Thursday, January 31, 2008

Political pout

In years past, Illinois's primary took place in March, by which point the presumptive nominee had usually sealed the deal, so the presidential candidates largely ignored the state and there was no compelling reason to vote for any of them.

This year, Illinois is part of the new Super Tuesday on February 5, so I figured that we'd finally become a campaign hotspot. And? No. No, not this year, either.

The mailbox is filled with glossy self-mailers touting assorted candidates for the judiciary, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (sewers!), and state and county offices. During the local news, each commercial break bombards us with political ads. A few phone calls have come in for judges.

But the presidential candidates have been largely absent. Not a one of them is wooing me. Darn it, I wanted to be wooed! I wanted my turn in the Iowa sun! Alas, it was not to be. Clinton and the others (now down to Mike Gravel) may be ceding the state to Obama, but I don't think McCain, Romney, Huckabee, et al., have bothered with Illinois, either. Pooh.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ben describes Gene Simmons

I was leafing through the latest Entertainment Weekly while Ben was doing his homework. There was a photo of Lennox Lewis, Gene Simmons, and Stephen Baldwin from Celebrity Apprentice, and I thought Simmons looked odd. So I asked Ben to tell me about the person in the middle of the picture.

"The face of Barack Obama, and the hair of Miss Landis" (a kindergarten teacher of his acquaintance, who sports a black bob).

I think the grody Simmons would not care for that distillation of his visage, but I gotta tell you, it cracked me up.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Does this make me gay?

This morning, I awoke from a dream in which I was sharing a house with a friend, hung out and necked a little with Mick Jagger in the living room, went upstairs to pee and clogged the toilet by dropping my sweater in it while flushing, and went back downstairs to discover that Mick was now in garish mannequin drag with cherry-red glossy lipstick and that Ringo Starr and George Harrison (I know) were now in the living room, too. When it was time for everyone to leave, I said wait! Let me get my camera. And the musicians thought I was a big dork for wanting to have my picture taken with them.

So I made out with someone who became flagrantly womanly. Does this make me gay?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Terrific Parenting, Volume 1: Update!

I took Ben to acting class this morning, and this week, the enlightened dad's wife was there.

I told her how cute her little boy had been playing dress-up with the yellow braids and whatnot. She said, "Yes, I heard about that."

Then I said how great it was that her husband hadn't quashed the boy's fun with oppressive gender norms. (Okay, I'm paraphrasing.)

She said, "He wasn't always like that!" Apparently she's put in years of effort, training him not to tell his sweet little boys to man up. Hah!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The heartbreak of a lost hairdresser

Two years ago, I quit going to the hair salon around the corner, where I'd been going for a decade, and switched to a spendier salon where a couple friends had gotten terrific haircuts and color. I've been procrastinating on calling for an appointment for a solid month now (why? why do I do that?), but referred a friend there. She went yesterday (and looks fabulous)—but relayed the news that I'd better get in there quickly because Stephane is moving to Fort Lauderdale in February! Oh noes! So I called right away. I will have one last Stephane cut next week, and then I don't know what I'll do. You know how you often find a few stray hairs of uneven length that you need to snip the day after your haircut? I never had that with Stephane. Perfectly even ends every time. (Sigh.)

At least Frank, my colorist, isn't leaving.

But who will cut my hair? I can't go back to the old shop. I have higher standards now, and I want the perfectly even ends that Stephane's kooky technique (I have to stand up twice during his hair-cutting process) ensures.

(Could I sound any more spoiled?)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My culture

My kid's school is having a weekend multicultural fair for the community in a few months. Makes sense, as the students at this school come from families representing about 100 different countries.

The flier inquires, "Got talent? Want to share your culture?"

I'm thinking I'll do some white-person blogging, or maybe a demonstration of my crossword-solving prowess. Do you think my talents will make the cut for the show? These things are not specifically cultural, it is true, but I am so far removed from the cultures of my various ancestries. My last immigrant ancestor came over from Poland about 102 years ago, and there are kids or parents at the school who came from Poland far more recently than that. I tell you, this white/American privilege thing is a hassle.

