Monday, June 30, 2008

A soul food feast---why food was the best celebration of life

(Photo by Scott Peterson.)

Yesterday a good friend dropped by my house and said, "Come over for dinner later. I feel like cooking and having people over. Wear a swimsuit."

"What can I bring?" I asked.

"Anything you like. We're eating what makes us feel good," she said, "I already asked Friend and Other Friend. They're bringing side dishes and desserts."

"So like an appetizer?"

"Sure. Just come. I need to cook. I need to entertain."

"Okay," I said.

This friend's father passed away a couple of weeks ago. It was a surprise/not surprise. He'd been suffering strokes for years and---despite really effective treatment that not only prolonged his life, but also prolonged the quality of his life by minimizing the effects of the strokes---doctors had warned the family quite some time ago that the next big one would likely be fatal. So they knew that death loomed.

When her father passed away, as her friend, I felt simultaneously sad for her and relieved for her. No loss is worth the loss, in and of itself. I'd feel fatuous to tell her it was better that he was gone. Of course I see the reason there, but the truth is that it would be better if her father was alive and healthy, not living debilitated by strokes for years and now totally gone. So I stuck to, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry you lost him," because even though I know, in a way, that they lost him by degrees starting a while back, I also know that now that loss is absolute and final.

I rode my bike over to her house the day she was packing to fly home for the funeral. When I arrived, I found that two other friends had the same idea. My friend is the sort who will pull good from this, instead of feeling imposed upon, and I believed being surrounded by friends made it easier to pack to go home, and carried on helping as she dealt with family gathering to say goodbye to her father. We, her friends, know this about her, and so we each decided to be there.

I thought about how I'd feel in her situation. I think I'd want more to be alone. I think I'd need that to process---wrap my mind around it all, be able to reframe my world.

There's such a protocol for what to do and how to be, for almost every type of situation. I don't deliberately swim against the current on this, it's simply how I am for the most part. My life has been a series of people telling me I don't/shouldn't think and feel as I do. It created a sort of self-loathing and outward loathing, too. Each time I face a challenge, I think, "I think and feel this way, but I'm sure people will expect me to be that way," and I am often right, often enough to anticipate it to the level of defensiveness, "I wish they wouldn't. I wish people accepted who I am and how I am, how I do things, instead of always telling me I need to fit some mold."

On the other hand, this has built in me an acceptance and understanding of others when they are not in the mold.

It's the thing that enabled me to say to my friend, who called---one week after returning home from her father's funeral---feeling guilty that she didn't feel guilty about enjoying herself with the kids at the camp. She knew already what she needed to know, but she needed to hear someone reflect it back to her.

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," I said.

"I know," she said, still a slight tinge of defensiveness hovering around her, "I know, and I'm loving it. I'm tired, but this is good." Then she shared the actual voice behind her guilt, and as is typical, it was not her own---it was the voice of the Should Do, coming from someone else. It's meant well, it's meant lovingly, but it is insidious in its insistence that you pay attention to it instead of to yourself.

I try to encourage and validate people in who they are and how they feel, in themselves, versus by meeting a prescribed criteria (random and arbitrary as it is). If I had always fit the mold, I wonder if I would be as understanding, or if I'd be more rote---well-intentioned and gentle, but nonetheless always endeavoring to firmly herd people back within the lines. However, do not mistake me for a yes man.

My friend let go of her guilt. After talking with me, she remembered that she survives by living this way, and that---despite a protocol that prefers some sort of prostrate with grief in order to care for one's self---what she was doing was, in fact, caring for herself because giving to others and being with others is how she feeds her soul.

That's why she had a soul food feast last night. She'd let others care for her with food for a couple of weeks. She'd gratefully accepted people dropping off casseroles, grabbing her shopping list as they ran to the store. But what she really wanted now was to feed others. She made hearty, tasty food: rich thick grilled steaks, with either a tangy cilantro topping or a smooth tomato ginger chutney; three cheeses to accompany two kinds of mushrooms; sweet onions and carmelized onions; multi-grain knot rolls; and a huge salad.

I piled chutney, goat cheese, carmelized onions and grilled red peppers on top of each other and smashed it all in a knot roll. It was decadently good. "Try the goat cheese, mushrooms and carmelized onions together," I called out happily. "The cilantro on the steak is delicious," someone else said. "Oooh the blue cheese and sugar snap peas!" "Sweet onions and cilantro relish, YUM!" With so many choices, we spoiled ourselves with un poco de todo.

She created the food and the camaraderie, and it fed us but it also fed her. That's sweet wisdom.

For the Hump Day Hmm this week, what do you do to feed your soul? What renews you? How does that fit in with the cultural protocol?

Write about it, link here, and come add your link to the list on Wednesday.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why I won't give up my day job to become a baker. Ever.

Yesterday we ran out of bread. That surprised me because we don't tend to eat that much bread in my family, and we spread what bread eating we do across a plethora of products (Kashi waffles, bagels, English muffins, etc.). However, apparently this past week saw a big run on the bread and we ran out, on a week I don't have a shopping trip planned.*

Of course I didn't even have stale crusts left over from the previous weeks because of the Ginormous Seagull Feeding Disaster.**

That's fine, though, because you can't keep a good woman down.

I rooted in the pantry and found a box of bread mix. Excellent, I thought, I'll just whip up some homemade bread. The kids can help and we'll have an Activity! Some Fun! The house will smell delicious and we'll have bread for the week!

I got the kids set up at their table with "helping" tasks (mixing flour and water) and set to it. Yeast and warm water, check, waiting, mixing bread ingredients, check. Waiting. Mixing yeast and dough, check. Kneading, waiting, rising, kneading, waiting, rising. Transferring to bread pan. Waiting. Finally, cooking.

