I could become partial to certain aspects of life in an oppressive monarchy in just four years, how brainwashed are we by the random circumstance of where we happen to be born and raised? I love my country, but so do most people in the world, which is why we should be as wary of patriotism as we are proud.