Don’t Forget November

pumpkins-on-a-table-3094075Sandwiched between October and December, November is the bologna of months. Everyone pulls it out, gives it a sniff, then tosses it in the trash. Once Halloween is over, we blast into a frenzy of Christmas shopping and decorating, forgetting all about this beautiful month full of autumn leaves, crisp apples and carb overload.

We need a marketing team to change the perception of November from “Brownish month when we count our blessings” to “A kaleidoscope of excitement. And pie.” Okay, maybe “kaleidoscope” is overkill, and it’s hard to spell, but you get the idea.

Thanksgiving continues its reign as the best holiday between Halloween and Christmas but even the cherished turkey day has its opponents. It’s almost impossible to tell the origin story of Thanksgiving without pissing someone off. Let’s just say people living in America (probably not its original name) in the 1600s created the first Chuck-A-Rama, minus the carrot-filled Jell-O.

In the U.S., any holiday that has the tagline “An Attitude of Gratitude” is doomed from the start but what if we created a terrifying mascot? People like threats and merchandising. What if Gerta the Ghoulishly Grateful Goose (sold as a freakish Beanie Babies stuffed animal) flies into your bedroom on Thanksgiving Eve to make sure you’re being thankful. Not enough gratitude? She pecks your forehead and flies off with your pumpkin pies. Instead of Elf on the Shelf, how about Goose on the Loose? You read it here first, people.

What else happens in November . . . ?

Election Day! The first Tuesday after the first Monday when the moon is full and pythons are mating, is set aside for foreign nations to measure success by screwing up election results with fake social media content. As opposed, to genuine social media content. Consider this year a dry-run for the 2020 Apocalyptic Election to End all Elections.

Black Friday is also in November. What if we protest Black Friday sales and refuse to shop or decorate for Christmas until, call me crazy, December 1? Christmas is sneaky. Once you allow Christmas tree lots to set up in November, it’s an easy slide into year-round Christmas where everyone is miserable and broke. Charles Dickens could (posthumously) pen a story where we learn Ebenezer Scrooge was right all along, perhaps titled, “A Christmas Peril.”

Movember is also a thing where men are encouraged to grow mustaches to raise awareness for the importance of shaving – and men’s health issues. A group of women have also sworn to stop shaving for the month. That group is called Europe.

The first Wednesday in November is Stress Awareness Day, created by parents who realize Christmas is weeks away and their children are reaching frenetic levels of idiocy. Maybe November needs its own alcoholic beverage that we start drinking on this day. How about a mulled cider with a tequila chaser called the No No November?

Veteran’s Day is cool. World Kindness Day is super nice. But let’s tackle the real meaning of November. Pie.

Pie is the reason for November. With harvest foods like apples and pumpkins and close-up-of-tasty-looking-baked-goods-2955816.jpgpeaches and pears and banana cream, pie in November is as necessary as breathing, especially if breathing is slathered in homemade whipped cream or served a la mode.

So instead of treating November like it’s some type of disgusting mystery meat, can we agree it’s at least hamburger, maybe even a sirloin? Who knows, if we keep slapping Christmas back to its own month we might even enjoy the leaves, the apples – and the pie. Always the pie.

The Witching Hour

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We all know Halloween is funded by Big Dental to create more cavities but it’s also true that Halloween traditions started long before lobbyists destroyed the planet. Black cats, pumpkins and ghosts existed at least 50 years ago, and probably longer.

So how did Halloween customs get started? Lucky for you, I researched this topic on the Internet contraption.

Did you know Bobbing for Apples was actually a dating game in ancient Rome? Kind of like Tinder, only with more drowning.

My elementary school did a dry version called Bobbing for Marbles. Teachers filled a plastic pool with flour and mixed in a few dozen marbles. We had to use our mouths to find the marbles. The two most likely outcomes were a) Inhale flour and die or b) Inhale a marble and die. Not even joking here.

Jack-o’-lanterns have a weird backstory that involves a guy named Stingy Jack, the devil and wandering spirits. I guess ghosts are afraid of gourds and root vegetables.  Who knew? Originally they used turnips, not pumpkins, but who’s ever heard of a turnip spice latte? So they had to start using pumpkins.

