Monday, December 31, 2007

The missing link post: Unresolved about resolutions and looks back, but grateful iPod knows my musical style for me

Many bloggers are doing these fabulous retrospectives of their blogging through 2007. Others are doing these awe-inspiring lists of resolutions for 2008. Some impressive bloggers are doing both.

Here's where I let my inner Slacker shine through. And do neither.

But I will throw out a few random and frank (versus Ethel, Lucy or Fred) comments here:

1. About resolutions

A while back (and dear me, if I were a better blogger or not so lazy I'd link to the post I mean here) (this is what I call a Typical Julie Guilting Self Trip---I travel this often) I went on a little rant about the abuse of prayer.

After my more recent rant about gift wish lists (again with the missing link), it will probably surprise not one person to learn the direction of that rant.

I was disturbed by the specific desires uttered in prayer.

It seemed to me that the utterly faithful would only ask for God's guidance, presence, support or peace to deal with outcomes that are usually beyond our control.

Only I tried to sound less judgmental and more diplomatic than that.

The trouble with strong and specific opinions is that there is no way to not offend someone, or most people actually (my usual). There is also no way to plead, exactly, that this is just about me, because let's face it, it's not. In this kind of opinion, I am thinking about what other people do. I don't judge it but I do note the difference. And thus...in so uttering my thoughts on the matter, I know I open myself up to debate, criticism, defensiveness and my name in vain.

Some of you made really good counter points in the gift wish list post comments. It gave me a few more things to think about, chiefly that not everyone is like me. Believe it or not I think we need this reminder often.

So I accept that my opinion is imperfect, full of flaws and holes that someone can drive a counterpoint tractor through, and I welcome you to do it.

I think what that will gain is better understanding and acceptance on my part of differing methods. I don't think it will change what I believe is right for me.

I know what I want, usually, at least I do when it comes to the little things. It'd be really easy to ask God for all the things I want: help me renovate my kitchen, change my kid's attitude in this moment, let me pick the winning lottery numbers.

But I don't ask for that. Someday I'll be able to articulate my "deal" with "expectations."

Dear God: In this prayer I ask that you help me find a way to articulate my "deal" with "expectations." (KIDDING!)

What I do ask for is the strength and grace I need to navigate life. I ask for help finding in myself and my faith what it is that I need to make it through today.

I know what I want in any given moment---my friend's cancer to go away, my kid to get well, rescue from my own disease---but I also know this is not in my control or how things work. I know what I actually need is the core to manage with what does happen.

That sounds passive and I am anything but that. I am also not peaceful and accepting, in all cases. I'm a fighter.

I think---I hope!---that with age I am simply learning the wisdom of what I can control and what I can't, and am hoping/praying/asking in a direction that supports that.

So with this course of thought so clear in my head when it comes to prayer and gift wish lists, it begs the question about why I am so unresolved when it comes to new year's resolutions.

Today I said to Chani, "I'm so immured in a goal-oriented culture where one must write a thesis goal and action plan to work towards that and I find it hard to think that's *all wrong* because it's such a big *should* and works for so many people but something about it niggles at me."

Then it started to come together in my head.

As I read through people's resolution lists, I found myself most attracted to the general ones, the ones that aligned with my beliefs---that fit with how I like to think of prayer and gifts, for example.

They might not be specific. They aren't necessarily traditional goals. They might not include an action plan. Many are a list of improvements, and as I looked at them, I saw an underlying single goal, a theme if you will. So I decided to, privately, list out my own goals for myself, specifically, and see what underlying theme they revealed.

I won't be surprised if my resolutions match my prayers: dear God help me live more mindfully and with grace, courage, nobility of mind and spirit, and kindness.

2. About music

Jon got me an iPod for Christmas and a trip to Vegas in the Spring, because he can be really, really good that way (and maybe I can be really, really good too to get such things).

This is about more than shutting up my complaints about how radio in this town sucks rotten eggs. This is about more than pulling me into the 21st Century.

This is about pure aesthetics and pleasure.

Do you know the joy it is to be able to have your music go with you everywhere you go?

I bet you do.

I think I am the last person in the US over the age of 10 to find it out.

And Thank Goodness iPod understands my musical style and can list it out for me---and even suggest things to me!

Here, according to iPod are my Top 25 (so far...because I need a new computer hard drive to finish loading the rest of my music, such as the stuff that I carry with me always in my car):

Please Don't Tell Her---Big Head Todd and the Monsters
It's Alright---BHTM
Bittersweet---BHTM
Super Duper Love---Joss Stone
When the Stars Go Blue---Ryan Adams
So Nice---Bebel Gilberto
Desafinado---Ella Fitzgerald
Dancing in the Moonlight---King Harvest
The Good Kind---The Wreckers
Chain of Fools---L'Aretha
Natural Woman---L'Aretha
Respect---L'Aretha
Dindi---Astrud Gilberto
A Peak You Reach---Badly Drawn Boy
Something to Talk About---BDB
Walking Out of Stride---BDB
Crazy in Love---Beyonce
Stir It Up---Bob Marley
Everybody be Yoself---Chic Street Man
Mustang Sally---The Commitments
You've Got a Friend---James Taylor
Cool Lookin' Woman---Jimmie Vaughn
Crapped Out Again---Keb' Mo'
Can't Get You Out of My Mind---Kylie Minogue
Sweetest Goodbye---Maroon 5

I haven't even added the rest of my R&B. Corinne Bailey Rae. John Legend. Alicia Keyes. My ska music. Mighty Mighty Bosstones. My disco music. That is but the tip of the iceberg. More R&B, more Latin, more alternative rock (grown-up version). Blues. Southern rock.

And is it just me or do all the bands coming out now sound like garage bands by the sons of Flesh for Lulu, The Smiths, The Cure, and so forth?

Are we in an 80s revival?

3. About the 80s

So tonight happens to be New Year's Eve which means the end of 2007 and the usual rocking new year's eve, in some form or fashion.

We will be ushering out the old and welcoming the new in 80s fashion.

I kid you not. (It is fun, people, not pathetic.)

Within walking distance, thank goodness.

A while back my neighbors and I decided it would be loads of fun to get one of those online mysteries and host a party, which got shuffled to New Year's Eve at my neighbor's house. After a flurry of email votes, we decided on Murder in the 80s. Because most of us are almost 40 like that.

My character is Samantha, and I think it needs no further description but think Molly Ringwald in a John Hughes film. (If you don't know what I mean here you are too young to read my blog. KIDDING!)

The game Strongly Suggested I play this part and I do not even want to deconstruct that.

Jon is a GhostBuster. He's just thrilled.

I got a funky fun prom-like cocktail dress and will do an 80s 'do complete with one of Persistence's tiaras, which she has graciously loaned me for the evening (since I seem to have none of my own).

Jon will probably wear his REI casual hiking pants and a sports tee-shirt. He's currently constructing a bookcase rather than a cardboard box with a hose, as the game suggested, so I'm going to venture a guess he'll carry no ectoplasm pack type accessories.

The kids will be spending the night with Nana and their cousins at my sister's house, because they are good to me that way.

I'm just hoping I can harness enough brain power to figure out a clue or two, and not get too distracted by Whip It or Dancing With Myself over in the Karaoke/Dance corner. My clever friend, the hostess, is offering prizes for best costume, best 80s drink and appetizer, and best dancing 80s style. I've got the last one sewn up.

I know this because the last time I was at a dance club dancing my happy heart out, this man tapped me on the shoulder and with a big laugh said, "You graduated high school in the 80s, didn't you?"

No, I did not bitchslap him. I just laughed and admitted the truth. I am a mature person with a rich life and confidence in my age. See? Good sides to getting older.

So we're looking forward to a night out, but especially this night out because historically we do a Big Party and then sit home for the next five years (or so) to recuperate.

