Wednesday, February 28, 2007

228 Reasons Why I Blog (or just 1: Sanity)

This is post number 228. I know, random number. I meant to mention it when I hit post 100, but forgot, which is also why I neglected to mention my blog was a year old, about a year ago.

I mention it now because Rachel at The Challenge of Life tagged me with that "5 reasons I blog" meme.

I think there are 228 reasons...obvious within each of my 228 posts over almost two years.

But I'll give you the history, as briefly as possible, and boil it down to five reasons.

My early entries were short (I know, I know, barely believable, but true), and usually featured a piece of artwork I did. I was really uninterested in blogging and had only done it because my husband wanted me to.

Kaliroz of Fortune and Glory, Omegamom, and a few others (some of whom are MIA these days) started a blog group...a sort of carnival where people suggested topics and we all wrote about that. Most of us had been members of a writer's group and our energy went there, instead of into blogging. But the carnival was a nice exercise and it opened up a door for me. I suddenly saw the potential of blogging.

And that's reason Number One why I blog:

To chronicle events during this time in my life; a time which, I suspect, I'll look back on as one of the most amazing and interesting stages. To keep a picture of this time, for myself, and for my kids.

I've been an off and on diarist. I love finding little pieces of time preserved in a book or calendar, and often wish for more on either side of the brief period journaled. I had an elaborate web site for my first daughter, which was an early sort of blog, I guess. I detailed her life, frequently, mostly for long-distance family, but also for us.

I talk about her here, now, too, such as in Heaven, she said.

But my poor, poor second daughter, as is typical, is a little short in the chronicle department.

One day I realized that my blog can be a diary, and when Persistence was eight months old, I posted a little letter about her.

Shortly thereafter, I used the blog to process. And that's Reason Number 2 that I blog:

To work through, think out, and write out my thoughts, feelings, and opinions about personal and public events that affect me in some way.

My first post like this was What is valued? What is valuable? and it helped me process some issues bubbling inside me about Hurricane Katrina, what I did, what I didn't do, and how it affected me.

Barely two months later, I was recounting our Hurricane Rita experience, mostly with photos. It's a sanitized version of the story, but I can see my anger and post-traumatic stress seething under the surface...in all that I didn't say.

I didn't talk about:

the death we saw...how sick we all got...trying to help the dying woman, or how I haven't stopped wondering if she made it, and is okay...how we spent three precious hours of time and fuel trying to find an open gas station and another route out...our friends who had their gas stolen at gunpoint...running out of food and water 30 hours in...being so overheated that despite drinking a ton, we never needed to pee for two days...my children, how they held up (bravely); how both of them wore diapers the entire time, diapers that never needed changing...dumping things on the side of the road to move the dog into my car (which stayed cooler) when he quit responding to my husband's voice...my husband, near tears, as he said, "I don't know how to protect my family and keep them safe under these conditions!"...the fury I felt when public officials, such as police said, "You aren't my problem."...the relief we felt when we were finally rescued...how long it took me to come back home.


I think I am just now ready to talk about it, and maybe someday I will...or maybe I just did.

That right there...Reason Number 2...that's the main reason I blog.

As is art, which I briefly mentioned. And that's Reason Number 3 that I blog:

To share beauty, either through words or art. Initially, I only posted my own art, such as the one to the side there. My husband did start this blog for me, in fact, as a place to put up my art, and talk about it. However, I've expanded beyond that (obviously) and talk about much more than just art, and display more than just my own pieces. Each image I post, though, is (in my mind) specifically supporting or related to what I'm writing about.

Sometimes the words, images, processing, and chronicle elements all come together into one post, such as "I am obsessed...I think about it all the time...I compose poems and essays about it in my head..." The corn was such an amazing experience for me personally, and for the kids, too, who were fascinated by it. Thanks to a suggestion by our friend Halushki, we planned to make cornhusk dolls as a memento, but alas, the blog post will have to suffice due to a dog and overzealous cleaning.

I have also, on occasion, posted poetry. In spite of all the bloggy rules against it, of which, happily, at the time I was unaware.

And that's Reason Number 4 that I blog:

To have a platform on which I can talk about anything I want, to the degree that I want.

I can always talk about the amazing art of Emily Carr, and the book Susan Vreeland wrote about her here at my blog.

I can discuss politics, world events, my thoughts on issues and more.

And sometimes, people talked back. About a year ago, I started feeling my blog legs beneath me. And more people started talking to me. I started finding and reading blogs (outside of my little group of friends), and I began commenting on them. Then they commented back some more. I felt the warm fuzzy glow of Attention, and the even warmer glow of being Engaged in Something More Interesting than Laundry and The Wonder Pets.

That's Reason Number 5 I blog:

Attention. People are out there, listening to what I say, reading me, replying to me, gosh even sometimes giving me awards and tagging me with memes. It's a heady rush of pleasure to be listened to. It's an even headier rush of pleasure to be respected, to stimulate thought and discussion.

I look back and I see that I started getting a little interesting, and a little interest (outside my group of friends), in May of 2006.

Some people who I didn't even know or pay replied to my post about The Dumbest Question in the World, Bar None, Hands Down, Ever and the comments started coming consistently. People had things to say about my post, Big Brother is watching you: From 35 to 3501. In fact, one blog even backlinked to it, and rehosted my art.

People not only tolerated my ranting in The world in black and white: why the current immigration discussion saddens me, but encouraged me with agreeing comments.

And then the ultimate happened. Thanks to Jozet of Halushki, I got a Perfect Post Award for "What scares me? Jokes and science experiments," the post that put me on the map.

I ranted some more about life in my Passive Activists post; joked with my husband in So Sue Me, I Like Denny's; confessed to further misdeeds and misadventures by the children; admitted I liked missing my children; shared TMI about growing older and health troubles; got political about girls and workplace expectations, as well as political interior decorating; burst a lot of bubbles when I revealed that there is no magic word; shared the whole three part saga of how we became parents; got Dugg (et al) and published three times in a row when I talked about porn star Barbie, the penis story, and parenting as if I might get hit by a bus (which the very kind Masked Mom nominated for a Perfect Post).

Then suddenly, it was 2007, and I had a fresh leash on blogging.

Somewhere along the way, I got so much more than I ever expected from blogging:

* I gained personal insight

* Found a platform for discussing all the issues, large and small, in my mind and heart

* Discovered some amazing people with fantastic things to say who I love love love to read every day

* Learned a lot about other people in other places living different lives

* Cybermet some awesome people who I am so fortunate to have gotten to know through blogging

The first five are the reasons I blog, the second five are why I continue to blog and why I find it so valuable. How can I explain what it means to have a place in which to release the thoughts that flood my head every day...but I'm sure you understand. And how can I explain how much it means to have people to talk with, about these issues and others I hadn't known or thought about but am always glad I got exposed to.

Thanks Rachel, for this meme.

And thanks all of you, you know, just for being there.

And now...for the tags! (If you've done this meme already, linking to it is cool.)

First up: Two fabulous bloggers I've known a long time who really kept pushing and pulling me along the bloggy path (thank you): OmegaMom and Jozet at Haluski

Next up: Two bloggers who always impress me and are great writers and commenters: Gwen at Woman on the Verge and Jen at One Plus Two

Last but not least, a blogger I am just getting to know and like: Momish

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

I declare February Social Justice Month

February was a time when many issues floated to the surface, for me, and seemingly for our society. I wrote what I thought and what I could about issues that I believe mattered.

