Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk (aka: Happy World Poetry Day!)

Say-It-With-a-Poem

Today’s a special holiday

observed across the land

a time to honor poetry

the crummy and the grand.

 

Egads! You cry. You rhymed your blog?

Oh dear, such cruelty

to force the world to read your slop

transformed to poetry!

 

Take heart – for only once a year

deserves such accolade

tomorrow, from your memories

these dreadful rhymes will fade

 

(Nature aims to set the mood

with gray and thunderous rain

as though the weather knows it too,

that rhyming is a pain.)

 

I guess I could have skipped the rhymes

and written in haiku

or flowing, esoteric prose

Like Maya Angelou.

 

Or, break the rules like Dr. Seuss

and fill the gaps with junk

like cats in hats and Sam-I-Am

and Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk

 

But genius poet I am not

so my apology

for this experiment

in lame originality.

 

Well, that’s a wrap, it’s time to go

amazing how time flies.

I’d better hustle back to work

and quit this exercise.

 

Now it’s your turn.

Come on…it’s not like you can do much worse.

Let’s honor World Poetry Day

by writing blogs in verse.

poetry talk

Say Cheese! (aka: One Cheesy Summer)

Cheese glorious cheese

Okay, I know it’s Independence Day, and I should probably write a post celebrating our nation’s bold and wonderful patriotic heritage, or about the joy of celebrating by making things blow up. But that’s pretty cliché, so instead, I’m going to write about cheese.

Yes, cheese. Queso. Fromage. Der käse.

See, every summer, my kids and I like to have a foodie adventure. Usually, we pick a country, or a type of cuisine, then we spend a few weeks tasting foods from that culture. We sample at restaurants, look up new recipes, and try our hand at preparing all sorts of interesting foods from around the world. The French and Chinese experiments were huge hits. Soul food and Indian food, to my disappointment, didn’t go over so well with my kids.

This summer, we took a slight detour from our annual tradition. After a delicious visit to a famous Berkeley restaurant known as The Cheese Board Collective, the kids and I were inspired. What if, instead of trying many types of food from one culture, we try eating a variety of fresh breads and cheeses from many cultures? Think of the possibilities!

bread

So once a week, instead of cooking dinner, we head out to the deli, or farmers’ markets, or to local bakeries, and we pick up a fresh, hot loaf of some type of interesting bread, and one or two cheeses. Then we head home and prepare a cheese platter to sample with our bread. So far, along with the usual staples like cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella, we’ve also eaten fontina, harvati, goat cheese, brie, and munster. We’ve also had plenty of breads, like pugliese, naan, rosemary olive loaf, cheddar-jalapeño ciabatta, and garlic-onion baguettes. Like with any foods, we have found definite winners (harvati with dill) and definite losers (a spicy artisan cheese from a farmers’ market stand).

You know, when you really think about it, this is a very patriotic blog post. No, not because of the amber waves of grain that went into each loaf of bread. But because our little food experiment embodies one of the values we Americans hold dear–the freedom to make our own choices. We live in a country where we are at liberty to make our own choices, to try any kind of bread or cheese or other food that we desire. And, true to the American spirit, we can break from tradition and define our own customs, like spending a summer tasting new foods together as a family.

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day USA

Merry X-cess (aka: Leave No Trace)

Christmas Save the PlanetEver notice what a waste Christmas can be? No, not a waste of time or energy (although that’s debatable). But what a waste of paper!

(Buckle your seat belts, readers. This is going to be one long, bumpy guilt trip.)

It’s ironic that I would be preaching about excess exactly one day after I braved the mall to purchase an excess of stuff so that my kids won’t think I’m a total Grinch. By the end of my trip, I was carrying so many shopping bags, that some kindhearted stranger offered me a few crumpled dollars. Okay, that totally didn’t happen. But it could have.

Excess of Santa Clauses

An excess of Santas

Excess of Xmas light-up stuff

An excess of holiday lights. What show-offs!

Anyway, there I was, gliding past Hot Topic and Yankee Candle, when it occurred to me that I was carrying so many plastic shopping bags full of plastic doodads, that it could probably be melted down and reformed into an entire Barbie Dream House. Or better, a whiffle ball bat. Very useful tool for fighting one’s way through the mall crowds this time of year. And all around me, people swarmed like Orcs — I swear, my keys were glowing blue and everything.

blue glowing sword

What happens to my keys when there are too many people around.