Our last huge bash was 1999. Apparently that year a big group of people in Boston decided the only place to party like it was 1999 was in Chicago, so unbelievably we all chartered seats on a plane, flew to the Windy City and then really closed out a century in style. We were on a subway...and at some ginormous sports bar...ate pizza...went to a blues club...somebody had managed to hire up a bar for the group party...then the big excitement was when my guy friend proposed to his girlfriend at midnight (with a little teensy help from me) and everybody was really happy after that. So happy that the following year we had to all get on a jet to Sarasota for their lovely wedding. But I was pregnant by then and thus ended most of the jetsetting.

Tomorrow we'll all gather at my sister's before my mother heads back home. We'll eat black-eyed peas, of course and probably watch football, of course. The kids will run wild.

Not a bad way to begin a year. A good way, actually.

Happy New Year wishes to you!

P.S. I did post a bit of fiction yesterday.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
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Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Every Day Princess: noble, brave, and twice as quick

Persistence is in a hardcore princess phase. Jon and I are baffled by it. Where did it come from? Prior to her obsession (and believe me, it's an obsession) we had a very limited amount of princess stuff. Neither girl had ever expressed much interest in princesses, and we had no desire to push princess stuff, so...we lacked stock. We had maybe a few books, although not ones she read much. We don't watch any princess TV shows or own any princess movies. There were a few dress-up princess dresses Patience had gotten as gifts in years past, and maybe a doll.

I think school might be the genesis. At Halloween she wore a Georgie costume and every other little girl wore a princess costume. The following week, she was princess crazed. She wore one, or two, of her princess costumes every single day. I freshened the dresses as best I could, and changed out the base clothing underneath. I refused to let her go out of the house in the ridiculous clunky plastic shoes and we came to an agreement about her sneakers, which are now called Princess sneakers. Then, for Christmas, she got some sparkly little shoes that are simple flats and shoes she can actually wear out and about.

Every day she says to me, directly after breakfast, "Mama, we go upstairs now, I need-a get my Princess on."

I find that statement---how she says it, what she says---very telling.

It's not an outfit; it's a persona.

Recently, she's been broadening her definition of what constitutes Princess Attire. She began transitioning to regular dresses that she deemed fit for a princess (fancy dresses, past Easter dresses, etc.). I appreciated this expansion. It was getting a little difficult.

But as her clothing definition expanded, so did her obsession with all things princess. She now must drink from a "princess" cup, eat off of a "princess" plate, use "princess" flatware, read "princess" books and so on. Because we've never been big princess fans, we don't really have any specific princess stuff so we have to get creative to accommodate this. For eating, as long as the item has pink, we're okay. For reading, as long as the book has a castle, we're okay. There are a lot of rules for the mom and dad of a princess and sadly, no manual for reference.

Sometimes we make a mistake.

And that leads to a major meltdown.

This is when I lose my tolerance for princess. This is when I start thinking there is no underlying reason for princess...she just likes to play pretty and diva. This is when I feel manipulated and start feeling a tugging urge to clamp down and put an end to this princess nonsense. This is when I start questioning my open acceptance of my kids and their kid-driven development, and start wondering if the naysayers have a point. I worry they might be right and that my validation of my kids and their stages is actually spoiling.

But then there is a light: Persistence suddenly began incorporating ballet outfits in her princess repertoire.

The ballet outfits I understand a little better than the princess. She loves dancing.

I promised her dance lessons when she turned three, we do the Bella Dancerella dance DVD daily, and I have begun teaching her a few basics about movement. (Once upon a time, I taught two ballet classes: 3 and young 4, and 4 and 5 year olds.)

This phase had loosely begun a few weeks ago, but then we went to her oldest cousin's dance recital and interest blossomed into fascination.

Persistence loves her cousin and often copies her, just because she thinks everything her oldest cousin does is neat. We often joke that Persistence is "monkey see, monkey do." The ballet mimicry caught my attention, gave me pause and I think a little insight.

Is she emulating someone, or an aspect of someone, whom she greatly admires when she dresses in these costumes? Is she forming her personality? Is she feeling closer to that person by dressing in a way that captures the moment she felt was so important?

I'm not sure. It's more than just role-playing and dressing up for fun, though; it's a serious business.

So although I haven't quite figured out why she is so princess obsessed or what it's reflecting from within her, I am trying to understand it and I am indulging it. The part I do understand is that it is very important to her.

If she needs to dress like a princess and wear a tiara, more power to her.

I do think princesses can be powerful; what we make of the idea of princess is what counts. They don't need to be trapped in a tower, waiting for rescue. They can play with wooden trains on a track, run races, paint pictures, and bump foot-pedal cars with laughing abandon. She doesn't know that, as a princess, she is supposed to be any particular way. She makes it up as she goes along.

I'm pretty sure that in Persistence's mind, princesses are Large and In Charge.

And maybe right there is the exact explanation for my three year old's princess obsession.
But while they talked, above their heads I saw
The feudal warrior lady-clad; which brought
My book to mind: and opening this I read
Of old Sir Ralph a page or two that rang
With tilt and tourney; then the tale of her
That drove her foes with slaughter from her walls,
And much I praised her nobleness, and 'Where,'
Asked Walter, patting Lilia's head (she lay
Beside him) 'lives there such a woman now?'

Quick answered Lilia 'There are thousands now
Such women, but convention beats them down:
It is but bringing up; no more than that:
You men have done it: how I hate you all!
Ah, were I something great! I wish I were
Some might poetess, I would shame you then,
That love to keep us children! O I wish
That I were some great princess, I would build
Far off from men a college like a man's,
And I would teach them all that men are taught;
We are twice as quick!' And here she shook aside
The hand that played the patron with her curls.

The Princess, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lola and Flavia Spill All

My sister Flavia happens to be sitting right next to me so we decided to be efficient (we're smart and sweet that way) and do a single blog entry that covered both of us for today.

We decided to do a Tell All entry. The whole thing is eye-numbingly boringly juicy but the best bit is at the end so you have to read the whole thing.

Weirdest Thing

Lola: Flavia makes up words, like all the time. For example, we went to the green belt across the street to use the trail for a run this morning. On the way back she was describing the effort it took to come and go with six kids and three adults. "It's just dedonculous," she laughed. You know she means ridiculous plus annoying, but the words. She's too much. Also, she gets everyone around her talking like she talks; that is to say, using made up words. Her kids all come out of the bathroom and say, "I just dropped The Bizzomb."

Flavia: Oh yeah? Well words are the weirdest thing about you, too. You know every single word in the dictionary, plus all their meanings and use them all. You all should know Lola used to read the dictionary for fun as a child. I kid you not.

Funniest thing we did as kids

Flavia: How can I choose one? We did stupid stuff all the time as kids. I think the mud incident and pecan game stand out the most.

Lola: Did you know over Christmas Cousin T brought up the fork incident?

Flavia: Yeah?

Lola: Yeah and of course I got the blame. Since I know Cousin T knows about this blog I feel like I have to set the fork incident record straight. It was not, I repeat, not my idea nor did I encourage it. In fact, I actively discouraged it. I said, "Cousin T, you are so stupid, that is the dumbest idea I ever heard."

Flavia: That's love.

Lola: I should explain. One Thanksgiving, probably about 1981 because I was a Know It All Tween...

Flavia: What changed?

Lola: Hardy har har.

Flavia: Anyway, I don't think it was the 80s yet, Lola. I think Cousin T was born in 75 not 76, so it was probably 79 because I think she was about Sauncey's age.

Lola: Okay so I was pretty much a mostly know it all tween and I said it was a stupid idea.

Flavia: You haven't explained the idea yet.

Lola: Oh right, okay Cousin T was always trying to keep up with us, the older cousins. I was oldest, then you and R were middle, and T was last until J came along. Anyway this one Thanksgiving we were bored from sneaking food to the dog off our plates and T announces she's going to stick her fork all the way down her throat. You and R laughed your rears off which only encouraged her, so technically it's partly your fault.