Luckily, there are many eloquent and intelligent bloggers who also write about important issues. I feel my neural synapses building every day. Even more fortunately, Jen and Mad created Just Post.

When I contacted them about selecting a post from February, they came up with a great idea: instead of choosing one and skipping the others, create this portal post that introduces the myriad of topics I covered. That way I don't clog and hog their list. :) Or try to pick favorites. ;)

So, following is a brief list of the Social Justice posts from February, with a short synopsis of each. I hope you caught these already---I got so many great comments and such wonderful discussion---but if you missed one, I hope you have the time to peruse it. If you have something to say, add it on. I'll be reading.

Thank you!

The crime and prison series

Are parents who aren't involved at the school criminals? Texas State Representative Smith (R-Baytown) says YES!---how obligated should parents be to participate in school? I explain my opinion about Texas state Rep. Wayne Smith's, R-Baytown, proposal that parents who miss a scheduled meeting with their child's teacher receive a Class C misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $500.

Spain started a unique family prison where inmates live together as families, including the children. Should prisons and society support parent-child relationships between inmates and their children through family-friendly prisons and programs? See what I think in The Parenting Prison.

Imprisoned children: Has the war on terror gone too far?
Learn about children and their families being detained in prisons right here in the USA, and the conditions that should shock you even more.


Money and society posts


How important is it that we tithe and donate our money to worthy and needy causes? I explore that responsibility and making decisions about how and where we spend money in Dirty little secrets about money: Frivolous versus conscious spending.

Is gentrification always in the best interests of the community and its residents? I share my concerns about it in my post about increasing the cost of living and decreasing the family-friendliness some developers seem to plan in my small town.

How skewed is the lens through which we view beauty? Puhleeze...Tyra Banks is NOT FAT! and Chandra Wilson knows what really matters.

SUPPORT MUSIC EDUCATION! We all should know how valuable it is for every single person. We all have something we can gain from music. My post about the Grammy's contains links to Neil Portnow's speech and links to a venue to support music education.

Politics

More matter, less art! In Can the US elect a black president? I request that we stop labeling by gender and color and start talking about the real issues.

The HPV and HPV vaccine series

Texas Gov Rick Perry buckles to Merck; Executive Order Requires Gardasil vaccine for all girls
---in a much criticized move, Texas Gov Perry bypasses all available avenues of democracy and issues an executive order that all girls receive the HPV-vaccine prior to sixth grade.

I elaborated my opinion about the above order, and the growing pressure about the HPV-vaccine, as well as having medical choices removed from me in Think it's your body, your choice? Think again...

Cure cancer with a single shot?!? 1 in 4 infected?!? ACK ACK ACK! provides bullet list straight facts about HPV, the vaccines,a nd cervical cancer, as well as links to reputable sources of information. (Remember, I'll be doing a link list post about this next week to resources and other bloggers and opinions. There's still time to send me a link---March 9 is the deadline---and check back to see all the information. It's already a really awe-inspiring list.)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Monday, February 26, 2007

Third-person Mom asks, "Where'd I lose my First Person?"

Do you want to know one of the weirdest things I've noticed about myself as a mother?

It's how often I speak about myself in the third-person.

I have never, ever done that before. I have always been wonderfully liberal in my use of the first person.

I.

I.

I.

I.

I've always been really good at using my words to describe my thoughts and feelings.

However, since having children, I've begun oddly, and frequently, referring to myself as Mom. I do it to describe where I am, what I am doing and how I feel, such as:

"Hey kids, Mom will have breakfast ready in a minute so you need to wash up, please," I said cheerfully this morning.

"All right ladies, Mom's tying her sneakers, it's time to go in a minute!"

"Honey, Mom's a bit tired this afternoon so I'm not going to bake a snack...there are cheese sticks in the fridge, okay?"

Mom? This is how I speak of myself to my children? I don't speak like this to my friends. I've never said, "Hey BFF, Julie's on her way over in five minutes!"

Holy guacamole, my friends would stage an intervention! They'd wonder what happened to the real me (or is it okay there to say the real Julie?).

I've never felt a sense of loss of self since becoming a mom. Loss of control, check. Loss of tidiness, check. Loss of simplicity, check. Loss of sense of self, no.

I'm still here, still me. Just me in this phase of life. I've got plenty behind me, and I have a ton ahead of me. Based on my "things to do before I die" list I better live to 185 at least. (It used to be 210, but I cut out about 4 career changes.)

That's why I don't worry myself about empty-nest. Sure my heart will break when the kids move on and call infrequently, all busy with their lives. But seriously, we make it to that? I'll just be grateful because honestly, I'm like that commerical, "It'll be a miracle if she makes it to five. It'll be a miracle if she makes it to nine." and so forth.

I'm happy we're all rolling along; we're meant to. I know all things pass, and I'm still me.

In fact, I believe I'm remarkably consistent in my life, for good or bad, if not perhaps completely predictable. I'm what you might call headstrong. I'll go with the flow, as long as it suits me or doesn't offend some sensibility. But I'm not what you would call "laid-back" or a "people-pleaser." I want to be liked, never want to disappoint, and I have that aforeconfessed sense of responsibility. So, at times, this means I end up somewhere I really prefer not to be, and I spend a few moments kicking myself in the ass. Still, when it comes down to something crucial, I dig in my heels.

You see? Just look at all those Is. I'm a strong woman with a big commitment to the first person.

So what does it mean when I revert to third person awkward when I speak of myself to my children?

What does it reveal about how I think of myself as a mother, and how I think they think of me as a person?

I haven't got the answer, but you better believe I'm digging deep over here. And wide open for your own personal story and/or interpretation.

By the way, for what it's worth? My husband does it too. But then again, I think we've melded somewhat into a single entity. I bet we even look alike now, which I promise was not the case when we first met in 1988. Yep, I said 1988. And no, that wasn't 1st grade. We were Out of the House by then. Pretending to be grown-ups (bwahahaha).

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

It was always Mission Lights

I don't know why. Color me hyper-responsible. It's a good color for me. Whatever the reason, I feel a mission within the world. I feel compelled to fix things, use my voice, my abilities, my time, in any way I can. It might be hubris, it might be good will toward mankind, it might be both.

My blog is a good venue for that. I can bring forth issues, present POVs. I can feel like I make a difference. However, I have to be careful because some days it might seem as if talking about it all is enough.

Of course it never is. For me, anyway.

Still my blog is a good spot for thinking out loud.

It's easy to fall into personal introspection and get stuck there, forget there is a big world beyond me. "There are people in China who've never heard of you or your troubles," my friend Tracy used to say to me when I got too angsty, "And even if they had, they still wouldn't care." He'd rub his fingers together to emulate a tiny violin, and would pout out his lips for dramatic effect.

When I feel I get a little too into myself, I news dive. I seek out stories in the world, in my community. I try to balance, me as an individual with me as a member of a greater whole. I find something within the greater community, and I retreat back into my own head and heart. So my blog posts go back and forth between me within the world and me within myself and my own life. I look for that peak moment.

One of my current authors introduced me (well, reintroduced me, I mean) to Maslow. I rediscovered the concept of the peak experience. There are two types: relative and absolute.

In the first, we understand something about ourselves, experience a sort of inspiration or rapture. It's that moment when you feel at home in your own skin, feel that sense of rightness in who you are and what you are doing.

In the second, we experience our greater place within the universe. It's that moment when you feel simultaneously huge and tiny...a part of the world (physical, spiritual, emotional) around us.

