Sunday, April 26, 2009

Published April 26, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I sit in my home office, pondering the subject for this week’s column, I can hear the heartbroken sobs of my youngest child in the dining room above me. I can just see his sad, little body, hunched over his bowl of chocolate cream of wheat, convulsing in the torment of a four year old who did not get the “cool spoon.”

Being a blended family means having blended dishes. Our flatware is an amalgamation of several different sets of forks, spoons, and knives, the coolest of which we inherited from my husband, Richard. While our silverware is the plain, replacement variety one buys from Wal Mart by the bundle, Richard’s flatware is endowed with magical black handles! And as anyone knows, black handles make food taste so much better.

Unfortunately, Richard’s dishes came in the service for four variety and I have five kids. Actually, I think it’s pretty safe to say that at least three of the black handled spoons have been lost since we married almost a year ago, so there’s only one black handled spoon at any given time. If you thought FOUR black handled spoons were magical, you can only imagine what the rare and precious ONE spoon can do for a meal. Every child in my home plots how he or she can lay hands on that spoon before anyone else, hence my littlest son’s current anguish.

We didn’t have a cool spoon when I was growing up. We had a cool bowl. It was a light blue-green Tupperware number with the usual nubby rim and melted pockmarks consistent with the early days when plastic didn’t do so well in a microwave or dishwasher. It was the holy grail of bowls…the prize for any child lucky enough to receive it. It was the catalyst for dismayed cries of “No fair!” and obnoxious taunts of “Nanny nanny boo boo!”

There are those people in the world who are extremely good with kids. They understand what the little tykes are going through in all situations and show amazing amounts of empathy. People say of this kind of person, “She remembers what it was like to be a child.” I don’t think that’s an accurate enough description.

I remember the cool bowl. I remember the hope, the triumph, and the agony. I remember the dread I felt each time my mom threatened to just get rid of the bowl altogether as a solution to the unnecessary drama. I remember all of that, but when my kids start fighting and crying over the cool spoon, my empathy level hits zero in a flash and I find myself making the same, “I’m just going to throw that thing away,” threat. It’s obvious, remembering is not enough.

Maybe it has to do with motherhood. It seems as much as I remember what it was like being a kid, I “remember” what it was like for my mom. I’ve never noticed, but maybe those people who are so good with kids are the ones who don’t have them themselves. Or maybe they do, but all their dinnerware matches. Maybe a few hundred doses of, “No fair! Why does she get to have the cool spoon?” would tame that empathy, and that person would be dangling the cool spoon over the garbage can until the whining stopped.

If I do decide to dispatch the cool spoon, I won’t be dangling it over the garbage can in front of the kids. That would be torture, and I have at least enough empathy not to put my children through that. No, if I decide I can’t take it any more, I’ll dispose of it under cover of darkness and feign ignorance the next morning.

Of course, knowing my kids someone will decide he or she has the “cool cup” and they’ll all be at it again.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Born freeeeeeee!

Published April 19, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Sometime last year, I wrote a column about how our family had chosen to go “TV free.” Turning off cable after I separated from my first husband was initially a purely economic choice. Nearly three and a half years later, I’m happy to say we choose not to watch TV because we enjoy this lifestyle and don’t want to go back.

A couple of weeks ago, we held a family meeting and voted unanimously to go “cold cereal free.” This decision wasn’t completely related to finances, though the outrageous cost of cereal did play a part. What it boiled down to was that the kids like hot breakfasts better, I enjoy making them, cold cereal is often wasted along with the milk that congeals around it, the kind we can afford isn’t exactly nutritious, and my four year old prefers to put it on the floor instead of in his mouth. Two weeks into this experiment, we’re still pretty happy with the arrangement. (*Pause to whip up some chocolate cream of wheat for the hungry masses and feel like the BEST…MOM…EVER!*)

Seeing how well freedom from TV and cold cereal is going, I have to wonder. What else could we be free of?

I don’t know about you, but I would go laundry free in a minute. Long ago, when I made the switch from a house that required me to visit a laundromat once a week to a home with a washer/dryer, I told a sister-in-law that laundry was my new favorite chore. That was before I had children. Today, I would happily shift to disposable clothes and bedding in order to avoid ever doing laundry again. I will invest heavily in any company that sets out to invent such a thing.

Much as I like the look of artificial beauty, I could stand to go make-up free. It’s expensive and less and less effective as I get older. Add to that the fact that I spend so much time doing laundry that I often forget to put it on anyway, and it just doesn’t seem worth the fuss. If I went make-up free, people I know could get used to my natural face and would be less inclined to ask if I’m exhausted or sick when they see it. My mom used to say she was going to “put [her] face on.” I’m ready to take mine off, zombie jokes be darned.

Anyone who knows me well knows I would gladly go shaving free for the rest of my life. This may necessitate a move to an Eastern European country, but I’m game if it means never having to put razor to leg again. It’s just hard to stomach the hubris of constantly fighting against what the fates intended for me. There’s hair growing on my legs. Maybe God put it there for a purpose? Someday, there will be a nuclear holocaust and we’ll all learn that leg hair has special protective qualities. Well, I’ll learn it, because the rest of the leg shavers will be dead.

I have several friends who have chosen to go public school free, and it’s something I consider from time to time. These friends are all smarter and more organized than I am, so I remain gun shy. (When they read this, they’ll tell me they’re not. Did I mention they’re also more humble?) I’m going to keep this freedom on the back burner and watch for a time that’s more conducive than it is right now. At this point, if I went public school free and decided to homeschool, we’d probably have a honeymoon period of advanced academic achievement followed by complete educational chaos.

