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Sunday, August 20, 2017

And now to talk about Nazis

I focused my last post on race because of the tiki torches blazing in a southern town but SS symbols were plastered on t-shirts and posters so I'm going to talk about that aspect.

In late July I read and saw a performance of The Merchant of Venice, which some of my middle school students will read this fall. There is clearly anti-Semitism in it, and there is also Shylock's explanation of his revenge.....the long tradition of Jews being spat upon and his desire to be treated with dignity because he is, after all, a human being.  To read or see the play is to be made uncomfortable on many fronts, with Shylock's plea for decent respect, with his sinister desire for Antonio's death, and with Antonio's seeming smugness.

I have a long-standing fascination with the Holocaust, although fascination is the wrong word.  When I was in high school, I did a research project on the Nuremberg trials, which required me to read about the many sick things that were done to Jews, gypsies, gays and anyone else the SS deemed unworthy. I still remember my voice and body shaking while delivering this presentation because it was so upsetting to me to speak of. Not too long ago, I heard an interview with Affinity Konar about her book Mischling, and it made me feel similarly horrified and unable to pull myself away.

My ability to understand genocide is limited, just as a sane person has a limited ability to understand the illogic musings of the insane. The mass graves in Bosnia or the visual horror of the roads amassed with murdered bodies as portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda are overwhelming. On a purely intellectual level, I can understand how the process of such deep hatred happens and how humans are psychologically pulled into doing terrible things, but on every other level I just cannot wrap my head around it. Scapegoating and mob mentality are very real and to think that we are "past that" is rubbish.

Just as I didn't know any Black people while growing up, I didn't know any Jews or gays (or if I did, I didn't know I did). Although I heard prejudiced whisperings of Blacks, I do not recall anything anti-Semitic. It took me well into adulthood to notice that some names are what might be considered "Jewish" surnames. I was also unaware that Catholics have been historically lumped in with Jews and Blacks on the most-hated list by Nazis.

I like to think that I am a pretty moral person, but this week I have considered whether, in my own small ways, I am, or appear, morally relativistic. I read this article which really hit home for me about the use of playing devil's advocate. I do try very much to consider all sides and their respective motivations as a means of understanding, but I have never considered whether this appears to others as moral equivocation.

When I teach Macbeth, or any novel with a villainous character, I strive to understand the villain, noting that most villains aren't all bad. A villain who has nothing redeeming about him or her is not a truly real or human character. There has to be, or have once been, something of value, of virtue, about the character. We watch Macbeth become evil, and we see him note that he has come so far in his evil misdoings that he has two choices---"I am in blood, stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as to go o'er." In these moments, we can feel some inkling of sympathy for Macbeth. He knows he has done horrible evil, and he knows he has the choice to go back to being a good person, to stop in his relentless ambition. 

But we cannot have sympathy for his movement further into evil. We cannot have sympathy for his actions--killing Macduff's family, killing Banquo, killing Duncan, upending his responsibilities as a host, kinsman and thane.  

I do believe there are two, or more, sides to every story, but that does not in any way mean the stories are equally at fault, equally honest, equally right or equally wrong. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

All sorts of stuff on my mind in the wake of Charlottesville

We were on our way home from vacation when I started getting tweets about the rallies and murder in Charlottesville.

Like so many others, I am saddened and disgusted and ashamed and worried.

I have been thinking a lot about my whiteness and racism and disadvantaged populations, and in thinking about these things I have been reading and viewing documentaries to try to parse out my own complicated feelings.

I have never subscribed to the idea that people can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and succeed or attain the American Dream or whatever. I think this is generally the exception to the rule rather than the rule. I understand the appeal of the bootstrap mentality, though. It gives a person a sense of control over his or her life. If I work hard enough and long enough, I can get x, y and z. What is the point of trying if the odds are against your hard work making a difference?

The bootstrap mentality is akin to the praying mentality. I think prayer can do great things, but I also know from personal experience that you can try your damnedest to pray yourself out of a situation but prayer alone may not work. I spent my entire childhood trying to pray away the turmoil inside my head, and the only things that helped me "triumph over them" (however long that triumph may actually last is unclear) was medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.

I apply my mental health experience to the situation of disadvantaged people in whatever form I find them. Poor people might work their hardest, but the deck is stacked against them just like my genetics stacked the deck against me in dealing with my anxiety and OCD. Minorities might do everything "right" but their skin color may stack the deck against them in ways that white people do not have to contend. That doesn't mean that disadvantaged people or minorities cannot get ahead or see positive change, but it takes an awful lot of support (institutional support included)....just like my anxiety takes daily medication and checkups with my psychiatrist and blogging and a whole lot of self-talk to help me regulate myself.

Since my thoughts right now are all over the map (ya know, since race and racism and life is complicated....who knew?), I better do some bolding and caps and stuff.

WHITENESS--
I try to be aware of my whiteness and what that means, but I know I fail pretty miserably. I saw this on one of the links about educating oneself about race after Charlottesville, but I cannot identify myself, in large part because I do not want to. I know that I don't speak out about racism as much as I could or should. I know that I rely on my white privilege because it is safe and comfortable and the only existence I know. I am not a good judge of my white identity.

I am uncomfortable with the idea of attending rallies not because I fear acting in solidarity with others but because of sheer laziness, which is probably white privilege. I am afforded the privilege of feeling lazy about such things because they do not impact my life in a way that makes life difficult for me. A couple weeks ago when there was no bus stop for my kids at this end of the neighborhood, you better believe I was taking action and speaking out to remedy the situation. Until or unless you are actively made uncomfortable or life is made difficult/unbearable, you generally keep the status quo.

