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 
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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

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

Hang Me Out to Dry

After happily drying our clothes for a decade, our dryer hit its tweenage years and started giving us the silent treatment. It would only work when we said magic words or used pliers to wrangle it into submission.

I wasn’t ready to plop down several hundred bucks for a new dryer, so I suggested we string a clothesline in the backyard for fresh, sunny, natural drying. But with all the snow and the rain and the wind and the snow and the snow, I finally gave in.

clothesline-cold-depth-of-field-166592One weekend, the hubby and I got in the car, girded our loins (I think that means we buckled our seat belts) and drove to the gargantuan furniture/appliance store where we were immediately attacked by suit-coated salespeople.

They swarmed from everywhere. I thought, at first, they were zombies and impaled a couple of them with the leg of a kitchen chair before I realized my (understandable) mistake. One of them valiantly latched onto us, and the rest of them staggered back into the bowels of the store.

Our salesperson/creature had mainlined 17 Dr. Peppers and hopped around us like a crazy ding-dong until we reached the appliance center. There were washers and dryers as far as the eye could see, which isn’t far because I’m pretty nearsighted. But trust me, there was a huge dryer selection.

Mr. SalesCreature launched into his spiel. “I want you to have the dryer that your future washer will adore. Not the washer you have now, but the one you’ll want in two years.”

I explained we weren’t looking for an appliance matchmaker, but he continued.

“You don’t want a dryer that will be mocked by your future appliances,” he said, as if he weren’t talking nonsense. “You want a dryer that will raise the standard of your home.”

He’d obviously never seen our home.

He guided us to the Drying Machines O’ The Future, detailing all the dryer features we never knew we needed. Throwing out terms like Wrinkle Shields, Quad Baffles and All Major Credit Cards, he described a Utopian laundry room where unicorns came to raise their young and clothes never smelled like mildew.

We then learned about laundry pedestals; the crazy 12-inch tall invention that raises your washer and dryer by, well, one foot.

“Why do I need my laundry machines on $300 pedestals?” I asked. “That seems like it’s setting a bad precedent for other appliances in my home.”

“You won’t have to bend over to get your clothes,” he said, jumping in place. “They even have pedestals with a tiny washing machine to wash small loads, or to store cleaning products!”

“Wouldn’t I have to bend over to reach that?” I asked.

He blinked, then started again with the benefits of appliance pedestals, but I interrupted.

“Look,” I said. “We have $300 in cash, $200 in collectible stamps, $123 in Kohl’s cash and $67 in pennies. What can we get with that?”

His face fell. He waved his hand in a vague direction that could have been behind him or downstairs, then walked away. We wandered until we found a machine that could dry our clothes. We purchased it and ran from the building, making no eye contact with any sales-zombies in the area.

The new dryer is beautiful. It’s shiny. It’s not coated with lint-covered laundry detergent. It actually seems kind of haughty, so I’m glad we didn’t buy it a pedestal.

We assure our old washing machine that it’s still a valuable part of our family. We hope positive attention will keep it working for a few more years, but it’s also in the tweenage stage, so I’m expecting tantrums and/or the silent treatment at any time.

First published in the Davis Clipper: http://davisclipper.com/opinion/hang-me-out-to-dry/

Darth Vader/Donald Trump

I’ve sensed a disturbance in society. A dark shadowy figure looms across the country, demanding loyalty from all those around him. A powerful force instigates unrest, encourages outrage and hate, and challenges his followers to embrace their inner rage to find their true destiny.

This person could be Darth Vader. This person could be Donald Trump. The similarities are eerie. Ever since Trump assigned Jar Jar Binks to take over the Office of Silly Walks, I’ve noticed his connection to the Star Wars universe and his uncanny resemblance to Darth Vader.

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I’ll present the facts. You decide.

  • They both have helmet head
  • They both have a thing for the Space Force
  • They are both seduced by power
  • They both lead a staff of brainless clones
  • Both try to destroy those who rebel against them
  • They both surround themselves with wacky characters
  • They consider themselves the center of the universe

astronomy-black-wallpaper-constellation-2150

(If you look very closely, you’ll see a black hole at the center of the universe. That’s Trump’s soul.)

  • They both love the sound of their own voice
  • They’ve either tried to boink or kill their daughters
  • They have a love for long, flowing capes and ties
  • Neither of them give a shit about endangered species
  • They both answer to a bigger bad guy
  • Neither understands sarcasm
  • They wear suits that demonstrate their inability to fit in with society
  • They both demonstrate personality disorders
  • They’re both proficient at swinging a lightsaber/golf club
  • The Death Star is powered with coal and is coated in Russian asbestos.
  • They both reconnected to their inner goodness and light. Wait. Only Vader has done that.  I guess Trump still has time. . .