To experience a peak moment requires a degree of self-actualization, and in a way, that is what blogging is all about. Therefore, we are all trying to think, or be stimulated by other's thoughts.

I think blog surfing could really also be called peak experience seeking.

Maybe that will convince your significant other to understand your Internet time better. ;) Just explain you are broadening your mind, maturing emotionally as you read blogs.

I recently wrote about the increase in blogging awards. I mentioned some "nods and recognition" that I appreciated, such as the Perfect Post, ROFL, and Just Posts. I said I liked these because they were, in my opinion, real awards---rewards, actually---rather than popularity contests. I just learned last week about another blogger-to-blogger nod of appreciation: The Thinking Blog awards.



This began at The Thinking Blog, where the blogger wrote, "My aim with this blog is to offer content that is interesting, informative and things that could really help my friends who are reading it."

I am completely behind that. He started a new blog meme, '5 Blogs That Make Me Think' so that everyone could easily find blogs with merit, that provide relevant and thought-provoking content. I've discovered some great new blogs through this.

So I am both grateful and thankful to the Mad Hatter who introduced me to this thinking blogger meme, and tagged me. Thank you!

Now it's my turn to tag some bloggers who make me think. I've written the post (rule #1), linked to the originator (rule #2), and now for the hard bit: link to only five bloggers.

1. Life, the Universe and Everything by Mary. Her Sleeping with Bread is inspirational. Whether it's her blog or her comments, I'm always sure to find something intriguing.

2. Thailand Gal by Chani. Somehow, I feel pretty sure Chani is all about peak experiences.

3. Organized Chaos. I found Sandy after she found me through the Perfect Posts. It was my "Parenting as if I might get hit by a bus tomorrow" post (currently featured on Divine Caroline). With every comment and every blog post, Sandy makes me think and feel.

4. Izzymom by Izzy. Sweetly, intelligently, honestly, humorously, succinctly, poignantly acerbic. That's a compliment, high praise. She hits that balance I mentioned that I aim for---self and world, world in self, and self in world---and makes it relevant to each reader, of whom there are many.

5. Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy. See, right now I am stuck. I can't link because that would be cheating, right? Just one goes in this slot. But maybe I can hint off my blogroll over there.

There's a starry blogger who I miss, who I loved for her brief, and poetic, observations.

There's a Cinderella who blogs infrequently these days, to my chagrin, but has yet to put up a post that didn't motivate me to comment.

There's a new blogger, oxymoronically boney yet piggy, who is sharp and observant, infused with humor.

There's an old friend who I read regularly, and who pops in here now and again, whose breadth, depth, and discussion of omega motherhood is always intriguing.

There's a blogger you might not know, but should, who seeks fortune and glory, and caffeine, who is a fantastic writer, and who delves into thoughtful topics with poignant insight.

There's a chick with a baby, and a dog, who made my breath catch when she wrote a post to a Dear Friend, and turned me from "occasional lurker" to "regular reader."

My blogroll is full of thinking bloggers. I have still more links in my bookmarks, mainly to bloggers I'm sure you all read. I regularly go to metadata and newsites, full of interesting writers. There's a lot of great fodder out there.

Maybe go someplace new.

Have you visited Kaliroz at Fortune and Glory; after a cup of coffee (An intrepid adventurer attempting to see the world from the confines of her desk. And, no, there is no time for love, Dr. Jones.)?

all text and images copyright 2007 Julie Pippert. Please contact me via email link above for reprint permission.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Imprisoned children: Has the war on terror gone too far?

For those of you who were appalled at the idea of children in prisons, brace yourself.

I misspoke in my post The Parenting Prison when I said the prison in Spain was unique. It was, to the best of my knowledge and research, but I didn't google the right terms, apparently. And neither did any of the reporters.

There are other prisons in the world that host families. That imprison children.

And they are right here in the United States of America. Right here in the fantastic Republic of Texas. Right here, a nine year old Canadian boy (I've read conflicting reports about citizenship so am unclear about that, however, Canadian media appears to claim the boy) named Kevin* who is imprisoned in Taylor, Texas pleaded, over the phone, on the radio, "I just want to go to school...I just want to be free..."

This isn't any 5-star Disney-decorated prison either.

Kevin described sleeping on the floor of his family's prison cell, next to the toilet. He described having asthma, and being sick. He talked about missing the outdoors and running and playing with other children.

I heard this interview while driving my daughter to school. It was hard to drive safely, with the tears clogging my eyes, and my throat choked up. I told myself to change the station, but I couldn't. I thought of my daughter, imagined her in a prison, under the conditions the father and son described and my heart broke.

While I support family-friendly initiatives to protect the bond between incarcerated parents and their children, I don't support imprisoning entire families while the US takes as much time as they like to investigate whether these people might know anything about terrorism, deserve asylum, can be granted visa extensions, and so forth...in other words, while the US decides whether these people deserve to stay here.

The Department of Homeland Security recently opened the T. Don Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas for the exclusive purpose of detaining immigrants. Including, but not limited to, people who had no intention whatsever of being in the United States, such as Majid and his family.

They were on their way to Canada when one of their fellow plane passengers suffered a heart attack. The plane made an emergency landing in Puerto Rico, where Majid and his family were removed from the plane, detained, questioned, and sent to the prison in Texas.

Although the family is currently together, initially they were separated. Majid*, Kevin's father, said he and his wife were interrogated, and manhandled. His wife was told that he had been beaten into a coma, and later was told he was dead.

Listen to the segment at this link.

It appears that the family will be allowed legal counsel, but they aren't sure of the charges or evidence against them.

Majid and his family are not the first family detained:

Nazmieh Juma and her 11-year-old son, Mohammad, were held at the T. Don Hutto Family Dentention Center near Austin for three months. While they were not abused, they claim that the facility was more like a prison and less like the family-friendly center depicted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).


Although ICE prefers to call this a detention center that is family friendly versus a prison, those held there describe a different story.



Looks very family friendly and warm and welcoming, doesn't it? I hear the barbed wire is down after vehement protests, at least.

Juma's husband, two daughters, and two others sons are still being held at a center in Haskell.

Google "hutto+children" I got 271,000 results. It might not surprise you to see that most are highly critical and questoning articles. Note that some of the press has caused Hutto to alter some policies, such as removing the barbed wire and increasing children's school from 1 hour to 4 hours daily.

Here are some other links:

Canadian boy caught in Texas detention: a good overview with links to other news stories about this situation (cross posted at Daily Kos)

Feb. 16 article in Toronto Star: Canadian boy caught in Texas detention

The above article describes the conditions under which the family was detained, and adds in these details

"The interesting issue here is they weren't even trying to get into the U.S.," said Francis Valdez, a supervising attorney at the university's immigration clinic. "They were just trying to get back to Canada."

The parents said they hoped to reapply for asylum in Canada armed with evidence of what happened to them in Iran after they were deported.

Authorities at the Hutto detention centre have acknowledged holding 170 children there, says Barbara Hines, a University of Texas law professor.

It's a frightening experience for children, she said. Families are held in prison cells that have had the locks taken off. Laser beams detect when people get out of their beds, the professor said.

"Families get 15 minutes to eat and then the food is thrown out," Hines said. "Have you tried to feed a child and then yourself in 15 minutes?"