What I do try to do regularly and well is, through my teaching, play devil's advocate and bring things to the attention of students. I recently found a PBS documentary called Slavery By Another Name, which I will be sharing with students when they read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry this fall.  In discussions of race, I often hear White people say things like, "Slavery ended a long time ago," and while this is technically true, documentaries and a little understanding of history make it clear that Blacks spent well over a hundred years after slavery still being stifled by policies that acted in ways that, at best, disadvantaged them, and at worst enslaved them in different ways.

I also made an effort, when I was finding local women to feature in a magazine, to seek out women of color because I felt like every face I was seeing in the pages was white, and it bothered me. I did what I could to try to bring different faces to the forefront.

It's not much.

SEEING COLOR
Whenever I hear people say things like, "I don't see color," my initial reaction is that they are full of shit. I think people like to think they do not see color, and they may not actively or consciously judge other people based on skin color (or any of the others things by which you shouldn't judge others), but they are very much aware of color. It really sounds ridiculous to me, to be perfectly honest.

I have moments when I need to describe someone who is of a different skin color, and I think really hard about how to describe that person, but I ultimately end up mentioning skin simply because this is a characteristic by which a person is identified. To say "I don't see color" is stripping a person of their identity. I think White people mean well (sometimes) when they say this, but I really struggle with it when I hear it.

BLACK FRIENDS
I also cringe when I hear people say something about having a Black friend. I have found that if a White person talks about having a Black friend, you can check their social media "friends" and see pretty quickly that they really don't know any Black people. I actually just checked my own Facebook page for a cursory view of my own "friendships"--- I have about 8 Black friends who are former coworkers or classmates or parents of my children's friends. Between 2-5 of my White friends are in interracial relationships or marriages. Of course, having social media "friends" is not the same as having sustained relationships where you eat together and socialize together and shop together.

UNCOMFORTABLE WITH CULTURE
I get a pretty clear sense of how a White person feels about race (even if they aren't aware of how they actually feel about race) when a discussion of Black literature comes up. When teachers, especially Black teachers, make a concerted effort to educate students about Black writers in any month other than February, I have heardWhite people say something about these teachers' "agenda."

That sounds sinister....as if the Black teachers are trying to warp the minds of innocent young White kids by showcasing the value of Black literature and the contributions of Black writers. White students need to know this, and Black students need to be inspired by this.

TEACHING WITH BLACK COLLEAGUES
When I first began teaching, there was a team of three teachers (2 Black teachers and 1 White teacher) that I thought were really cool. If memory serves, they were a strictly "neighborhood" team, which means they did not have any AP kids (upper middle class, predominantly White children from the other side of the county).

I felt both honored and scared when I was able to work on a team with the two Black teachers. I had observed how they interacted with students, and I was regularly inspired by them. They were great teachers, but their experience as Black women played a role in their ability to relate to their students, and I feared that my Whiteness would hinder my ability to be effective. Would I be so "White" that I couldn't reach students?  Would I be so unaware of their culture that I couldn't make a difference?

It was a profound learning experience for me, and one that I loved. I didn't pay attention to their race as a negative but as a positive that I could learn from. To say that race doesn't matter to students and teachers is not true, in my humble opinion. It can be intimidating or inspiring. In my case, it began as intimidating and ended up inspiring. I think I became a better teacher because I was not on a team of all-White teachers.

DIRTY
There are euphemisms about race that I sometimes hear.

Recently, a family member mentioned that they no longer shop at a nearby Kroger because it is "dirty." That person now shops at the Kroger down the road, which is right across the street from a big, upper middle class housing community.

When they said "dirty," I knew what they meant. They meant that an increasing number of Blacks and immigrants shop there. I know they don't mean dirty as in dirt, filth, disrepair because that Kroger is undergoing a renovation. I shop in both Kroger stores and neither one is disgusting.

These are the same people who don't want their children or grandchildren attending the school district because of Blacks and immigrants.  They like the idea of them going to districts outside this county, where the children are predominantly White.

I AM NOT IMMUNE
I might come across as Judgy Mcjudgerson about other people's race comments, but I cannot pretend as if I don't have my own internal prejudiced notions that flit across my mind. I wasn't raised in a vacuum.

Growing up in a virtually all-White community until high school, and hearing comments from people within that community, impacted me. I try to be aware of some of my reactionary go-to thoughts that I know are prejudiced and without merit. I strive to recognize them and be critical with them.

FIN
Not really. It isn't over, and my thoughts about race and my own relation to it are not quiet, but I need to stop writing and give myself time to continue to think.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Blog and university

A college friend of mine who teaches at a local university asked me if I would speak to her classes about blogging and share my experience as someone who is a "professional" writer (my quotes, not hers).

I realize that I get paid for writing, but in my own head, I think I'd have to make an actual sustainable living from writing to consider myself a professional. Of course, I suspect that many, many writers who get paid for their work do not rely on that as their sole breadwinning activity.

Anyway.....

Her students will have a long-term blogging assignment and must consider the following essential questions:
1. How does writing act as a way of knowing?
2. How can I use digital technologies to reach an authentic audience?
3. What do I have to contribute to the conversation?

It is interesting for me to think about these essential questions in light of my own blog, which is in its 11th year of existence.

My purpose in writing has changed over the years to some extent.

My mood disorder is way better managed now than it was then. Time and age have mellowed me a bit. Children have mellowed me a bit.