Flavia: What can you possibly do when someone says they will stick a fork down their throat? Who does that?

Lola: So she did and ralphed all over the table.

Flavia: It was disgusting.

Lola: The best part was she missed the pie.

Flavia: More for us.

Lola: Okay so what happened was that the adults rushed over convinced the baby was dying and they made her lay down on the bed in the guest room the rest of the day. And that's why she missed the pie.

Flavia: But that's not even close to the stupidest thing we ever did. There's always the Pecans for Darwin game.

Lola: Ghost in the Graveyard. Horse thievery. And the mud incident, which you already mentioned.

Flavia: Yeah.

Lola: I wonder what ever happened to Eric and John.

(For a while after our parents divorced my dad and another divorced dad split up a house. The other dad had two boys the same age as me and Flavia. We were all preteens, early teens. That was ummm...a sitcom waiting to happen.

One day probably about 83 or so Eric and John---having already successfully double dog dared me into climbing into the storm drain as well as stealing and riding a horse---decided to triple dog dare me and Flavia into jumping into a giant mud river. So we did, then made chicken noises as they stood clean and dry on the side. So they had to jump in too. To prove they had balls. So, the four of us later trooped home completely covered in mud to the supreme fury of our dads.

We gambled with poker and craps and my gosh, that's probably not even the worst of it.)


Flavia: We could check prison records.

Lola: They probably say the same thing about us. I have no idea what those dads were thinking leaving four teens---two girls and two boys---to their own devices like that all the time. That was insane, that whole period of time.

Fashion Sense of the 80s

Flavia: Let's just say all of Lola's stuff gets rejected by resale shops. Just kidding! She's conservative and not trendy, about longevity and sensibility. Look at this Eddie bauer ad. You'd wear that.

Lola: I am wearing that outfit, almost exactly.

Flavia: That's what I'm saying! You're J Jill and I'm Anthropologie. You're Katherine Hepburn's closet from 1974.

Lola: Oh my GOD, you did not just say that!

Flavia: Hey! That's a compliment! Everyone says she had great style.

Lola: Nobody had great style in the 70s.

Flavia: We thought they did at the time.

Lola: This is about the 80s. I was as big a goofball as anyone in the 80s. I loved that preppie time.

Flavia: You weren't too bad in the 80s. I always wanted to borrow your clothes. Remember I broke the lock on your door to get in to borrow clothes?

Lola: Steal clothes you mean. Remember the day I had to drive around the neighborhood to all your friends' houses to get my clothes back because my closet was empty? You didn't just borrow them, you loaned them out.

Flavia: Oh puh-leeze. Anyway I know a better category than this one.

Most Embarrassing Thing

Flavia: Lola reads romance novels.

Lola: This is not a secret nor is it embarrassing. I openly support women's fiction. You're going to have to work harder than that. Especially when I tell everyone you wore Garanimals in elementary school. Religiously.

Flavia: That's embarrassing? That's why I look so good now. It taught me my levels of matching. My big reveal can be that sometimes I go in the bathroom and pretend to have a poop just so I can sit and read, be alone.

Lola: I think you will find that club has a lot of members.

(We're interrupted by the 7 year old who tells me Patience is using curse words and being mean. This has been a problem lately.)

Lola: That's my really most embarrassing thing. My kids are acting horrible all the time right now. Let's change the subject.

Flavia: Your dog's farts are foul.

Lola: He somehow found the rawhide he got at Christmas and we are in for a rough evening.

Flavia: Reason number 374,000 I don't have a dog. And this magazine has thoroughly irritated me.

(Flavia, while doing this, was reading Body + Soul, a magazine of mine.)

Favorite movie:

Flavia: Almost Famous.

Lola: I agree and add Clueless.

Flavia: Say Anything, or anything with John Cusack.

Lola: I agree and add High Fidelity, plus because I love Nick Hornby. We should add in some smart movies.

Flavia: These aren't smart movies?

Lola: No they are. I just mean, something with the word "epic" in the description although you know? I hate epic movies. I like smart-assed movies.

Flavia: Me too. The Usual Suspects.

Lola: Anything with Kevin Spacey.

Flavia: The Ocean movies except for Brad Pitt.

Lola: George Clooney. I like his movies too even though I don't think he's that hot.

Music

Flavia: Willie Nelson of course. Dave Matthews. Paul Simon. But these are all so trite. I like stuff off the beaten path, too.

Lola: I found a new group I like; Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden. Very cool.

Flavia: Lyle Lovett. OH MY GOD are these all your gift cards?

Lola: Yes.

Flavia: You're rich!

Lola: No I'm not. I'm redoing my kitchen. Back to music. Anything Brazilian.

Flavia: Yeah anything Spanish, rich gift card and cash girl.

(Jon interrupts to do the eye-pointing "I'm watching you" thing to Flavia.)

(Laughing discussion ensues.)

Lola: Okay we have to finish up with the funniest juiciest reveal.

Big Juicy Reveal

Flavia: I'm pregnant.

Lola and Jon pass out.

Flavia: KIDDING! Not anatomically possible. I have four. My body quit.

Lola: This has to be juicy. What do people read gossip sites for?

Flavia: Sex. Drugs. Scandal. Bad habits.

Lola: We don't have anything interesting.

Flavia: Oh my god you can't say that!

Lola: What else?

Flavia: I read Us to see that celebrities are human too.

Lola: Everyone figures we put our pants on one leg at a time, Flavia. We're regular people, not famous.

Flavia: Speak for yourself! I'm a legend, at least in my own mind.

Lola: I'm sure you're legend somewhere, Flav. High school. College. Random underpasses in Fort Worth.

Flavia: You can't say that! This is why Nana thinks my name is Lola and gets us mixed up. There was nothing nasty under any underpasses in Fort Worth or anywhere.

Lola: Uncle! Okay okay. You don't have anything. I don't have anything. I think my glory is all past. I'm the Cherry Bomb. We should run for political office with such squeaky clean records.

Flavia: They're not that squeaky clean; there's just not anything I'll admit on your blog.

Lola: So you have got something! Spill! I'm going to put on my make-up until you tell me something.

Flavia: How does this harm me, Tammy Fay? What are you going to do, apply 20 layers of lipstick until your lips can't move? Mascara yourself into a coma?

Lola (laughing): Come on. You have to give me something for real.

Okay. So, there's no juicy reveal. I'm sorry. All we could think of was that we make up a drink (alcoholic) for every big get-together or event, such as The Christmas 2007 drink was a White Chocolate Raspberry Mocha Martini. The Pennsylvania Summer 2006 drink was a Mango Mojito and Grapefruit Cooler Breeze Martini.

And that's a wrap.

As the cousins---currently re-enacting childhood as we lived it, including going crazy with walkie talkies right now---would say, "Roger that!"

How about a photo?



Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Someone's special someone for the holidays

Tip was smarter and Teddy was sweeter. They had heard it since a time before memory. Sweet and Smart or Smart and Sweet. Either way it should have been a name of a magazine for teenaged girls or a brand of hard candy or a sauce for crispy duck. The teachers in their elementary school said it when the boys were a grade apart.

...

"Tip is one of the smartest little boys this school has ever seen," the teachers would confide when Doyle came in for conferences. "But Teddy is just so sweet."

--- Ann Patchett, Run

And, in so saving the most precious comment for the end---best for last--we reveal what we value most: sweet.

The truth is, I think, that the majority have a taste for sweet, but fewer have a taste for smart.

That's how I always knew my sister was better---because she was prettier and sweeter. Like Tip and Teddy, we were Smart and Sweet, Smart and Pretty. She had layers, outward assets. I was just smart. Smart got you in trouble. It made you ask questions that got you snapped at, "Don't be smart!" Smart makes people want to take you down a peg or two, let you know butter will too melt in your mouth.

