Tag Archives: United States

How To Put The “Me” In Just About Every Meal

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Thanksgiving is here, and while many aspiring at-home chefs dream of salt pigs, Crisco, and Paula Deen, I’m trying to decide how to kick my relatives out of the house so I can focus on the one holiday each year that really matters.

My Birthday.

Yum.

In order to plan the secret getaway my husband will surprise me with next June, I need time. And space. And solitude. I also need money, but I’m pretty much gonna leave that one up to him.

Since airfare is cheapest right around 5:00 p.m. (and a rainbow unicorn will clean the kitchen before everyone gets here in a few hours), I need to focus on avoiding a connection through O’Hare at the exact time every afternoon that I should be whipping up a wheatgrass shake, some raw calf liver, and a side of kimchee for my kids.

Yum.

Most mothers have a hard time prioritizing themselves over everyone else, but I’ve pretty much gotten it down, probably because I’m left handed. And a fast learner. And desperate.

Anyway, following is my six-step plan to put the focus where it should be on Thanksgiving and just about every other day of the year. Yourself. You can thank me later, preferably in American Express Travelers Cheques that are pretty much untraceable and can be used to upgrade my seats.

1. Decide, after nine years of looking at the same kitchen table, that it’s time for a change. Like Obamacare, claim your new table is meant to include everyone, even though it’s really just intended for the few citizens who can hack their way through a complex matrix of broken code and steal all your bitcoins. That’s right, angry Russian expats.

2. Refinish above-referenced sad piece of furniture with something that takes 30 days to cure. So what if you realize you can’t use it for a month only after you’ve slathered your table with it? It might contain asbestos, kryptonite, non-soluble gluten particles, or something equally hazardous to your family’s health. Don’t try to bend the rules and serve a meal on day 25.

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Come eat at my new table and prepare to die.

3. Find some big, androgynous, shiny, circlet-like decorations that could be Thanksgivingish but are probably some designer’s attempt at an Ambien-inspired joke. Place them right in the middle of the table, rendering it fully inoperable.

This could be a thought-provoking centerpiece or ground zero for your next garage sale.

This could be a thought-provoking centerpiece or ground zero for your next garage sale.

4. Tell the kids that if they touch your new, expensive table art you’ll take their phones. Just for fun, go a step further and tell them that if they touch anything belonging to you, you’ll erase all their apps. This should make it virtually impossible for them to Snapchat their friends about your secret stash of painkillers.

5. Accidentally misplace the keys to the refrigerator. That’s right. Don’t be a hater.

6. And on Thanksgiving, when everyone in America is running around trying to find the instructions to their infrared thermometers? Sit back, relax, and dream about my birthday, because when you have a table no one else can use, you’re pretty much relegated to a bottle of wine and a store-bought pie.

If you don’t know what a bitcoin is, go here, buy one, and send it to me for my birthday.

My Kids Will Never Swim in Nigger Lake

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Last year, I visited my father at his new home in Varnville, South Carolina, population 2,159. I made the trip out of a sense of daughterly duty, because I’m pre-wired to avoid small, southern towns. First of all, I’m not interested in hanging out with anything bred to eat me. The mosquitoes down there are the size of linebackers, instinctively conditioned to track my bourbon-infused high country scent, trap me in some kind of Kafkaesque buzzing halo of wings, and attack. I’m not a fan of brain-crushing humidity either, and on a day when the scale hits ninety degrees and 100% sticky-steamy sog? I’d rather self-service the mercury-lined fillings in my mouth with a pair of rusty pliers than step outside. I’m biased when it comes to the threat of boredom too, but then again, I’ve learned over time that some of us are… biased, that is, and in more meaningful ways than mine.

My dad's barn is the perfect breeding ground for face-eating mosquitos.

My dad’s barn is the perfect hiding place for an army of face-eating mosquitos.

On a deeper level, my discomfort stretches beyond physical borders and into the psyche of my childhood. I’m not exactly from the Deep South, but my entire family hails from Georgia and I was raised in Kentucky. Our roots are planted well below the Mason Dixon line, strong enough to have thrived in an environment of patchy soil, yet somehow growing pliable and firm.

Image via humboldt.edu

The soil I speak of here doubles as a metaphor; I grew up in an era of desegregation, when well-intended county school officials tried to right horrendous wrongs and bring together a black and white landscape dotted by socioeconomic segments of the local population that had always existed too many worlds apart.

On paper, everything looked good. White kids were bused downtown to attend predominantly African-American schools, and black kids traveled tree-lined streets each morning toward polished hallways tucked away in the suburbs. If you took the time to really look…actually peek through the window at my school, though, you’d see a different picture than the one county officials were trying to draw, because statistics aren’t three-dimensional and paint-by-number stories are often incomplete.

