Speak of the Devil

fire

As a child growing up in a strict Mormon household in the ‘70s, I spent most of my day trying not to unintentionally invite Satan into our home. It was a struggle because according to my mom there were hundreds of things we could do that would summon the Prince of Darkness to our doorstep.

I pictured him sitting on his throne in the lowest level of glory (Mormons don’t call it “hell”), receiving an elegant hand-written note that read, “You are cordially invited to live at the Stewart home because Peri’s sister listens to Metallica pretty much every day. Plus, Peri frequently forgets to say her prayers, she blackmailed her brother and she uses face cards to play Blackjack, betting Froot Loops and M&Ms.”

I spent most of my childhood deathly afraid.

Sunday school teachers would recount true stories of children who snuck into R-rated movies only to wake up in the middle of the night to find either Jesus sadly shaking his head or Satan leering and shaking his pitchfork. I didn’t watch an R-rated movie until I was 46.

In the 1970s, Ouija boards were all the rage. My mom warned us, in no uncertain terms, that playing with a Ouija board was guaranteed to beckon all sorts of demons. It didn’t help that I didn’t know Ouija was pronounced “WeeJee.” I thought I was playing Owja.

Once, my sister stayed home from church pretending to be sick and heard (cloven?) footsteps in the room above her. She swore off Ouija boards and Black Sabbath for a month or two before returning to her demonic ways.

My dad was no help. He frequently added to my levels of hellish anxiety, especially when I yelled for him in the middle of the night, certain I’d heard a demon growling under my bed.

He’d stumble into my room, look under the bed and say, “You’ll be fine as long as you stay in bed. If you have to get up, I hope you can run fast. You should probably keep your feet under the covers.”

Dad would go back to bed, leaving me absolutely terrified. So I’d wake up my sister so we could be terrified together.

On top of the constant fear of running into Satan, we had to avoid accidentally summoning Bloody Mary by saying her name three times or luring any number of evil spirits to our living room by watching “Fantasy Island.” I once caught my sister drawing pentagrams on her notebook and made my own version of holy water to exorcise any demons who might be lurking nearby.

When I turned 13, I was pretty sure I’d encouraged a poltergeist to take up residence in our home. There was suddenly lots of slamming doors, dishes flying through the air, vulgar language spewed during dinner and an overall evil atmosphere. Turns out it wasn’t a poltergeist, just me being 13.

Mom always said the devil didn’t have a tail and horns, but looked like an ordinary human. Occasionally, the Fuller Brush salesman would come to the door and I’d eye him with deep suspicion. Was it really a door-to-door salesman, or was it Satan trying to infiltrate our weak defenses.

At one point, I wished he would just show up so I could stop worrying about it. I imagined he’d knock on the door and, resigned, I’d let him in and tell him to find a place to sleep.

“But you can’t live under the bed,” I’d say. “It’s taken.”

Originally published in Iron County Today–http://ironcountytoday.com/columns/speak-of-the-devil/

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Don’t Kill the Messenger

Back when Paleolithic man ruled the world, humans only learned what was happening outside their cave when another caveman rode into town on his velociraptor.

Soon, dinosaurs evolved into horses (duh, that’s just science) and traveling merchants shared stories and events as they roamed the country. They’d sit around campfires, making s’mores and spreading gossip. In cities, town criers walked the streets in ridiculous outfits, ringing bells and shouting information at passersby.

When Johannes Gutenberg mechanized the printing process, he started a revolution that led to books, newspapers and inexpensive bird cage lining. Town criers became journalists, people dedicated to the pursuit of truth, shining a light on injustice and living on hot coffee and cold pizza.

America’s Founding Fathers recognized the importance of the press, protecting free speech in the first amendment. Journalists were regarded as necessary vermin, an invaluable cog in the democratic process of checks and balances.

Distinguished reporters like Carl Bernstein, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite took journalism to its apex before its Icarus-like plunge into the mud of “journalism” today.

With the introduction of the Internet Machine, news has changed. A flood of misinformation is available at our fingertips and anyone can post “news” and share it as reality. Your crazy Uncle Joe has the ability to post his conspiracy theories as fact, while negating facts as theories. (Yes, I’m talking to you, holocaust deniers and urine therapy adherents.)

As newspapers fold and journalists are fired, consumers must find their way in a wild wilderness, navigating blogs, podcasts, posts, tweets, forums and websites, searching for truth, justice and the American way.

On TV, Barbie and Ken dolls throw softball questions at politicians, making no effort to hide their biases. They’re like balloon bouquets; pretty to look at and fun for a while, but then they float creepily through your home, lurking in doorways and scaring the Skittles out of you at 3 a.m.