Until someone invents disposable clothes, you can imagine what I’d have the kids doing every day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Oh, the peepmanity!

Published April 12, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Happy Easter, everyone! No doubt you’re enjoying the holiday traditions, watching the kids or the grandkids hunt for painted eggs, preparing a nice Easter feast for your families, and biting the heads off defenseless little baby chickens before devouring their bodies whole.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our society, I know.

If you’re confused, thinking you’ve never in your life treated a baby chicken this way, just take a look at your Easter treats and you’ll realize to what I am referring. They’re little. They’re yellow. They’re “Everybody’s favorite candy!” according to one gushing website. You’ve found them by now. I’m talking about Peeps.

I have to say it. I don’t get Peeps. I get that they’re made of marshmallows and that a purported 700 million of them are eaten every year in the U.S. I just don’t get why. When I look at a package of Peeps, I don’t immediately think, “Oooh! A delectable treat just for me to enjoy!” I usually make the sign of the cross with my fingers and then pray for the redemption of all humankind.

To me, Peeps are an example of all that’s wrong in the world. They say they’re candy, yet they resemble no candy I’d be willing to eat: Dishonesty! They’re gobbled up by hordes of people who descend on stores every Easter and throw their money around: Runaway consumerism! Though they pretend to be symbols of Easter, a Christian holiday, they’re actually pagan symbols of fertility: Um…Overpopulation?

Learning a little of their history didn’t help my feelings at all. Peeps came out of the “Just Born” candy shop, run by Sam Born, who started his illustrious career making chocolates in France. CHOCOLATES! Am I the only one who can’t wrap my mind around someone making something as wholesome and pure and spiritually uplifting as chocolate losing his mind, selling his soul to the marshmallow devil, and producing Peeps as a result?

Apparently, I’m not. In my online travels today, I found You read that right: ONE HUNDRED ways to kill a peep. The creator of this blog, obviously a Peep-hating person after my own heart, posts lovely little pictures sent in by Peep-hating readers that feature the many ways in which a Peep might die. This blog is not alone in its Peepicidal tendencies. I found many similar sites devoted to chronicling the gruesome deaths of Peeps the world over.

My personal favorite shot involves an unfortunate Peep that has overdosed on Smarties, another candy I just don’t understand. If this sad little Peep were then crushed by an avalanche of Butterfingers and Tootsie Rolls, the picture would truly be complete.

I know there are people reading this who love these little Easter treats, their blobby bodies and vacant stares notwithstanding. My dear friend, Kari, is a fervent Peep supporter. I believe I actually sent her a box through the mail one year when she was having a rough time and needed a pick-me-up. I don’t expect everyone to share my sentiments. I just want to put them out there for all the people who do.

Someday, I will make peace with the fact that I live in a world in which candy makers can take something as innocuous as a fluffy, little marshmallow and turn it into something as vile as a Peep. Since I’ve managed to find happiness in a world filled with terrorism, genocide, and rap music, I’m sure I can overcome the proliferation of Peeps.

Hmmmm…Peeps killed by rap singing terrorists…that’s good.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Not cool, Google...not cool

Published April 5, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I was listening to a talk radio program on my way home from work last night. The topic of discussion was Google Maps, specifically the “street view” feature they now offer and whether or not this option violates citizen’s rights to privacy.

Some background: Google, the place you go to find out anything about anything, has added street view photographs to their Google Maps feature. Curious individuals can enter an address and see a picture of the house at that address as taken from the street. These searchers can then click arrows for a virtual “walk” down the street and see surrounding houses in the neighborhood. Apparently, these picture series are supposed to link up into the largest “picture” ever taken. Bet you didn’t realize you could walk from Utah to New York without leaving your home office.

Apparently, a group of privacy minded citizens in the UK are crying foul, saying these street view images of their homes violate their rights to privacy. They want this feature of Google Maps shut down, and in the meantime, they’re taking measures to block the roving camera operators in Google Maps vans from taking pictures of the houses on their streets.

Being the curious person that I am, I had to check this out. I typed in my address and was immediately shown a street view image of the north side of my house. A virtual walk west and then south gave me even more perspective on my domicile. There it was--my house--plastered on the internet for everyone to see.

You can imagine my outrage. I don’t know how the people at Google Maps managed to disable the cloaking shield I bought from the Klingons or how they knew how to override that Fidelius charm I learned from my Harry Potter books . Here I was, all relaxed in my assumption that no one could see my house from the street, and I find out it’s completely visible. I…feel…violated.

Okay, Sarah. Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. I mean, how many people actually know your address? You only give that out to family and friends, the school district, doctor’s offices, utilities, credit card companies, the county library. It’s not like anyone can just look up your name, phone number, and address in a book supplied to them by the phone company. Wait…

Obviously, I’m taking a rather facetious view of the whole subject, as I’m wont to do. On some level, I guess I understand why the privacy group is all up in arms about the street view feature. I have pictures of my house on my myspace page, but they’re not open for anyone to see. I choose to make my page private, so weirdoes and stalkers and potentially unstable people (some of whom used to date my husband) don’t have ready access to that information.

However, and this is a big however, I’m not under any illusions that my privacy settings make my home address or the details of what my house looks like completely unavailable. If someone really wants to find out where I live, they will find out, whether they search for it online, in the phone book, or in public record documents. Anyone who really wants to see where I live can always follow me home when they happen to see me in the store. Short of covering my house in a very large tarp, there’s not much I can do to keep people from seeing it. I don’t really think my landlady would go for that anyway.

Things have been a little strained since the Klingons parked their battlecruiser in the backyard.