BOOM! (aka: The ‘Murican Way)

sparkler-july-4If there’s one thing we Americans like to do, it’s give the finger to the rest of the world. This tradition can be traced back to our nation’s early history, when we grew fed up with being forced to pay high taxes without being represented in the British Parliament. So those early patriots set the standard for the rest of us by dumping a boatload of tea into the Boston Harbor. Suck it, King George!

Our patriot forefathers were also fed up with having to bow down to monarchy and aristocracy. “F*$% this,” they said. “All men are created equal.” And so they signed the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by Congress on 4 July, 1776. A rebellious, in-your-face, tea-dumping, gun-toting, anti-traditionalist republic was born.

From that time forward, the 4th of July has been observed as our national Independence Day. Ironically, we celebrate this great day with…well, traditions, like cookouts and baseball games and parades filled with cub scouts and martial arts school demos and tiaraed Miss-Small-Town winners waving from convertible cars like princesses (only not princesses, because that would imply a monarchy).

There is one beloved 4th of July tradition which perhaps best sums up our American patriotic spirit – fireworks. Because what better way to celebrate our nation’s history than by blowing stuff up? The bigger, the louder, the better. Boom! Let freedom ring! Boom! With Liberty and Justice for All! Boom! ‘Murica!

Murica-This-is-How-we-do-itYes, we Americans love our fireworks. And despite the fact that 2 out of every 5 fires on the 4th of July are caused by fireworks, or that in the year 2013, hospital emergency rooms treated 11,400 people for firework-related injuries, we persist in exploding paper things filled with black powder and metal salts every year. Why? Perhaps it is in honor of the original fearless patriots, who looked into the face of tyranny and laughed. In this country, if you’re not encouraging your kids to point blazing 1200°F sparklers at each other’s faces, then you’re not raising them the American way.

I suppose that means that my family was especially patriotic, since when I grew up, we celebrated the 4th with real fireworks, like roman candles, bottle rockets, and M80s. In fact, I have very fond memories of blowing up Barbie dolls and He-Man figures with packs of firecrackers we bought off the kids of Mexican immigrant families down the hill. Okay, yes, it was totally illegal, even back then. But hey – you could say that our family was expressing our patriotic spirit by thumbing our noses at the oppressive anti-firecracker laws. Suck it, Cal. Health & Safety Code! This is ‘Murica!

Happy Independence Day, however you plan to celebrate!

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.

Happy 1st Divorceaversary!

celebrate-divorceToday I am celebrating my 1st Divorceaversary. Woohoo! Although I have technically been a single woman for around two years now, today marks the day my seventeen-year marriage officially came to an end.

Shameful, you say? No one should celebrate their divorce, you say? Well, I respectfully disagree.

I married my ex-husband when I was only 21 years old. Fresh out of uni     versity, starry-eyed, and far more in love with the dreamy idea of being the perfect Christian wife than I was with the man I married that day. Really, I was nothing more than a naïve virgin in a very expensive dress who believed, like most young brides do, that my marriage was a special, sacred thing that would last until death did us part.

Then this thing called real life showed up.

I will spare you the dramatic details and bad memories. But believe me when I say that choosing to divorce my husband was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made in my entire life. When I walked out of the court room one year ago with the final judgment in my hands, I whooped for joy. I sang aloud. I went home and Snoopy-danced in celebration of this new life, and new sense of freedom. If I had happened to have one of those supportive groups of girlfriends, then surely I would have followed the trends and thrown myself a divorce party.

Happily Divorced Of course, there are some things about a divorce that are not worth celebrating. Some of the changes kind of sucked. Like the child visitation part (not fighting over who gets the most custody, but fighting to get a rather unwilling ex to visit with his kids much at all). And the big financial changes that come with divorce aren’t very fun, either. For many new divorcees, I am sure that there is some sort of mourning period, as well. After all, most couples who have been married for more than a decade are probably close; their lives and routines intertwined to some extent. This was certainly not the case for me, or perhaps the transition to singlehood would have been much more difficult.