Speaking of crosswords, the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament runs February 29 to March 2. Be there and be square! You can register here. (Dr. Igloo, I'm lookin' at you.) It's in Brooklyn, which should be fun (more fun than Stamford, Connecticut, anyway!). It's a little pricier than past years, but hey, you can spend your upcoming economic-stimulus tax rebate.

Terrific Parenting, Volume 1

Benjamin's got two Park District classes now—one exercise and one acting. The acting class is on Saturday mornings (but at a respectable time, or there's no way in hell I would have signed up for it—and by the way, the "terrific parenting" in the post title is not mine), and the first two weeks have focused on improv.

The kids chose costumes from a heap of choices (literally a heap, spread out on the floor), decided what their character was, and came up with some action and lines. Of course, the plot is utterly nonsensical. There are princesses, some Cinderella-style sweeping, a cop with a creepy rubber face, and a military policeman (Ben) with a dagger. The teacher is terrific with the kids—she treats them with far more respect than 7- and 8-year-old kids generally get, remains unflappable in the face of theatrical chaos, and manages to teach the kids about theater. I should tell her how impressed I am—she probably doesn't hear it nearly enough. Ten points to the drama coach for coolness.

One girl, a brunette with a short bob, opted to be the director in week one. She tends to wear camouflage pants or t-shirts, and last week she got a mite peckish and grabbed her baggie of Goldfish crackers from the table near me. "Camouflage Ziploc bags? Cool!" I exclaimed. "I got those for Christmas," she explained nonchalantly, as if camouflage-print sandwich bags are an utterly ordinary thing for a kid to get for a gift. Ten points to her parents for not quashing her camouflage habit. How many parents would refuse to buy camouflage t-shirts for their daughter, or would only get her the girly pink version?

The second week, it was extremely cold out, and between the mutual assured procrastination and the need to bundle up with extra layers, Ben and I were 10 minutes late to acting class. You can imagine my relief when a dad showed up a few minutes after me (and then another dad soon after) with two boys. His older son found a costume in the aforementioned heap and joined the group, but the younger boy, about 4 years old, was too young for the class. The adorable preschooler amused himself by trying on various costumes, and he kept going back to the blonde yarn braided pigtails. African-American boy, blonde pigtails? Sure, why not? He tried on some other "girly" stuff, along with a superhero muscle suit and some plastic armor. And his dad? Reacted no differently to the pigtails than to the muscle suit. He helped his son get decked out when asked, and let the kid do his own thing when he wasn't asking for dad's assistance. Ten points to this dad for letting his son play dress-up with girly things and never once saying, "That's for girls. Why don't you try that costume instead?"

It makes me sad any time I hear an adult (or another kid, for that matter) telling a child to hew to gender norms, and these kids seem to have lucked out with parents who encourage them to be fully themselves.

Moving right along—In the category of "Regular Parenting, Observational Division," I can report what happened when Ben walked into class that first week. He saw his classmate, Linh, and exclaimed, "Oh, god! Linh! What is she doing here?!?" Linh replied, "Benjamin! What are you doing here?" (This is, of course, the universal exchange carried on between two kids who run into one another somewhere unexpected, not their usual meeting place.) They proclaimed their mutual antipathy and proceeded to chase one another around the room and administer pokes and shoves. Ben is incensed by any suggestion that there may be some second-grade crush action here. In fact, when he told me the other day which three girls he hated, they were exclusively girls who'd been talked about in the "I hear they like each other" context. (Starts early, doesn't it?) By all appearances, Linh has two dads. That is neither her nor there, but at some point if it becomes clear to Ben that his classmate has two dads, i'm glad he'll have had the exposure to that normality.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blog for Choice Day

It's important to vote pro-choice and, if you can afford it, support organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL by donating or volunteering.