So, a project begun at 8 a.m. was finally complete somewhere near 5 p.m.ish.

A few things occurred to me during this project:

1. The bread ingredients cost roughly double what I pay for a loaf of bread at the store, and I buy the good-ish one (real wheat that's really whole, no corn syrup or sugar added, etc. You know, the sort Moms Who Try to Be Good to Compensate for All the Ways They Secretly Suspect They Are Not-So-Good get).

2. Wow, that was a lot of work and time.

3. It didn't feel terribly enlightening or fun.

No insights into current dilemmas came to me as I kneaded, nor did my veneer of patience deepen (putting more space between me, the kids, the rest of the world and the thick, choking underlying miasma of frustration just under that thin and fragile patience). The kids gained no additional lessons in patience, either. Persistence asked every two minutes for basically eight hours if we had bread yet, and that was in between our Power Struggle of the Day about tidying up her cars. Saint Patience piously chimed in, every two minutes and 22 seconds, "You have to be patient. It will be finished when it's finished, Persistence. Right, Mommy?"

The kids are tag-teaming me with a Good Cop/Bad Cop routine. I ought to be grateful for my own very, very good child who has allied herself with me, but I'm not. I don't think that's healthy. Much better the kids ally against me. Plus, no six year old is this good. That child is going to pop soon.

Best of all would be if we could achieve some sort of balance, here. Spread the misbehaving and attitude around. There is no joy in having to gently discipline a well-intentioned child. There is no joy in having to frequently discipline a boundary testing child.

There is, apparently, no joy in making bread either, because the most important thing I learned yesterday while making bread is that I suck at making bread. Which pretty much topped off the day.

I pulled the bread from the oven, and first noticed it had not risen and filled the pan as the instructions on the box promised it would. While the kids leapt around me begging for a slice, I re-read the instructions and thought back through the day. I had done everything right, followed every solid instruction and it turned out badly, anyway.

When I sliced it, I discovered that the bread had a consistency roughly double that of concrete. Yes, concrete is lighter, fluffier and more porous than this bread. I'm not exaggerating.

The children were disappointed. Persistence, honest to a fault, said, "Ooohh YUCK, this bread is YUCKY!"

Saint Patience, so sensitive to the struggle I am having parenting this stage of Persistence's, and always so sensitive to every person's feelings in the world, my sweet little empath, said loyally, "It's heavy but I like it with jam," and proceeded to choke down an entire slice, God love her.

I sat down, feeling defeated and disappointed, largely in myself, which lead to a full scale pity party, which I had been on the verge of all day long due to the ongoing struggles with a chronic case of the threes. And summer. I also blame summer.

Patience patted my shoulder, but that just made it worse because seriously, a six year old does not need to be worrying about a grown-up.

Persistence followed suit. That caused Guilt to crush down on me. What a day she and I had had. In fact, what a time in general she and I are having. Not the sort of good time you want to write a postcard about, though (although blog posts are fair fodder, apparently).

I've followed the suggestions of four experts, one grandmother, multiple friends, advice from books, my own gut and every single idea I can come up with, and despite trying to do everything right? We're still working through the same troubles.

I took another bite of my bread. It didn't taste that bad, actually. I thought of this delicious fruit spread my mother got for me (peach mango, yum). I thought that might taste good on it. I was right.

And then the metaphor that probably occurred to you five paragraphs ago came to me: as with the bread, sometimes you do everything right and it doesn't turn out as expected, in fact, it might very well seem ruined. But. With a little thought, you can salvage it and make it into something that's a little bit of all right.

I hugged my children, who, like me, are doing their best.

I stood back up, and said, "Hey, who wants to go on a Bear Hunt?" They giggled excitedly, competing with their hands---who can be highest---and their voices---who can be loudest---to say, "Me, me, I do I do!"

So, even with a challenging day, spread a little fun on top, and it can be a bit of all right.

* The lack of planned shopping trip is due to the utility bill we got that was more than double what we expected/budgeted for. That's because our power company took the opportunity to slip through another Republican loophole and hike our rate from 12 cents to 20 cents per kWh. With no notice. I'm not being paranoid. It truly is due to a proposal the Republicans made and enacted. It's also due to deregulation, which, by the way, does not work in the consumer's favor. Businesses, especially utility companies, are not in this to do the consumer any favors or play fair. They are in it to make as much money as possible, and I'm to understand this means gouging me royally. Hence, no groceries for this week.

** Nearly two weeks ago, during a particularly whiny day, I loaded the kids into the bike and we went down to the waterfront. The kids ripped and threw the ends of four loaves of bread into the air and water trying to attract the flock of seagulls that usually plague the park at that spot. Of course there wasn't a seagull or duck in sight. And the whining re-commenced. With a topping of lecturing about waste and litter (because we threw the bread into the water and Nobody Ate It). I just love it when my words are misapplied and come back to haunt me.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm going back to BLOGHER!

Case in point...Jami Gertz then and now...

Bret Easton Ellis' book Less than Zero exploded into our culture in 1986, earning him fame, a movie deal and shining a light on a generation and culture that revealed itself, through Ellis's words, as self-indulgent, pointless and degenerate.

Or so the preceding generation presumed. As all preceding generations presume when watching the follies of the youths.

The mid-80s brought a crackdown on the party lifestyle, just in time for me to hit the main party age. In 1984, I watched high school seniors vehemently protest two things: making the drug X illegal and enacting The National Minimum Drinking Age Act.

Elders may have been impressed to finally see Gen X care about something passionately, but I'm sure they felt it was too bad that the inspiration was drugs and alcohol (very ironically, I am sure, in a fair number of self-righteous cases).