But there are other things that are definitely celebration-worthy. Hooray, an end to all the ceaseless fighting! Hooray, no more forced sexual interactions! Hooray, no more having to constantly defend my opinions, thoughts, or choices! Hooray to at last having the freedom to be myself, to grow, and to blossom. Hooray for my kids, who also benefit from a far more stable household! And even a hooray for my ex, who is hopefully realizing that divorce has freed him to pursue the type of woman who will actually make him happy, instead of trying to transform me into someone else. A toast to freedom, and to happiness!

If I weren’t cake intolerant, then maybe I would celebrate this special day by baking one of the crazy divorce cakes I’ve come across on the internet, like these:

I dont cakeDoDidDone Cake

Perhaps I could celebrate by having my old wedding ring redesigned into a lovely pendant, like this:

Diamond heart pendant jewelry

Or, more likely, I will spend the day focusing on the blessings that surround me, like the three great kids who make life awesome every day. And studying, since I have returned to school, and it is now finals week. And maybe, when the kids are not looking, I will turn up the music on my Divorceaversary playlist and Snoopy Dance around my bedroom. Because I am free to do so.

Wassail, Wassail (aka: Christmas Music Crazy)

Charlie Brown friends carolingSo here’s the thing – as cynical as I can be about Christmas, over-commercialization of holidays, etc., there is one thing that I absolutely adore about this time of year. Okay, maybe two or three. But still, the thing that gets me excited each December is something that cannot be wrapped in shiny paper and placed under the tree. (Okay wait…technically that is not true, since it can come in the form of iTunes gift cards, new earbuds, and mP3 players).

What I am trying to say – or perhaps I should sing it – is music. Music in and of itself is a marvelous thing. But there is something about Christmas music that adds an element of magic to the entire holiday season. Thanks to iTunes and Pandora, I now have around a dozen different holiday playlists, just ready to blast out as a festive soundtrack for whatever I am doing. Studying? I’ll throw on some Christmas Smooth Jazz, or Peaceful Solstice tunes. Washing dishes? Time to pump up the rhythm with contemporary radio Xmas hits. Wrapping gifts? Ahh, the perfect time for Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and the gang. And we can’t leave out my extensive collection of children’s holiday tunes.

(Real Conversation in My House):

Kids: But Mom, we’re too old for Raffi and Sesame Street Christmas songs!

Me: Please. No one is ever too old for Raffi or the Sesame Street cast. (Turns up the volume and sings Must Be Santa at top of lungs).

My only complaint about Christmas music is the lack of originality lately. After hearing the twentieth version of RockinAround the Christmas Tree within one hour, I am somewhat inclined to turn off the radio. In fact, I suppose I should add that to my own personal Grown-Up Christmas List: a few thoughtful and well-written new holiday tunes to add to the collection. Oh, plus live Christmas carolers wassailing in front of my house, just like in books and movies.   Disney Merry Christmas album

My kids enjoy Christmas songs, too. But sadly, none of them has inherited my obsession fierce passion for holiday music. They listen and sometimes sing along, sure. But when I was a kid, I used to lug around my portable plastic record player from room to room, so that I could pop on one of my many kids’ Christmas albums on the fly. (Yes, I still have a couple). My favorite childhood Christmas song was by the Disneyland Chorus, called, I Wish it Could Be Christmas All Year Long. It gave me such a warm, fluttery feeling in the cockles of my heart, that I literally used to sing it all year long. I am not even kidding.

Today, it is a little harder to pick a favorite Christmas song. There are so many wonderful songs, performed by a myriad of very talented artists. But there are a few special ones, which I feel compelled to listen to each December, in the same way that many of us are compelled to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or A Christmas Story each year (You know you do).

Christmas-Songs

MY TOP 10 CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST

  1. The Gift – Aeslin Debison
  1. Grown-Up Christmas List – Amy Grant
  1. Breath of Heaven – Amy Grant
  1. Happy Holidays – Andy Williams
  1. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams
  1. Every single Bing Crosby Christmas song
  1. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
  1. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas – Gayla Peevey
  1. Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie
  1. Let There Be Peace on Earth – Vince Gill
  1. Christmas Canon – Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  1. Carol of the Bells – David Foster

(Okay fine. Top Twelve).

Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.
Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Whatever Happened to Neverland?

20130908-225452.jpg My birthday is one of the days I dread most each year. I know. That is the opposite of what a birthday should be. Birthdays should be the happiest day of the year. Just look at the Facebook walls of ordinary people, filled with the greetings of friends, family, and strangers, all wishing a Happy Birthday.

Treat yourself, we say. Enjoy your special day, we say. Hope it´s happy, we say, wih all sincerity. And we bake them cakes and we throw them parties and we spoil them with gifts and shower them with attention, because everyone deserves one day to be special, one day to be the King or Queen of the World.

My birthday was a few days ago. I opened my eyes and thought Well. Looks like I´m now 38 years old. But it did not feel any different than being 37. Or 36. Or even 30 years old. Honestly, it is all the same to me. It was not for dread of aging that I trudged through my special day with a heavy heart. It was not for mourning a loss of youth that I spent most of the day alone in silence, staring mindlessly at the television.

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¨Did you get my card?¨ my mother asked on the phone. Yes, I had received her lovely annual greeting card and displayed it on my desk.

¨Don´t forget to treat yourself today,¨ said one of my sisters when she called to wish me a Happy Birthday. And so, I treated myself. I bought Mongolian Grill Chinese food and donuts for the kids and me, then ate way too much. And so, I ended my birthday feeling overly full, yet incredibly empty. Just as I did last year. And the year before that. And so on.

I do not know when the magic disappeared from birthdays. My childhood birthdays were colorful cakes and balloons, magicians and clowns and a houseful of family and friends, and so much love, you could almost scoop it up in your arms. But one day, I guess I grew up. And maybe it is the being grown up that takes the meaning out of birthdays. Maybe it is the being grown up that steals away the magic and makes me feel sad instead of happy on the day that is supposed to make me smile the most. Maybe every other adult in the world feels the exact same way when they wake up on their birthday, but no one says so, because birthdays are supposed to be like a return to Neverland, where mermaids swim and pirates fight and fairy dust still makes you fly if you believe hard enough.

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Or maybe everyone else flies to Neverland for a day while we cynics are left behind with no magic, because maybe we didn´t believe hard enough. Or maybe we got lost somewhere along our way to the second star from the right. Or maybe, just maybe, it is about people. Maybe it is people who are the fairy dust that put the magic in birthdays. And no matter how many cakes you bake for yourself, no matter how hard you try to treat yourself and to enjoy your special day, without people, you are stuck sitting in silence, staring morosely at the television, and wondering why your birthdays are the opposite of happy. Perhaps the people who celebrate the happiest birthdays are not those who believe in fairies, but the ones who are brave enough to believe in people, and lucky enough to have people who believe in them.

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I Do Not Celebrate Kwanzaa! (And Neither Does Anyone Else)

Kwanzaa Candles “Happy Kwanzaa,” a white cashier greeted me as I was returning unwanted Christmas gifts last year.

I couldn’t help it. I scowled at her. “Um…I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa.” The cashier muttered an embarrassed apology and quickly finished my transaction. I felt bad for ruining her multicultural moment, her chance to display her tolerance and understanding of my culture. But the thing is, Kwanzaa is most certainly not a part of my culture. I do not celebrate Kwanzaa, and neither does anyone else.

Well okay, fine, I’m sure that somewhere in this country, someone actually celebrates Kwanzaa. Though there are no official statistics to indicate how many people actually embrace the holiday, I am reasonably certain that at least a few families out there are lighting the candles of their kinaras, dressing in African clothing, and eating whichever foods symbolize the holiday for them. But here’s the deal – although I am Black, and have numerous Black relatives, I do not know a single person who observes Kwanzaa. Not one.

