Friday, November 28, 2008

And the holidays are upon us...

And we're off. Thanksgiving left overs are smartly stacked in the fridge, and someone has already been killed, literally, in a stampede at a Long Island Walmart. (Sigh)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shopping in a Depressed Economy

The economy is depressed. It's been running around in sweats, leaving the house without socks on, sleeping a lot, and eating ice cream strait out of the carton--no scratch that, ice cream is too expensive.

Shopping in a depressed economy is stressful. I am by nature a frugal shopper. I will often go without or make due with what I have. I don't as a practice buy name brand groceries, and I improvise a lot. This I know has not been the norm in recent years. Most recently, we were encouraged to spend, consume, gratify, pamper, and spoil. But that binge is over and now we have an economic hangover. The American public is hugging the toilet, hurling with much regret and even remorse that we thought living beyond our means was sustainable.

So now we need to transition from that destructive practice and I've seen a palpable change in the market place. The spell is broken and suddenly people are beginning to think in terms of what they need as opposed to what they want. I've seen it in the grocery line most.

I do the bulk of my shopping at a grocery close-out store, where there aren't tabloid headlines to entertain me as I wait in line. So I've become a grocery voyeur. I'm always interested in what other people buy. I've noticed that like me, people are buying more ingredients than prepared food and more staples like potatoes and rice than snacks like chips and cookies. And everyone has a new look of stress. Not the kind of stress that comes from being over committed in social activities, but the kind of stress that comes from fear. People are genuinely scared, despite our recent election of Hope. It's the kind of fear from the realization that maybe we got carried away, and maybe some of us knew better.

There's a point when drinking alcohol between tipsy and drunk, where if you stop right there, and start drinking water, you wont have a hangover, and probably wont embarrass yourself. I think this is what could be called drinking in moderation. And it's this same point that we need to learn to recognize to avoid future economic hangovers. Yes, now, people will be forced to spend less because of the lack of availability of credit, but the important thing is to realize where excess begins.

Maybe this is just a cycle that we have to go through, but I actually hope that some of us not only learn this lesson, but pass it along.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembering Erma Bombeck

Remember Erma Bombeck? She wrote a syndicated column that was eventually turned into a series of books. I came across one of these books in tenth grade, and was immediately enamored. It was the first time I realized that women can be smart and funny. She was the best kind of feminist. She acknowledged the heroism of women but made a woman's struggle humorous. Erma's strength was her humor, and it's only now that I realize that she is probably the source of my belief that as women we should be smart and strong.

I was reminded of Erma today after reading Tina Brown's article about Sarah Palin where she wonders, "Sarah, who does look after the kids?"

I wondered the same thing. I work full time, I have two kids less than Sarah Palin, I have parents and a partner who pitch in, but I'm still exhausted. There are times, when I pull out the Golden Lasso, and for a brief moment believe I'd look great in a bustier on an Invisable Plane but, I've come to realize that doing it all usually means something or someone will suffer. Sometimes it's the house, that hasn't had a proper dusting in a month. Other times it's the dog who looks longingly at her leash. And yes, sometimes it's the kids, who go to school without socks on, not because they don't have clean ones, but because they don't have the time or patience to dig in the communal sock bin for a pair that matches.

As women, we no doubt do amazing heroic things every day. But as women, we also sacrifice more. Some might want me to give up my feminist card for stating this, but it's true. And that ability to sacrifice turns back on our heroism. This makes me wonder what would have happened had Sarah Palin said, "no thanks, my family is stretched enough." Sadly that's not what happened. Thus, I'm reminded of a passage by Erma Bombeck where she ridicules a magazine spread that celebrates the woman that can do it all.

She wrote about how the pictures were absurd with the woman on the job site in a suit reading blue prints, her yellow shoes smartly matching her yellow hard hat, and then in the next picture at home the kids were lovingly setting the's a myth. Bombeck reflected that the pictures failed to show what really happens before dinner, when she was running around trying to defrost pork chops under her armpits. This of course was before microwaves were such a vital part of life.