Still, thanks to Nancy Reagan we learned to Just Say No and thanks to Tipper Gore we could easily spot entertainment that might harm our delicately maturing sensibilities.

If the stash of marijuana in this one kid's locker in my high school was any indication, Nancy's plan was of limited success. If our outright enjoyment of the plethora of utterly trashy 80s movies (Porky's anyone?) and other Explicit forms of entertainment was any indication, so was Tipper's.

But, as in the book, eventually most people grow up, usually without too much self-destruction, or discover recovery. Those same crazy youths of the mid-80s now have a mortgage and some form of obligation to the PTA (which very well may be a scarier institution than a lender).

I think we're going to do our level best to forget about all that when we go to BlogHer in San Francisco. (And for those of you who were born before or after my generation, that includes you too. Although, those of you born in the 80s may be required to keep your dewy youthful visages a minimum of 3 ft from me until after say roughly 10 p.m.-ish when the lights are dim and everyone has hit that OMG this is SO AWESOME! point.)

That said...

I have my tickets to San Francisco. I have a place to sleep (a hotel! with a bed! walls and ceiling too!) and I do plan to sleep. I was last able to pull all night partying in 1995. And once in 1999, when we all did our best to fulfill our lifelong vows to Prince. But clearly, that muscle is out of shape and these rapidly-nearing-middle-aged eyes and bones need beauty (and brain) sleep.

Before I lay my head down to rest, though, I plan to see and chat up as many of you as I can. So tell me where I can go and find you.

I'll be in San Francisco by the evening of the 17th (God and the airline willing) and will leave on Sunday the 20th.

You can find me at the registration desk (at some point) logging you lot in and going with the flow. I like to roll that way on vacation---someone else lead, I follow. I have to make all the choices and decisions in my daily life so I seek a respite from that.

I had no idea there were some people hoping to see me in Austin and so I missed out on the chance to say hello and get to know some cool people.

I don't want that to happen in San Francisco. So leave a comment, let me know if you're going to BlogHer too, and let's compare itineraries. ;)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Kids and sex? That question is best directed to me...

I was over reading Sci-Fi Dad's blog today. As I have been in general, I've been a bad, bad cyberfriend to Sci-Fi Dad and his wife, who is expecting. I'm behind on the pregnancy and life updates, how their little bunny is doing (especially with her new glasses), and so forth. I finally did my Google reader scan this morning (after clearing it the other day when it had over a 1000 unread, and since then, up to 200---you people impress me with your loquaciousness) and I was impressed to see that the bunny has a redecorated room and that Sci-Fi dad has been busy on his many blogs and columns, yet still took time to answer reader questions.

Out of 14, 2 were dedicated to how he would deal with a teenage daughter/sexual creature.

It suddenly struck me that we are all very, very keen to ask men this question: how will you handle boys (read: slavering sexual beasts---nudge nudge wink wink, you know) coming on to your daughter (read: precious pure princess angel)?

Hmm, that presents a concept (stereotype) that troubles me on several levels.

It presumes that boys are sexually aggressive, implies just a wee bit at least that boys lack finer feelings and only want one thing, and from it we can infer that girls are sexually passive and require a dad to protect her innocence. It also shines a light on the gender-driven cultural dysfunction of sexuality both for women (madonna and whore) and men (hormonally driven out of control sexual creatures). And that's just at a start.

It honestly just struck me, this idea and thought.

I've asked this question too. I've joked about it, and all along, completely missed the implications of what I was saying---and the classic stereotypes I was perpetuating.

Speaking as a female who once---albeit it quite long ago---was a teen who dated boys who were also teens, I can say that at least in my experience this isn't the case.

Parents of course need to guide, arm and support their children, but I believe this goes equally for boys and girls. Even though it was over 20 years ago, I'll never forget the boy who questioned, oh-so-emotionally, why there was such a pressure for sex, and why holding hands didn't mean enough anymore.

Bottom line, talking about sex with kids is tough, but we must do it, and do it honestly, conveying to them the biology and sociology of it...with the same tone and undercurrent that displays our respect for them, and our understanding of them as individuals, and that their peers are individuals too---not nameless, faceless stereotypes out for any particular thing.

I did have to use No with more than a few boys more than a few times. It doesn't always work, I know that. And things happen where we have no control. However, setting that aside, speaking again from my experience, No can work quite well. In part, this is good sense: spending time with boys who were good people (and there are plenty) and choosing situations in which I felt safe.

That's because I learned I had choices and control, and an identity in and of myself, not related to what the opposite sex thought of me. I wasn't entirely free of desiring boys to find me desirable, or being boy crazy---not by a long shot. But I used my good sense. I also was able to usually rise above the idea that I had to be Pretty, and that my worth and value came from the superficial. I usually recognized that I had brains and personality and in the end, they'd last a lot longer (or so I hope).

That's what I hope to teach my girls.

I tend to have the lead on sexual education in our family. I'm not sure whether it's because I'm with the kids substantially more, or because we tacitly agree it's a girl thing. In truth, I think it's because my husband was raised with a lot of euphemisms, whereas my parents, although they didn't exactly have an open policy about it, did do their best to make themselves available and communicated a fair amount (more than some, less than others). Plus, my mom gave me books (you know the ones) and I'm a fairly open person and have less discomfort discussing this topic. To his credit, my husband responds to questions and queries openly and honestly, and I think he even breathes during the conversation too.

Most importantly, I encourage a healthy and loving and close relationship between my girls and their father. He is their first man they know, and I model and shape the base of how they think of men by how I treat and talk about my husband, just as he molds and shapes how they think of men by how he is in their lives. He works hard to be close and involved, a parent, not a fill-in, and in my opinion, it shows.

I hope it shows later in life, too.