As Bitch Ph.D. put it a few years ago, being pro-choice is about trusting women to make the decisions that are right for them:

When pro-choice feminists like Wolf, or liberal men, or a lot of women, even, say things like, "I'm pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable with... [third-trimester abortion / sex-selection / women who have multiple abortions / women who have abortions for "convenience" / etc.]" then what you are saying is that your discomfort matters more than an individual woman's ability to assess her own circumstances. That you don't think that women who have abortions think through the very questions that you, sitting there in your easy chair, can come up with. That a woman who is contemplating an invasive, expensive, and uncomfortable medical procedure doesn't think it through first. In short, that your judgment is better than hers.

Think about the hubris of that. Your judgment of some hypothetical scenario is more reliable than some woman's judgment about her own, very real, life situation?

And you think that's not sexist? That that doesn't demonstrate, at bottom, a distrust of women? A blindness to their equality? A reluctance to give up control over someone else's decision?

I don't hear other people expressing this concept much, but it resonates with me. Trust women. Trust women. It's that simple.

Another aspect of the abortion issue is deeply personal: A law like the one the South Dakota legislators enacted (that the citizens of South Dakota wisely overturned) says that my life is crap. If I were to have a contraceptive failure and wind up pregnant, I would absolutely get an abortion because of the serious risk to my health that a pregnancy would entail. It wouldn't necessarily be life-threatening, but it would damage an organ to the point that I'd need a transplant. And it wouldn't be a healthy pregnancy—it would drastically interfere with my ability to parent my child, and if I made it to a live birth, it'd be a sickly preemie. The South Dakota legislature had zero regard for my well-being, so you know what? I need not accord their opinions (or those of other anti-choice activists) the slightest bit of respect. Those who would hasten my demise can go to hell.

I always vote for candidates with strong pro-choice beliefs and a solid record of supporting women's reproductive freedom. If you're not sure you'll do the same, please read my friend Jay's enumeration of reasons to vote pro-choice. She says it better than I can.

Edited to add: Ding covers the financial impact of restrictive abortion laws on women, particularly poor women, and reminds us that the next president will likely be appointing two or three Supreme Court justices. Just one more judge hand-picked by a Republican, and Roe v. Wade is likely to go down the tubes. With a Democratic president, Roe v. Wade's constitutionality is likely to be upheld.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Strictly practical

Yesterday, Ben the Grape lost his fourth baby tooth, another lower incisor. All four of those teeth didn't make their exits until the permanent teeth had already sprouted behind them, shark-style. (The teeth move forward to fill the space after the baby tooth departs.) He tied some dental floss to the bathroom doorknob, hooked the floss around his so-loose-I-can't-believe-it-didn't-fall-out-a-solid-week-earlier tooth, and nudged the door gently 'til there was a snap. I missed the whole thing—I was in the kitchen, utterly unaware at the agency and autonomy my kid was demonstrating.

He placed the tooth in a Dixie cup full of water to rinse off any blood, and undertook to post a "do not drink" sign on the cup. Of course, the handiest paper in the room was toilet paper, and he chose a green Sharpie permanent marker to pen his note. Yep, that marker bled right through to the white vanity counter, all right.

Would you believe I got the Sharpie ink completely off? First I tried Scrub-Free Mildew Remover, a bleach cleaning product. That got off a little. Then I used the internet, which told me Amodex ink stain remover is what I needed, but I sure haven't got any of that around the house. The internet also suggested rubbing alcohol, so I swabbed the stain a couple times with rubbing alcohol. It lightened up a little further. Then there were two more rounds of spraying the Scrub-Free on and letting it sit for 15 minutes, and voilĂ ! The Sharpie stain is gone.

So Google searchers with countertop Sharpie stains, try this approach if you haven't got any Amodex.

You know what else is a practical solution? If your towels come out of the laundry smelling a little musty or faintly mildewy, try using borax (20 Mule Team is the main brand in the U.S.) in each washer load of towels. The box tells you how much to use, and damn, it actually works. I've been using borax for a month or two, and I finally returned a big fluffy bath sheet to innocuous freshness. The box of borax also touts its usefulness for general cleaning and freshening chores, but I haven't ventured down that path yet. You can find handy-dandy borax in the laundry aisle at your grocery store.