Yes, as women we have to do so much more, especially when we have a family. And because of this, if we are ambitious, if we put something else first, the family will suffer. Fair? No. Realistic? Sadly, yes.

I kind of like Laura Bennett's approach to this conundrum. If you're family already feels neglected, they won't notice the difference. And it's not that I believe Laura is a neglectful mother, but that she raises her brood to be more independent and not require a doting mother. Doting is fine in spurts, but as I lay in bed, typing this on my laptop, my ten-year-old is dutifully making his own lunch for school. Of course, I'll check to be sure it contains more than a pudding cup and a juice box, but I know when this kid is on his own in 8 years, goddess willing, he'll be fine. He won't screw up his laundry, and will have the good sense to pack a peanut butter sandwich when he leaves the house.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I think there was a world wide moment of disbelief when at 11:00PM the media called the Presidential Election for Barack Obama Tuesday night. And then, the world erupted in tears and jubilation. Most telling to me was a man I saw on TV in Grant Park. His hands were to his mouth, and his expression was pure awe, a combination of fear and amazement.

America had indeed changed. I've spoken to a lot of people. And no one can remember anything that caused so many people to run into the streets and hug each other in spontaneous celebration. The closest, I'm told was V-day.

And Americans it seems are eager for this change. President Elect Obama's words of sacrifice and cohesive work for the next chapter of our history was embraced by a crowd that chanted "Yes We Can!" As it turns out, we want to be challenged. We want to accomplish. We want to be inventive, clever, smart, and the leader of innovation and new ideas of how to do things.

What strikes me the most is that the success of President Elect Obama's campaign, is based largely on empowerment. His volunteers were told they could be a part of change. They were given tools and entrusted to spread that message. And they did. This was a lesson that given the opportunity, the American public is up to what ever challenge is set before them. Given the opportunity, Americans will coalesce in creative ways. They will form alliances and work for a common goal.

I suppose at this point my hope is that that spirit of cohesion will not be lost but will continue and perhaps even become a new norm of unity, where we work together, accepting the best everyone has to offer in order to seek out that Perfect Union.

Monday, November 3, 2008

NO ON 8!!!!

This is just an FYI. I was horrified today to see that my Adsense ad was a Yes on Prop 8, which is the ban againsts gay marriage in California. So I removed my adsense until after the election.

I am vehemently against Prop 8. The state should not be able to dictate who one loves and how one wishes to live. The will and desire to be united with someone should be open to every person regardless of race, creed, religion, or orientation. If you are a California voter, please vote NO on Prop 8

Sunday, November 2, 2008

And speaking of souls...

I've found that as an adult child of aging parents, I have a number of duties that are expected of me. These range from dealing with my parent's rental properties, to finding a trustworthy cleaning lady to driving them anytime they need to go out of town. The last one I imposed myself. I'm just not comfortable with my 73-year-old mother driving anyplace more than 5 miles away.

So, because of this self imposed duty, it falls to me to drive my folks to see their closest relatives. In my mother's case, this means the grave of her grandmother who raised her. We go to her cemetery usually twice a year. As a kid, I can only remember going there once. We were there for another funeral, and I remember we had a hard time finding the grave because at the time of her death, my parents couldn't afford a headstone. At some point after I was well into adulthood, this was rectified, and she now as an adequate marker with an engraving of the Virgin of Guadeloupe and a picture of her from my mothers wedding. My mother used that picture because she said it was the only one she had of my great grandmother smiling.
We drive about 60 minutes so we can stand and admire the headstone and leave some flowers. Since my mother has developed arthritis in her knees, it falls to me to get down on my hands and knees to clean things up and arrange the flowers. I don't mind doing it. All I've ever known of this woman is from the stories my mother has told me. It's feels good to have a connection to Soledad, which was her name, but she was called Chula.