Image via tucsoncitizen.com

If you mix red and yellow you get orange, but only when the colors truly blend. That wasn’t happening in my school. We coexisted peacefully but separately, gliding past one another in the hallways like phantom ships; each as unfamiliar to the other as a foreign language. In an environment that was supposed to bring alienated people together, we remained apart. Despite the best of intentions, there was an unspoken sense of “us” and “them,” all depending on who wore the home team jersey.

Image via educationews.org

Even though I was raised in a family that believed strongly in racial equality, bigotry surrounded me like the stench of stale smoke when I was growing up. It was far enough away for me to keep its cancerous tentacles at bay, but always lurked in the shadows; behind a decaying door I didn’t want to open. No one in my family was surprised that the minute I graduated from college I catapulted myself to Chicago. I have many reasons to love my hometown, but I always felt a little out of place, like I was the prototypical boomerang kid destined to wander away with a clear path toward home marked on a map tucked safely in my pocket. Just in case.

I left for college in 1988, and since then have only been back to visit. I can’t pin my permanent move away from my southern roots on racism, but in the busy streets of Chicago I found a place that truly felt comfortable…bursting with people dressed in a kaleidoscope of cultures, ideas and opinions. Everyone was different, which is to say, in many ways, the same.

Image via smartdestinations.com

All I have to do is look in the mirror to see that 1988 was a long time ago. My guess is that anyone who happens to read this post and lives in Louisville would say my hometown has grown and flourished both racially and culturally since I left. I’ll take a preemptive guess, and trust that’s the case.

So what does all of this have to do with Varnville, SC?

On Monday, as I watched President Obama ask America to look forward to the future in his inaugural address, I couldn’t help but think about the recent past. I was reminded of a conversation I had with one of my dad’s neighbors in Varnville last spring when I went to visit him: stalked by mosquitos in the blazing hot sun, and a little bored. Tucked into a backdrop of harmless talk about crops, cows, and kids, he told me that if I brought my children to visit their grandfather, I should be sure to take them swimming in Nigger Lake. The word rolled off his tongue seamlessly, as if it had always belonged right where it sat. Stubborn. Repulsive. Wrong.

No matter how much the world changes, some people, sadly, stay the same. On a day when I should have focused on how far our country has come, I was reminded of where we have yet to go.

I’d like to blame whatever remains of racism in America on the people who fought for what I consider to be the wrong side of the Civil War. My people. But before posting, I sent this to my super-scary-smart cousin, Barry Paschal, a newspaper publisher in Georgia. The subject matter I’m writing about makes me uncomfortable, and since I generally like to bask in the glow of a warm, rising sun, I wanted to test this rancid water and consider his point of view. He responded with an incredibly thoughtful critique, including a simple Google search that highlighted other parts of our country like Niggerhead Point, VT and Niggerhead Rapids, ID, two areas that clearly aren’t in the south. He helped me see that our problem is pervasive, and exists wherever we, as individuals, choose to let it live. With that thought in mind, it still surprised me that my spellcheck didn’t auto correct the word “nigger” when I proofed this piece. It recognized it. How sad.

The state of New York renamed its own Nigger Lake in 2011. Image via gawker.com

I’m Coming Out of the Closet

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No, not THAT closet. The closet in my front hallway, which is where I like to hide out when propaganda-laden neighbors try to beat down the front door and my kids come home from school.

You think you’ve got it hard? Try living in a subdivision where only .00019387% of the residents support your candidate. It’s like The Hunger Games around here just trying to put up a lawn sign.

Katniss Everdeen’s got nothing on me when I’m putting an Obama bumper sticker on my car. (Image via the fantasy dreamlike sequences that often invade my brain.)

Colorado’s electoral votes may be up from grabs today, but everyone knows that’s based largely on the growing prison population in Canon City and all of those weirdos who live in Boulder.

“What? I’m at a college football game? I thought this was an Obama rally!” (Image via some lady in Boulder sitting next to me at a college football game.)

Out here in suburban Utopia, where unicorns fly children to school every day and teachers would rather be paid in happy face stamps than cash, things look a little different. 

That’s my neighbor, taking a little joy ride in his Gulf Stream C-37. (Image via my unsuspecting neighbor, who didn’t know I took this picture, but would nevertheless approve this message.)

So at the risk of having my house egged, TP’d, and someone stealing the limited edition Barack Obama bobblehead doll I have buried upside down in the front yard for good luck, I’m coming out of the closet. Someone has to be the voice of reason around here, and since the other three Democrats in the neighborhood are riding out the election in their state-of-the-art political fallout shelter/wine cellars, I’m stepping up to the plate.