The last Orange's Handy Tip is the Desert Essence Blemish Touch Stick, a mini roll-on with tea tree oil and other essential oils. I've found it at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, and it's also available online. This stuff has been killing my zits for a year or two, and I love it! It works its tea tree magic on inflammation and tames the angry pimple. It's also said to be good for bug bites and skin irritations—it does work nicely on those miscellaneous red bumps my kid sometimes gets. It smells herbal and it stings a little on more irritated skin, but it's so worth it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fruit salad

Ben knows that I'm Orange on the computer.

He asked, "Can I be Grape? I wanna be Grape."

Orange, Mr. Tangerine, and their mutant fruit hybrid, the Grape. I just don't think it's biologically possible for two citrus fruits to form a non-citrus hybrid. This, actually, was a topic of debate last week at pub trivia. The question was, "The ugli is a hybrid of the orange, tangerine, and what other fruit?" One of my teammates thought it had to be the pineapple. WTF? How would you cross a pineapple tree with a citrus tree? Someone else on the team suggested another non-citrus fruit. I, as the point person for all things citrus, knew it was the grapefruit. The tangelo is a tangerine/grapefruit cross. There may be a few other citrus hybrids. But pineapple? No. That'd be like mating a horse and a monkey.

So, maybe Ben can be Grape as short for Grapefruit, our bastard citrus offspring. At least inside my scientifically anal head, if nowhere else.

By the way, if you read this post's headline and started hearing the Wiggles, please smack yourself.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Watch 60 Minutes tonight

Tonight on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper will be reporting on the systematic rape and violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you haven't heard about this, I can tell you that the brutality is beyond your imagining. I read about it here last fall.

If you haven't heard much about these atrocities against women, perhaps it's because it's so sickening, people would rather not think about it. Or because it's happening so far away from America, or because people don't like to feel helpless.

But there is a way to help: You can donate to Women for Women International. As the website says, "Women for Women International supports women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights education and small business assistance so they can rebuild their lives." You can earmark your donation (of any size) for the women of D.R. Congo, or those in a number of other war-torn areas. Iraq or Afghanistan, Bosnia or Kosovo, the Sudan (where Darfur is) or Rwanda, Nigeria or Colombia. The violence directed at women is perhaps worst in D.R. Congo, but survivors of war face plenty of other challenges for supporting themselves, raising families, and staying safe.

You can also sponsor an individual woman for as little as $27 a month.

I hope you'll make a donation—every little bit helps. Thank you.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I think it's time to have "the talk" with my son

No, not about the birds and the bees and the reproductive organs. The other talk.

Ben is in second grade, and he has heard people say "the N-word" but didn't know the full expansion of the term. I told him I didn't want to plant that word in his head because it's so vile, but wouldn't you know it? He asked a classmate, and that kid knew what the word was. (Because the latest Rush Hour sequel had included someone saying something like "the N-word, the M-word, and the F-word," and the kid's mom answered him when he asked what that meant.)

So now Ben knows the word, but in order to really grasp that it's not just a word you wield when the expanded F-word doesn't feel strong enough, he probably needs to learn about the hateful history of the word and about the heritage of racism in this society.

I don't know where to begin and what to say, though. Advice, anyone? Key points to touch on? Useful analogies or facts?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Manolo has taken note!

The Manolo, the world's leading shoe blogger, linked to my last post. I swooned briefly. I am not a shoe maven (unless you're talking about super-comfy shoes like Merrells and Naots), but the Manolo is super-fantastic.

Speaking of Merrell, they've discontinued the Primo Chill slide! What will keep my feet warm next winter? Sigh. Clearly, I should have bought more than two pairs last winter when I had the chance. I thought two was enough, but sadly, no.

Anyway, welcome, Manoloistas!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Day fashion roundup

Last night, 7-year-old Ben managed to stay up until midnight to ring in the new year. I wasn't sure he could do it, but I should've known a kid that stubborn would manage it. (Hey, look‚ a could, should, and would in one sentence!)

With a coupla glasses of prosecco (for me, not the kid), the hours flew by. Helpful hint: If cheap sparkling wine explodes a headache into your cranium in short order, try better champagne. If that still hurts your head, try the lovely Italian sparking wine, prosecco. Sure, it's supposed to be for summertime sipping and not New Year's Eve toasting, but I've had it the last two New Years and it is tipsy-making without being headache-ogenic.