Black cats became associated with Halloween because witches have black cats. Duh.

Costumes date back to Biblical times when Jacob dressed up as his brother to trick his blind father into giving him keys to the donkey. It was also the first trick-or-treat on record.

When I was a kid, costumes included plastic masks, made from asbestos and glue, that would slowly asphyxiate you if you didn’t walk into a ditch first because you couldn’t see s*** through the pinpoint eyeholes.

Bats get a bad reputation. They’re not inherently evil, except for vampire bats that turn into the bloodsucking undead to hunt humans for food and eternal life. But originally, people would sit around bonfires (the 1780’s bug zapper), wishing for things like penicillin and electricity. The fires would attract insects and the insects attracted bats and people freaked out. As we are wont to do.

Handing out candy has several origin stories, including buying off zombies with snacks, bribing the dead, and kids going from house to house asking families for dinner because they didn’t want to eat what their mom had spent hours making for them because they’re ungrateful little . . .

Anyhoo.

Treats handed out to children have also evolved. It’s gone from apples and boiled carrots (boo) to king-size Butterfinger bars (hooray!).

Here’s what my Halloween bag contained when I was a kid: 8 dozen rolls of Smarties, 17 types of rock-hard bubble gum, 38 Bit-O-Honeys, 422 Pixie sticks, 25 pounds of saltwater taffy, 14 spider rings and one mini Snickers bars. It was the ‘70s. Don’t judge.

adorable-animal-canine-1564506One element of Halloween remained a mystery to me. When did we think dressing dogs in tutus was a good idea? I assumed the whole pet costume fiasco was started by rich, white girls with too much time and money. Turns out, in the 19th century, dog costumery was a thing – with the animal fashion industry churning out traveling cloaks, silk jackets, tea gowns and . . . wait for it . . . dog bikinis.

What Halloween traditions do you observe? Knife throwing? Handing out real goldfish to trick-or-treaters? You never know what your customs will become centuries from now.

Whatever you do, don’t sell your candy to a dentist. Big Dental just sells it back to grocery stores to reuse for the next Halloween.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper 

Take Your Best Shot

Untitled design (3).pngI’m stating right up front I hate vaccinations. I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m just more afraid of getting a tetanus shot than dying a horribly painful death.

My dad scarred me for life when he told me to avoid petting strange dogs. I didn’t know what made them strange, but he went on to explain how dogs have rabies and if you get bit, you get a great big shot in your stomach – or you die. #OldYeller

That was enough to scare me away from dogs for at least 40 years. The neighbors got tired of me screaming every time their dog barked.

And it made me terrified of shots.

My mom did her part when it came to scaring the DiSeases out of me in regards to vaccinations. She showed up at school one day to give me a ride home, which should have been my first clue. Mom never drove us to or from school, even in the snow, even in the rain, even when we were late, even when stupid boys threw earthworms at us.

But there she was, in the pick-up line with a big smile on her face (second clue).

“Why are you here?” I asked, suspiciously.

“We’re going to get a treat,” she said, all innocent and everything.

“Super!”

As soon as I was in the car, we drove to my doctor’s office where he proceeded to give me an MMR booster.

There are no words.

When my daughters needed shots, I dreaded it more than they did. Usually. There was that one time when teenage daughters #3 and #4 literally ran around the doctor’s office to avoid their immunizations. They only settled down when the cute male nurse came and stood in the doorway.

Even when it pained me, my daughters got all their shots. Every. Single. One. Plus, I threw in a few more just to be safe.

Back in the day, when people died from pretty much everything, the arrival of vaccines was celebrated. Some diseases were so deadly they were used as weapons. #NotCool

When the polio vaccine was introduced, the public went wild. They were tired of watching their children die.

Finally, scientists created ways to protect us from smallpox, rabies, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria and BTS. Each year, vaccines prevent up to 3 million deaths worldwide.

You know there’s a but.

But for the first time ever, this year the World Health Organization (WHO?) added “vaccine hesitancy” to the list of top 10 health issues. Not because there’s a shortage or because vaccines are unavailable. Nope. Parents just don’t want to get their kids immunized.

They worry vaccines aren’t safe, despite generations of success, millions of lives saved and numerous studies from important medical people like Bill Nye the Science Guy.