So when people ask my husband---my girls' father---how he will handle Those Boys Who Come Sniffing Around, he responds with humor, which I think indicates his confidence that his girls will manage just fine.

But that's the funny thing: they always direct the question to him, and never to me, really. That's sort of ironic if you know the two of us well, and consider who we each are individually as people, rather then our gender.

I wonder why it is that we are so curious about fathers and daughters, and not so much about mothers and daughters, when it comes to the developing sexuality in our children. I wonder whether mothers of sons experience it differently.

When it comes to how my husband will handle boys in his daughters' lives, I think the young men have a much better shot with him than with me. (A) He's a much nicer person than I am in many regards, and (B) he's much to explain this without totally doing the wrong thing...err...he's much less likely to give people---boys---a hard time.

He jokes about how he and I will double-date with the girls until they are 25 at least, and I joke about how boys will have to have the first date here at the house over the dinner table and that I will have to vet them before my girls can date them.

Here's the difference: he's really kidding and...I'm not. I'm serious. My girls will not date any boy I haven't met.

What will I do if I don't like one? We'll see. Maybe their dad's joke will turn into reality, after all.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more: The Hump Day Hmm for June 18, 2008

How far would I go for the people I love? Pretty far.

I'll go to Disneyland for my kids. I promise you, even as a child I had no big driving desire to go there.

I'll go to the Zoo in Houston in the summer for my kids. This one hits so many of my things I don't prefer it stands on its own.

I'll fly or drive to different places and wear different corporately-prescribed outfits and chat up potential clients in order to help my husband's business.

I'll bite my tongue bloody when my dad compares David Axelrod to Rove on Father's Day. I'll bite it bloody again when one more time we rehash the Time Flavia and I Double Dog Dared The Boys that we could jump in a mud puddle and they couldn't and let's just say the girls won that round. I bite it because I fully intend to rehash every single parenting merit badge I'll have on my sash when my kids are grown.

I'll count to 8000 and hold my temper and not confront someone who just insulted my husband and offended me, because my husband doesn't prefer to confront.

I'll move to Texas from the amazing Gold Coast of Marvelous Massachusetts, because it's the best thing for the family, even though it means leaving behind my job, my career, my career contacts and network, and the adult life I built there. Even though I am unsure what I will find in Texas and how I will build a life here. I will struggle for a few years, trying to find new and different footing, and then, will begin to find something grand and wonderful.

But those are just things, events, happenings.

What about what it takes to do these things? In the end, it's about what matters most, and in the end, in my life, it seems that my relationships with my family are what matters most. That's not easy, and it runs against a variety of conflicting messages about who I should be as a professional, a woman, a modern woman, myself, a mom, a wife, a friend, and so forth.

What's extraordinary about it is that it happens at all...that we can find within ourselves any degree of selflessness and do for others. What's extraordinary about it is that it happens out of love.

What is this capacity and how often do we truly appreciate the amazing compromise to self that it is to be in a long-term relationship of any type?

Tell us your story, either in comments here, or on your own site (in your post, link to here and then add your link below so everyone can track over and read):

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

God love Tyra Banks for always giving me such ample fodder and fun

I don't watch Tyra Banks on any show, much less her talk show. I don't even really watch VH1 or I haven't since they quit actually playing music, or really, any music I like much. This is a matter of preference not snottiness. I roll in the gutter plenty so I don't cast aspersion (much).

However, I happened to catch a show on VH1 about the Tyra Banks show. She was featuring a topic called My Big Fat Ass.

I'm not sure whether to love it or hate it, but I was definitely horrified/fascinated when she opened her show by walking past four women prominently sticking out their allegedly junk-filled trunks...slapping each rear end as she went by, and squeezing the last one.

She asked Carnie Wilson on as a guest---you know, the self-described lead spokeswoman/advocate for Healthy Body Image for Plus Size. She used to sing? Her dad was a Beach Boy? Right-o.

So Carnie is on and she's talking about her life challenges or something and the conversation went roughly like this:

Carnie:...and so I've been sober for [insert right number] of years...
Tyra: (with sympathy) That's when you gave up food...
Carnie: Uh no Tyra, I'm talking about drugs and alcohol

Here the VH1 featured comedian/host broke in with this comment:
Tyra, Tyra, Tyra, I know you're from the fashion industry and all but in the real world we don't call giving up food getting sober...we call it ANOREXIA.

I am so demented I laughed until tears streamed from my eyes. Honestly, I did.

Maybe I should be outraged or analyze this to death or find some nugget of wisdom but I didn't. I just found myself laughing my ass off at Tyra's expense. God love her, truly.

There she is, trying so hard to promote healthy body image and esteem---even if somehow? the way she does it? sends chills up my neck and makes me think that the path to hell very well might be paved with good intentions---and probably just misspoke or something (I hope) but managed to totally miss the mark.

I suppose that gaffe might have been forgotten when she and Carnie ended the segment by re-enacting their favorite rap video.

But it wasn't.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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Friday, June 13, 2008

I know what's best for my kids and it's me being happy...and other concepts I'm not too sure about

Me, engaged in a kid-approved activity: hovering over them at a birthday party in a gymnastic place. How often do you know what makes your kids perfectly happy, I ask you? So...I know, and they know I know, which is where the struggle comes in: every day isn't a happy birthday party at the Little Gym with mom on call.

Ha! My last post was my 800th post and I missed that, being in such a rush as I was. So this is 801.

That's pretty par for the course for me right now---catching it just one too late. I feel it from most angles, this sense of, "You're a day late and dollar short."

Despite taking the kids to the Zoo Zoobilee bash last night---earning me the "For my kids' sakes I would walk 500 the godawful the ZOO...with crowds of melting people and animals hiding in whatever shade they could find" badge---and ensuring that each day contains at least one fun thing such as a trip to the pool, the kids and I have not launched summer off well. We could call it a bang because there has been much slamming of doors and yelling.

