Sunday, December 28, 2008

Universe, let's take this outside.

Published December 28, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Thursday is the first day of a brand new year, and while I know there are many of you out there wondering where 2008 went (and even more wondering where 1988 went), there’s no going back. It’s time to make resolutions, so sharpen your pencils and start making that list. I’ll go first. #1 Uhhhhhhhh.

New Year’s resolutions are kind of hard to make when you’re on year three of achieving everything on your list. I don’t mean to brag, (oh, but I do) but when you accomplish what I’ve accomplished in just one year’s time, you kind of set the bar pretty high. This year, I resolved that I would marry my best friend, move, transfer to a bigger school, bump my schoolwork up to full time, all the while working a full time job and maintaining an A average. The resolutions? They are in the bag.

This year, like every year, I’m faced with the problem of either sticking with the same resolutions, which are pretty hefty in and of themselves, or topping the previous year’s achievements. Look again at what I’ve managed to do this year. HOW do I top that? If you’re not one to tempt fate, you don’t realize the problem inherent in asking that question. I am one to tempt fate, and I still asked the question, and fate had the answer with a sucker punch to my right knee.

No, really. Fate took out my right knee. With no more than a moment’s warning, the universe said, “Sarah, I have your resolutions for this year, and they involve surgery and at least 6 or 7 months of physical therapy. Are ya up for it?” Those who tempt fate know that when fate asks a question, it’s ridiculously rhetorical. Before I could answer with a resolute, “Um…no?” my ACL snapped like a cracked rubber band and all I had to say for myself was, “Haaaaooooooly gaaaaaaaaahhh! What just happened?”

I’m here to warn you. If you actively pursue wisdom and growth, life will give you wisdom and growth, most often of the painful variety. If you decide you’ve grown and struggled quite enough, thankyouverymuch, life will NOT get the message. I blame Einstein. He theorized that an object in motion tends to stay in motion and someone in the growth department at the universe said, “Hey! That’s not half bad! Let’s see what we can do with that.”

The contrarian in me wants to rebel, but the rest of me has experienced enough growth and gained enough wisdom to let the rebellious part of me go (darn it all!). Having had enough of these character building experiences in the past tells me that I have to take this character building experience for what it is...a blessing, a challenge, and a preparation for the next character building experience life throws at me.

But I don’t have to take it lying down. If the universe wants to write my big resolution this year, I’ll let it, but the other ones are mine. ALL MINE! DO YOU HEAR ME, GROWTH DEPARTMENT? YOU DON’T GET TO HAVE THE REST!

So, this year, I resolve to have my ACL replacement surgery, work very hard in physical therapy, and climb to the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park in August, and stand there, triumphant, having overcome my injury while working and going to school full time…with an A average, to boot. I ALSO resolve to, uh, get my hair cut every eight weeks, um, use my new Kitchenaid mixer every time I make a cake, and…and…SMILE AT STRANGERS EVERY DAY! Try to top THAT, universe!

No, wait. Just kidding. We’re good.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A good Christmas

Published December 21, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I’ve been pondering over the last week what it means to have a “good Christmas.” Someone I know lectured mea week ago that the gifts I’m giving my children this year just aren’t up to snuff. According to this knowledgeable buttinsky, a “good Christmas” is what my kids want and need, and as a parent, it’s what I’m obligated to give them. For those not in the know, in this person’s opinion a “good Christmas” involves spending more money on presents for my kids than I paid for a month’s rent in my last home.


If the quality of the holiday is inextricably tied to the quantity of the presents I give my kids, then I’ve been a poor parent, indeed. Having been the recipient of many a good Christmas in conditions that were dire financially, I know better than to believe that. If there were a ghost of Christmas past to guide me through my life, I’d probably find my best Christmases were those in which money was more than a little tight.