 

Between the excess of people, the excessively tall North Pole Christmas tree, and the excess of soon-to-be plastic junk in every store window, three words popped into my head:

LEAVE NO TRACE

Leave No Trace

 

Now I know what you’re thinking. Go back to Jupiter and let us have fun destroying our planet in peace! Well too bad, because I’m just getting warmed up — exactly like this planet. (See what I did there?).

I love the principles of Leave No Trace. The idea is that we can all take steps to help to protect the earth’s natural beauty and pass along the heritage to future generations. Yes, the principles largely apply to venturing outdoors, but what if we took it further? What if we attempted to “walk lightly on the earth,” as Barbara Ward once said, and applied Leave No Trace ethics to everything we do, including our holiday celebrations? How would Christmas look if we were to focus a little less on creating the world’s tallest mountain of torn and crumpled Santa Claus gift wrap, and more on the impact our choices may have on the environment? What if we all rose up and decided to ex-nay the excess for once? What if we…

Hold that thought. One of my kids just mumbled something about my spending an excess of time using the computer, which just happens to use an excess of electricity, kind of like the non-LED and therefore not-environmentally-friendly Christmas lights blinking on our non-replantable Christmas tree. Okay fine. I give up. Just call me Miss Hypo-Christmas. Anyway, I’ve gotta go wrap some plastic junk in a bunch of shiny paper.

I Want a Buzzsaw Louie (aka: The True Meaning of Black Friday)

It’s that time of year again. People are bundling up to stay warm in the chill air. Tiny colored lights are beginning to twinkle on rooftops. And though Halloween was like, yesterday, every radio station insists on blasting It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year eleven times per hour. So naturally, I can’t stop thinking about veggies.

Wait, what? Shouldn’t I be thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie? Shouldn’t I be obsessing over my three kids’ ever-expanding Christmas wish lists? After all, it’s only a few days until Black Friday – the most popular and important American holiday of the year! (Or so I heard on the radio, just after they played Santa Baby three times in a row). Who would be thinking about veggies at a time like this?

Me. But to be clear, I am thinking about a specific bunch of veggies – a talking cucumber, his best friend the tomato, and a bunch of squash and peas with adorable faces and vaguely annoying voices. Because the moment Halloween ends and the winter holiday season rushes in, kids everywhere contract this hideous disease I call the “I-Wants.” And nobody does the I-Wants better than those ultra-super-OMG whiny veggie brats from The Toy Who Saved Christmas movie.

Even now, I can hear it eating into my poor brain: “I WANT A BUZZSAW LOUIEEEE! ‘CAUSE THAT’S THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAAAAAS!”

Ironically, the whole Buzzsaw Louie thing was supposed to be pointing out the ridiculousness of Christmastime consumerism and greed, to encourage viewers to embrace the simpler and more meaningful reasons behind the holiday. But just the memories of it (mixed with the 52-page long wish lists of my kids and their friends) make me want to steal Christmas like the Grinch. Or better yet, invite Krampus to the next kids’ school Christmas party to shake things up a bit.

Evil Krampus

However, I will not. I will swallow my inner screamie-voice, pull out my bank card, and perform my duty as an American to keep the national economy afloat by buying more Stuff™ for my kids. I will head over to Stuff Mart (Yes, sadly, another Veggie Tales reference) soon after Turkey Day (since Mervyn’s has gone out of business, and I can’t do that open-open-open thing anymore. I tried it once at a Target, but they didn’t get it). Because, readers, that’s the true meaning of Christmas. Not the ideal meaning. Not the peace-joy-goodwill toward men meaning that we like to sing and write about. But the technicolor, battery-operated, hate-it-but-it’s-true kind of true.

On that positive note, I wish you all a very Happy (and Profitable) Black Friday!