I'm a-wearied.

The kids are not used to being together this much and sharing this house and its space and the toys and things (moms) within for so many consecutive hours. This has caused a Sibling Rivalry Flare-Up for the record books.

The kids are also not used to having to think and do so much on their own, masters of their own time. The broadened boundaries have bewildered and unsettled them. Actually, I had just gotten the little one settled in when the entire apple cart was upset by the big one coming home.

On the side, in the Julie Life, instead of the Mom of Patience and Persistence life, many and much excitement is happening with all the political goings-on. I feel myself stirring to life again.

And the kids hate it. Hate. It.

They know Mommy has a new Interest and they are jealous of it like a third grade best friend who doesn't want her buddy to like anyone else. They can't quite direct their anger to a concept so they unleash it on me with Attitude and then turn viciously on their father when he walks in the door, in case he is somehow related to the Competition.

If I had a dime for every time I explained that feeling mad/tired/upset/frustrated isn't an okay reason to act mean, so let's try X trips to BlogHer (or NetRoots, it's in AUSTIN, with HOWARD DEAN...what can I SAY! I'm torn and confused suddenly.) and the DNCC in Denver would be covered, first class.

When motherhood is a huge challenge (and yes, I know it usually is, but you moms know what I mean, when there are Special Times and Special Challenges) and you see very little payoff for your mad hard extreme efforts, it's easy to want to plug in harder and more often to the things that do positively reward and give good feedback.

In fact, if you are a bit introverted like I am, you need and crave more alone time, and in the summer, full-time home with kids and other obligations plus the work thing, that's in short supply.

It's easy to hit burn out. That leads to pondering and reflection.

How much do I owe myself? How much do I owe my kids? How much choice do I get to make for me, when I chose to be a mom and have kids?

I don't quickly and easily buy into the idea that a happy me is best for the kids. I grew up in the 70s, my friends, and saw that philosophy in action. I, and probably loads of other Gen Xers, thought it was utter BS. Kids want what they want and that is often in contradiction to what a parent wants. I also don't easily buy into the notion that I know best and ultimately it will work out and those kids will see this is all for the best.

I do buy into the idea that more than any other relationship, parenting is one of the ultimate struggles of conflicting wants.

As my kids get older, it's both clearer and more complicated that this is much deeper than just balancing. This is about compromise and sacrifice, on both sides, and nobody comes terribly easily to that. I hope my children see and learn, though, during this and coming times, that it is necessary to set yourself aside sometimes---even as a child.

The key is to balance the giving and taking, and ultimately not ask too much or anything too big of the children if I don't have to. Unfortunately, there aren't any large tags on situations that clearly state: This Is The One (too many, too big).

My kids don't like seeing me busy with things to do this summer, things other than Mom. This time is usually invisible to them while they are at school. Plus, it is a bit more than usual.

I struggle every day with where and to whom I am best served...serving. I struggle with my children's trouble with me serving myself, and so, I find myself cutting back on my usual me time since work time is taking more of me and my time. I struggle with what I want and my dreams, which don't fit what I think the kids want or what I decided was best for the kids. I struggle with the unexpected conflict between Julie and Mom.

It's one thing, with little kids, babies, when you are so dedicated to these dependent creatures, to adjust to being a mom in addition to all else you are and have done.

It's another thing, as the children grow independent and begin to move more into their own lives, to begin backfilling that space with a little more of you.

It's one thing, to juggle the demands of little ones on yourself. I know my friends and I all spoke meaningfully about needing and craving some space, so me-time, so sense of self beyond Mom. Some looked at us as if we were insane, because Mom was enough. Everyone had a theory. All moms talk about the juggle and struggle between self- and momhood.

But this...this is new and different. This is a bigger struggle than before. The demands and need for me for the kids at this age---as they grow away---is even greater, and right when I have begun doing more of my own thing.

I admit, it's taken me by surprise, especially the resistance. I didn't expect, really, that anyone would mind or notice too much that I was dashing off to my own thing a bit. But I think everyone in this family does.

It's both gratifying and frustrating.

In the end, for me, I want it all. I want the work and the kids, the in the house and the out of the house, and apparently I want it equally on both sides, because when I dig down deep: it is equal, equally weighted. So when I look for the deciding factor, it tends to come down to what's more important, who is more important, what matters most.

The clear answer to that is the kids, isn't it?

Except it's not. Sometimes it is and gets to be me.

Slowly but surely we are all growing to trust that what we want will all come to the top in good turn.


I owe you a few things.

1. Visits, replies, comments, and emails. Yes. I will. Soon. Promise. Just don't show me your disappointment. Please. I have that piled on me in droves just now.

2. A winner from last week's Hump Day Hmm. This is Gillian, from Pocket Lint. Congrats Gillian! Drop me an email and let me know if you prefer Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, Don't Eat This Book, or Season 1 of 30 Days, and also let me know shipping details.

3. Next week's Hump Day Hmm topic: this is "How far would you go for your kids/family/loved one/self?" I vary the who it is because really, that's up to you, as is the interpretation of the question. Maybe it's 500 miles through a hot and crowded zoo. Maybe it's a move to another country. Maybe it's setting aside something you do. Maybe it's a life change, such as getting sober.

4. Next post...the story from my point of view of meeting David Axelrod, Senator Barack Obama's Chief Strategist. Report right now at MOMocrats with photo.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The walls came tumbling down...a blogger's perspective of the lines between traditional media and bloggers reporting from significant events

The Texas Capitol---ubiquitous looking symbol of democratic government, and yet movingly significant.