Who cares who wins the election? I’m getting tanked down here! (Image via someone with a lot of cash.)

Why I’m Voting For Barack Obama:

1. As much as I like to talk about my big balls I was, in fact, born with a vagina. 

2. Contrary to what liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justices want you to believe, Ruth Bader Ginsburg may in fact be nothing more than the airbrushed image of her former self. According to someone on the radio who sounds a lot like Rush Limbaugh, Tupac and Justice Ginsburg are the two most famous holograms ever to appear at the Coachella Music Festival.

Tupac’s from Kenya too, right?

3. Because Donald Trump isn’t.

4. Since I was blessed with a vagina at birth, I want it to be happy.

That’s my vagina after two margaritas. OK, that’s not really mine, but isn’t it cute?

 

5. Because I believe in giving back. Take for instance, my neighbor down the street with the ginormous Romney sign tattooed onto the back window of his A8. He’s a retired CFO who works at H&R Block four months out of the year and then collects unemployment benefits to cover utilities and taxes for his beach house. He’s too busy customizing the shaft of his seven-iron to even realize he’s part of the 47%!

I found this by googling “Old guy swinging golf club.” I’m serious. Try it. (Image via guardian.co.uk.)

6. I’m voting for Barack Obama in honor of my mom. As a teacher, principal, and VP for a non-profit family literacy organization, she chose a career of service rather than one lined with stock options. Even though she could have set me up with a sweet trust fund, and instead gave me, like, a college education (whatevs!), gravity dictates that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Don’t mess with my mom.

And for all of my well-intended Republican friends who are plotting to take me to lunch this afternoon and slip me a ruffie so I can’t make it to the polls? Too late. Just like you, I’ve already cast my vote.

So that’s it. I’m out in the open, and even though I’ve now put my life into your hands, I’m not worried. My uber-supportive husband picked up an awesome disguise at the WalMart after-Halloween sale last week so I can leave the house unharmed.

My husband knows a patriot when he sees one. (Image via victoriassecret.com)

Taking Your Kids to Vegas: A Lesson in International Culture, Etiquette, and Ethics

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Once upon a time, before I lost my moral compass in a land far, far, away, I swore on a bible, under oath, that I’d never take my kids to Vegas (O.K. it wasn’t really that dramatic but I like the visual, especially because in my version of the story I have newly shellacked nails, a flowing iridescent robe with ruching in all the right places, a super-sweet spray tan, and Legolas standing by as my cabana boy witness).

Son of Thranduil and King of the Woodland Realm of Northern Mirkwood or cabana boy? You be the judge. Image via freewebs.com

Anyway, I was certain, based on past experience, that Vegas simply wasn’t a place fit for English Royalty, my grandmother Tim Tebow fans, or children. But the winds of change kicked up a ginormous tumbleweed as airfare hit a price point better known as dirt cheap and my children embarked on Fall Break, which, without some type of vacation, would end up being unbearable uneventful. So I pulled a complete about-face.

I’m a Gemini. Don’t judge me.

Blimey! Image via guardian.co.uk

Everyone knows Las Vegas is the capital of glitzy-glam-glut the United States of America, and I’m all about sipping cocktails by the pool providing a well-rounded education for my offspring. Intent on showing them why they should go to college the positive side of the world’s largest, most collagen-enhanced melting pot (behind L.A.), we recently loaded up our sunscreen, sensible shoes sequins, and hand sanitizer, and hit the road.

Is this former Knots Landing star Joan Van Ark or her Madame Tussaud wax mold? Image via zimbio.com

International Culture

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to visit Europe to experience European bathing. Instead, you can be from like, Alabama, frolicking through the family friendly lazy river ten tequila shots down with your surgically enhanced assets bobbing in the fake surf screaming “Roll Tide Roll!” as my son, completely entranced, who’s also unfamiliar with the metric system, gets a crash course in Girls Gone Wild 101 anatomy and physiology.

Image via shopncaasports.com

Etiquette

As a parent, I’ve used technology as a babysitter more than I’ll ever admit diligently taught my children the value of proper etiquette. So when a fellow tourist (possibly European but thankfully not nude), boxes your children out with her fanny pack and blocks their view of the Bellagio fountains because she’s using her nifty new iPad as a camera? Get all up in her face, step away from the safety rail and let her memorialize her future Barcalounger programming options trip in peace.