 

Love, Chocolate, and Lupercalia (aka: Valentine’s Day)

Love love love 

You guessed it – I am a Valentine’s Day hater. Okay, not really.  Because deep beneath the surface, I am a hopeless romantic who grows weak-kneed at tales of true love, candlelit dinners, and moonlit walks. But on the outside, I look at holidays like Valentine’s day through a scornful and cynical eye. When I scan through the Facebook posts and Tweets of other people, I am amazed and somewhat disgusted by some of the posts I read. “I swear, he’d better have roses and chocolate for me when he comes home…”  For reals? Since when was it a romantic gesture to receive a gift which you demanded? Isn’t it really just a fulfillment of your shopping list?

meh

 

Ugh. Well, instead of turning this into a full-blown rant against commercialism and narcissism, I decided to try taking a different turn this year, by sharing some of the positive aspects of St. Valentine’s Day from history. You see, there was this Christian guy named Valentinus who was martyred in Rome in the 3rd century. Apparently, he wrote a note to the blind daughter of his jailer just before he was executed, and signed it, Your Valentine. Hence, at some point down the line, it became popular to give love notes signed Your Valentine. Because apparently, we’re all going to be executed on February 15th. How romantic.

Of course, before this, the Roman festival of Lupercalia was celebrated around Valentine’s Day. And – well, those crazy Romans – they celebrated by sacrificing goats and a dog, then stripping their hides. Then they ran around smacking women with the hides, in order to make them fertile.

The heck?

Stephen Colbert Discusses Lupercalia

I give up. There are so many ridiculous traditions, both in modern times as well as ancient. But through the ages, with the possible exception of Lupercalia, there is one common thread that is the saving grace of St. Valentine’s Day. Love. Yes, the main focus is usually on romantic or erotic love, but I tell my kids that it’s also a great day to focus on loving your friends and family, too.
Charlie Brown Snoopy Valentines

And so today, instead of passing on my bitter cynicism to the next generation, I am celebrating Valentine’s Day by loving my kids. Here is what they will find when they return home from school today:
Strawberry Cake and Candy

They will also learn that I have already done their chores for them, so that they may begin the weekend free. Now that is love. No martyrdom required.

 

 

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas Anyway? (aka: Holiday Cynicism vs. Idealism)

Sigh.

It’s that time of year again. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The season of peace and joy and goodwill toward men. The time of year when children’s eyes shine as brightly as the mysterious star that appeared over the baby Jesus in his manger (although, I imagine that this is less for the birth of Jesus as it is the anticipation of getting a big sparkly pile of toys).

A Mountain of Presents

First of all, let me just say that I am not a Scrooge. While I may Bah! Humbug! the tinsel and trappings and materialism and hypocrisy surrounding the big day, I am actually very fond of the ideals that embody the true spirit of Christmas.

As a parent to three terrific kids, I know too well how easy it is to get sucked into the self-centered, mind-numbing void of consumerism this time of year. It’s just so much fun to see my children get all excited as the days progress toward Christmas Eve, and such a thrill to hear the laughter and happiness bubbling over on Christmas morning, as they unwrap the special toys they’ve been hoping for. The very idea of their reactions is a huge driving force – so strong that even I, the cynic, race to the stores at the crack of dawn on Black Friday, anxious to find The Perfect Toy and secure my place as Best Mom Ever.

Who can resist this level of excitement and happiness on a child's face?

Who can resist this level of excitement and happiness on a child’s face?

But that is not Christmas. It is not supposed to be about shoving people out of the way in order to grab the last cool toy from the shelf. It is not supposed to be about making my kids feel temporarily happy with a pile of toys they will love for two weeks, then forget about. It is not having the most impressive display of Christmas lights, or the most adorable family photo greeting cards, or being hostess of the perfect holiday party.

But when is anything ever as it is supposed to be?

Underneath this hard, cynical shell lies a soft, sentimental idealist. A daydreamer who wants the impossible. I want Christmas to be a time when people open their hearts wider than their wallets. I want the neighbors holding hands and lighting candles and singing songs together. I want the poor and the needy of our community to be more than just faceless nobodies to whom we throw a dollar or donate a shiny wrapped toy. I want them to be the guests of honor at our tables. I want for people to try a little harder, to reach a little deeper inside themselves, and to be genuinely kind, loving, humble, compassionate, forgiving, and generous. Those are the values that embody this holiday. Those are the values that were supposedly taught by that man who was once a little baby, born in such humble circumstances so long ago – the one about whom so many Christmas carols are sung today. I want that miracle.