Mostly we admire smart obligingly. It's a chore, something you are supposed to do, like write thank you notes. But we admire sweet from the heart. Sweet is the thing we all crave and appreciate, it is the thing that touches us.

Smart is usually more practical than touching.

And as Smart, I am generally more on the side of efficiency and good use, too, even when it comes to Christmas and gifts. It doesn't occur to me to take precious family treasures, such as photos of dear and departed, and create a gorgeous memento scrapbook which I then reproduce in full color, one for each member of the family. It doesn't occur to me to write a special poem, celebrating the love of family, nor do I think to hand-tie to a tin of ingredients Grandma's treasured recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I don't spend lovely memory-making moments with my kids baking treats which I deliver to every person who provided me a service of any sort over the course of the last year.

As Smart, I give gift cards to teachers because they are practical and efficient. I give books and music, because they are useful and enjoyable. I make donations because it is in the spirit, and necessary (if not me, who? if not now, when?). I give toys that are fun and teach something important. My children's toys all hit the major academic areas: art, music, reading, writing, physical education, math and science.

It's a tie which subject has been the most popular toy. Persistence is sleeping with her math toy (10 little birthday cakes with candle slots, for counting and simple addition and subtraction, plus color sorting, plus sharing and trading, plus---if you spot the pattern---multiplication tables). But she is playing with her car and train tracks toy frequently and for long periods of time. Patience is in ecstasy over her moon sand and play foam and has constructed wondrous sculptures. But she set up her soccer skill toy in the back yard and has asked that her friends come over for a game. Our house is littered with their drawings, and signs from Patience, such as:
Helo Nana and welcum to r haws! We lov yu!

She drew with her new pencils a lovely picture around these words. And she hung the small sign, carefully, by the door, on the inside.

That's very sweet. Smart can be sweet, too. It just needs space, and direction, and observant people who can spot the tiny gestures...gestures maybe not as overt as handmade or sentimental or big or in the direct line...gestures perhaps not always within the traditional definition and thinking of sweet, or maybe within it, but loosely and subtly.

December and Christmas always bring me obstacles to overcome, physical, mental and emotional. I know that this is the Season of Sweet, the time of the Cheerful. While my own brand of quiet happy mixed with moods and introspection, and my own type of kindness mixed with practicality works other times of year, I expect it to get overshadowed at the least and mowed down at the most this time of year. I expect to be entreated more than usual to "lighten up" and "get happy" this time of year. Although I am consistent, who and how I am is less tolerated this time of year. People like more this time of year, more cheer, more excitement, more fluff. The pressure is intense to make this the most wonderful time of the year.

I realized by December 24 that I was clenching. I was grinning and bearing it. I had my head down and was plowing through, my jaw steeled. I was, once again, just endeavoring to get through it. As one might try to finish a football game with an injury. Play through the pain. So I let out a deep breath, dropped the expectations, found my center and...relaxed. And we enjoyed, smart and sweet as we are.

We enjoyed family gatherings, sharing memories, making new ones, talking about what's to come (new babies in the family, new jobs, new houses). We traded gifts and appreciated the practical and the pleasurable. We ate too much food that was too good, and took lots of family walks and bikes rides to try to compensate.

The kids plied us with adorable moments and precious comments. They valued being someone's special someone (or lots of someones). They loved their gifts and the gatherings, but said the joy came from the love. In the end, isn't that what we all crave most: to be special?

We had, after all, a merry Christmas. Now we look forward to a happy new year. And we wish the same for you.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are some photos of the fun we had:


Christmas Eve in front of the tree.


Putting up the luminaries for Christmas Eve.

Enjoying the lit luminaries on our street, and the block party (bonfire and hot cocoa):





Enjoying opening a gift on Christmas Eve:





Enjoying Christmas Day:








In parting (for now) I want to tell you the outcome of Patience's letter to Santa: disappointment.

As you can see in the impish tongue-stuck-out photo of Persistence (family shot), Santa was unable to deliver a gift of Make My Sister Calm Down. He also brought no puppies or kittens.

However, she has decided to forgive and forget. Magnanimously. She also decided to Enjoy Christmas Anyway.



Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rosemary: Our Christmas tradition, a short story, and a brief poem by Marianne Moore

Each Christmas we buy rosemary, a small tree, in a little plastic pot, with a red or gold bow. It's a tradition Jon and I began a while back and I don't recall exactly why, which is ironic since rosemary is for remembrance. Every year we buy it and every year I try to keep it alive and plant it. Every year I fail. Except last year. Last year I managed to keep the rosemary alive. It thrived and grew, fragrant and full in its pot. I kept saying I needed to plant it but wasn't sure where, and felt worried that transferring it would end my happy steak of luck with the herb.

Then we lost Bubba. As a memorial to him, we decided to plant a garden with his grave. Now the rosemary had a spot and a purpose. It has flourished there, too, along with the beautiful hibiscus---golden, of course.

This year, so far, until today I have forgotten to buy rosemary. Another small fetch of irony. Or not. Perhaps I have let go of what I was trying to remember, or perhaps having finally succeeded at preserving a rosemary tree, I feel no need for another.

However, having now recalled its absence, I feel an urge to run find a place that is open today and get another little tree. The house doesn't seem to smell right without the pungent punch of rosemary accenting the fir and holly.

Rosemary is, after all, associated with Christmas, too:
Rosemary was used during the Middle Ages by housewives to spread on the floor at Christmas. As people walked on it, a pleasant aroma arose. Tradition has it that the shrub is fragrant because Mary laid the garments of the Christ Child on its branches. The night he was born, legend has it, the trees suddenly bore fruit and flowers blossomed out of season. Source: Santa's Net

Maybe I simply like the poetry, symbolism and history behind it.

I think Marianne Moore explains it best.

Rosemary

Beauty and Beauty's son and rosemary -
Venus and Love, her son, to speak plainly -
born of the sea supposedly,
at Christmas each, in company,
braids a garland of festivity.
Not always rosemary -

since the flight to Egypt, blooming indifferently.
With lancelike leaf, green but silver underneath,
its flowers - white originally -
turned blue. The herb of memory,
imitating the blue robe of Mary,
is not too legendary

to flower both as symbol and as pungency.
Springing from stones beside the sea,
the height of Christ when he was thirty-three,
it feeds on dew and to the bee
"hath a dumb language;" is in reality
a kind of Christmas tree.

Marianne Moore


The more I read this poem, the more layers I find. It's brilliant---absolutely a brilliant and amazing weaving of legend, myth and the Christmas story and tradition.

Enjoy.

And a happy time---whatever this time is for you, holiday of one sort or another, or not---may this be for you.

If it is Christmas for you, a very Merry Christmas to you.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the first day of DIY my true love gave to me. . .

. . .A carpenter with a fair fee.

Beginning today, I imagine most people will be madly engaged in celebrating Christmas in its various forms (Before, During, and After).

At our house, we will honor and celebrate the season by decorating our house with Round Tuits.

Have you ever received a Round Tuit at Christmas? I believe I got the first one ever in elementary school at an ornament exchange. One child brought a large red, breakable ball with silver glittery letters that proclaimed, "Round Tuit." Attached to the hook was a small tag that read, "Do you often say, 'I'll do it when I get a round tuit?' Here's your round tuit, so get cracking."

You can imagine how much that thrilled me. However, the adults were greatly entertained and I quickly and willingly lost the round tuit to some grown-up.

It became a family joke, though. And as I grew older I began to appreciate it, and how its important message was delivered with humor.

So this Christmas---the first one we aren't knee deep in some sort of Big Huge New Transition and Associated Stress or Major Catastrophe (although I hesitate to curse myself by even saying anything like this)---we are finally going to get around to our long list of to dos.