Sponsored content (advertorials) sneak their way into news broadcasts and articles, looking like journalism, but in reality they are just fancy ads. Usually, readers don’t even know. Journalists have become public relations specialists, crafting news instead of reporting it.

On top of all that, our president declared war on the press. The U.S. just ranked 45th on the World Press Freedom Index, coming in behind places like Bahari, Namibia and Sokovia. (Only one of those countries is real, but I’m presenting it as fact. Most readers don’t bother discovering the truth.)

Do reporters pick on Trump? Yes. Does he deserve it? Maybe not all the time. Maybe. But his anti-press pomposity further erodes the faith we’ve placed in our news agencies as his bellowing cry of “Fake news!” rings from media outlets.

Investigative journalists are an endangered species. It seems little vetting, research or fact-checking is being done. It’s more important to have the story first—even if it’s inaccurate.  Wikipedia isn’t research. (I know that, because I looked up journalism on Wikipedia and it said, “This is not a news source.”) Here are other things that aren’t news sources: Facebook, Twitter, hateful bloggers and venom-spewing talk show hosts.

In 2009, I wrote a column, grumbling about the sensationalizing of stories where a celebrity’s activities were treated as breaking news. (FYI: It’s not.) Things have only gone downhill since then.

There are many journalists still working hard to present the truth, but it’s getting harder to hear their voices over the screeching of velociraptors, the screaming of town criers and the bellicose rants of our leaders.

No news isn’t good news. No news is no news.

Originally published in Iron County Today–http://ironcountytoday.com/news/life-and-laughter-dont-kill-the-messenger/

Out in Left Field

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Baseball has been America’s favorite pastime for more than 150 years, followed closely by gun control debates, reality TV and overeating. There’s just something about sitting in a ballpark surrounded by drunk fans that screams ‘Merica!

The hubbie and I spent a weekend in Phoenix for spring training where teams get together for pre-season games and fans hope for a glimpse of a mega baseball star like Mike Trout or one of the racing sausage mascots from Milwaukee.

As San Francisco Giants fans, we sat in a sea of orange and black, surrounded by men who obviously missed their calling as ESPN baseball announcers. Their color commentary got slurrier and slushier with each beer they drank. It made me wish real ESPN announcers would drink on the job.

Whenever we walk into a ballpark, my husband turns into a 14-year-old boy. The crack of the bat, the smell of a leather glove and the roar of the crowd makes him absolutely giddy.

Hubbie: We’re at a ball game!

Me: I know.

Hubbie: Maybe I’ll catch a foul ball!

Me: Maybe.

Hubbie: Do you think they’ll run out of players and call me up to play?

Me:

Me: You’ve been in the sun too long.

But it’s not just my husband, nearly every man there is reliving childhood dreams of baseball stardom, talking about games they watched with their dads or reminiscing about baseball legends they revered as teens.

I love baseball, but not in the way my husband does. A lot of my experience revolves around food (as most things do). At ball games, I eat food I’d never eat in real life. My 74-ounce Coke and foot-long Bratwurst was an appetizer for my shredded pork nachos, drenched in a fluorescent orange “cheese” stored in plastic buckets in the basement of the stadium. I ate French fries so salty, I actually pooped jerky.

Baseball is about tradition: team loyalty, peanuts, Cracker Jack, not caring if you ever get back, and yelling at the umps after every bad call. The drunker the crowd, the more hilarious the insults. “Can I pet your Seeing-Eye dog after the game, Blue?” “That’s why umpires shouldn’t date players!” “You drop more calls than Verizon!” And so on.

Then there’s the stats. Baseball statisticians use more abbreviations than texting teens. You have your standard 1B, HR, BB, SB, K, L and ERA. But occasionally, a stat will appear on the scoreboard that leaves everyone confused. “What the hell’s a UZR?” slurs a drunk ESPN announcer. We all scratch our heads until someone Googles it. (Ultimate Zone Rating, if you were wondering.)

Each game holds the opportunity to witness an unassisted triple play, a grand slam, a no-hitter, a perfect game or a squirrel being chased off the field by an octogenarian ball boy. Ballparks are national treasures, each one unique and representative of their community.

But my main reason for loving the game is this: baseball is a game of patience. There’s no time limit to a ballgame. It could last 3 hours or 5 hours; 9 innings or 13 innings. As our lives get busier, a ballgame is a reminder to sit in the sunshine, to talk to the person next to you and to order a hot dog without guilt as you root for your favorite team.

All you have to do is sit, eat and cheer someone on. Shouldn’t that be America’s favorite pastime?