The end of It's a Wonderful Life is filled with so many of the best ideals of Christmas. Too bad it's only a movie.

The end of It’s a Wonderful Life is filled with so many of the best ideals of Christmas. Too bad it’s only a movie.

But I keep my idealism safely locked deep inside, where the disappointment of reality cannot destroy them. Because here is the truth: there is no miracle. Many of the same people who sing the carols and claim to believe in the same ideals of Christmas are sucked into the same void of self-centered, mind-numbing commercialism as everyone else. And so, the holiday becomes a pointless blur of shopping and decorations and fancy events. We pretend to pay homage to some cute little baby in a manger, when the truth is that he is not much more important to us than the plastic blinking reindeer our our front lawns.

This.

This.

And so, I sigh. And I spend too much money on expensive toys for my children. And I deck the halls with plastic holly and twinkling lights. And I sing Joy to the World and smile to see my children’s sparkling eyes as we await the big day of celebration. But what do we celebrate?

Who Killed Woodsy the Owl? (aka Happy Earth Day!)

Celebrate Earth Day

“Happy Earth Day, guys!” I greeted my kids as I picked them up after school today.

Blank looks. Confusion. “It’s Earth Day?”

Woodsy the Owl I was appalled. Not one of my children’s teachers happened to mention Earth Day, one of the few holidays I actually kind of like to celebrate? I planted a garden today! I baked fresh fruit tarts for an after-school treat! I went jogging in the fresh air, feeling grateful for the blue, smog-free skies and trees full of shiny green leaves. But my kids? Stuck indoors, as usual, taking exams and solving math equations. Ugh. Suddenly I felt a wave of nostalgia for my childhood in the Bay Area, which happens to be full of earth-loving, crunchy-granola, rich ex-hippies who make sure that every child learns the importance of keeping the Bay clean and bluish (which is better than brownish, trust me). I especially miss Woodsy the Owl. Does anyone else remember Woodsy the Owl? Good old Woodsy used to teach us kids how we should “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” I’m sure that by now, someone has run him over with their gas-guzzling SUV. Poor Woodsy. He only wanted to save the Earth, just like me.

“That’s okay,” I told my kids. “Anyway, every day is Earth Day.”

Hoot Hoot!

Ways to Celebrate the Earth Every Day

1. Park the Car – Walk! Ride Bikes! Unless you have a disability or serious illness that prevents you from exercising, there is nothing stopping you from driving less and walking or biking more. My kids and I often ride bicycles to the store, to the library, and to the park. We carry our cargo in backpacks, or strapped to bicycle baskets. When my younger two kids were small, I happily carted them around town in a bicycle trailer attached to the back of my bike. Not only is bicycling better for the earth, it is also better for our bodies.

2. Reduce Your Use of Chemicals – Many cleaning detergents can be made using inexpensive, all-natural ingredients. Or, if you don’t want the bother, look around the cleaning aisle. There are many terrific brands of pre-fabricated natural or non-chemical cleaners.

3. Wash and Dry Less – In our house, I have a rule about laundry – unless they are actually dirty, jeans, pajamas, and towels get used twice before going into the laundry. (Do not enforce this rule for shirts and socks – phew!) I also have a retractable clothesline outside for occasional line-drying, which saves on energy. Well, electric energy, not physical energy.

4. Grow a Garden – Two years ago, our family built a raised bed in the backyard. Now, each spring, the kids and I prepare the garden bed and choose the seeds. Then each summer, we enjoy a lovely crop of fresh, organic vegetables. It’s the best! Before building the raised bed, we usually grew tomatoes and herbs in pots, which works well if you are low on space, or, like us, low on sunny areas for planting. Keep it organic – better for the earth, and better for your body (are you starting to see a theme?).

5. Spend Time in Nature – Go hiking. Stroll through your local parks. Try birdwatching, or hunting for local flowers or wildlife to photograph. Eat dinner outdoors. Go camping in your state and national parks. I highly recommend becoming familiar with the principle of Leave No Trace, so that future generations will be able to enjoy the same beautiful, unspoiled views and wildlife available to us today.