While other people combed malls and stores over the past week, seeking gifts, I spent my time at Home Depot and the local hardware store buying supplies. While other people hung lights and garland to accentuate the holiday feel of their home, I prepped walls. While other people baked goodies and handcrafted knick knacks, I studied electrical How To manuals and reviewed the difference between red wires and blue. While other people devoted time to a Rankin/Bass marathon, I Tivo'd Flip this House and Holmes on Homes and watched them as if I was going to be tested.

Today the carpenter (not to be confused with The Carpenter) is coming to discuss what he can do to help us salvage our kitchen cabinets. Our cabinets are solid, hardwood. They are exquisite material-wise. Exquisitely ugly and in need of repair aesthetically. But we believe the best thing is to try to rehabilitate and salvage them.

We've got two bathrooms to paint (one needs the paper stripped from the walls, first), a wall to repair, door stops to install, a new door to stain, blinds to hang, three pieces of furniture to build, linoleum to research, and a mantle to design. At least. If we get this and the electrical stuff finished, we'll see...because the list is long.

We'll be constructively occupied (pun intended).

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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Friday, December 21, 2007

Hanging out my Dirty Laundry

Can you believe that Don Henley had a hit song about this topic?

I know, me neither...Don Henley. I'll admit I was never a Henley fan, the singer or the t-shirts.

And if you don't know what I mean you are probably too young to read my blog. (KIDDING!)

But you probably do know what I mean when I say kids generate an unbelievable amount of laundry.

I washed FOUR LOADS of kid clothes yesterday. Little teeny tiny kid clothes. Two-thirds of it was Persistence's, which are the smallest clothes of all. She still wears some 18-month and 24 month stuff!

She is heavy into her Diva stage, which apparently requires multiple wardrobe changes a day. I was talking to my two good friends about this and as I griped I realized, umm wow, they probably only see her in the exact same outfit all the time. When Persistence goes out, she must be in full Princess regalia or Ballerina costume. It's the layers under and over that...the layers I insist upon, resulting in numerous fights every day.

You can bet the ongoing power struggles between me and Persistence are exactly why Patience wrote the letter to Santa that she did.

Persistence has hit Stubborn Screaming Threes.

I don't know why everyone focuses on the twos. I can handle twos. I can deal with twos. It's always threes for us. Everyone said this to me when Patience was two, "Ohh ho ho ho just wait until three," in a really menacing way, which used to chap my hide royally, even more so because eventually I discovered they were right. (But that didn't help me as I struggled for the first time through the twos.)

So all day every day I exhaust myself with my attempts to creatively parent, positively direct, positively redirect, prevent potential terrible situations,and manage the ones that come along as best I can.

By the time Patience gets home I'm ready for a nap, so she gets to see emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted mom who already has little to no patience left. (Hence my mommy guilt about her Santa letter.)

Several times this week we've had to make errand runs after school and by then Persistence is in full blown boundary testing mode. Yep, she winds up right when I start to wind down. Fun!

It's all the joy to get Those Looks everywhere we go, as people---who haven't seen the rest of my day---think Bad Things about me and my kids.

It takes a tremendous amount of cajoling to keep things as far from Total Deranged Lunacy as possible and as close to Pleasant as I can get.

I will say it's easier this time, dealing with age 3, because (a) I'm not bedridden with pneumonia, (b) I didn't just have a baby, (c) I'm not in the middle of a nasty legal battle with a moving company who lost and ruined our entire household of belongings, (d) we're not suddenly living in a new state, city and community. Among other reasons. But the main one is that I have Been Here, Done This before, and lived to tell about it. As did my kid.

So I know it's true: this too shall pass.

In the meantime, Patience writes pleading letters to Santa, I beg God and all the Saints in Heaven for deliverance, my husband finds out of town projects and we all look forward to working out this kink.

Oh yeah and I do tons of laundry.

So that's why today I'm at my recommends blog talking about laundry...I know, how dirty. Oh really? You were thinking how boring? Well go check it out and see if you are right---I double dog dare you! Keep in mind that my review of the products is purely my own...nobody asked me, paid me or gave me free product (although geez I do keep asking! LOL).

I'm also at Moms Speak Up talking about the same thing. Because I'm really consistent and efficient---boring?---that way.

Plus, you should scroll down and read my previous entries if you haven't and if you want a good laugh at other people's kids' expense.

Isn't that the best kind?

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

What Patience Really, REALLY wants for Christmas or There's no funny like kindergarten girl/big sister funny

Today was the Winter Party at Patience's school. Here are the girls making reindeer sandwiches:



The teacher and I had a little tete-a-tete as the kids went through the fun stations. I mentioned the ink incident. She asked if Patience had shared what Those Boys Did with scissors. I said yes. She was very cute about it.

Then she asked if I had seen Patience's letter to Santa that she wrote in class.

She said it was the funniest letter because...well, see for yourself:



Translation:
A cat and 3 kittens. (She means REAL ones.)
And a dog and puppies. (Again, real ones.)
Bunkbed
And for my sister to calm down.
Please Santa Claus, make my sister calm down.
Love, Patience

She and I laughed and laughed. I got home, read the letter, and laughed and laughed again. Then I had Patience read it to me, and kept my giggles to myself, no mean feat, especially when she added, "Because That Child is way too busy for her own good."

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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There's no funny like kindergarten boy funny

Since Patience began kindergarten, she's come home at least three to four days a week with a story about a boy in her class that seriously makes me laugh out loud.

I know she tells me the stories not because they are humorous but because she's puzzled by the boys and what they said or did, and a little disgusted. I can tell she's already figuring out that XY people can be very different from XX people. I can tell she's already forming the age-old female conclusion that boys are just so very boy sometimes.

I'd spent most of yesterday at my best friend's house. She and another good friend (the mother of Persistence's adorable Love of Her Life) were doing some serious home renovation. My contribution was largely to entertain them while they worked and mediate territorial disagreements among the three year olds. They were still heavy into the demo portion (the moms, not the three year olds, although technically, that description could be apt for them too) when it was time to fetch the older kids from school so I volunteered to shepherd the pack back to the house.

The kindergartners came out first (for bike riders) so I caught Patience and my best friend's middle one, and then waited for the big kids to come out.

As we stood there, Patience looked at me and told me about the latest boy antic in her class. I wish you could have heard how she said it because her tone might have been the funniest part.

Patience (disgusted tone of voice and dry delivery): Sam put ink in his hair.
Me: What?!?
Patience: Sam. Put. Ink. In. His. Hair.
Me (asking those stupid questions adults ask, largely to buy processing time): Sam put ink in his hair? Why would he do that?
Patience: I don't know. I guess to see what would happen.
Me: So what happened?
Patience: It made a big black splotch in his hair.
Me: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Patience: Is that funny, Mom? I don't think his mom will think it's funny. I think his mom's going to be angry.
Me (trying to control self): Right, but I'm not Sam's mom and my kid didn't put ink in her hair. So yeah, it's funny...a little bit.
Patience: Well, it was kind of funny. That big black splotch on his yellow hair.
Me: What did your teacher say?
Patience: She said his mom was going to be pretty mad.
Me: I bet.
Patience: She also said his mom was going to be pretty mad about his shirt.
Me: His shirt? He put ink on his shirt too?
Patience: No, he cut his shirt, with scissors. Cut out diamonds in it.
Me (starting to feel pretty sorry for the kindie teacher, Sam, and Sam's mom now): So he's going home with a cut up shirt and ink in his hair?
Patience: And shoes.
Me: What did he do to his shoes?
Patience: He sliced those with scissors too. But so did Peter.
Me: Peter sliced his shoes and put ink in his hair too?
Patience (duh tone): Noooo Moooooom, he cut off his shoelaces.
Me: He (LOL) cut off (LOL) his shoelaces? Why would he do that?
Patience: I don't know. To see what would happen I guess. Teacher said his mom was going to be pretty mad, too. I think Peter and Sam's moms must be pretty mad all the time.
Me: Why is that?
Patience: They do this allllll the tiiiiiiiime.
Me: They cut their clothes and put ink in their hair?
Patience: No but it's always something with those two.
Me (imagining exactly who she got that phrase from): LOL
Patience: Well at least we can be thankful Teacher stopped it before it spread to any other little boys.
Me (imagining exactly who she got that phrase from): LOL
Patience: And at least Peter didn't flip in his chair again today.
Me: LOL

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Good grief, Charlie Brown...it should be Hump Day

There I was clapping myself on the back all pleased as punch with myself: kids dresses bought, Christmas cards mostly done, shopping complete, most parties set, donations made, school volunteering all set, and so on...in fact, I spent last night working on New Year's Eve! That's how In Control and On Top of Christmas I am.