Greg Moses wrote about another Hutto child (pictured here, with her sister), in January:

Maryam Ibrahim was about two years old in 2000 when a gas canister crashed into her Palestinian home, rendering her unconscious for lack of breath. Pleading to USA authorities for asylum in 2002, Maryam's father Salaheddin testified that his little girl was fearful of people in uniform. Yet USA authorities have denied asylum and placed Maryam in jail where family members say she is not allowed to run indoors or go outdoors, and where every night at 10 p.m. she is ordered into a cell separate from where her pregnant mother is being kept. Frequently, Maryam cries. Maryam shares the overnight cell with older sister Rodaina, while younger sister Faten shares a cell with mother Hanan. Family members confirm reports that Hanan is not getting medical attention for her pregnancy, placing Maryam's little brother-to-be at risk.


These children and their families wear uniforms, and are tracked by motion detector alarms.

What must it do to a three year old, such as Mustafa Elmi, to have an alarm sound if he happens to slip out of bed?

I consider how often my children come to me in the night, fearful of a noise or dream. I can only imagine the damage to their psyche if an alarm sounded, and guards with guns rushed at us.

When I talked about supporting family bonds, when I talked about keeping up the relationship between incarcerated parents and children, I assure you this is not what I had in mind.

There are always two sides to every story, yes?

Side A:

ICE officials say the "state of the art" facility, which opened in May, is a humane alternative to severing immigrant families while parents wade through a swamp of bureaucracy, awaiting either asylum or deportation. The agency abandoned the old "catch and release" method after 9/11 because most immigrants weren't showing up for their hearings.


Side B:

"It is wrong for the United States to be detaining immigrant families with young children in a prisonlike environment when they have alternatives," said Rebecca Bernhardt, of the American Civil Rights League of Texas. "I don't think most Americans are aware that we're doing this. If they knew what the conditions were like, if they could see the families, they would find this pretty outrageous."


Source: Houston Chronicle, February 7, 2007, Critics call detainees facility 'harmful' for immigrant families by LISA FALKENBERG

Is this what passes for Immigration Reform these days?

Color me appalled.

* The names were changed to protect their identities.

P.S. Once again, I continue my posting flurry. Scroll down if you haven't been by in day or two.

Yesterday, I asked why we have to keep asking, "Can the US elect a black president?"

Wednesday, I applauded Chandra Wilson at the SAG awards.

Tuesday, I confessed that my SAHM-status doesn't mean I am open for childcare business.

Sunday and Monday I opened up about how The Parenting Prison made me feel.

If you commented, I have been going back to those comments, reading them, appreciating them tons, and replying. So check back!

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert




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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Can the US elect a black president?

Can the media shut the *&$@ up about skin color?

Okay here we go.

Listen...men and women aren't the same. People of different races look different. Cultures have differences. This can't be a sanitized world in which we all try to pretend we are just! the! same!

We aren't.

I cannot retain a telephone number to save my life. It took me thirty years to finally grasp basic algebra. I'm white and can't go in the sun because I burn too easily. I'm tall and getting back to thin. I look like a total gringo but that's just my phenotype; my genotype is far more convoluted. I can read faster than anyone I know. I love public speaking, especially teaching/educating. I can hear accents in any language.

Are you just like me?

No?

Thank goodness.

There are days I can hardly stand myself. Don't know what I'd do with two of me.

The point is...who cares.

I'll tell you who cares how job candidates look and refer to them thusly: the media.

The media has fallen in love with their ability to apply clever monikers to people in the news. It's been mocked, on TV shows such as Saturday Night Live, within the media itself, and even in movies. I'm thinking of Spiderman (was it movie 3?) in which the news guys are bantering back and forth about what tag to apply to the newest villain. They finally settled on Oct Doc (or somesuch).

Soundbite. Tag line. Cleverness.

Journalists, newscasters, news writers, news editors, and media hotshots, here's a request:

As a member of the American public, who represents at least 5% of it, I'd like to request---on behalf of myself and others sort of like me---that you quit underestimating our ability to grasp complicated concepts such as A Proper Name versus a Cutesy or Offensive Moniker.

I'm quite bright enough, thank you very much, to understand who Barack Obama is.

You need not continue to refer to him as The Black Candidate.

Frankly, that offends me.

It will further offend me if (God willing) he is elected to the office of the president and you refer to him as The Black President.

However, all of that is a drop in the bucket compared to the question all of you media sorts can't seem to stop asking:

Can the US elect a black man as president?

Now...when Clinton ran, I don't remember us asking, "Can the US elect a redneck from Arkansas?"

Now...when Bush ran, I don't remember us asking, "Can the US elect a white dumb(*$% from Texas?"

I wasn't around when Kennedy ran (sorry) but I will concede I *heard* that the media asked, "Can the US elect a Catholic?"

As someone involved in a somewhat bizarre love triangle with Catholicism, I will concede that there is a slight relevance to that question. This might shape beliefs, political platforms, issues, stance, etc.

However.

I absolutely 100% FAIL to see how the color of someone's skin will do that. How does the color of his skin relate to his prospects as the leader of this nation?

Who we are shapes what we believe and back. My experiences as a white woman within the context that is my life is vastly different from even my husband's experiences. I concede that this affects anyone, even political candidates.

But.

I woudn't assume anything about a candidate based on skin color.

Let's skip over to a recent gubernatorial election in Texas. An independent with the crazy name of Kinky Friedman ran. A lot of liberals, independents, and so forth backed him. They thought he was different. I can see getting excited about such a person. Seems way outside the norm. But the silly hats, outspokeness, funky name, and so forth hid a conservative and racist person.

He wasn't any kind of social liberal that I could tell. His solution to the increase in crime since the Katrina evacuation was to hire and put on the streets an additional 10,000 policemen. That is his great solution? Increase police? How about fix the problem...you know, by preventing the crime in the first place? How about increase initiatives to move people back home, to a good home? How about open up additional housing so people are not stacked upon one another like flapjacks? How about ensure that kids are in school getting educations, and people are employed, and that both groups have transportaion to both? How about a community awareness program to help ease tensions?

You know what? There was a candidate like that. Except, he was a plain little white guy who wore suits and was on the ticket as a Democrat.

All I'm saying is: you can't judge a book by its cover.

So if you can't judge or call by looks, then what?

What is relevant when it comes to exploring who can lead the US (or any other branch of government)?

I thought for sure the "black" thing would die out and we could start talking about, you know, actual relevant issues such as experience, education, current and past stances on issues, goals, and so forth.

But, no. The media is like a dog with a bone.

We're still talking about Obama's skin tone. And Hillary's vahjayjay.

The black man. The woman. The black man versus the woman.

Maybe it's just where I live. But once again, today, the talk show radio host asked callers to call in and discuss, "Can America get past color and elect a black man?"

It seems like a good intellectual exercise. Racism has been ghastly here, and it's still (sadly) alive and kicking. Perhaps if we can talk it through, you know, we can get people over it. That sort of thing.

I disagree.

I think when it comes up, we should shame it, "How is that even remotely relevant? Eh? Maybe if you talked more about his skills and qualifications people would know enough about the actual candidate and could decide about something other than his skin color."

The truth is, I can find plenty out there about the candidate. If I look.

However, pop culture seems fixated on color. And that's what worries me. That's the insidious message. The thing that surrounds us at all times, invading our thoughts to some degree, whether we welcome or shun it. It affects us, it does.

Let. It. Go.

The color is not really relevant. It just isn't. Not even as a discussion, an intellectual exercise. This is because whatever he is, wherever he is from, whatever he believes, whatever experiences have shaped him are in him, out there. You can figure out what you need to know from his campaign, voting record, and past experience.

His color isn't going to do that for you.

