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.

Happy Opposite Day! (My New Year’s Fail List)

new year resolution failsLooking for a tried-and-true recipe for failure? It’s simple — just make a New Year’s resolution. You are pretty much guaranteed to fail every time. The typical American pigs out on sweets during the holidays, then creates a guilt-induced list of promises that looks something like this:

I Hereby Resolve to:

1. Go on a diet and lose 15-20 lbs.
2. Exercise every day
3. Stop eating sugar and white flour

And of course, there is a great camaraderie throughout the month of January, as an army of well-intentioned men and women march in step together toward the gym, fill their pantries with brown rice and whole wheat bread, and guzzle water in place of soda.

“This year,” we swear, “things will be different.”

But then, just as the warm holiday glow begins to fade and cold, dreary February comes creeping in, the couch begins to look much friendlier than the treadmill, and we lose our resistance when faced with Valentine’s chocolates and heart-shaped cookies.

“Oh well,” we sigh as we return to old habits. “Maybe next year.”

spongebob-opposite-day

It’s Opposite Day!

Somehow, I think that we are going about things backwards. Maybe we should think of New Year’s Day as Opposite Day. The trick to success is to set ourselves up to fail. Okay, here is my attempt:

In 2013, I Hereby Resolve to:

1. Sit around on the couch streaming movies and TV shows instead of cleaning, or doing handicrafts, or something productive.

2. Shrug my shoulders at my messy house instead of attempting to get more organized (because I will not invite anyone over to see it anyway).

3. Eat whatever the hell I’m in the mood for and not count any calories, because life is short, and bacon is good.

4. Let my bicycle continue to collect dust in the garage. Drive everywhere and spend all our money on gas.

5. Keep writing stories and poems and publishing them for free instead of actively seeking to become a legitimately published author.

6. Be totally antisocial. Don’t call or text anyone, continue being shy and hardly speaking to anyone unless asked direct questions. Keep avoiding Facebook and being social on social networks (because loneliness is so much better).

There. Now surely, if I keep to this list, then I am guaranteed to succeed in every endeavor this new year. On the other hand, should I keep to tradition by failing in my resolutions, then score! This just may become a very happy new year indeed.

The Clocks (A Poem of Auld Lang Syne)

NewYearsEveI miss the old clocks

which used to tick, tick, tick

away the moments

then send them away on waves

of forgetting.

I do not want these memories

of warm, golden rooms

filled with children playing and feasts

of laughter,

the clink of bubbling glasses and

midnight cheers

into the new morning.

Now the calendar is done, only

empty pages

thrown away without a send-off

and a clock that only stares back, unblinking

as my heavy heart recalls

our auld lang syne

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.