My blog remains a place where I come to work through my life and doing it publicly forces me to be analytical instead of going off the rails emotionally, which is what I did in my handwritten journaling for years and years. Having an audience forces me to deeply explore my feelings through the lenses of the intellect and fact and rationality.

There has been a movement toward advocacy in this blog for the people who do read it. In sharing my mood disorder, G's mood disorder, and my own parenting challenges, I have been told I have helped others manage their own issues or, at the very least, feel less alone.

Blogging has helped me know more about myself, both positive and negative. It has helped me find more balance between emotion and intellect. Finally, it has allowed me to know others who have reached out to me with questions or comments after reading the blog.

Oh, another thing blogging has done is force me to do research to support whatever belief or feeling I have. Even if it is just a Shakespearean quote from a play to tie into something I'm experiencing, because it is public I want it to be as accurate as possible.

I never really considered this blogging thing a means of reaching an authentic audience, but I guess it is. It is as valid a writing piece as a letter to the editor of a newspaper or a feature article or any of the other pieces of writing I have done (or taught students to do).

I'm very excited to speak to the college students, sharing what I know and probably more importantly, learning from them. That experience is one way in which my blog is helping me contribute to the conversation of writing, purpose, and authenticity.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cool as a cucumber EXCEPT when it comes to back-to-school shopping

People with OCD are often accused of being particular, but I have found that they often aren't any more particular than regular people. They have their oddities, for sure, but these are generally not of the "shallow stuff variety" like M&M colors or which way the danged toilet paper roll goes on the holder, which is what regular people often get their panties in a twist about.

I mean, there are freaking memes about that junk.

I do not have to have M&Ms sorted, and I am just glad someone other than me PUT the toilet paper ON the holder so I have never understood how these things are attributed to OCD-ness.

I'm sure having children has led me to become more relaxed about things.  I don't care what my kids' hair looks like provided it is trimmed and clean (and clean is a relative term). I don't especially care what they wear provided they and their clothes are clean (or relatively clean).

Twice this past year, I have had two people refer to me as being "cool as a cucumber," which I think is both HILARIOUS and appropriate.

I have never thought of myself as a cool as a cucumber-type person because I tend to be pretty excitable, but it is over weird stuff.

One time I was referred to in this way related to how I am as a substitute teacher, and this is probably true. I try very hard to stay completely unflustered by students because that is exactly (especially if they are of the middle-school persuasion) what they want. It is better for me to look bored and ask, "Are you done?" than to get myself all in a kerfluffle. Whispering in their ear, I've found, is far more effective than making a scene which gives them no choice but to make a scene back.

The other was in reference to VBS. My motto is, "Unless I'm getting paid for something, I am not going to worry about it too much." It will all work out, so I'm not going to sweat it much.....or at all.

When it comes to school supplies, however, I am fairly laid back and always have been. I never cared (and still don't) what colors and kinds of notebooks or folders or pencils my students use...whether they are my actual students or my children who are students and for whom I purchase the supplies.

Perhaps in some parallel universe and in some naturally highly organized Earth children, they say, "Oh, blue folder goes with blue notebook," but my experience is that kids are generally idiots who have to be savagely beaten into noticing stuff like this. Any old pencil, notebook, and folder will do when they are asked to get out a pencil, notebook, and folder. I wanted to utilize every second of classroom time and not waste it dicking about with colors of notebooks or whether someone had a pencil.  Find a friend or write with a crayon, but let's go--we got shit to learn.

I have learned to not buy N anything until after the first day of school. When she began 6th grade, I purchased from the "general supply list" and then had to go back out again and purchase plastic folders instead of paper ones since her teacher didn't like that the paper ones fall apart.

Where I am not as cool as a cucumber is on the purchasing end of the school supply thing. I get immensely aggravated at other people's persnicketiness that I have to deal with in a store. I find myself wandering around Staples mumbling things like, "Why don't they just ask for chartreuse notebooks?  How impossible are those to find?  And what is wrong with BLACK notebooks? Is everyone prejudiced against BLACK notebooks?"

I CANNOT HARDLY WAIT for N to start high school so that she can wear regular clothes and I no longer have to drive to every store in town to find uniform pants that fit her in the legs, are not so low-waisted that they ride up her nether regions, that are also the "right" shade of khaki that do not look like jeans, and do not cost $40.

Of course, just as she is getting out of uniforms, G will soon be moving into them which will be an entire blogging thread of disgust and non-cucumber-like behavior. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The story I've already told my children about risking alcohol

I am not a teetotaler. I enjoy an occasional glass of wine or a beer, but I know my absolute limit is two drinks (and that is two little drinks....not two full glasses of anything like what I might be served at a restaurant).
It takes many months for me and D to go through our alcohol stash. We often just split a beer when we do drink. 
For us, it is a very short drive between relaxed and ready to fall asleep.

At the ripe old age of 21, I stopped drinking more than two drinks and also stopped drinking hard liquor when I got tossed out of a stadium for public intoxication and had a 5-day hangover. How I didn't die of alcohol poisoning remains a mystery to me. 

I have yet to tell my children that story but I will as a warning to them. 

The story I do tell them is the one from when I was 16. 
I got remarkably dumb between 16 and 21, which will be more clear momentarily.

When I was 16, a friend and some of her friends were going to pick me up to go dancing at a local club for teens.  

They arrived, and I got into the car.
I noticed the empty alcohol bottles on the floor.  
I don't recall now whether they were cans or bottles, but I seem to remember glass.
It doesn't matter. What mattered is that I knew the driver, who was my friend's friend, had been drinking.
From the moment I sat down and noticed the booze, I was terrified. 
And angry.