It's offensive.

Here's the bottom line

You either like him as a candidate and believe he'd make a potentially good leader--- based his position on issues, his experience, and so forth---or you don't.

And while we are on the topic (in a weird way...you'd have to follow my train of thought and really, don't try...just trust me): Way to go, Wimbledon! Thanks for making the women's prize the same amount as the men's prize! It might be two less sets, but women in tennis are quite marketable. Wimbledon women get equal prize money

(P.S. Once again, I've broken through my "let a post ride a day or so" preference. So...there's a Chandra Wilson post below that hopefully you don't miss, and also a Momming post below that. I'm cranking out a post a day just now for some inexplicable reason. Oh, I'm all het up I guess.)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chandra Wilson at the SAG Awards: YGG!

I usually like to leave posts up for a couple of days. It usually takes me that long, anyway, to write out and work through the next blog post.

However.

I was getting in my little exercise routine this morning-ish and I caught Chandra Wilson on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

And I need to highlight her for a moment. (But I did just post about Momming below so scroll down if you missed it.)

I do watch Grey's Anatomy. It's the show I love to hate. I keep promising myself to take it off TIVO. But just when they've practically lost me, somehow the show does something good and I'm sucked back in.

I've always liked the Dr. Bailey character, and the heart Chandra Wilson puts into it makes me suspect I'd like her too. She was so real, so one of us on Ellen this morning that I couldn't help but be charmed.

Did you know the Dr. Bailey character was meant to be a short, blonde, white woman? Can you imagine how that would work, now having seen Chandra in the role?

Anyway, Ellen showed a clip of Chandra's acceptance speech of her SAG award (she won the SAG award for best female actor in a drama series---no mean feat, especially since her role is more supporting than main!). This might be news to nobody. I might be the only one who didn't see it or hasn't heard about it.

She rocked!

She basically said, thanks for this award, especially on behalf of my daughters...who I want to know, with this nose, this height, this color skin, these arms (and the woman held up her upper arms and jiggled them! I think I LOVE her!)...look what you can accomplish.

(Sadly, it appears SAG yanked youtube privileges so I can't link to it.)

She was all demure on the show about it as Ellen effused about that moment, and rained compliments about saying such an important thing, so great for young women to hear and know.

Chandra Wilson added something along the lines of saying, if you're a 2 or a 22 and you feel hot, you are hot...it's all about healthy, and we should simply be our own healthy best.

Can I just say how much I loved what she said and how she said it?

Kristen Chase, on The Mom Trap, recently asked, "And so I ask, when will it be hot to be a *regular old mom -- with our "battle scars", and stretched out hips, thighs, and you-know-whats? Is the skinny size 4 = sexy image embrazened in our minds forever, or is that something that we have the power to change?"

Kristen, fear not. If we all make the decision to do this, if we all make the decision to look at and admire Chandra Wilson (mother, actress, famous, award-winner) and heed her words, I truly believe that the skinny size 2 actress will cease being emblazoned on our minds as the image of how one hot mama ought to look.

We can look at Chandra Wilson and our friends around us and see that beauty comes in a variety pack.

We've got the leaders and the choice before us! Carpe Diem!

Chandra Wilson, awesome speech. Thanks!

Ah-HA! I found her speech:

And last but not least, just to be able to take this thing home to my girls, in particular, and hold it in front of them and say, “Look, with this skin and this nose, and this height, and these arms,” you know, “I’m here!” Whoo! [applause/cheers]

Thank you Screen Actors Guild for taking me as I am. Thank you. Whoo!


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Momming" at home doesn't mean this house is open for childcare business

In my time, I have been a work-at-home mom (WAHM), work-out-of-home mom (WOHM), and stay-at-home mom (SAHM).

The truth is, I hate the labels. For me, they aren't mutually exclusive, and have merged, blended and overshadowed one another at different times.

It sort of depends on the day of the week and the season of the year, which one I am.

I like to think of it as the best of both worlds. I concede, however, that some might see it as "neither fish nor fowl."

My vantage point, though, rendered me able---or so I thought---to see all sides to The Story of Moms.

From the first moment I became a mom, I'd been regaled with tales about the mommy war between SAHMs and WOHMs. I never believed in it, probably because my knickers weren't too twisted up about many of the hotly argued scenarios.

I have heard a lot about the war, though, and have participated in a few debates. On the whole, I considered it an intellectual exercise: arguing sides of a scenario is an excellent way to live consciously, I think. At the end, we should all go away feeling more open-minded, more aware of others and their lives...shake hands like good sportsmen.

I knew some ladies walked away still quite angry, though. And I really didn't get it.

From my perspective, parenting is parenting, and I figure the vast majority of us do it the best we can.

Yes, this means I hold no opinion in general about whether it is better for a parent to work, or stay home with the kids. I thought I'd continue working, but it ended up that this wasn't the right call for us. A friend of mine was sure she'd stay home, but then she realized she missed working, and she went back. At the end of the day, we both ended up doing what felt like the best thing for all involved.

So why, then, is there this alleged friction between working and at homing moms?

I think it just might be that a misunderstanding, a false assumption about who the other is, and where her priorities are.

I don't think there is any one type. Consider the stay-at-home mom...what image pops FIRST into your head?

I'm beginning to believe that a pure and simple stay at home mom is a mythical creature. I've never met one, or maybe the truth is, we don't really know what one is. I think she's kind of hard to pin down, if you really think about it.

Many moms I know have kept their feet in the door of their career. They might appear to be stay-at-home moms, but then they tackle their second job, fitting in a few hours in the evenings, mornings, or weekends.

For example, some are medical professionals who have taken on some agency or contract work, such as my best friend, who spends her weekends trying to keep premature and sick babies alive in the NICU. Others freelance or work for themselves, like me. Still others have flexible hours and are able to work quite a bit from home.

Other moms I know volunteer their time, such as spending days in the classroom helping out, shuttling food to shut-ins, running craft projects for mom's groups,and so forth.

Others create art, continue their education, teach parenting courses, walk dogs, remodel their home and more.

Every mom and dad I know has their hands in more than one pie, especially the stay at home ones.

All in all, it truly is individual how each person responds to work and children.

However.

Parents who work do need someone to care for their children while they work.

Parenting around work days is not the same kind of parenting as being home all day.

Momish put this into words really well when writing about a snow day at home with her daughter:

I honestly think if I spent all day everyday with this child, either she or I would be dead by now. By the time my husband got home yesterday, I was two shakes away from being committed. My patience is next to nothing when it comes to a two year old.

I felt like all I did all day long was yell out orders and reprimands in an endless frantic stream. “Stop that! Get down! Put that back! Don’t touch! Watch out! No screaming! Be good!” Occasionally, once in a blue moon, we actually had some fun and laughed together. But, those happy moments seemed to be fleeting and so fragile that I felt like I was holding my breath each time things were going smoothly, waiting for the bubble to burst.


I replied:

I believe the occasional day---with no set boundaries, routines, etc.---can be harder. However, at home all day every day with kids is hard, too. There *is* a lot of "can't do this but can do this" and redirecting and preventing and solving and disciplining and so forth. That's the job.

The fun moments, the loving ones, etc. are fleeting and fragile. That's the reward.

I think the biggest trap moms (and probably dads too) fall into is thinking that quality time = Hallmark moment of pure joy.

Anyway, in my experience, nothing can drive you to your least favorite aspects of yourself like a two year old.