I understand this is a divisive topic. I’m just not sure why.

Yes, there can be risks, but they are small compared to the overall health of the universe. That’s like saying, “My neighbor was in a car crash and the seat belt broke her ribs. I’m never wearing a seat belt again.”

Some say immunizations go against their religious belief. Is it possible God inspired scientists to create vaccines as an answer to millions of prayers? He inspired someone to create fudge-dipped Oreos. That was a definite answer to a prayer. #AngelsAmongUs

Thanks to social media and digital platforms, anti-vaxxers continue to wage war against science and common sense. In the meantime, disease is on the rise.

As school starts, get your kids immunized, which is super hypocritical considering I’ll most likely die from rabies or tetanus.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper.

Hot Diggity Dog

Ringo the Dog came to live with us 10 years ago and I’ve mentioned his crazy antics often over the years, including, but not limited to:

  • The night he ate our couch.
  • The day he chewed the leg off the coffee table.
  • His fear of vacuums.
  • His love of snow.
  • The times he’d snuggle in my lap, even as a 90-pound dog.
  • The way the word “walk” sent him into spasms of joy.
  • The way he’d act like I was returning from a 90-day world cruise, although I’d just gone downstairs to get towels out of the dryer.
  • The way he couldn’t corral the grandkids, and it drove him bonkers.

Good BoyFive months ago, Ringo the Dog passed away. It was unexpected and heartbreaking. There was a sudden emptiness in our home that had been filled with Ringo begging for treats or running in and out of the doggie door.

We were all dazed, unsure how to move through our dogless days. There was no furry distraction keeping us from sliding down the death spiral of today’s political chaos.
I had to start talking to my husband. I had no good reason to go for walks every day. No one jumped on me when I got home from work. Well, my husband did, but it just wasn’t the same.

Few things are as satisfying as a warm, happy dog snuggled next to you.

So.

For my birthday in July, we decided it was time to get a puppy. I yelped and jumped on the Google machine like an 8-week-old Pomeranian to search for dogs. I was quickly overwhelmed with the sheer number of puppies and the high-level of cuteness available.

Then I saw a German Shepherd/Lab puppy on the Community Animal Welfare Society website. I contacted the CAWS foster mom and was told he’d already been adopted – but his sister was available.

I couldn’t drive fast enough to meet this little ball of furry energy. Even before I’d held her, I knew she was mine. When we discovered her birthday was Star Wars Day (May the Fourth), that clinched it. #StarWarsGeek

We named her Jedi.

After filling out the application, where I had to list everything from how often she’d go for walks (daily) to what Netflix shows I binged (all of them), CAWS finally approved her adoption and we brought Jedi home.

Jedi-2monthsI forgot what it’s like to have a puppy sleep between your feet as you get ready for work. I get overwhelmed with happiness every time she pounces on her squeaky toy. I find reasons to stop at PetsMart every day for treats and toys and accessories. My husband suspended my credit card.

My 2-year-old granddaughter can finally boss something smaller than her. My 7-year-old grandson spends time training her to sit and lie down. (The puppy, not his sister.) My husband’s adjusting to having Jedi knock the lamp over every single day. I’m floating on a puppy-shaped cloud.

I tried to invoke the Family Medical Leave Act so I could spend all day with Jedi watching her explore and grow. My boss wasn’t buying it, so I dash home during lunch for some quick puppy love.

I know we’re in the puppy honeymoon stage and soon our sweet little girl will turn into a velociraptor, only with more teeth. But I also know time with our pets is so short. That makes it all the sweeter. Jedi didn’t replace Ringo, she’s just a rambunctious extension of his joy.

I’m sure every dog owner thinks they have the most wonderful dog in the world. The best thing is, they’re right.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper

The Sound of Silence

When I was a kid, seat belts were weapons used to smack your siblings. We’d sit on opposite sides of our Chevy Station Wagon and relentlessly attack each other. We never used them to secure ourselves in the vehicle. It never even occurred to us – or our parents.

Bike helmets were used by . . . well, by no one. I never knew anyone who even OWNED a bike helmet. We just had tons of concussions, which explains a lot of GenX behaviors.