I was scared that we would have an accident, and more importantly, I was fucking pissed off that my "friend" would put my life in potential jeopardy. 

Initially, I was more scared than angry but as we drove away from my house, my fear lessened as my anger increased. 

These were the days long before cell phones.
I kept thinking to myself, "How can I get out of this?"
And that is when I saw a convenience store near my dad's work, which was on the way to the teen club.
I asked them to stop at the convenience store so I could run in and get something.
I ran in, got on the phone, and called my mom.
I told her the driver had been drinking, and I was scared.
I asked her to come pick me up and take me to the teen club (I was meeting my boyfriend at the time). 

Honestly, I don't remember much after that point.
My mom came to me and drove me to the club. 
I seem to recall my friend talking to me both at the convenience store and at the teen club. I'm sure she apologized, but I don't think I accepted.
It took me a long, long time to forgive her for that. 
That event basically destroyed what had been a close friendship. It was never the same between us again.
I could forgive her for putting me in that situation, but I could no longer trust her.
We could be friendly but we could never be friends again. 

Now clearly, this event didn't sour me from alcohol overuse because of the stadium event at age 21. What soured me from alcohol overuse was the 5-day hangover. 
Who wants to feel like shit after drinking?

Plus, I knew of my dad's 2-drink limit. His own father was an alcoholic who drank away the family's income and beat the shit out of my grandmother.
My dad's youngest brother died of liver disease in his 40s due to alcohol abuse. 
Dad learned all too well that he had to be very strict about his own alcohol use to ensure he didn't go down that path. 

A couple years ago, I interviewed two addiction specialists for an article I was writing because many people....myself included at times....make light of drinking alcohol.  You see things about "Mommy's sippy cup" and other funny memes about drinking, and it makes alcohol use seem not as dangerous as it can be. 

I try to reserve judgment about alcohol use, and drug use for that matter. Addiction is a tricky thing.  People don't try to become addicted to anything. There are an awful lot of people who have untreated mental health issues (anxiety, ADD, depression, bipolar, etc) who self-medicate as a way to cool down those parts of their brains they just can't quiet without alcohol or drugs. There is usually an awful lot of pain and general dissatisfaction in life behind the booze or the drugs. 

And, honestly, what people do in their own homes with their own money is none of my business. 

But should it potentially threaten me or my kids.....then it becomes my business.
It was hard to remove myself from the aforementioned sticky situation when I was 16, but at nearly 44 and with three children I need to protect, I have no qualms about making my feelings known now. 

During summer, I remember how hard it was to be with my children 24/7

The novelty of free time in June has become the endless cycle of free time in July.

I enjoyed summer break throughout June, but now that we are in July, I am getting tired of my children, especially the middle one.

This is less about him and more about my reaction to him. I allow him to get under my skin in a way that I do not allow other people, and I do not understand why.  I guess part of it is that he is compulsive and obsessive (hence his darn OCD diagnosis), so he just doesn't give me a moment's peace.  And I am susceptible to compulsions and obsessions (hence my darn OCD diagnosis), which makes me less tolerant of hearing the same request over and over and over.

He keeps bugging me to go on a date with D so that I can hire his camp counselor from Girl Scout Camp to come babysit him and M. He's 9 so he doesn't understand that going on a date requires money for the date and for the sitter and requires that I figure out dinner for him and his siblings, so it's not like "date night" keeps me from thinking about food planning. It's not like D can just come home from work and I say, "Let's go out. Goodbye children" and leave.

I suspect that time will come, but it ain't here yet.

He also keeps asking me to plan playdates and sleepovers for him and every person he has ever known in his entire 9-year-old life.

The other day, G insisted we exchange phone numbers with some kid at the pool he had just met. His name is Caleb, and I have his mom's phone number, but that is the extent of our knowledge of this child.
Where he lives?  Don't know.
Last name? Don't know.
How old he is? Don't know.
Spawn of serial killers? Don't know.

G is very much like me in that his mind needs to be actively occupied to keep from getting stuck in the OCD groove. I didn't get better at doing that until I became an adult and had all the crap of adulthood to keep my mind occupied--like bill-paying and cleaning and responsibility.

Anyway, by the time July came, I was starting to remember just how hard it is to be with my children 24/7.
Even though they can occupy themselves much better than when they were little and can mostly get their own snacks, they still require me for a lot of stuff.

It made me think about how unhappy and cranky I was at times when I was a full-time SAHM and how much I relished the times when I could get the heck away from my children.

Of course, there were many things about when they were little that were much easier. They were happy to go outside and play anytime. They weren't interested in technology and devices. They had opinions but I was bigger and stronger and could just plop them in their carseats and take them where I wanted.

I guess it is good for me to remember what was difficult about then to appreciate what is easier now. There is no perfect time.
Sometimes I forget that.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Giving them opportunities to use their judgment

I have two basic rules that I would like for my children to live by:
1. Do not kill anyone.
2. Do not do drugs.

Beyond this, I don't care who they marry (gay or straight), what job they have, whether they go to college, whether they get tattoos or piercings, whether they have a child out of wedlock, or whether they are Republican or Democrat or Independent. Whatever it is that I suspect other parents might make a big deal out of, I intend to not make a big deal of.

I just feel that a person can come back from most anything else but killing someone or doing drugs has the potential to completely ruin your life without any chance of returning to the life you had before.

We are pretty open with our children and try to discuss with them what is appropriate and not and when and why.