Momish and I are both moms of two year olds; beyond that, who knows how many differences or similarities we have. I do know one thing: I'm not more momish than she is because I am home all day with my kids.

And I think that is the first, big, ugly stereotype I've hit that has really, really pissed me off since becoming a mom who is home.

(I want to make this clear: Momish had NOTHING to do with that. She wrote a beautiful post that moved me because I could 100% identify with it. Reading it simply motivated me, gave me the words to write about something that happened last week. I owe Momish many thanks for inadvertantly helping me process something that troubled me.)

Last week, a WOHM said something that really annoyed me.

She said, "Well you stay at home, your friends stay at home, can't one of you just watch my child?"

How innocuous that looks just written there, in black and white. Deceptively innocent and simple.

No, I can't just watch your child. I don't have the time. And, moreover, I don't want to.

It might be a shocking admission, considering I went through years of infertility treatment, tried oh-so-hard to have children, and now have dedicated my life to them, but...I don't really like caring for children, in general. As cute as they can be, as lovely, as amazing, they can also be loud, messy, illogical, tempermental, demanding, and troublesome.

I love my kids. I love my nieces and my nephews. I love seeing them. I love hearing about their lives, and interests. I love my kids' friends. I love my friends' kids. I enjoy playdates and time together. I'll willingly volunteer to watch kids when their parents need assistance. For a few hours. Now and again.

But.

That doesn't mean that I could become a childcare provider. It takes a very special person to regularly care for someone else's children, whether it is all day five days a week or pinch-hitting days here and there as regular back-up. I don't have the time, or the inclination.

What it does mean, I think, is that I just might have met, finally, the no-longer-mythical Snobby Full-time Working Mom who believes all this "mom stuff" is for lesser mortals. She's the woman who, when she says, "I don't know how you do it," isn't really complimenting, or at best, means it in a backhanded way.

She doesn't really appreciate the job stay at home mothers do. She doesn't really understand what is going on. She takes the "at home" part too literally.

My visceral reaction stunned me, as did the defensive thoughts that roared through my head.

I understand how frustrating it is to try to find and keep reliable childcare. I understand how stressful it is when you need to find a last-minute back-up plan. I understand the inclination to ask for help or seek ideas or suggestions. I understand that someone you know seems better, and easier, than shuffling through myriad nanny applicants or daycare visits.

But...but...this was such a clear misunderstanding on so many levels.

This wasn't a friend asking a friend. This was working mom asking a stay-at-home mom to find her childcare, find her some stay-at-home mom who will take on her child---a group, apparently, that is legion in this woman's mind.

This was someone not getting that stay-at-home moms, any of them, might not have the time or inclination for childcare.

And worst of all, it was a huge lack of comprehension about what caring for someone else's child involves, all day, every day. To frame it with, "no big deal" and "my child should be no trouble" and "just watch" along with "since you are at home anyway" is so flagrantly offensive that I can't quite grasp the kahunas you must have to say such a thing.

No child is no big deal. Kids vary on the challenge scale, it's true. But childcare is a Very Big Deal.

It's hard for me to comprehend how a mom doesn't comprehend this.

I stay at home with my kids because they are my kids, because I love them and this is what we prefer to do. Doing so doesn't mean I've put out the red light and am open for business.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Parenting Prison

Today my youngest, Persistence, developed a new skill. She learned the fine art of the insult on top of injury.

She insisted on something verboten and my "nos" became more vehement, as did her insistence and protests. We stood there in the kitchen, arguing, each becoming more frustrated. Finally, she scrunched up her face and yelled, "BABYHEAD!" at me, and spit.

I deserved that. I was acting like a baby head. I was being immature. I was arguing with a two year old, who just hurled her latest, original insult at me, along with spitting, her new favorite injury.

Worse, I wasn't sure how to dig myself out of this sandtrap.

There are many times I feel trapped in a parenting situation like this. Moreover, there are times I feel trapped in parenting, in general.

A friend recently asked, "Do you ever check the available balance on your credit card and surf travel sites to see how far you can get with what you've got?"

I know what I have. I have $10,000. They just upped my limit. That card is wide open. I would have canceled it but my husband said it's good to keep it, keep up a good credit rating. Plus, it's my card, one I got back in college. So I feel pretty sure that it would be completely fair to use that card, and I feel certain I could get pretty far on $10,000, even these days. Maybe even to Antarctica.

Antarctica. I know. It seems fairly random, that. But I didn't pull it from thin air.

On the way home from a particularly grueling, frazzling, and exhausting grocery shopping trip with the two kids, I drove past a local travel agency whose marquee advertised, "ANTARCTICA!! Deals December through March!"

Stopped at the red light just past the agency, I closed my eyes and pondered being trapped in a military-erected compound on an icy plain, alone except for anti-social scientists.

In that moment, it felt very appealing (albeit probably very, very factually incorrect). And then, in my mind, I heard the clank of prison doors slamming. There'd be no running to Antarctica, or anywhere else for that matter, for me. I'd made my bed, and I had to lie in it. For the next eighteen years at least.

Mine was a metaphorical prison, conceived in a moment of duress, and certainly not reflective of my actual life or how I typically feel within in it about myself, my parenting, or my kids. I can actually get away, for a short bit at least, now and again. I do actually have freedom, albeit with caveats.

What if that parenting prison I felt in that moment wasn't metaphorical, though?

What if it was actual prison? And what if my kids were locked in it with me?

This is exactly the case in Aranjuez, a town 25 miles south of Madrid, Spain where sixteen families are imprisoned in cells together.

The families are grateful to have what they call a good opportunity, "They take good care of us, and having my child and husband with me makes me very happy," said Carmen Garcia, 28, an inmate occupying one of the large "five-star" 150 square feet cells along with her husband Victor and their two year old son, Victor Manuel.

Garcia was sentenced to a minimum ten years in prison for murdering her boyfriend. She met her husband Victor Lozano in prison. They got married behind bars and she gave birth to Victor Manuel.


There are 36 cells available, although only 16 are occupied. The family unit offers cribs, Disney characters on the walls, a playground for the kids, and a preschool. The children may stay with the parents---who may stay together in this co-ed facility---until they are three. After that, they are moved out to alternative care (outside family, friends, foster care, etc.) and the parents return to the regular prisons.

Unless the mother gets pregnant again. Prison psychologist Maria Yela says the comfort (of family togetherness) strongly motivates women to try for another child in order to remain in the family cells.

How beneficial is this situation for the children?

Carmen Garcia answers that:

"But this is not the best place to bring up a child. In some ways they are imprisoned too."

For the toddler, prison is the only world he knows.

At dawn a guard wakes the family up for roll call. At night, after a day playing with other inmates' children in a yard, Victor Manuel is locked up again. Sometimes he stands outside the cell crying because he does not want to go back behind the bars.

"For him it's the saddest part of the day," Garcia said.


Frances Crook, director of the London-based Howards League for Penal Reform, agrees that prison isn't the ideal environment for the children, despite the benefit of being with mom and dad, "There is a lot of evidence that shows that they will be affected in the long term. They don't see animals, they don't see trees, they don't have the stimulation that is needed to grow as a healthy child," she said.

Additionally, the children will then be separated with limited contact with their parents after they turn three.

Yela agrees that there are valid concerns; however, she thinks the situation is better than separating the children from the parents, "The most important thing was for the family to be together. The bond has to be established between the child and their parents," she said.

Spain has no plans for additional prisons like this one, and there are no other prisons like it anywhere else in the world. However, some prisons do offer nurseries for mothers with babies, and cells that accommodate mothers and children. Because most prison populations are segregated by sex, including the fathers is not feasible.