It was Day Two of the Texas Democratic Party convention and I was sitting in the press room with the other members of the credentialed press. The other members of the press---who weren't sure who I was, at first, or how I fit in to the strict structure; in fact, weren't sure, after all, that I was one of them---and I tapped away at our laptops, preparing stories.

Here our language diverged: I posted mine, they filed theirs.

But I think most of them wrote at blogs, as well.

They knew I was a blogger because the very cool Vince Leibowitz and Charles Kuffner greeted me as we all arrived and checked into the press room. This greeting and our subsequent conversation claimed me as one of us, a blogger.

I'm afraid that dropped me immediately in the estimation of the reporters in the room. Glennia Campbell, one of the MOMocrat founders, experienced something similar in California. In the press room at the California Democratic convention, a reporter leaned over and said, "A blog? have like two readers?"

Those who know the MOMocrats know this is far from true; it's become a well-read and well-respected source of information and opinion in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to an interview with Barack Obama, the MOMocrats also received press credentials to the national Democratic convention in Denver, have been cited in major news publications, run a radio show, and more. As I write this, one MOMocrat is talking to a major news network newscaster about an appearance on a program, and another is being interviewed by Al Jazeera English about sexism in the media.

While some blogs---especially political ones---are real tools (in all meanings of the word) and even some citizen journalists who write for otherwise well-read and generally respected blogs are too, many, many blogs and political blogs are excellent sources and resources that give highlight to information mainstream media leaves out (such as issues). Consider the Downing Street Memo---without bloggers that might have continued on in obscurity.

Truthfully, I think the media knows this. We are the breath at their back, and if they can't hear us breathing any longer, it is because we have moved far enough ahead.

I don't mean that as arrogantly as it sounds. I don't consider myself in competition with the press. I consider blogging an open medium for many voices. I consider that the Internet allows a space for additional information and points of view, which traditional media doesn't have, or doesn't have any longer---possibly due to budget. Smart media has recognized and harnessed this power, creating platforms attached to their news sites, such as chron.commons at the Houston Chronicle.

I also don't mean that as naively as it sounds. I realize that just because something is written doesn't mean it's truthful, based in any kind of fact or reality, or even worthy. That's why I always encourage people to read skeptically. At the convention, the wife of a delegate leaned over and asked me, "But what about the assertion that blogs run without any checks or balances, that you can't trust what you read on them?"

I replied, "You shouldn't blindly trust any one source for anything you read. You should always listen to news and opinion critically, then check it out for yourself."

She seemed surprised. Perhaps she didn't expect that answer. Perhaps she expected a defensive answer.

I'm not defensive, though, because I haven't anything to be defensive about. I do my best to write well-thought through pieces, with research behind them. I work with other writers who do the same. It's true that the groups I write with, Moms Speak Up and MOMocrats, are predominantly (exclusively) liberal, with a concentration on liberal topics. I think that's fine. I think it's okay to focus on the side you believe in.

I realize that's a break from how traditional and mainstream media have worked in recent history. And generally, I think it's good that mainstream media simply presents a well-rounded picture of information. I think it's right that they try to simply inform, in an unbiased way.

Except...that doesn't always work, and in trying to always present a well-rounded story and all angles, the actuality that the story being told is, in fact, the side chosen because it will capture attention and sell is obscured. But more than that, as Arianna Huffington wrote in her book, Right Is Wrong (review coming soon on MOMocrats) on pp 20, 23:
The "mainstream" media have. . .[adhered to] the belief that every major issue has two sides, two valid perspectives, and both deserve to be given equal weight. This is fine and dandy when the issue at hand is something like the death penalty, balancing the budget, or abortion. Rational, logical cases can be made on two (or more) sides of each of those issues---substantive arguments based on facts, studies, and personal convictions. But there are other issues that quite simply do not have two sides. Iraq wasn't a material threat to the security of the United States---at least not until it melted down into a chaotic cauldron of extremism and ethnic warfare after we invaded it. The health care system is broken, and insurance companies and big pharmaceutical-makers have gorged themselves at the public trough. And global warming is real, and will have deadly consequences for people and species all over the planet. Consequences that are already being felt.

The good thing about blogging is that it is opinion pieces---which doesn't remove it from logical, rational, or fact-based---and we are not beholden to advertisers who run roughshod over our content or other agendas other than simple expression. We can hold metaphorical feet over fire, and if our voice is big enough or widespread enough, it can be quite meaningful.

The irony about the "open-minded liberal" concept is that it allowed extreme points of view to become legitimized, and worse, tolerated. Somehow the invective of crazies so far off center that they have totally fallen off of the bell curve, such as Ann Coulter, has become mainstream. As Arianna Huffington wrote in her book, Ann Coulter is toxic curiosity (p. 21).

We let those voices in because we developed the politically correct perspective that every voice matters and should be allowed space to speak and count. It's a good theory and I already feel my mind rejecting any rejection of it.

But during the convention, a concept crystallized for me: being counted doesn't mean being validated, such as by winning.

I noticed during each vote that went from voice (were the ayes or nays louder?) to roll call (actually cast a vote that was tabulated) some number of people always stood after the tabulation results were announced and shouted, "WHEN IS MY VOTE GOING TO COUNT?!?!?!"

I wondered how they didn't see that their vote had just been counted. It was one in the final tally figure. Their side, though, simply hadn't had enough numbers. So they lost. That's not the same thing as not counting.

I accepted during the last two elections for President, governor, local elected officials and more that while my vote had counted, it was not enough and constituted, sadly (and tragically---from my point of view) the minority.

But it was counted.

That's what blogging can be: a place to count.

Whether it's on blogs, the news, or anywhere, we may still let people voice their point of view. But we don't have to legitimize it or even agree with it. We can be critical of it. We should be.