I do not monitor them every second on their electronic devices, but I find they regularly tell on themselves by letting it be known what they are doing. I don't think they think they need to be sneaky.

A part of me wonders if this is the right parenting tract, but I tell myself that I am giving them opportunities to use their judgment. I cannot parent the entire Internet.

As much as I would like to toss every device we own out a window after bashing them with mallets first and all of us learn the dulcimer, that is not likely to happen.

When I was 13 and younger, I was sleeping over at friend's houses and sneaking out to meet boys. I was too busy doing whatever it was I knew would drive my parents insane and get me into a world of trouble. I knew what was taboo, and I made a beeline for it.

Of course, there is a limit to what I will tolerate.  I would never (and will never) be a parent who buys my kids drugs or booze or or smokes or allows them to have boyfriends/girlfriends sleep over when they are of a certain age and in a romantic relationship with said boyfriend/girlfriend.

But I feel like I could actually drive myself insane if I try to police the wide web of the electronic world.

Chances are good I won't get into heaven

I don't actually believe in heaven and hell, but if there is a heaven, I feel pretty certain I won't go there.
I don't expect I'll end up in hell, either.
A nice uncomfortable seat in purgatory will be mine.

Of course, I'm already in purgatory.

Evidence:

Today, as the kids and I were walking back to our car downtown, a man right outside of a Subway asked for money so he could get something to eat.

I shook my head no, and as I walked along I was reminded by my conscience that when I do (or not do) unto others, I do unto Jesus. I told D and the kids to go ahead, and I returned to the man.

I asked him, "Do you want me to buy you something to eat?"
He replied, "I need money for the bus to get home."
I then noticed that he had a beverage cup in his hand with a beverage still in it.
I turned around and caught up with my children because his story had changed.

Just as in good conscience I could not not buy him food if he was hungry, I could also not give him money because it didn't sit right with me. That was not what he had asked for to begin with.

I told the kids about it and about my uncomfortable feelings about maybe what this guy's story was and about my own uncomfortable feelings about not just giving him money.....yes because he might buy drugs or cigarettes or booze with it. I can't in good conscience give people cash that might be spent on drugs or booze or cigarettes.

There is judgment there, but I can't help it, and it bothers me immensely that there is judgment and that I can't help it.

As we continued our drive home, G said, "Life is difficult," and I couldn't help but agree. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

So how do I "plan" these trips?

I am certainly no guru of vacation planning, but I have collected some websites that I regularly use to help me when I travel plan. 

We try to avoid hotels as much as possible because we are a family of 5, and my mother-in-law often accompanies us on long trips, which makes us a family of 6. 

Finding one hotel room that can handle 5 people is difficult, but when we need a hotel, I try to use this site to help me locate one. 

I have had great success using VRBO to find houses and condos--in South Carolina, in Alabama, in Florida, in Michigan.  I have not used Airbnb only because I've had good luck with VRBO.

I have used Roadtrippers to help find unusual things along the route that we plan to take. On one drive to Sanibel Island, FL (a 14-hour drive), we stopped at Foster Falls, TN because I found it on Roadtrippers.  It was a lovely hike that broke up the drive. 

To be perfectly honest, most of my travel "finds" have been pure dumb luck.  

We used a Canadian travel agency for our Quebec trip that I just happened upon one day while searching---Fresh Tracks Canada.   The company completely rocked it out with super personalized service. I could not recommend them more highly. 

In thinking about a trip to Utah, I have been using this site a lot. One of the things I like about it is that it lists trails that are good to do with kids. I just googled "Mighty 5 Utah with kids" and found it. It has been very good at taking me down a travel rabbit hole from which I reluctantly return to real life. 

When we've gone to Disney, we never stay on property but have always used Florida Sun Vacation Homes to book a house within a mile or two of Disney property. A friend of mine from back in Mom Club days turned me onto this site. A three-bedroom, 3-bath condo during peak season is around $150 a night. We'll drive ourselves 1-mile to Disney for $150 a night, thank you very much. 

A big part of planning is knowing what you and your family like and don't like. We do not like busy, touristy places with lots of people and traffic. Anything with a "strip" is to be avoided, which means my searches do not involve those types of things. 

G always likes to play miniature golf, so that is one of the things I look for whenever we do a beach trip. We aren't big on eating out, so I don't spend a lot of time looking up restaurants. One of my rules is that if there is a lighthouse where we go, we have to see it. I just like 'em, so when I research places that are near water, I always check for this. 

In the past, I've tried to do one day trip to a nearby city when we go to the beach. When we went to Edisto Island, we were an hour from Charleston, so we drove over and spent the day. On our upcoming trip, we'll be near Savannah, but I've decided we will not go there. D and I visited Savannah prior to kids and have nice memories of it which we would like to keep intact. 

Also, I think since D and I did Quebec, I kinda got the "do something more than sitting on the beach" thing out of my system. 

When I see essays in magazines on travel, I make a point to cut them out and save them. I did this eons ago with an article about the UP.  It took us a long time to get there, but that article planted a seed that eventually grew into a trip. Call it an "inspiration board" if you like. 

These are two articles I found---one from Better Homes & Gardens on national parks, and the other from a travel magazine that came with the newspaper. I have them hanging from a magnet board in my kitchen so I can see them and reference them if needed. 



I also keep a manilla folder on my desk for brochures that I pick up. I think Chattanooga, TN would be a great little trip at some point. 



I take a lot of notes and look at a lot of maps to figure out where we want to go, and then I draw my route so I can get a better handle on it. I also plot time distance between spots. 