Over the years I've learned a lot about Chula. She was married at a young age to man in Mexico, but then abandoned for her lack of ability to produce a child. As an abandoned woman she "did what abandoned women do," is what my mother said. She had affairs, and was a quereida, or mistress of a Mexican General. This was apparently how my grandmother was conceived. She was Chula's only child, and her name was Cuca.

I don't know if Cuca was born on this side or that side of the boarder. Apparently in those days the idea of the Mexican boarder was kind of ambiguous. What I do know is that Chula and Cuca remained with the larger family clan. Chula had multiple siblings and they all traveled and worked together in agriculture. And this is how Cuca met my grandfather, working in the spinach fields of Chrystal City, Texas. The best I can tell, in those days, my grandfather was kind of a slacker. He was prone to "headaches" and would leave the field before the workday ended, but then would be well enough in the evening to serenade my grandmother outside her window. Apparently he was very handsome, but known as a ne're do well. My mother said that among the worst of his transgressions was the knowledge that he regularly smoked pot.

But love is love I suppose, and Cuca married him. It wasn't long before my mother was born in a migrant worker barrio. I don't know what Cuca's marriage was like, if she was happy, or really what kind of mother she was. She died of Tuberculosis when my mother was only two. What I do know is that after Cuca's death, she was buried in Chrystal City. I've been to her grave once. Cuca's grave marker is worn and nolonger bears her name, but is recognizable by a heart that is part of its design.

After Cuca died, my grandfather took my mother to live with his family. But, Chula, who had been abandoned as a wife and only had but one illegitimate child was not going to lose her only grandchild as well. Through a family member, she threatened to have my grandfather deported for being a pot smoker. He gave up his child to her and fled back to Mexico. And that's how it came to be that my mother was raised by her grandmother.

Chula's grave is in an older part of one of the California Mission cemetaries. Many of the graves that surround her are long forgotten. And, it occurred to me today, that when that time comes for my own mother, her grave will likely be many miles away from this graveyard. Chula's children will be scattered from here to Texas and likely beyond. But despite this, I know that Chula's spirit and strength are not lost. My boys who are the descendants of this abandoned woman who never gave up, have her shrewdness. And this, I know is her legacy. I'm sure of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hijacked Halloween

I like Halloween. I like the idea of being creative, embracing an alter ego and giving out candy. In my house we have a strict rule about Halloween candy. My kids are allowed to eat it till they get sick. The same rule applies for Christmas and Easter.

This year we decided to be one of the cool houses. Not only did we give out regular sized Reece's Peanut Butter Cups, but we also gave glowing bracelets and necklaces. The ooo's and wow's we got out of that were totally worth it.

In the morning, as my kids were treating their sugar hangovers with more candy, they came across what looked like a novelty fake $1,000,000 bill. Upon further inspection though, we found that this was in fact a religious tract. Normally I don't have a problem with this. A church on a street I use to Trick or Treat on as a kid gave out miniature versions of the book of John. I always felt that to be more of a gesture than the iniquitous swag that found it's way to my kid's bag of treats. What my kid got was far more nefarious. One doesn't expect a treat to include the words, "[G]od sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell. That's not God's will." As my husband read this out loud, in his best scary political ad voice, my boys collapsed in giggles.

On the one hand, Trick or Treating by it's nature is a gamble. You're always gonna end up with at least one granola bar or worse, raisins. But I'm almost sure that if I threw in literature about my heathenish ways, or even just something about the Guiding Principles of Burning Man, I would no doubt be the object of much disdain.

I suppose in some ways, since Halloween is All Souls Eve, in theory, saving souls is part of the celebration. But, stern warnings about adultery are not quite what I had in mind. In our house moral guidance is more along the lines of do unto others, leave no trace and don't be evil. I wasn't aware that Halloween had become the repent or go to Hell holiday. Maybe I need to keep up. Then again, maybe not.

I believe, for this instance my family acts as good Americans. We consider Halloween to be a chance for kids of all ages to be silly, imagine themselves in another way, play tricks, watch tacky and gory B flicks and get free candy. We'll pick another day to worry about the kid's souls.