Christmas 1986 was particularly lean. My parents had just divorced, and my mom and her five children had moved back to Oklahoma, the only place in our nomadic existence of military moves that seemed like home. I know we got by, because I’m here to tell of it, but I know we didn’t have much to live on, and we had even less for Christmas. But we had a warm house, a lovely tree, carols we could sing to our neighbors, a turkey someone left on our doorstep, and each other. That was a good Christmas.

I remember another year, things were looking up and my mother was even talking about buying lights for the house because we had a little extra. It was that day we realized that through a tragic but completely understandable mistake, the boxes of Christmas decorations Mom had collected for 20 years had been set next to the thrift store pile in a recent move. Everything was gone. Hearing of our plight, a group of people in charge of a dance for teenagers asked each teen to bring an ornament for a tree as admission. That tree was later delivered to our house. That was a good Christmas.

How well I remember my first Christmas as a single mom, walking through a thrift store in search of Sunday clothes that looked brand new and books my kids might like to read. How well I remember the happy faces as the kids opened those presents and exclaimed their appreciation. There were many other gifts, dropped at our door by generous and often anonymous people, but my kids seemed most excited by the inexpensive gifts they got from me. Maybe they really loved the dresses and the books or maybe they knew all along and only wished to spare my feelings. Either way, that was a good Christmas.

If spending money on expensive gifts is what makes a good Christmas for some people, I sorrow for their Christmases when money is tight. At this time, when more and more people are struggling to pay their bills and keep ahead of gloomy economic forecasts, it’s nice to know a good Christmas is really about love and good will, smiles and songs, friendship and family.

And at its most basic level, a good Christmas is about a young couple, arriving in a strange place with nowhere to stay but a stable full of animals and no gifts to give each other but the baby that was born there.

That was a good Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More pond sludge, please!

Published December 14, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Of all the holiday traditions in which I revel this time of year, my favorite will always be cooking the Thanksgiving leftovers. There’s just something magical about taking one meal and creatively reimagining its contents as another. It’s kind of like a jazz variation on a classical masterpiece. It just gets better.

Every year, I do something different with the leftovers from my Thanksgiving turkey, but I’m much less adventurous with the meat from my ham. The leftovers from my Thanksgiving hams go straight into a pot full of wonderful, delectable split peas. Split pea soup is the most tasty dish of my holiday fare, overflowing with ham, onions, carrots, spices, and the thick, green goodness of my favorite legume. Yup, split pea soup is a big pot of hearty comfort in a world full of strained broth.

Of course, split pea soup is not your most attractive soup in the soup family. It’s not even marginally attractive. It’s like homemade chicken noodle’s super ugly stepsister…the one they hide from Prince Charming because they know that even if the glass slipper fits, he’s probably not going to want to take her home. It’s harsh, but it’s honest.

I actually can’t think of a soup that looks worse than split pea. Far from images of love and comfort, the sight of a big bowl of split pea soup often evokes in most people thoughts of diseased pond sludge and three day old vomit. I apologize if I’m catching you in the middle of your Sunday brunch, but you were thinking sludge the minute you thought of the soup. I just put it into words. Don’t kill the sludge messenger, people.

It’s hard to reconcile the taste with the look sometimes. When I put out that stew pot and watch my kids’ faces contort around such articulations as , “Ewwwwww!” and, “Blech!” and, “Have we done something to displease you, Mother?” I can’t really blame them. No amount of raving about the excellent taste will get them to eat more than a few bites…the obligatory amount required before they’re allowed to make themselves a sandwich. I have high hopes that as they mature, they’ll realize this soup is actually quite delicious. Until then, well, MORE FOR ME!

Thinking about this makes me wonder about another holiday “treat” whose looks don’t exactly make my mouth water. The fact that manufacturers continue to make fruitcake leads me to believe that there are people out there who actually enjoy it. I just can’t see an entire industry surviving from sales of a product that every recipient gags over and then throws away, can you? I guess it’s possible that regifting occurs, but the fruitcake maker doesn’t see additional profits from that.