Because kids are stupid, childhood is crazy dangerous. Parents dash from one potential disaster to another, trying to stay ahead of their children’s inclination to attract and invite peril. Kids regularly jump from couch-to-couch (avoiding lava), run with scissors, touch hot stoves, play on the stairs and fall out of trees.

We try to be vigilant. We do everything we can to protect our kids.

When babies were strangled by dangling window-blind cords, warnings were issued and regulations changed to keep kids safer. When children thought cleaning supplies looked tasty, manufacturers added childproof lids and told parents to keep the poisons out of reach. (Sidenote: Tide Pods hadn’t been invented yet.) Toddlers trying to stick forks in electrical outlets were thwarted by outlet covers.

Every year, hundreds of children’s products, from toys to strollers, are recalled to keep kids safe.

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But in America, more than 1,600 children are shot and killed1. Every. Single. Year. Firearms are the second leading cause of death for children in America, and the first leading cause of death for African American children.

When our children are killed by guns, there’s only silence.

Eight children died from injuries related to a specific IKEA dresser that easily toppled over. In 2016, the company recalled more than 17 million dressers and warned consumers about the danger. It took only eight deaths to prompt action.

In 2004, 150 million vending machine toys were recalled when they were found to contain high levels of lead. Federal regulators in 2016 issued warnings about exploding Hoverboards, prompting retailers to take the product off the shelves.

But each year, nearly 6,000 children in the United States are treated for gunshot wounds2. Every. Single. Year.

When our children are wounded by guns, there’s only silence.

The United States now holds a grisly honor. More than 90 percent of firearm deaths worldwide, among high-income countries and affecting children aged 0 to 14 years old, happen in our country3. It’s been declared a public health problem and a serious pediatric issue. Firearms kill more of our children than cancer or drowning.

Yet the silence from our elected leaders echoes. Like a gunshot.

We allow more than 7,000 children in our country to be shot every year.

Seven. Thousand.

We’ve learned the importance of seat belts, the necessity of bike helmets. We’ve learned to anchor dressers to walls, keep poisons on the top shelf and use those irritating cabinet locks to keep our children safe.

But every day, 16 children die or are treated for a gunshot wound in the U.S. because the legislators who are supposed to create laws to keep our children safe are deafeningly mute.

Our children can’t take any more silence.

 

 

  1. Cunningham, Rebecca M., Maureen A Walton and Patrick M. Carter. “The Major Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States. The New England Journal of Medicine, 20 December 2018, nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr1804754
  2. Katherine A. Fowler, Linda L. Dahlberg, Tadesse Haileyesus, Carmen Gutierrez and Sarah Bacon. “Childhood Firearm Injuries in the United States.” AAP News & Journals, July 2017, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/1/e20163486
  3. Grinshteyn E, Hemenway D. “Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, March 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26551975

Power Up

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” I think of this when I’m feeling glitchy, when my processor runs slow, my memory won’t upload and I can’t download complete, coherent sentences.

When my energy drains like a cell phone battery, that’s the sign I’ve neglected my mental health for too long. I get snappy with my husband to the point he tells me to get out of the house and come back when I can act like a grown-up. After flipping him the bird, I pout to my car.

Self-care isn’t just bath bombs and margaritas. Bath bombs dissolve too quickly and margaritas only get me into trouble. Self-care is tapping into activities that recharge your energy levels. This might mean asking for help (I know, a woman’s ultimate sign of weakness) or finding more time for yourself.

Ordering pizza Monday nights is just fine. Jogging through the park is just fine. Hiding under your bed eating Hershey kisses is just fine. Telling your family you’re going to get ice-cream, then taking a month-long drive through the Andes is on the border of just fine.

The point is, find your own self-care routine. This should involve spending time alone. I’m sure in the 1600s, women who practiced self-care were burned at the stake. Why would a woman want to be alone when she gets to care for a 75-year-old husband and 10 children? She must be a witch.

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I must admit, coming home from work I’ve had the thought, “I have so much to do tonight. I can’t even.” Then I drive around listening to self-help audiobooks until I can face life again. Sometimes self-care is hiding in the bathroom with a magazine for 30 minutes because if the kids ask for One. More. Thing. they’ll find themselves living in the garden shed for three months.