In May 2003, Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin studied a variety of research articles and statistics about children and incarcerated parents in the United States. She found:

* An estimated 1.5 million children (out of 72 million) have a parent behind bars -- an increase of more than half a million since 1991, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

* 22% of all minor children with a parent in prison were under 5 years old. Most of those children were younger than 10; the average age was 8.

* Over 10 million kids have experienced the incarceration of a parent at some point in their lives.

* 90 percent of children in long-term foster care have a parent who has been arrested or incarcerated.

* Most children of male prisoners live with their mothers, and most children of female prisoners stay with other relatives.

* As many as 10 percent of women prisoners, however, have kids in foster
care -- which is where the adoption deadlines come into play.

* From 1989 to 1999, the number of female inmates in state and federal prison leapt from about 40,000 to almost 91,000.

* Approximately 70 percent of that total were mothers, and most of them were single parents.

* Based on those numbers, it's estimated that several thousand women have had their parental rights terminated as a result of relatively minor offenses due to the Adoption Act requirements, which require that parental rights be terminated if the parents didn't retrieve the children after a certain period -- typically between 15 and 22 months.

* 57 percent of imprisoned fathers and 54 percent of imprisoned mothers said they'd never had a personal visit with their children since entering prison. More than 10% of children have no contact---including calls or letters---with their parents at all.

* The percentage of black children with an imprisoned parent was nearly nine times greater than that of white children; the percentage for Hispanic children was about three times greater than that of white children.

(Link to the monograph published by National Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning at the Hunter College School of Social Work.)

With a "war on drugs" and a "tough on crime" approach to law enforcement, along with a "zero tolerance" policy for law breakers, prison populations have surged creating tremendous problems.

One that you don't hear much about are the innocent bystanders, the unintended victims: the children of incarcerated parents.

If you review the facts and figures above, you'll see that more than half of incarcerated parents do not see their children while imprisoned.

Our society generally believes, quite firmly, that prisons are not places for children.

I believe that generally we are so convinced of a black and white world in which those who are imprisoned are horrible and evil. It is not hard to accept---without much thought---that the prisoners' children are better off without them. If we blindly buy into this, we are missing a big point: children typically benefit from bonding with their parents, and some incarcerated parents (and their children) might truly benefit from state-supported family bonding.

How likely is it that the average foster parent (or any caretaker) will actively encourage children to remain in close contact with their incarcerated parents, especially with the belief that there is no benefit to it?

I challenge that point of view.

How likely is it that a mother---who has had no contact with her children due to their placement in foster care---can argue a case that, despite her lack of direct parental contact during her incarceration, which lasted more than 22 months, she still is bonded to her children and should retain her parental rights?

I challenge that case.

With family-friendly prisons, that bond would remain in place.

For some prisoners, for some children, that would not only be good, but could improve future success for both the parent and child, and their relationship post-incarceration.

Some prisoners are incarcerated for relatively minor offenses. Recidivism (the rate of re-incarceration) might be lessened, as might neglectful or troubled parenting, if prisons supported and encouraged families. Parents could learn strong parenting techniques, and the bond between parents and children could remain, or perhaps even deepen.

It's not for all cases, for every parent, or for every child. But for those who want it, a program that supports it, has tremendous potential.

Imagine going to prison...

Would you want to remain in contact with your children during that time? Would you hope that your family, and the prison, supported and encouraged your parental role?

It's easy to say prisoners ought to lose all privileges, but the state is very clear that once a parent, it's not a privilege, it's a right. Besides which, in the end, it's a human issue, with the best interests of children at stake.

Consider researching this issue. Consider learning about, and possibly supporting, some of the programs in this vein that groups such as the Federal Resource Center for Children of Prisoners offers. There are amazing things we can do, such as open our minds, eyes and hearts.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Over the Hedge: A Declaration of War

Ahhhhhh aren't raccoons just so cute and furry and fuzzy and don't you just want to give them widdle cuddles and maybe a nice doghouse outside, with a bowl of food of their own?

The answer is NO.

You do NOT want to do this and anyway, it will not work.

In a way, you've got to respect the persistence, resilience and courage of the large, hairy, disease-ridden rodent.

But then you recall, it's my damn house.

We had a meeting aka a party with my neighborhood friends last night in which my husband and I shared the raccoon story.

After laughing their asses off at me, and when they finished cracking jokes at our expense---which I'll admit I made it very easy for them to do, esecially after I threw in the haunted stereo and why I never call 911 story---our neighbors were very sympathetic, particularly the ones who live just across the street. The husband shared his own armadillo story, and reminded me that we live next to the Defender of All Flora and Fauna aka Daffy.

I like Daffy. She's great. I'm a big proponent of her environmental issues, actually. She's a nice neighbor and lots of fun, as is her family. I can't even tell you the great things she does for the community. And the neighborhood. She's given me landscaping advice, lets my kids come into her yard (a natural habitat akin to a nature center full of flora and fauna...the kids love it), donates time (and animals) to any kid event, and often provides educational lectures. Plus, she'll rush to my house every time I ask for help due to something really horrid like a snake. She'll handle snakes. You've got to admire that in a person, seriously.

However, Daffy is occasionally the conscience you wish would, you know, zip it. Shh shh shhh I know this is wrong, but it feels so right. You know what I mean.

When we shared our raccoon situation, Daffy immediately advised us to...let it go. Deal with it. She reminded us that this is their world too, and we did, after all, invade it.

I'm normally sympathetic to this, truly.

But it is after all my house. Just ask the bank. I pay them large sums of money for the privilege of paying more large sums of money to maintain this home. It might be on land traditionally inhabited by the raccoon, but in this case, I say might trumps right.

I'm having trouble convincing the raccon of this. The raccoon appears unconvinced as to (a) my might and (b) his lack of right.

He has---and I'm not making this up---slowly but surely shredded the now locked cat door. If we won't let him in, he will chew us out of house and home.

We're thinking of spraying the door with some of that nasty pepper stuff, but suspect this will end up backfiring on us somehow. I hear Mary Poppins singing, "A spoonful of pepper helps the cat door go down...the cat door go down...the cat door go down..."

The dog continues to tree the raccoon. But I think that's just all fun and games to him. The racoon, that is.

Our neighbor told us to keep in mind the "brick that accidentally falls on the head" tactic for dealing with overly intrusive wildlife, but warned us that little birds have a habit of being excellent eyewitnesses and tattletales for Daffy.

In the end, my husband's inclination to be humane is lessening by the day and with each bolder countermove by the raccoon.

So far, it's a draw. However, in the immortal words of Gordon England, "We will prevail, we have to prevail."

For myself, I am also trying to keep in mind the optimistic voice of WIlliam Falconer, "I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among the creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of kindness and compassion."

But I must say, the little voice that seems to be whispering right now about "losing is not an option" is getting louder...

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Gentrification: Do the cons outweigh the pros for neighborhood revitalization?




As I undergo a weight and health revitalization, I'm paying more attention to other facelifts in my area. A real estate development company has bought up a large amount of waterfront land just on the other side of my neighborhood. They are putting up three high-rise mega-bucks condos. Tower One is up and framed. It's huge.

I live in a village. We have a nice municipal facility that houses our two-man police force, our mayor's office, space for elected officials, court, and town hall.