News also doesn't have to be titallating.

I reached my Breaking News Fatigue by 2002. I passed my ALL!!! NEWS!!! ALL!!! EXCLAMATION!!! POINT!!! tolerance by 2004. I don't even watch television news any longer, except in some rare cases, and then I have about a 30 minute tolerance limit.

But that's where we live: in a reptilian state of heightened emotional response, and we've become adrenaline junkies and thus exclamation point news junkies from it.

I saw it at the convention. The TV news crews stalked the halls, looking for the Loud, the Cliched, the Caricatured. They found a loud Hillary supporter running for national delegate, surrounded by piles of paraphernalia. It was loud, colorful, and obvious. That's where they stopped. That's who they interviewed. They had a story, look and conclusion in mind, and they hunted until they found it.

The trouble is that loud doesn't always equal representative, but by always seeking the loud and obvious---that's how a vocal minority gained perception as public majority.

The news crew got their soundbite and I got a craw full.

The visual image of the convention on the local news was stimulating, to be sure, but didn't fit with all, or even most, of the people I spoke to and interviewed. If I hadn't known better, I might not have known any better, based off of that news report.

It has changed us. Or it can, if we let it. That's why I write. I felt myself becoming overwhelmed, and from that, complacent. I, who have always been a fighter. Writing forces me to think critically, and within that, to find what I believe and then to keep to that. With my feet solidly on the ground of my own values, I see where and how I can act. It's an empowering place. When I feel empowered, I don't feel fearful (or overly so) or frozen in indecision or by overwhelming "what can I do, I'm not enough."

Luckily, we have a multitude of sources, and luckily, many, if not most, people scan through the wide variety. Eventually, in our own minds, with a balance of information across the spectrum, we form a value judgment. That's as it should be. In my opinion.

In the end, I believe blogging is achieving legitimacy and respect. We don't need to let mainstream media define us, though---as places such as The Today Show endeavored to do with some mom bloggers---and we don't need to define ourselves by comparison to mainstream media.

Eventually, in the press room, I felt a thawing. Bloggers and print media writers clumped together and exchanged quips, tips and ideas. (TV kept to themselves, aside from cameramen occasionally making quick, furtive eye contact; radio looked very busy, but sometimes quickly smiled.) By the end of the convention, I felt a sort of acceptance and maybe even some respect.

We all saw that we each were dedicated to finding and sharing information with readers. We all saw that we each had an interest in the topic, a passion for what we did, and a curiosity about the world we lived in.

That's a bond, and it can let us work alongside one another in this world of communication, ultimately painting a better picture.

Speaking of pictures, here are a few from the convention:

Chelsea Clinton spoke, on her mother's behalf.

A moment back stage with Kirk Watson, a state senator and convention chairman.

State senate candidate Joe Jaworski wowed the crowd at his party by playing the drums really well.

The Governor's Mansion burned early on the morning we were leaving, after the convention concluded.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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, June 04, 2008

Que sera, sera: Hump Day Hmm about Comfort Zones for June 4, 2008

I always found the song "Que sera, sera," a little ironic. I never wondered too much about what I was going to be when I grew up until adults continually asked me---and I started to get worried that maybe this was a question that ought to have an answer; after all they asked it expecting an answer, anticipating that I would know, and other children seemed quite definitive. I was not.

I'd start answering in the moment:

* a private investigator like Kelly Garrett (the Charlie's Angels phase)

* a spy kicking Russian ass (the rebelling against duck and cover phase)

* a back up dancer for a rock star (the Tony Orlando and the Dawns phase)

* a scientist who studied and found medicine in the backyard (the backyard botany phase, and yes, I tasted every item in the yard) (boiled it in water, dried it out, and so forth)

* a famous writer like Carolyn Keene (the Nancy Drew phase, coordinated well with the PI and spy phases)

* a psychologist who treats people with multiple personality disorders (Sybil)

and I'd sense the subtle shift from curiosity to perplexity and slight disapproval. So I'd begin saying what I thought they wanted to hear, these curious grownups:

* teacher (like my mommy)

* nurse (like the nice ladies who take care of you when you're sick)

* mom (like my mommy, care for others)

Those grownups taught me that society has a comfort zone for me, or the general me anyway, and they taught me that living outside it is uncomfortable. They also taught me that it's never enough to just live in the moment; one always needs to plan and have an eye in the future. Although, since few ever seemed terribly interested in who I was just then, they seemed to also be saying that now doesn't matter as much as then, the future.

It became a bit of knowing; that seemingly simple and innocent, "What do you want to be when you grow up," said that who I am as a person will never be as important as what I do, and that will never be as important as fulfilling expectations.

It's a curious thing, this thing we do---this well-intended display of interest, a question so common it is practically cliched. But what we really ask is that a person know who he or she is from the earliest moments of life---know where he or she fits, know his or her comfort zone, or more accurately, let us in on this information to accommodate our comfort zone and desire to know how to file this person.

A comfort zone is really a sense of safety and solidity, in a way, isn't it?

I'm not terribly good at identifying my comfort zone. I wasn't sure how explain what I wanted to be when I grew up---and in fact, I still am not 100% sure. The interests behind my original list haven't altered. I suppose my comfort zone might just be exploration.

My husband knows me fairly well, but even he was surprised when I suggested the trip to Costa Rica. Once he got over his initial shock, he wasted not one second in planning and had us flying out within a week. I'd just gotten off crutches: a year of physical therapy, nerve therapy, and pain management for an injury to my leg that was now permanent. The doctor and physical therapist were self-congratulatory, proud of me: we did exceptionally well, exceeded expectations. "I think you've had about a 90% recovery," the doctor told me, "And truthfully, even an 85% recovery is pretty rare." I was walking, on my own. It wasn't until we got to the end and I saw the professionals happiness and relief that I truly understood that I'd run such a risk. I cleared the trip with the doctor, who thought it was a great idea but cautioned I should get a walking stick for balance and support. So we went to a tropical climate, stayed on a beach, slept under mosquito tenting, ate native dishes, climbed mountains, canoed down rivers at midnight and had an amazing experience.