Children Without Borders

freerange
I just learned that when I was a child, my parents were criminals. That’s a lot to take in when you thought your mom and dad were law-abiding citizens—more or less. I had no idea my parents hid a dark side until I heard that parents in Maryland were charged with neglect for letting their kids walk to the park. Alone.
At first, I thought the story was a joke and kept reading for the punchline. Nope. Totally real. A neighbor called the police to report that the children were playing without the required amount of helicopter-parent supervision. Additionally, the nosy neighbor stated, “It wasn’t the first time these children played by themselves.” Gasp.
The siblings were taken by Child Protective Services while the parents were investigated, and (because we have to label everything) the term “free-range parenting” was created. Free-range parenting is defined as, “A new, hands-off approach to raising children.” But other people label it as neglect.
So, if I was so inclined, I could retroactively (and in my mom’s case, posthumously) have my parents thrown in the slammer.
Every Saturday morning, after we finished eating Fruity Pebbles straight from the box while watching “Land of the Lost,” my mom would kick us out of the house and tell us not to come home until sunset. Then she’d slam the door. And lock it.
We were cool with that. We shrugged, hopped on our bikes and went to find something to do. We’d wander through neighborhoods like adolescent Pied Pipers, picking up other unattended children. Then we’d end up in someone’s yard playing Red Rover (aka Clothesline Your Buddies) until those parents told us to get lost.
We’d amble to 7-Eleven where we’d buy candy cigarettes and Fresca (because the can looked like beer). We’d sit on the swings sipping our pretend beer and discuss whatever it is kids discuss in those situations. I’m sure we fooled everyone because doesn’t every 10-year-old sit in the park swigging a cold beer while smoking with her friends?
I guess our parents didn’t think we needed 24-hour supervision. We walked to school every day with a group of friends, rain or shine. And we frequently rode our bikes nearly two miles to the Murray Library with ne’er an adult in sight.
In a time before cell phones, GPS and tracking devices, parents relied on their kids to use common sense. They taught us to avoid strangers, stay off the train tracks, don’t go into homes when the parents weren’t around and, basically, not to be stupid.
My daughters could also have charged me with neglect, and they’ve probably already contacted an attorney. I often allowed them to bike to the local swimming pool and stay there for hours. They also walked to 7-Eleven—and probably bought candy cigarettes with their friends.
People say, “Don’t you know how dangerous the world is?” Guess what? The world has always been dangerous. Helicopter parenting, obsessive worrying and overprotective hovering doesn’t stop bad things from happening.
Here’s my definition of neglect: not allowing your children to create a feeling of independence; not allowing your children to be bored and have to create something; not allowing your kids to make mistakes, get lost, mess up and face consequences.
Kids are resilient, and more often than not, they make the right decision. So I guess I’ll have to forgive my parents for teaching me to be independent and creative. Gee, thanks mom and dad.
Originally published in the West Jordan Journal–http://www.westjordanjournal.com/2015/05/22/72434/children-without-borders

You Know You’re the Mother Of a Teenage Daughter If . . .

Thank goodness children live with you for more than a decade before they become teenagers, because if couples were handed a teenage girl right off the bat, no one would ever have children again.

Plan on enjoying the first 12 or 13 years with your adorable little girl. Store up all the fun you can because once they hit a certain age, it takes all your strength not to get into a car and drive and drive and drive and drive, as far away from your teen as possible.

You’ll know you’re the mother of a teenage daughter if:

  • You’ve ever wished to be stricken with a severe, yet curable, illness that required a week-long stay in the hospital–just to avoid having one more “discussion” with your daughter about ear gauges.

hospital

(“There’s nothing wrong with her. We’re just giving her a small staycation”)

  • You consider installing a mood ring in your daughter’s forehead, so you’ll know what to expect each time you see her.
  • The emotional atmosphere in your home runs from ecstatic joy to eternal doom.
  • You feel it’s an accomplishment to make it to bedtime without pissing anyone off.
  • Clothes and shoes from your closet disappear for days at a time, then show up in random places–like the backyard or the laundry basket.
  • Learning how to take deep breaths has been the only thing keeping you from jumping off a bridge.
  • You’ve ever said, “The second you turn 18, you can pierce, tattoo, surgically enhance or remove ANY part of your body.”
  • Your eye liner is ALWAYS missing.
  • There are leftover packages of food based on the diet of the week.

broccolini

(Mom! I told you I was only eating broccolini for the rest of my life! You never listen to me!!)

Good luck traversing the unpredictable, moody, scary and frustrating journey with your daughter. (Spoiler alert: it gets better.)

Top 5 Things to Avoid Wearing Once I Turn 50

This year, I turn 50. Half a freakin’ century. I’m older than ATMs, GPS and Prozac. Beauty editors love to give older women advice about what they should and shouldn’t wear, like it’s any of their $&%$ing business.