Okay. So, it looks like a bunch of shrunken, desiccated organs suspended in the gelatinous mass of a science experiment gone horribly wrong. If split pea soup is any indication, those looks could be deceiving me. And if I expect my kids to take a few bites of soup, despite what the sight does to their gag reflexes, I shouldn’t have a problem taking a few bites of fruitcake, right?

*Indistinct retching *

All kidding aside, I don’t think there’s a sandwich on earth good enough to make that happen.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stupid products of 2008

Published December 7, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Christmas is the season for giving, and for many people, that means it’s the season for buying. All over the country, people are filling carts and signing receipts, but according to government reports, not at a fast enough rate. Apparently, if you’re a “good” citizen, you’ll get out there and spend, spend, spend our economy back into the black (you’ll be in the red, but it’s for the greater good).

While you decide just how much a patriotic amount of debt you’re able to take on, I’m doing the homework regarding what you should buy. Actually, I’m here to let you know what not to buy this holiday season. The government may not like this, but I can’t let innocent people buy stupid things. It’s my duty as a human. We’ll call it The Mother Load’s Guide to the Most Useless Buys of 2008.

First up, we have Bible Illuminated: The Book. Book is kind of a misnomer, as this version of the bible has more of a magazine quality to it. Printed by a publisher in Sweden, this was the brainchild of a proudly non-religious Swedish ad exec who thought that the Good Book needed a younger, hipper feel. Alongside scripture, you’ll find glossy pictures of Angelina Jolie, Bono, and John Lennon, among others. I could go on and talk about the political interpretation of Revelations, but do I really need to? If you want your kids to read the Bible…dust off the one in the front room and have a go.

Hoping to further cash in on the wild popularity of the Guitar Hero video games (and in a possible attempt to dumb down the product for people who aren’t coordinated enough to play a fake guitar) the folks at Jada Toys have brought us Guitar Hero Air Guitar Rocker. Oh, how I wish I were joking. It’s a belt buckle/guitar pick sensor combo attached to a tiny “amplifier” that gives you points for being the best air guitarist in the room. Sure, at just under $30, it’s cheaper than actual guitar lessons, but free form air guitar is, well, free. If you want points, I’ll be happy to give them to you at no cost. I gave that guy in the intersection 1000 points just the other day.

Next up, Elmo Live, a walking, talking, falling, storytelling little robot Elmo. There are a couple of things wrong with this toy. First, it’s Elmo. Second, it’s live. The one redeeming quality it has is that it intentionally falls down from time to time. If you buy this for your child, I suggest a trip to the Grand Canyon…or Niagara Falls…or Mount Everest.

If your loved one likes to sing, you might be thinking of getting him or her the American Idol Talent Challenge DVD Game. This comes with a microphone with a very exciting echo effect, circa 1984, and allows its players to sing along with actual Idol contestants from past years and receive actual comments made by the judges. That’s right. Because nothing says, “I love you,” like letting your friends and family get heckled by an arrogant, talentless man before they embarrass themselves by trying to achieve their dreams or something.

Finally, and this one makes the joke for me, people, we have the Fisher Price Smart Cycle. Created as an attempt to curb the growing problem of childhood obesity, this exercise bike is preschool sized and plugs into your TV…the better to let your chubby children play video games while they ride. There are no words…except these: Might we possibly consider the influence video games have had on childhood obesity and NOT use them in the obesity cure? I know, I know. I’m talking crazy.

Call me a bit of a product Grinch, but I think there are better buys out there for you this holiday season. These products aren’t completely awful, but they’re not on par with exciting gifts like fruitcake and socks and underwear and genetically altered, killer houseplants. Now, if Elmo played air guitar while riding an exercise bike, reading the Bible, and getting heckled by Idol’s Simon Cowell, I might have something different to say.

I’d still suggest a trip to the Grand Canyon…just in case.