Since the village is so small, we use services from two nearby towns. For postal service, we use the closest town. It has less than 9500 people. So we are a small town surrounded by and abutted by many other small towns. You can blur through three towns on one road in about five miles. And we're really close to a big city, so we get the best of all the worlds. The sophistication and amenities of big city with the feel-good neighborliness of small town.

We appreciate that quality. Homes and businesses are well-maintained, but not fancy. It's very down-to-earth. Everything is reasonably priced. You can live fairly cheaply here, very simply. And it's very friendly.

When I go shopping, it's like a social excursion. We can go eat in our local restaurants and always see people we know. People care here, and chip in regularly for one another. It's a true community.

My mother says it's like a time-warp.

We jokingly call my town Pleasantville.

We're in a prime real estate area, or so you'd think, since we are waterfront. We have rivers, lakes, and ocean all within visual distance. But, like I said, up to this point, it's been a sort of forgotten area. Very simple. Then...the gentrification train pulled into our station. It shouldn't be a surprise. But it is.

The billboards outside of the "under development areas"---most of which used to house local businesses, mainly boat businesses or waterfront restaurants---are large and glossy with images of beautiful bikini clad women looking suitably blase while sunning on a yacht, jetskiing, or looking languidly into the eyes of handsome men. I've begun referring to our town as Little Miami, since it seems that is what they'd like to make of it.

It scares me, these images, these goals, for a variety of reasons.

In anticipation of the Increased Money Base of People with More Money than they Know What to Do with moving into our community, businesses have been changing. More chi-chi places have been coming in and taking over either available land or shoving out smaller, cheaper, local businesses.

Signs have quit advertising family-friendly and have begun instead using ones like "elegant."

We've experienced this before. Our last town in MA went from "small town village with family-friendly spots" to "Yuppie Capital of the North Shore." We went from being able to bike up to a great, fun pub to having to drive to the next town to find a place we could (a) afford and (b) be accepted at in casual clothing with a child. We were pretty sad.

So I watch this current development with trepidation.

The mayor of our town came to one of my club's meetings last spring to discuss some of this development. We must have sounded like some degree of sticks in the mud, but how happy would you be with high-rises towering over your neighborhood?

We also expect that the increase in property value to increase property taxes. This could edge out some people. A downside of gentrification. I've seen it before. I've felt it before.

The mayor tried to reassure us.

We just built a new elementary school. The community is pouring heart and soul into this school and we are all pleased and happy about it. Across the street from the school is a boat retailer. He went out of business courtesy of Hurricane Katrina. We knew that land was up for grabs, and also knowing about the high-rises, we expressed concern to the mayor.

She assured us the city would develop half the land for green space and the other half for private, two-story townhomes.

She lied.

Instead, it appears they will be putting in a very tony resort/hotel.

Next to our neighborhood, next to our elementary school.

It might sound narrow-minded and petty, but I'm not entering into this development and transformation of our community with a glad heart.

I feel the cons of what we lose far outweigh the pros of increased property value and more money in the community. I think we have money enough in the community.

I like our small-town, laid back feel. I don't want to lose that. I like my kids growing up with a town that values values over money, surrounded by solid people, good eggs.

Can our town survive an influx of yuppie capital? I hope so.

So what do you think? Hve you experienced gentrification in your community? Do you believe it is a positive? Or are you more like me?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine's Day is for lovers, so what do old married people do?

I belatedly realized---after Gwen asked me my opinion about Valentine's Day---that my last post completely left me out of it all.

What with all the "babyproofing your marriage" talk, I understand that keeping the romance alive and well in my marriage is essential.

I am, after all, a product of the Enjoli generation. I'm supposed to have it all, all the time. Women sacrificed! fought! committed their lives! to ensure I had the opportunity and training to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let my man forget he's a man. (Bolstered, of course, by perfume that is sure to last eight hours!)

The least I can do is take advantage of a holiday dedicated to romance.

So did we?

I think so.

The thing is after fifteen years your idea of what love is, what romance is, what makes good can change. My ideas have. Thankfully.

I like the little things. I like that my husband brought me a truly gorgeous arrangement of roses, and a really neat and sweet card.

But what I really like is that he gets up and goes to work at the crack of dawn so he can come home and spend time, including dinner, with us. I really like that he lets my crazy moods roll off his back (usually). I really like how he makes the kids feel like the center of his universe. I especially like how he's just plain here, as committed to this as I am.

So what did we do for Valentine's Day?

In the morning, my husband hauled himself to work before dawn broke. I shuffled the kids through our usual routine and then I dropped them off at school where I knew---despite my pleas since Christmas---they'd be practically sugared to death with candy other parents brought in for the holiday, some of it inevitably containing peanuts, despite my personal appeals and school notes and policies.

(Hello...you, yes you, the parent who thinks handing out candy at each holiday is a good idea? It's not. Please stop. And for the record, anything called Reese's Peanut Butter does, in fact, contain peanuts. I KNOW! Such a SURPRISE! But there you have it. For the record, when someone is allergic to peanuts? It's not fun, nor is it a joke, nor is it something we just need to get over. I wish just once you could have a mad rush to the ER with anaphylactic shock. Just once. You'd change your tune. And to the parent who sends stickers and pencils? Thanks. A lot.) (Edited to clarify: This isn't irony. I really do like the pencils. I also like the notepads, tattoos and other little useful items like that. I'm perfectly fine with nothing, too.)

I hurried to work where I took care of a few tasks, rushing, trying to leave time to exercise. First I said, okay 45 minutes instead of an hour. Next, I compromised and said, okay half an hour. Finally, okay, 20 minutes for exercise and 10 minutes to get ready to go to get the kids.

Once I arrived at the school, I covered for a friend and my daughter's teacher so the friend could go to the doctor and the teacher could teach an after school program. I huddled in a classroom with five children, two of whom were mine, and then took them all home with me, teacher included. We forced them all to sleep or lose brain cells in front of a TV and shared tea while folding laundry and trading quips.

My husband posted to my blog (twice!) as a romantic Valentine's gesture during the day. Then he came home with the flowers and card.

I gave him a heart-shaped milk chocolate flavored treat wrapped in foil with a Lab photo and caption, "I drool for you." I also did not snark once about him getting home an hour later than expected without even calling. I'm sure he valued that more than any box of truffles.

The kids had already eaten by the time he got home, so I had a Lean Cuisine and he had a sandwich. We spiced it up with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, in front of the children.

Our conversation went something like, "So how was your d...hey kids off the glider."

"Fine, except I did catch this...girls, mom said off the glider, why don't you color?"

"I got your email did you get that thing finished...hey you heard dad, kids, how about you put some of your new stickers on some paper?"

"Which email, was it the...oh man Persistence just fell running into the kitchen..."

He raced off to comfort the fallen child, and herded them upstairs into a bath and bed. I washed the dishes.

That's real love, my friends. That's real romance. That's real marriage. (Edited to add again: This isn't irony. This is honesty. Truth. Straightforward.)

Like I said, we acknowledge the day in some way, which varies. I think it's good to seize opportunities for fun, for special things. The little gestures like flowers and the big gestures like a night out alone are good. They might even be esential. I'm not sure I can say.

On a daily basis, I'll tell you what's hot to me.

It's coming downstairs in the morning and finding the dishwasher unloaded.

It's getting time to blog surf in the evening as my husband handles bath time.

It's pouring out my heart for at least a full hour about some matter troubling me and having my husband listen patiently.

Now that's romantic. (Edited to add: And I mean this sincerely.)

Now this is retro:



all images and text copyright 2007 Julie Pippert