Well something had to give this week...this month. Something just did.

And do you know, it just now, nearly mid-day, occurred to me what gave.

Hump Day. The Hump Day Hmms.

What does it say that I totally forgot those until I opened, just now, my feed reader and noticed numerous devotions to my rival, Wordless Wednesday?

I apologize.

Can we call the Hump Day off for December and pick it back up post-New Year's? I expect you are all as distracted in one way or another as I am.

May I ask the same indulgence for the Blog Pledges (and if you sent me an email I did get it...just haven't replied yet).

A brief hiatus until January.

Fair enough?

Okay, carry on...more interesting posts below if you haven't already seen them. :)

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
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Out of the mouths of babes

How my children dress is extremely reflective of their personalities. They choose what they will wear and dress themselves, my girls. They both started this by two. They are quite insistent about it, actually.

I think children need some power and control in their world, and why not over the things they wear?

Other people---moms mainly---have debated this point fiercely with me. The main counterpoint is that the moms feel it is no favor to the child to let her go about looking like a ragamuffin or freak. I hear that point, I do. But. I'm not sold on this.

In the past, I have definitely thought my point---if you can't dress up and dress how you like at 2, 3, 4 then when can you? let's indulge the littlest kids---weighed more than the rest.

So what if Patience sometimes felt like being a cat, and thus wore a cat tail with her clothes, and only spoke in meows?

But now, at school age, the small doubts that had been creeping in---the worry that maybe those moms, who seem to be the vast majority, and who somehow manage to rule their children's wardrobes---are getting larger for me.

What seemed just fine at preschool feels too vulnerable for public school.

See, Patience often dons costumes. In the past it was usually animals, but now it is a theme. Her clothes indicate what she is currently most excited about, or the idea or interest she is currently fascinated by.

Right now, that happens to be Christmas. She is delighted to wear clothes with candy canes, Christmas trees, penguins...anything to do with winter and Christmas. Every day.

Yesterday I sent Patience upstairs after breakfast to do her Get Ready for School routine. When she reappeared, she was dressed and ready to go.

But I faced head on what has become my new, big dilemma every morning: can I really let her go out looking like that? How deep does my philosophy run? How deep should it run?

Patience was wearing a pair of magenta legging pants with a cream colored sweater adorned with a Christmas tree, and sewn on decorations. It's an adorable sweater, on its own. But it was slightly too small, as were the pants (oh so suddenly) and anyway, it was going to be at least 75 degrees. Plus, there was no rhyme or reason to it going with the pants.

This past summer I began working with Patience on matching colors, not just ideas, and matching patterns, not just colors. She's still hit or miss, but I feel she needs to learn how to do it herself. Some days I am wowed by the clever and cool outfits she puts together. But more often, on other days, like yesterday, I am somewhere between a teensy and a lot horrified.

As usual, I worked to formulate my diplomatic feedback. I started with the research portion, first, "Patience, sweetie, how did you decide to wear that sweater and those pants, and together?"

"Wellllll, Mom, it's Christmas-time so of course I have to wear a Christmas sweater," she told me.

"You know it's not a rule," I told her, "You aren't required to wear Christmas themed clothes, but you prefer to, and that's fine."

"Riiiiiight," she replied, in one ear and out the other. What's solid in her mind is simply what is.

"And the pants?"

"They're my favorite pants! And they're cheerful."

"Okay," I said, "The only thing is that there aren't any colors in the sweater that go with magenta. That's why I asked."

She paused. She could tell this was another of mom's matching lessons and I could tell she wasn't willing to budge.

"Are you happy with the outfit, how it feels and looks?" I queried, my concession question.

"Yes!"

"Will you be okay if someone comments about how you are dressed, and maybe not in a "I think it's great" way?"

"Yes!"

"Okay, well I have to admit, it is a very cheerful outfit, and that Christmas sweater is pretty neat, with all those things sewn on."

She beamed.

But I felt unsure: was I doing the right thing? Should I insist she dress "better," to some standard of girl cuteness and matching?

Some part of me seriously doubts my approach. Some part of me fears that what sounds great in theory is not that helpful or beneficial in practice.

People in Patience's life are used to Patience's quirky mode of dress. Some outfits garner comments, barely disguised as accepting. On the whole though, people around her accept it. They know she is an off the charts creative, out of the box thinker who is pretty quirky in many ways.

I think it delights some people we know, who enjoy the openness and insight into Patience that her outfits reveal. Who truly appreciate her originality.

But I know, out there, is a person who won't, who doesn't and who lacks the milk of kindness that would prevent them from saying something vicious to hurt her.

We met that person last night. At Target.

She was a little girl about Patience's age, clearly of the diva variety. Her hair was pulled back in a neat barrette, and clearly got curled each day, because the ends curled in little ringlets. She wore a sunday-go-to-meeting dress, and was perfectly turned out, a la a magazine. She stared at us, a long, direct assessing gaze. I accepted it because I feel more comfortable with being stared at than I do with discouraging children from connecting with people by looking at them. In general, I think assessing looks are helpful for human connection.

Not so with this child. Her stare was not assessing, rather it was measuring. And clearly, we failed.

As we stood in line, the child and her mother ahead of her, the mother busy with the transaction, me distracted by Persistence monkeying around in the cart, something happened.

"Mom!" Patience suddenly said, urgently, "Mom!"

I stopped handling Persistence and turned, concerned by Patience's tone. "What honey?"

"That girl," she said, turning her eyes and finger to the child in front of us, "That girl walked over to me and told me I looked ugly!"

"What?" I said, shocked, but not disbelieving. Patience is a very honest, if dramatic, child.

"That girl told me I looked ugly!"

I turned to look at the girl, who stared back, smug and defiant. She gave a small nod. My body leaned back in some surprise. I had no doubt: she said it, and she expected her word to stand, and rule. Wow.

"Do you think that's true?" I asked Patience, turning my back to the other girl.

"No! But she said it!" Patience cried, and I could tell she was more upset by the injustice of it than stung or hurt by the comment itself.

"Then it's not true. So she said it. It's a kind of mean thing to say. But what do you do when someone says something mean like this that isn't true?"

"I let it roll off my back and go on about my business."

"That sounds pretty smart," I told her, "She can't tell you who you are or how you are, right?"

Patience agreed. And we ignored the other little girl.

I don't know what most mothers would have done. I sense that a lot would have done something that provided attention to the other little girl in some way. I sense that there would have been either some drama or invalidation. Or maybe that's me, projecting.

But it is so essential to me to teach my girls that who they are comes from deep inside them, and sometimes, people might not like or accept that, but it was important to not let those opinions cause them to devalue themselves.

Still, it was upsetting to both me and Patience. Patience was upset because I think it did cause her to wonder about her outfit...and I provided, from our conversation that morning, that opening for the words to get through. That part upset me, and also again, I worried again about my approach to how I let my girls dress.