“That’s a racist holiday,” one of my sisters remarked long ago when I asked her why no one in our family celebrates. It’s true. It doesn’t take much research to figure that out. Kwanzaa was invented in the turbulent, racially-charged 1960s by Maurana Ron Kulanga, a black separatist (who was, at the time, sitting in prison for brutally torturing two women). He created Kwanzaa as an alternative to the “White” holiday, Christmas. “…Kwanzaa is not an imitation, but an alternative, in fact, and oppositional alternative to the spookism, mysticism and non-earth based practices which plague us as a people . . . ” (pg 14, Kwanzaa: origin, concepts, practice. 1977). Kwanzaa was intended to be a separatist, secular holiday in which Black people can celebrate being black. Is that racist? Well let’s see…if an imprisoned  Neo-nazi leader were to create a holiday just for white people in order to celebrate being white, and to shun the cultural and religious practices of non-whites, would we consider such a holiday to be racist?What the Hell

I say yes.

Two years ago, when my youngest child brought home a Kwanzaa kinara craft from school, I considered making a complaint to his teacher. It bothers me intensely that children are being taught to accept Kwanzaa as the “African American winter holiday,” as though it is a normal, widespread part of Black American history and tradition. Well, it is not. Many of us see no need to celebrate a so-called harvest festival in the middle of winter. Many of us see no need to symbolize our heritage with corn, a Kwanzaa “First Fruits” tradition. (Corn is not even an indigenous crop to Africa, but was brought over from the New World by white people. Ironic, isn’t it?). Many of us see no need to embrace the Swahili language, which most likely was not even spoken by our ancestors, who were ripped away from West Africa and probably spoke Yoruba or Fula or something. And I personally feel insulted that anyone would assume that, because of my ethnic heritage, I would choose to celebrate such a separatist, radical holiday created by a violent criminal.

Okay, enough ranting for now. Just keep this in mind: most Black Americans do NOT observe Kwanzaa. In fact, most of us just wish it would curl up and disappear. Yes, there are a few people who see it as important, just as there are probably a few people who were happily airing their grievances and showing their feats of strength in honor of Festivus. But seriously…unless a black person walks into your store after Christmas wearing kente cloth to purchase a kinara, please do not wish us a Happy Kwanzaa. Not sure what to say? Try “Happy New Year.” It’s pretty-much non-offensive.

Just Another All-American Christmas

When I was a kid, Christmas was all about the presents. On Christmas morning, my brother, sister and I, like millions of other American kids, would race into the living room and stare in awe at the magical scene before our eyes: a table heaped with candy and nuts, fat red stockings, and piles and piles of gifts piled beneath the Christmas tree. My parents would eventually stumble, bleary-eyed, into the room, and we all spent the morning ripping open packages of Barbies and Star Wars playsets and Cabbage Patch Kids while Nat King Cole crooned from the record player (yes, I said record player).

But when my husband and I had kids, we swore that we would celebrate differently. No piles of presents. No Santa Claus stories. No focus on the materialistic glut that Christmas has become. No…our kids would grow up with solemn Christmas Eve candle-lighting services at church, and stories about the baby Jesus in the manger, and one…maybe two small gifts beneath the tree. Simple. Quiet. Full of meaning.

But as our children grew, I learned something. As our children awoke on Christmas morning and raced into the living room, their eyes shone with that same eager, awe-filled, Christmas-y expression that my siblings and I had worn each year. And that look filled me with a new, even more wonderful feeling of magic. I wanted them to have that feeling, if only once a year. And so, the piles of gifts began to grow. The stockings grew fatter. And stories about good old St. Nicholas began to compete with Baby Jesus in the manger. Twas the Night Before Christmas

This year, we have spent a frightening amount of money on materialistic stuff. Our boys are getting shiny new bicycles. Our daughter will get an iPod touch. We have given in to the All-American Christmas Dream of contributing to the growth of the economy. I am excited, as always, to see that Christmas morning expression on the faces of my children. But the idealist buried deep within me still wishes there was some way to change the way we celebrate the season, to restore a greater sense of meaning to the most celebrated holiday of the year.