The title of this post promised you fashion, and fashion you shall have. Alas, I have no photographs, because (a) it would have been rude to take pictures of strangers with my cell phone, and (b) I was far too busy gaping to be taking pictures.

I had a late breakfast at IHOP with my friend Kristin this morning. En route to and from IHOP as well as inside the restaurant, we saw many 20-somethings out and about. Usually a crowded IHOP means a little of everyone—some young adults, some families, some old folks, some medium-aged adults. Today, it meant a crapload of 20-somethings out after a festive New Year's Eve. The taxonomy of the young women can be broken down thus:

  • Womanus normalus: Clad in weather-appropriate attire, able to navigate a four-inch snowfall and a wind chill factor in the teens.
  • Chica festiva: Sporting a short skirt or dress, small jacket, optional pantyhose, and high-heeled shoes. Biologists suspect that Chica festiva has a predilection for nesting in unfamiliar locations after extended exposure to intoxicating libations.
  • Pajama domestica: Wears cutesy-print flannel pajamas and walk a couple blocks to Starbucks. The slippers expose Pajama domestica's heels to the wintry air. This species must conserve energy for higher metabolic needs and therefore cannot put on sweats or other pants, much less a pair of shoes, when leaving the apartment.
  • Pajama domestica festiva: This is a hybrid, a cross between the latter two species. This exquisite creature camouflages its brilliant footwear with drab, baggy pajama pants in order to not draw attention from its natural predators. Several plumages are seen in nature: Area scientists have observed the baggy men's pajama shorts/black stilettos combo as well as the more striking long black pajama pants with silver spike-heeled pumps. Pajama domestica festiva is a social animal and travels in small groups of its kind.
(I couldn't make this up if I tried. I'm simply not that inventive.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Up, up, and away!

Crikey! Who wants to close out the year on a serious note? This little cartoon crafted by Mr. Tangerine is suitably whimsical for a festive New Year's Eve.

Happy New Year, everyone!

The thing about megachurches

I just finished reading Frances FitzGerald's New Yorker piece about megachurches, "Come One, Come All " (abstract here; 12/3/07 article no longer online for free).

FitzGerald profiled Frank Santora, a young pastor at a smallish megachurch in Connecticut, and addressed the overall topic of the megachurch movement, which tend to be oriented more towards the needs of the congregation (a café! family finance classes! rock music in the service!) than toward a strict focus on scripture. Examples include Saddleback, the Southern California behemoth led by Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life guy), and WIllow Creek, a suburban Chicago megachurch.

FitzGerald writes:

Some evangelical pastors—typically from fundamentalist or Calvinist denominations—have attacked Saddleback and Willow Creek as market-driven churches that cater to the society's insatiable demand for entertainment. They have also charged Warren and Hybels [the Willow Creek guy] with preaching a Christianity lite, in which theology is marginal and the Gospel is mixed up with pop psychology. Their teaching, these critics say, is "me-centered," rather than God-centered, and it proposes that people are basically good, rather than essentially sinful and in need of salvation. Seeker-church pastors, they say, argue that the Scriptures help to heal pain and bring self-fulfillment, but in doing so they are suggesting that the Bible is true just because it works. Furthermore, their God seems to be a domesticated, useful deity—a God without wrath who demands no sacrifices from his children.

Wait, wait, wait. This is a bad thing? Huh. No wonder the megachurches are thriving. They don't use religion to browbeat people and try to scare them into submission? My, doesn't that seem sensible. I rather doubt I will ever be inclined to join any organized religious body, but if I did, the type that accentuates the positive rather than the "Crime and Punishment" approach makes a ton more sense. My essential world view is that people can be ethically good because it's the right thing to do, not because they know they're in for an eternal whupping if they don't. And the bad eggs, they're not going to have their "sins" excused because they go to confession, and they're not going to be punished by hellfire—this is where the criminal justice system comes in.

Honestly, I don't know how people buy into the whole "God's punishment" and "eternal reward" conceits.