I glanced at my girls: Patience in her mismatched Christmas outfit, a half size too small. Her hair, adorable in my eyes, but always slightly messy looking due its fineness and waves. It would do better clipped back, but she can't stand the feel of barrettes or elastics, at least not for long. Her scalp is so sensitive. Persistence in a pink velour leotard with filmy skirt, and sneakers. Her hair in that awkward 'growing out finally' stage, with a portion always coming over her eyes. She can't stand the feel of barrettes or elastics for long either, so her hair usually looks a bit unkempt, too.

I know they don't look like they stepped out of a catalog, all stylish and hip or all little girl cute. People don't exclaim over how adorable they are, not in real life, not when I post photos. They don't do cute, and that's what people like to see: big smiles, and bouncy shiny hair all done up, precious outfits, adorable poses. People like to see uncomplicated joy in children, refreshing innocence. But I don't think all people come that way, uncomplicated and innocent. I don't think my girls have. I didn't. However, I do think my children are beautiful and I think they look interesting, like a child with a brain between her ears and a big personality, to boot.

I think they are pretty incredible children, actually.

And I want to foster it, not crush it.

Still.

I weigh my desire for my children to be themselves, and have absolute confidence in being themselves against the fact that we live in a society, with its commonly held standards, and filled with people like that little girl.

I'm not sure that confidence and esteem are enough.

We are, by nature, pack animals, and I think we desire the love and acceptance of others. When we get a message that doesn't fit with that, it will affect us.

I think the only thing I can do is help my girls learn how to manage that.

But maybe my role demands more.

This morning I'll face the same question with Patience, I'm sure. She'll wear something that will trouble me a bit, because I know it won't look good to anyone else. And now my vague fear that someday someone will say something is both lesser and greater.

Greater because it happened; it's no longer a vague fear.

Lesser because she handled it, when it happened. But, I will follow-up with her about it. Right about...now.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
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Monday, December 17, 2007

The Top 10 Ways Christmas is the Ultimate Downfall of Western Civilization (Late Entry Monday Mission)

1. Christmas Insanity

The first nod goes to the American Psychological Association, who I believe are actually the ones behind the whole Christmas Madness Syndrome. I mean really, who stands to gain the most from holiday madness, which, by the way, ensues regardless of amount of spending? That's right: shrinks. In fact, I notice an inverse correlation between holiday sales and level of insanity.

2. Christianity is not for greased pigs

I'd also like to nod towards the Christian Church, all denominations, for losing complete control over the holiday they instituted. Despite legislation from the US Congress (which graciously and magnanimously allows the whole world to value Christianity and Christmas), once again, the holiday has run amuck. I'm impressed that the Church is able to control Congress (talk about herding cats) but distressed that they've lost the handle on the holiday overall.

3. Think of Albert, but let's not cry, I know he'd not want it that way

Another chunk of blame goes, of course, to the Germans, for starting the whole tree thing which spawned the whole garland thing and led to the mistletoe thing...thus the fault largely lies with Albert (Albert who? Queen Victoria's husband) who is basically blamed, err, credited with introducing these traditions to Great Britain and its former colonies, where it spread faster than measles and may be even more devastating culturally.

4. Nobody---and I mean nobody---feels warm and fuzzy about mice in the house

Then there's Clement Moore, who brought us nights and stockings and Santa and reindeer, which launched an entire slew of television shows involving clever animation and claymation, and funky sibling rivals, Mr. Heat Miser and Mr. Snow. Okay so I don't actually hate Rankin/Bass. I'm actually a devoted junkie. And I Tivo it all. Plus, I live in the land of Mr. Heat Miser---aka Mr. Green Christmas, Mr. Sun and Mr. Hundred and One (three known aliases)---who doesn't like it to ever get below sixty. Clearly, he is king here. Our azaleas and hibiscii (?) ( call Webster's) are blooming beautifully just now. It feels so festive. If it were Easter.

By the way, you know a song rocks when Big Bad Voodoo Daddy picks it up:


5. It's all because of Poltergeist. And maybe Chuckie.

When I was a kid my grandmother (the one who loved me, not Evil Granny) liked to spoil me rotten through her only known love currency: tons of Just Because gifts. I speak this language well. All was golden until the year she bought me and my sister stuffed clowns, big ones. Just like in the movie. And we both stopped sleeping through the night...at our ages (umm, teens?). Christmas is like one big Poltergeist terror waiting to happen what with all the creepy stuffed elves and santas laying about...everywhere. I'll not rest easy until after Boxing Day, when the last potentially demonized stuffed Christmas figure is safely packed away until the next poor sap I mean person comes along in a year.

I think my sister jogs to keep in shape for the running that might be required at any given Christmas. Just ask her. And see number 1.

6. Money is the root of the evil tree or something like that.

Do you people have any idea how expensive December can be for a person when her entire family---including her own kids---share birthdays with Jesus? Also...lots of angst due to the whole dreaded Combo Birthday/Christmas gift. Who thinks this is a good idea? What kind of person are you? Allow me to disabuse the notion that it's a good idea. It's not.

Here's a simple formula to keep in mind:

Happy Friend or Relative = Person Birthday / Jesus Birthday

I know. It costs more. But on the up side, there are usually lots of sales this time of year and you can also buy gifts for December in any of the other eleven months.

(Dear Julie: Take note of own preaching. Thanks, Self, representing Your Wallet.)

7. Knock Three Times on the Ceiling if You Want Me

I noticed something recently. A portion of my husband's family is Jewish (which only adds to my friend Anna's suspicion that Jon is actually a Jew from Brooklyn, not an Episcopalian from Houston) and I notice them actually living a stress-free, enjoyable December. What's up with that? How do they manage to seemingly actually enjoy Roshashana, Purim, Pesach, Shabbat, and Hanukkah, and all the rest? Where are the Jewish characters, the sorts of mythical creatures that one can rent a large stinky stuffed costume for and wear to the delight (or more likely, utter terror) of small children? I'm just curious how their faith manages to be quite enough for the holiday, no rabbits or immortal bearded people required. Or have I missed a large portion of Judaism?

8. White Elephants are not from Connecticut

I notice south of the Mason-Dixon line les cadeaux horible swaps are called Yankee, and north of that they are called White Elephant, which begs a serious question: What have Yankees got against elephants? (I think the other question answers itself.)

9. Not my gumdrop buttons!

Why is gingerbread historically a flavor of terror? What happens to those who do not heed the warnings and enter the gingerbread house? That's right! You're fodder for the next meal. And poor gingerbread men, who never can run fast enough. I'm put perpetually in mind of the scene from Shrek the Halls wherein an enormous Santa decapitates (with his bare teeth---and by the way, what's the alternative to bare teeth??) the gingerbread man's precious Susie. I can barely manage to eat meat. Why would faux cannibalism appeal to me? And yet, it does. Oh does it ever. This leads me to question the animal nature of man and man's inhumanity to man, which leads us right back to number 1.

10. Even Jack Handy thought it was a good idea

Those of you who know me know I am a pretty big advocate for parenting via the path of least resistance, which often means lying to my kids. But the truth is I lie about the little things (no no this store doesn't sell toys...it's more like a museum here, just for looking, with eyes though, not hands!) and tell the truth about big things (nothing on television is real at all, nothing) (okay okay so I perpetually lie to my kids) (I even confessed today to telling my kids catalogs are free books about kids who love colors, for example).

But really...culturally endorsed lying en masse to our kids?

You know...maybe this whole Christmas thing has a point.

This post brought to you by the American Psychological Association and the Monday Mission, which are completely separate entities with no affiliation whatsoever other than this sentence.

So what do you think ought to go on this list?

P.S. Come visit me at the Houston Chronicle Mama Drama blog today, too. The fabulous ladies there are letting me blogsit.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

A Blue Christmas With You

I will share a little family history today. I am usually more circumspect. However, for a tiny glimpse into a bit of a why about me and this month, I will share this story. It's never the whole story or the only story, and it's never only about me, the writer. However, I've written it as completely and honestly as possible, although I'll admit to editing a bit out of respect of privacy.