When I was talking to my parents yesterday about Utah, my dad was like, "Oh, it doesn't take long to drive between Zion and Bryce," but I had to remind him that travel time with two adults in the car is different from travel time with 2 adults, 1 teenager and 2 very loud little boys in the car. Two hours with two adults is a nice drive. Two hours with the aforementioned combination whose Kindles have run out of juice is the premise of a horror film. 


Anyway, I'm always game to talk about travel with people, share my dumb luck finds, and utilize their knowledge. I think people who enjoy travel tend to find each other. One of my girlfriends has been a great source of inspiration for trips. I've also used Facebook a lot to get in touch with people. A friend of mine from book club grew up in Michigan---she got me in contact with a couple of her friends who could provide me info on the UP, which was super helpful. 

This is SO MUCH BETTER than reality television, right?

Yes, we're running out of time

I annoy my husband, my mother, and my sister-in-law with my exuberant vacation planning.
I likely annoy other people, too, but these are the confirmed cases.

It drives them bonkers that I haven't even gone on the current year's family vacation before I'm off and planning next year's......or 2024's.

How do I have time for this?
I do not watch television.  Ever.
This gives me loads of time to 1. read books and 2. research places to see and things to do.

I immensely enjoy learning about other places and dreaming of what seeing these places with my own two eyes might be like.

Just because I talk about a place doesn't mean that this is where we will land.

Before D and I finally decided on Quebec, I had researched Paris, Bavaria, The Greenbriar Inn in West Virginia, Hawaii, and Key West. I had also suggested that we just drive one mile to the Hilton Garden Inn because I couldn't decide.

G asked to go to Atlantis in the Bahamas, and I researched it. He also asked to go to Moon Palace in Cancun, and I researched that, too.

Given our "international airport" that isn't AT ALL international, it would be insanely expensive to go to either of those places, and I don't have a burning desire to visit either. I mean, if someone handed me $10,000 and said, "This money HAS TO BE SPENT ON A TRIP TO THE BAHAMAS OR CANCUN!" I would oblige them. But if I am spending our money, I want to go someplace that D or I really want to go (and by D and I, I mostly mean "I" because D just goes along 98% of the time with whatever I want to do).

My sister-in-law, when I commented that G just wants to go to a cool pool, said, "Why don't you just take him to Great Wolf Lodge?"

We have never been to a Great Wolf Lodge, mostly because D and I don't relish being around people very much. This is why we like hiking in the woods and seeing outdoors stuff---less people, more rock, tree, animals that don't speak.

But her idea was GENIUS!!

So I showed G the website and asked, "If we went here, could we forget about Atlantis and Cancun?" and he said yes.

Now that I feel like his desire will be happily met, I can carry on with my desire to visit out west.

Now, two days ago, D and I took the kids an hour away from our house to a state park, where we made them hike a bit and then hung out at the park pool.  They complained, of course, but overall, they did what we wanted to do without complete meltdowns for 4 hours.

We spent $9 to enter the state park, $15 for all 5 of us to swim, and $13 at the concession stand. A day trip to the woods for well under $50 is less than what we'd spend if we stayed in town and went to the trampoline place for an hour.


I am going to whine like hell about hiking in the woods
 and walking up a trail, but you bet your sweet bippy, I will climb
 this thing 37,000 times to go down the water slide 
and love every second of it.


Someone call CPS. My mother made me 
look at this amazing wonder of creation. 

Geezus, this woman loves me and wants me to walk
 and enjoy nature and quiet and family time.

When I blathered on yesterday about going to Utah next summer, D mentioned how well N did in comparison to the boys on our Monday hiking excursion and said that maybe we had better wait until the boys are N's age.

He has a point.
At 13, N can carry her own stuff and doesn't complain, but a large part of that is that N just isn't a complainer.
G will complain whether he is 13 or 23 or 103. That is part of his personality. He has never been a go-with-the-flow kid, and I doubt he ever will be. He takes bribery and cajoling and (much desiring of beer on my part).

But my point is that when G is 13, N will be almost 17.
When M is 13, N will be almost 19.

She will be gone, busy with her own life, although I suspect an all-expense paid trip to wherever is a good inducement to go with her parents and younger brothers.
However, I know that for me, I did not go on a vacation with my parents and brother when I was newly graduated from high school because I had gotten a summer job at a grocery store that went belly-up two months later.
I have wished for a long, long time that I had told the grocery store I was going on vacation with my parents, and I'd see them in a week.
I know that I rarely regret what I DID, but I always regret what I DIDN'T DO.

My argument is that the time is now (and given how stiff D's back was yesterday after hiking on Monday, I say we better get out to Utah before he is too old and decrepit to go himself).

My experience is that when your youngest child is 7 and your oldest is 13, you realize that 1. this is an awesome sweet spot of parenting and 2. HOLY CRAP it is going to end very soon so I better carpe diem the heck out of the next decade.

If Utah looks to be too intense, my back-up is the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
But barring a catastrophe, our butts will be heading west next summer. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Why I love Girl Scout camp for my boys

If my boys wanted to join Boy Scouts, I wouldn't have a problem with it, but my sons have no interest whatsoever.

But Girl Scout camp is another story.

As a volunteer, my boys can attend camp in a unit of all boys that has men as their adult leaders and a couple of teenage girls as their aides.

Mr. Bob, the head dude of the boy unit, is an all-in guy whose entire family (wife, daughter and son) come to camp.

This year was their second one at Girl Scout camp, and they ADORED it all over again.