Every woman’s self-care routine is different. Some women wear facemasks while they create a vision board they hope will teleport them to a mansion in Newport Beach where they’ll frolic with a Hemsworth brother. Some women need a hammock, a book and a set of earplugs. And DIY facial scrubs might get your skin glowing, but your mental health needs some polishing, too.

Women are so good at controlling everything. Well, women are so good at trying to control everything. Stress does not equal control. Worry does not equal control. You going out of your friggin’ mind is not control.

Self-care is a mental practice that involves 1) saying “No” once in a while, 2) saying “Yes” once in a while, 3) not berating yourself, 4) taking plenty of naps, 5) noticing when you’re running on fumes and 6) the occasional margarita. It’s about accepting who you are. Unless you eat Miracle Whip. Then you might need to reevaluate your life.

How often do you play? How often do you sleep? Are you so attached to the whiteboard schedule in your kitchen that any deviation throws you out of whack? Do you often eat an entire chocolate sheet cake while crying in the pantry?

Another favorite Lamott quote: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save. They just stand there, shining.”
Be sure to keep your lighthouse operating. Change the bulb, wash the windows, maybe even a fresh coat of paint so when you need to tap into your energy, it’s fully charged. Otherwise, your system will shut down, all on its own, and getting back online is a b**ch

Originally published in the Davis Clipper

It’s a Jungle Out There

animal-photography-animals-daytime-1260803Sitting in the petri dish of a playground at a nearby fast-food chain, I watch my grandkids jump around like just-released-into-the-wild baboons. Like every other adult in the room, I hoped this stop would be a fun diversion, a place the kids could play while I read War and Peace.

Kids on playgrounds are fascinating the same way the Spanish Inquisition was fascinating: lots of violence, torture, crazy zealots and tattletales. Sitting with the book I won’t be able to read, and eating cold French fries, I’m the Jane Goodall of the toddler kingdom, as I study their animal-like behavior.

There’s a hierarchy to the madness, with the older kids sitting at the top of the pyramid. They push toddlers out of the way and block slides until little kids cry.

The next level down are kids between the ages of 4 and 8. Not quite ready to be the bullies on the playground, they tail after the leaders hoping to be included in any dastardly plan.

Toddlers make up the lowest level of the playground food chain. These cute little kids are a pain in the asset as they try to establish a presence without being trampled by oblivious 10-year-old boys. I’ve witnessed several toddler smack-downs, including my granddaughter who started a fistfight with a little boy over a pretend steering wheel.

The fast-food playground smells like a mildewed diaper pail. It also has a fine layer of mucous coating every possible surface. Everything is sticky. Bacteria gleefully thrives.

There’s a logjam of kids at the bottom of the slide, backing up traffic and causing overall mayhem. Older siblings shepherd brothers and sisters through the throng of screaming and thrashing little bodies, in search of fun and excitement, while being screamed at by their mothers.

I watch kids scramble through the maze of colorful gerbil tubes, listening for the sound of my granddaughter’s screech as she fights her way to the slide, where she refuses to go down, triggering an uproar in the playground ecosystem. Her brother finally convinces her the slide is fun and they both tumble to the bottom. They run back up and do it again.

I hear snippets of conversations. “That boy is taking off his clothes.” “She put ketchup in my ear.” “Look! I can fly!” But when the Lord of the Flies Preschool bus pulls up in front of the building, that’s my signal to skedaddle.

Easier said than done.

As soon as I announce it’s time to leave, my granddaughter scurries up the tunnel, refusing to come down and throwing poo at anyone who approaches. I send her brother up to get her and hear his bloodcurdling scream as she kicks him in the head, and climbs higher into the hamster maze. He finally drags her down, both of them crying, before she steals someone’s shoes, and runs toward the restroom.

Security tackles her and wrangles her back to the playground. She’s covered with either BBQ sauce or blood and tries to scuttle away as soon as I put her down. Chaos has erupted. We duck tranquilizer darts as we run serpentine to the exit.

I finally wrestle them into the car, wearing the wrong jackets and without socks. I spray them down with Lysol and have them take a big swig of hand sanitizer. I just survived a primate attack. Jane Goodall would be so proud.

 

Originally published in the Davis Clipper – https://davisclipper.com/it’s-a-jungle-out-there-p5616-103.htm