But, they have the right idea. After living on this crazy planet for five decades, there are definitely things I’m going to stop wearing once I turn 50. Maybe even sooner.

A fake smile. Sometimes I get pissed off. Sometimes I’m frustrated Sometimes I even concentrate really hard. I refuse to wear a smile just so the people around me don’t have to think of me as a human being with actual emotions besides extreme happiness. #DoNotTellMeToSmile

dont smile(Why isn’t this woman smiling?!?!?! Oh, right. She doesn’t have to.)

A fitness tracker. Either I’m moving, or I’m not. I don’t need an expensive gadget on my wrist jolting me into action every hour. And I refuse to do laps around my house at 11:30 p.m. trying to get my steps in for the day. #NotDoingIt

Others’ expectations. Haven’t we spent enough time trying to keep other people happy? I feel like now’s a good time to follow my own heart. It’s funny, but when you start living your own truth, other people’s opinions don’t carry nearly the same weight. And speaking of weight . . .

Big tote bags. I’ve carried enough baggage for the first 50 years of my life, I’m not about to keep carrying handbags just so I can drag half of my beauty products around with me. Letting the weight lift of my shoulders (literally and figuratively) helps me stand straighter, lift my gaze and face the world straight on. #DropTheBaggage

tote

(Also can double as a bodybag if I collapse in the mall.)

Uncomfortable shoes. Don’t misunderstand. I’ll stick rock heels, boots and pumps, but instead of buying cheap shoes that kill my feet, I’ll spend a little more for shoes that feel good–and look awesome! If I’m going to dance to my grave, I’d better invest in some amazing shoes!

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Care To Dance?

In an alternate universe, I’m a prima ballerina. I’m performing jetes and arabesques and other fancy-sounding French words. I’m twirling across the stage in a flowing costume. I’m curtsying to my adoring fans while they toss roses at my feet.

However, in this universe, I’m a . . . what’s the opposite of ballerina? Whatever that is, that’s what I am. I’ve fought a lifelong battle with grace and gravity. My family watches in horror as I ricochet off doorknobs, fumble down stairways and trip on carpets.

I tried really hard to be a dancer. I enrolled in classes when I was 5, and wore pink leotards and white tights, creating some serious panty lines. My mom pulled my long hair into a bun so tight I looked constantly surprised. Every week we’d butcher a series of ballet steps while my dance instructor tried not to handcuff us to the barre. She often sipped from her “dance thermos.”

I’d cut up the Arts section of the newspaper, snipping out photos of Ballet West dancers to glue into my scrapbook. I had ballerina paper dolls, ballerina coloring books and ballerina dreams – but a giraffe-like body with knobby knees that bent in several different directions.

As a child, I went to see “Giselle” at Kingsbury Hall. The ballet is pretty grim. A disguised prince breaks the heart of a peasant girl who kills herself then becomes a ghost who has to dance the prince to death. Dancers are pretty melodramatic.

For weeks after the ballet, I wore tutus that draped toward the floor and floated when I jumped. I channeled Giselle through my 7-year-old body. Picture a little girl evoking the devastation of betrayed love while falling on a sword that ends her life. I’m pretty sure I nailed it.

When I was 12, I was finally able to go en pointe. That’s French for “Standing on the tips of your toes until your toe-knuckles bleed and you’re crippled for weeks, all for the sake of those beautiful satin slippers.”

The purpose of pointe shoes is to give the illusion that ballerinas are weightless wisps, floating gracefully as swans or nymphs or any type of ethereal and doomed young women. In reality, learning to dance en pointe is similar to putting your toes in a vise, then running a marathon. 

But I didn’t give up. I continued to practice daily in the hope I’d channel Anna Pavlova, the acclaimed Russian ballerina who died at the age of 49, probably from gangrene from her pointe shoes.

Because I’m writing this column instead of performing in “Swan Lake,” you can correctly surmise that my ballet career fell flat. I tried out for Ballet West’s “Nutcracker” a couple of times, to no avail, and after years of practice, I hung up my pointe shoes and succumbed to gravity.

I never transformed from gangly giraffe to graceful swan. I never glided across the stage, hoping to lure a young prince to his death. (At least, not as a ballerina.) I never received standing ovations for my role in “Coppelia,” the ballet of a young woman pretending to be a mechanical doll. (Because that makes total sense.)

But. In that alternate universe, I’m soaring, twirling, spinning, leaping and gliding en pointe, hearing the crowd bellow “Brava!” as I take a bow at the edge of the stage. And because in this alternate universe, I’m graceful and lithe, I don’t fall into the orchestra pit.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper–http://davisclipper.com/life/would-you-care-to-dance/