The boys with Miss Sarah

The boys with Miss Shelby

Of course, they love swimming and fishing and playing gaga ball, but I also think they enjoy being in an all-girl environment. 

I suspect some of this has to do with having an older, nurturing sister (who in the bottom photo below is putting her brother's hair in a man-bun). 



My boys do wrestle with each other and talk about poop like other boys, but they aren't super macho, athletic dudes. I think sometimes they are overwhelmed by the "boyness" of other boys. 

I don't know if this is due to having an older sister or being the sons of a mom who stresses sensitivity or being the sons of a quiet, sensitive father, but we just don't go all in for what might be considered "caveman-boy behavior." Grunting and beating of the chests and all that junk. 

Being a man can mean lots of things, just like being a woman can mean lots of things, and I think for my sons this is one of the BEST things about them attending Girl Scout camp. 

They get to be in an environment that IS girl-focused. They get to see that girls can do all of the things they do. Girls can make fires and cook outside just like they do,



and fish just like they do,



and hike just like they do,


and use tools just like they do,



and touch (or kiss) snakes just like they do.





I hope it helps them appreciate what girls are. 
They will be better men and husbands and fathers for it. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

My girl is a Girl Scout

Last year, I wrote this about Girl Scout camp.

This year I am writing with as much abandon as I can muster following a week of camp about how proud I am of my girl who served as an aide with a unit of girls for the first time.

The two of us during one of the random occasions when our units met up.

Now anyone who knows me even just a little bit knows that I am NOT a sentimental person. I'm not syrupy-sweet. I'm not the type who lavishes praise on my kids. I'm not the person who thinks everyone thinks my kids are all that and a bag of chips. Probably 80% of the time, I think my kids are turds. 

But for some reason, this summer with N taking on this role feels big. It feels like a significant step for her.

Every year I ask if she wants to continue Girl Scouts, and she says yes.

Last year she wasn't really thrilled to be an AIT at camp (aide-in-training), but she did it and had fun. This year she said she'd try being an aide but wasn't going into it enthusiastically. Today, the final day of camp following "aide night" where only the teens get to sleepover, she said she had a blast, made a ton of friends and plans to do it next year.

"Sweetheart" (her camp name) has gone to day camp for 15 years and is now an adult. 
These girls are her "aide babies," the girls who she was an aide for who 
have now become aides themselves. 
This is pretty freaking fantastic if you ask me. 

I spent time this week at camp thinking about the types of teen girls I see at camp who are aides. Most of them aren't the typical "beauty" queen girls, the girls who want to look like and act like every other girl. The teens I see who stick with it are the quirky ones. The ones who really are nice girls to be around and who don't put on airs.

And that is the whole point of Girl Scouts---to be yourself, whatever yourself happens to be, and build friendships with people who like you for whoever that self is.

On the car ride home, she jabbered nonstop about wanting to hang out with some of the teen girls she got closer to this week and learned more about. She talked about the little girls in her unit who hugged her and wrote her notes. She talked about the aide sleepover and how they had a whole table of food for them to eat. She talked about the skit that all of the aides created for the finale of camp.

Twiggy with one of her unit girls.

I'm proud of N for many reasons, but I probably don't tell her as often as I should.
I made sure to tell her today. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Complaining about car repairs and not being poor

Yesterday I got the estimate for minivan repairs to the tune of $3500.

This isn't a repair for just one thing. We have a leak in our evaporator, which requires getting to it from inside the car. And they recommend replacing the heater core, too. My front brakes need replacing. The rack and pinion needs replacing.

Even if I said don't do the two cheapest things on the list of like six things that are part of this repair, it would shave off maybe $200.

And when the temperature is 90 degrees with humidity making it feel like 105, AND I have 3 kids in the vehicle, I really don't have the option of not fixing the AC.
Somehow not fixing the brakes seems irresponsible, too, as does allowing my steering to go out.

We have the money in the bank to fix it.
I hate to spend that money on fixing the car because I rather like to just have money sitting in the bank doing nothing, but it is there and as my mother likes to remind me, the reason a person saves money is to pay for such unexpected things like six minivan repairs that all happen at once.

Since getting this estimate, however, what I have been thinking a lot about are the people who don't have the money sitting in the bank.
All those who have jobs and don't have an emergency fund because it takes 98% of their pay to cover rent, food, utilities, and prescriptions or doctor visits.
All the people who are regularly subjected to unexpected things who have to worry that in paying for a repair, they have to figure out how to feed their children.

I don't have that worry.
My family will be fed even with this huge-ass expense.
We can pay our utilities even with this huge-ass expense.
We can pay for N's field hockey team fee in July even with this expense.
We can still go on our beach vacation even with this expense.

So it angers me to spend money on the money-pit of vehicle ownership, but it also depresses me because I think about those who don't have, and I worry what could be for us.
I think to myself, "What would it take to bring us to that point?"

I cannot live in the illusion that that could never happen to us.
While it might not be likely, it is possible.
I don't know if this is anxiety or the realistic view that a devastating medical condition could potentially financially cripple us.

I think because my brain "goes there" whenever an unexpected happens that I cannot always just live in my little bubble of upper middle classness.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kinky Boots as church

I am not a fan of "go every week" church.

I go when I want to go and when I feel the desire to go which, for me, means I am going there with the right intentions and with an open mind.

In my many, many years of going to church at least two times a week, I can only recall one time in which I felt truly moved.