That Christmas I felt ebullient. If emotions could make you glow, I shined brighter than the lights on the tree. I was in love. Big time love, grown-up love. Going to the chapel and gonna get married love. And he had agreed to spend Christmas with me.

I set aside the fears and worries about bringing him home to my extended family. He was so wonderful I knew they'd suddenly morph into the amazing, loving, close-knit and welcoming family I always wished I had. How could they not glow in his presence, too?

This was only the second time I'd brought a man to meet my extended family. The first time it was a friend I loved dearly, and they'd behaved horribly. Why that shocked me I don't know. It was completely within character. My uncle---who lived life baiting traps for people to fall into---did his best to trip up my friend. He disguised his cruelty in teasing, which was a drape as sheer as the Emperor's new clothes. My grandmother---whose personal strength had turned her hard inside and out---felt free to express her very negative opinions and narrow judgments. She disguised it as being honest and well-meaning, carrying forthright and superiority as her banners of virtue.

My friend's good manners and pleasant personality spared the day, except for me. I felt a terrible guilt; I truly had not thought they'd act that way to someone other than me, or someone inside the family. He reassured me that they were horrible, but he was okay. "It only matters to you because you care, and not just about me," he said quickly, "But for some sad reason, you care about them, too. You let them keep breaking your heart. Someday you're going to have to break away or break into a million pieces."

It's true. I was ridiculously optimistic about my extended family, and had been for more than twenty years. Every time they were vicious or thoughtless or both, I was shocked.

Maybe it's good that I continued to be shocked. That means that it never became normal for me. Simply common. And unsurprising.

That optimism and my blithe in-love brain buzz is why I expected that Christmas to be beautiful and bright, just like I felt.

I did warn Jon. He'd heard the stories, had seen evidence of the cruelties and conditional love. He did not walk in blind.

Every day after he agreed to come with me, to my home town, to see my extended family, I prayed, "Please God, let them be kind, let this Christmas be good. Let there be cheer and joy. Let there be kindness and respect. Please. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease."

My Granny always advocated the power of prayer. Surely since she believed and I prayed so hard, she'd get some message from God. And would turn into someone other than who she was.

I'm sure she prayed often for me to be someone other than who I am, too. She had always been hard on me "for my own good." I had spirit, and it had to be broken.

That was her plan for me that year, in 1992, the year I brought home the man I planned to marry: she was going to break my spirit.

Jon and I arrived, shiny and dressed-up. After a deep breath, we walked to the door and rang the bell.

My stepmother welcomed and embraced us warmly. She chattered and caught up with us, gracious. Happy. My younger brother ran to say hello, excited and happy as kids usually are at Christmas. My sister hugged us both, and as usual cracked a joke about being comrades in arms in the presence of our extended family.

If attitudes were awkward and conversation stilted, I attributed it to people trying hard to be pleasant. The strained moments never lasted long; one kid or another would interrupt with a burst of joy and a demand to know how much longer until presents.

Or my stepmother would come around again and ask for one more photo. She took so many gorgeous photos that Christmas. Photos of me and my siblings, me and Jon, all of us together. I look so happy in those photos, so confident with love and cheer.

I have packed away those photos for years, unable to look at them.

(Do you tense up during movies, when you see a happy character skipping around blithely, as ominous music swells in the background? I always fast forward to the bad part, the part where in some way a metaphorical wolf symbolically eats red riding hood. Get it over with. I can't bear to watch joy knowing it's about to be snuffed out.)

The children's wishes were granted and we all gathered in the big circle to distribute and open gifts. As always, an older kid read off tags and the younger kids raced around handing them out. As always, I got distracted by this game, and the kids' excited squeals when a tag with their name was read out. I didn't notice the dwindling present pile, or the lack of any in front of me.

I just kept laughing at the little leap my brother did each time he got a gift to add to his personal pile.

My lack of concern must have troubled my granny.

She clapped her hands for attention. At least that is how I recall it, because the happy buzz died down to silence.

"Julie, Julie, did you see you have no presents?" she called across the room.

I looked around me, "Umm I guess so, that's right, I haven't gotten any yet."

I glanced at my relatives. They would not meet my eyes. They looked down, fidgeted with gifts stacked in their laps. The children froze, able to tell something was going on, but not able to comprehend what.

"There are no more gifts to hand out," she announced smugly, "There are none for you."

"I'm sorry...what? None for me?" I asked, confused.

"That's right, none for you," she confirmed.

"Well, it's okay," I said, feeling a bit stung, despite a lack of expectation, "I didn't ask for anything."

"That's not why. I told everyone that you were to receive no gifts this year. Not even a card."

"But...but why would you do that?" I asked, shocked, baffled, hurt, confused...and on and on. But somewhere, in a core of me, a part laughed in sad triumph at the confirmation of how she felt about me, about who she was.

"It is because you are an Extremely Ungrateful Girl. And I have had Quite Enough of it. You will not receive any gifts ever again until you can prove you are reformed."

"Ungrateful? What? I don't know what you mean," I protested.

"I sent you a check for your birthday and you did not call or send a note, or even acknowledge it in any way. I sent you money! And you said not one thing of gratitude to me."

"A check?" I asked, confused. I'd received no check. I felt Jon grab my hand, with which I had apparently been grasping at his pants at the knee.

Suddenly the sense of unreality left me. I became sickeningly aware that the man I loved was next to me, witnessing this. This is who I come from, I heard the air whisper around me. These are my people. He will run far away fast if he has half a brain, the air whispered again, blood will out.

This was really happening. She was really doing this, and they were really letting her, no, they were going along with it. Did anyone try to throw a blanket over the painful moment, snuff it out?

I felt like laughing, a little hysterically, and a small giggle escaped me, which only enraged my granny further. She ranted for a bit while my brain searched for some logic, some meaning, something solid to grasp...something besides this deranged lunacy.

"Granny," I interrupted, breaking Southern Code Number 4. "Granny," I said again, a little more urgently.

She paused and listened.

"I never got a check. Honestly, I didn't. I'd write a thank you note. I always do. And did the check clear your bank?"

She confirmed it had not, which had only infuriated her more. Now I had not only been ungrateful, but had flat out rejected her and her gift.

"I'm poor, trying to earn a living. I'd gratefully take nickels if someone handed them to me. I never got a check or a card from you. But I understood. I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I didn't cash the check or write a thank you because I never got the card or money. Never got it."

Benefit of the doubt---something I could give, but not receive. It was easier for her to assume something bad about me, easier to think of me poorly, instead of talk to me. It was almost as if she had sought a reason to reach out and punish me.

Her response was to leap up and drag me to her bedroom, where she forced me to stand to the side while she pawed through her overflowing jewelry chest to find a piece she could part with, give to me, as some sort of compensation. She gave me a small and ugly ring studded with half a dozen sapphires.

She pushed me forward into the great room and held up my hand. Everyone made a big show of admiring the ugly ring stuck on my pinkie. In fact, they made too big of a show, as if this ring was worth all of it, as if their overdone enthusiasm for the ring could make up for it all. As if the ring canceled out what had just happened. (I have since pulled out that ring, threatened to wear it as my due, sell it, toss it into a river. But I have done none of these things. Instead, it hides, nestled deep in a drawer, small, ugly, and worth nothing but a bad memory, while I wait for the right idea to come along.)

I stayed for the rest of the party. I forced smiles, chatted with family, and let everyone pretend like it was all okay. I rationalized it...she did what she could, she did her best, she tried to make up for it.

But another little piece of me was left crushed.

One day you will have to break with them or break into a million little pieces.

This is why I haven't spoken to my family since 1993. And believe it or not, it had to get one notch worse for me to make the break. But I did. I preferred that to a million little pieces of me.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.