I find that when I go outside my comfort zone, I often find something incredible and amazing. Maybe the risk heightens the pleasure; maybe being outside a zone means my senses are alert, sensitive, attuned. Every now and again, though, it just seems right to take that risk, to step outside that comfort zone.

I'm willing to explore Costa Rica, hike through Provence, leap up on a stage and kiss my favorite rock star, ask the handsome man to come out to dinner with us, write letters to the editor, and even write a blog. And when I do these things, incredible things happen---sometimes not what I planned or expected, but something amazing in there anyway.

I find I can still climb mountains, learn red wine is good chilled, get to know Neil Finn is a really cool person, find a man to marry, meet other local writers with similar interests, and even end up with an article on The Huffington Post.

Every day doesn't feel like a miracle or incredible, as much as some say it ought to. Perhaps because I am this way or because I was asked about the future so often, I'm not very good at living in the present. But every now and again, usually when I am outside my comfort zone, I feel it. Blessed.

How does a person know when to step outside the comfort zone?

Me? I listen to my heart and gut on this one, and so far that's done pretty well.

What do you guys think about comfort zones?

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Perfect posts---how women use their words powerfully and wonderfully for the good

Suburban Turmoil and Petroville host the Perfect Post awards every month. Jenny and Mindy host Blog Share Sundays every week. Although I am often way too self-involved to think my way out of my own often overwhelming life's paper bag, this past month and week I did manage to do so. :)

Moms Speak Up contributor Lisa spoke to my raison d'etre with her post, The Power of Language: Use It To Make Change. So I nominated it for a Perfect Post award.

Then, at my disturbed-about-the-issue-desiring-teacher-POV request, Ann Bibby wrote, "Voting a Student Off the Island: What Happened in Florida?" and I thought that was worthy of a Blog Share.

Slouching Mom also wrote so movingly about the cautious child in her post, "The Cost of Caution," and I had to put that up for a Blog Share too.

You guys get a badge too!


And last but not at all least, I was awed when Chani wrote in her Sacred Life Sunday about Perspective.

Cani, I haven't got a badge so hopefully verbal props will do. :)

Awesome posts, everyone, and if you haven't read these I encourage you to do so.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Where's your comfort zone? Great, now jump out of it for the Hump Day Hmm!

My comfort zone is a continually evolving thing. I believe it is largely dependent upon experience and education, which proves the cliche that there is no substitute for time. I believe you have to use that time wisely, of course, to grow and develop. One way to do that is to stretch and reach outside your comfort zone.

I recently ran across a reality show called 30 Days, which asks people to spend 30 days outside their comfort zone. It's not just some social issue version of wife swap, though. It's an honest attempt---as much as is possible all things and media considered---to shine a light on what can grow when we walk in another's shoes.

In fact, FX, the network that produces and runs the show, uses the motto, "There is no box."

30 Days is the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock, best known for his controversial independent documentary Super Size Me and his book, Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America. The show is considered a smart and intriguing documentary that breaks into preconceived notions and tackles social issues, such as anti-aging, Muslims and America, homosexuality, drugs and alcohol (and parenting), immigration, religion and atheism, abortion, and more.

This show got me thinking.

Growing up for me seemed to include being pulled out of my box over and over. Born into a typical American nuclear family, I developed a standard middle class girl box. After my parents divorced, that box was busted. Although my mother had a college education (which was still fairly rare back then) and job experience as a teacher, and was able to get a decent teaching job, we lived penny to penny. Teaching still isn't the most highly-paid profession, and back then it was even less. As a "woman's" job, it wasn't considered necessary to make it high-paying, especially since society still considered women "under men's protection and support." Additionally, there wasn't as much opportunity for her then since teaching was one of the main professions open to women, who were seeking jobs as divorces increased. We lived in "poorer" neighborhood, with many other divorced mother-headed families and new immigrants.

Unlike most suburban kids, by age 10 I not only knew that sometimes two families of 12 people lived in a two-room apartment, I saw it first-hand. I learned that these kids considered themselves fortunate because they knew it could be much, much worse. I discovered that these kids thought they were lucky, and were appreciative that they got to go to school instead of work.

That made me start thinking.

That got me out of my box.

Once you've been out of your box and had your eyes and mind opened, there's no going back. What an amazing thing, really.

How much better we can appreciate, understand, accept and feel for one another when we know what and why of another situation.

These days, as an adult, a mom, a suburban dweller, it's an active choice to find Other, to see and consider how things are outside my box.

Blogs are one of the greatest ways to do that. It's the ultimate in human drama, isn't it? Aren't some of the greatest tales motivated by circumstances or choices that pull characters out of their comfort zone? (For example...About a Boy by Nick Hornby and any of Richard Russo's books, as well as Mary Doria Russell and Ann Patchett's books. Just to name a few of my modern favorites.)

So what better topic for Hump Day this week, eh?

Tell us about your comfort zone, outside your comfort zone, and share a journey you took outside your comfort zone...what happened?

I think reading each of these stories will pull each of us beyond our own existing horizon, so I really hope for a lot of participation. Let's even beat last week, which had over a dozen submissions! (I was ecstatic!)

To motivate you even more, I'll put a prize on the table again: a Morgan Spurlock book or DVD. Choose among his Super Size Me, Don't Eat This Book, or Season 1 of 30 Days.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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.