It was the Good Friday service when I was in eighth grade, and my class re-enacted the Passion. I remember hearing the sound of the mallet hit the wooden cross. It echoed through the rafters and pushed against my chest. It brought me to tears, a moment I still remember vividly. I felt for a brief moment the horror of what being nailed to a cross might be like.

Church has made me angry and it has made me think, but only once has it made me feel deeply.

Last night, my friend and I went to see Kinky Boots, and it felt to me like what I would want church to be....the overwhelming feeling of God's grace.

I am not a sentimental, syrupy-sweet person by any stretch of the imagination, but I couldn't help but see what is truly the best of Jesus in that performance

---the stripping away of the "shoulds" to find simple people who just want to follow their hearts.
---the acceptance of others.....not in what they do or how they dress...but in who they are as fellow human beings.
---the ways in which asking people to fit into your system of life that works for you can render them miserable.

I realize that there are some people for whom cross-dressing or homosexuality or anything that is not a cut-and-dried version of boy/girl is anathema.

I get it, and I don't believe there is any point in trying to change their minds. There are many people who have a worldview that is very "this-or-that" with little understanding of complexity and gray. That is their mindset and where they feel most comfortable.

For I think an increasing majority of people, however, there is an understanding that life on every level, from the microscopic to the outer reaches of space, is highly complex in ways in which we cannot even begin to fathom.

Life is not simple and never has been. Humans have put restrictions on our world to simplify it, to manage it, to make it comprehensible, to make it feel like something we can handle.

I don't think you can be a parent of multiple children and not see every second of the day how complex and unruly life is, how little there is that fits into a black-and-white schema.

How is it that three children born of the same two parents brought up in the same un-fractured household can have different mindsets, habits, interests, personalities, physical traits, desires, beliefs, and goals?

How is it that attendance at a musical can make me feel a sense of grace, a washed over sense of love and acceptance and brotherhood amongst strangers that I have not ever felt at church?

Some might say I attend the wrong church, but I do not.
I like my church.
It is quiet and peaceful.
I have been to louder, bigger, MORE churches, and I felt fake. I didn't feel comfortable, and I didn't feel like I belonged.
I do not find God in songs about God. I do not find God in wordy praise of God.
Most of the time I find God in observing the quiet power of nature, or the sharing of time with my children, or the moments of deepest gratitude for the ways in which my life has been quietly blessed beyond anything I could ever possibly deserve.
Last night, I found God in a Broadway show about cross-dressers.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Deets on the Quebec trip

I could take a zillion pictures on the trips we take, and I would regret not taking more.

I think it is that I want the photos to capture the essence of the place we visit, and they simply cannot. Nothing can replace being there.

Still, I tried on our trip to Quebec to take photos of the little things I noticed. Sure, we took plenty of pictures of the big things---the basilicas, the huge statues and the big hotels--but sometimes what makes a place unique are those small things that you notice.


When we arrived in Montreal, it was around 7 pm so all we had time for was to grab a bite to eat and wander around briefly. The city is celebrating its 375th anniversary this year. 
There were images flashed onto the sides of buildings that told a story about the history. 


This was the view of the street from our hotel the first night in Montreal. 
Definitely old word feel (except for the car).

We grabbed some dinner at the bar at this restaurant.


The VIA Rail station in Montreal had these on the walls. It was a rather large station or large in comparison to the one in QC. 

Our hotel in Quebec City. 
Loved the unique window-boxes, not just here but at other places as well.


La Grande Dame aux bleuets by Rose-Aimee Belanger in Chateau Frontenac. 


A stop sign in QC.


An actual phone booth. 

What can I say? I thought the mailboxes were cool.

This winter, QC got 12 feet of snow. 
Signs abound about the danger of falling snow/ice. 
There are guard rails at the tops of many buildings to keep people from having snow dumped on them.

When we left via the back door of our auberge, we walked past this. 
It was weird.
I liked it.

 Our auberge in QC connected to Hotel 71. 
At the entrance were two sculptures. 
This is one.


 The license plates in Quebec read "Je me souviens," which means "I remember." 
I can't help but like this.

During our walking tour in QC, the guide pointed out a church that has been
converted to a library. As a book lover, I can't help but
adore a place called "House of the books."

When D and I wandered through QC on our way through the nouveau section (with breweries and more modern stuff), I saw this.


This is a small fountain outside Auberge Sainte-Antoine, 
right now the block from where we stayed.

There are three passable gates surrounding QC--Kent, Louis, and Jean. 
Architecturally beautiful, in my opinion.

A water sculpture in a small park right outside the VIA Rail station in QC.

The FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN) sculpture which is right now the block from our hotel. I artistically loved and vestibularly disliked the wavy pattern on the sidewalk and road.


Taking Flight sculpture in the City Hall gardens.

A smooth whiskey/maple syrup concoction that D and I tried 
while cruising on the St. Lawrence.

Back in Montreal, the place we ate lunch. Just lovely.
So lovely that we bought a photo of the outside 
of the cafe from a local artist to commemorate our Montreal visit.


At a corner near Rue Saint Paul in Montreal, another
Rose-Aimee Belanger sculpture.

Macarons at Marche de la Vieux Port in QC.

Back in Montreal, D noticed that John the Baptist looks like he's taking a selfie.

A small chocolate shop right around the way from our hotel in Montreal.


We laughed every time we walked by this place because in our heads we pronounced it, "Couch-tard," a derogatory statement for couch potatoes.
In French, it is pronounced "kush-tar" and means "night owl."
It is a convenience store for those late night needs.


A piece of the Berlin Wall on the site where Montreal's boundary wall once stood. 
Now in the World Trade Centre of Montreal.