“Hey lady in the Depends. iPad cameras suck!” Image via vegastripping.com

Ethics

Most parents don’t know this, but it’s not the casinos, international tour buses, or third row of a minivan taxi cab wave pools you need to steer clear of when you’re in Vegas with children. It’s actually the M&Ms store. That place will make you throw up in your mouth rob you blind as you quickly check your phone for the over/under on the Monday night game, sprint across the street to the Luxor to place a fairly sort of smallish bet, and return in time to discover that each of your kids has figured out how to personally monogram a container of candy that you can buy at Walmart for $1.97 each.

This is $80.00 worth of personalized M&Ms. O.K, actually $78.92: two of my kids ripped off the lids and started shotgunning them before I could pry them from their talon-like grasp. Image via Stacie “that was the most expensive bet ever” Chadwick.

Your penchant for five-finger discounts fight or flight instinct will immediately kick in as you weigh the odds of being caught stuffing three pounds of candy down your shirt. Since the store is wired with a security camera every two feet you’re a good, moral person, you instead spend the night’s blackjack money on candy that you’ll regift as Christmas presents to elderly relatives who haven’t yet had cataract surgery let your kids have, in limited amounts so that it will last the rest of their lives (which are now considerably shorter), when you get home.

So take it from me, a trip with the family to Las Vegas is something I’ll never do again much more than just a vacation. It’s an international experience of love, hope and harmony filled with opportunities to blow their 529 savings sky-high teach them about world culture, etiquette, ethics, and that those things being handed out on the sidewalk looking a lot like baseball trading cards? Not so much.

Images have been blurred to protect the innocent and the addicted. Image via mobypicture.com

P.S. “Thunder From Down Under” is not a show about variable weather patterns in the New South Wales/Victoria region of Australia.

Image via ethanjstone.com

P.S.S. We watched the second presidential debate with the kids while we were in Vegas, because it’s illegal to leave them alone in the hotel room to hit the craps table I believe in a well-rounded political education. In case you’re wondering, I can assure you that the term “binders full of women” has a completely different meaning in Las Vegas than in American politics. I think.

Image via abcnews.go.com

If you liked this, you may also enjoy reading:

Is That Your Daughter’s Bra Hanging From A Tree?

It’s Not Easy Being Me.

Today I’m Thankful.

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I try to appreciate all that life has to offer and to live in the moment every day. I really do. But some days are more difficult than others, and on this one, I can’t help but sadly reflect on the significance of an anniversary that no sane person could ever celebrate.

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I’m thankful for every first responder on the planet, like my brother-in-law, Todd Lewis. They put their lives in front of ours without a second thought, because that’s what their hearts tell them to do.

I’m thankful that for my children, today is a history lesson, void of the pain that many generations before them carry.

I’m thankful to have known Todd Weaver in college. He was killed in the Tower Two attack, after witnessing and feeling, more acutely than you or I could ever imagine, the confusion and fear of the first. We worked together, and I think about his sweet, mischievous smile on the same day every year. I hope that he, the 2,976 additional victims, and the American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who forfeited their lives to protect ours, are in a peaceful place.

I’m thankful for everyone who serves or who has served in the United States Military.

I’m thankful for the phrase “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”  There was no political divide in the United States at the moment President Bush chose to speak to the world. He rallied a battered and bleeding nation that day, and inspired those of us who could, to stand back up.

I’m thankful that Osama bin Laden is dead. I hate even mentioning his name, except to say that he’s dead.

I’m thankful to be alive.

I’m thankful that my husband made it out of the Sears Tower when Al Queda attacked eleven years ago. As his office was evacuated, he wondered, with real urgency amidst a swirl of rumors, fear, and speculation, if this was the day he was going to die.

I’m thankful that we’re a nation made of grit. Today we grieve together, and will continue to grieve. But our ancestors built this country from nothing, and we will carry forward that great tradition of working, fighting against adversity, growing, and becoming stronger. We will always get back on our feet after a sucker punch to the gut. Always. The incredible actions of Flight 93’s passengers are a testimony to our national conscience and brave resolve.

I’m thankful for the survivors, and for any moments of happiness that they and the victims’ families are able to embrace.

I’m thankful to be a parent.

I’m thankful to live in a country that offers me the freedom to do whatever I want and be whoever I want. Today, tomorrow, and always.

I’m thankful that when I answered my children’s innocent questions about September 11 on the way to school, I was able to get out of the parking lot before I started to cry.

***

For two beautiful, compelling perspectives on September 11, 2001, check out Remembering at The Kitchen Slattern Speaks and Where I Was Today, Eleven Years Ago at Bharatwrites.

Are Our Children at the Core of the Next Entitlement Demographic?

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There’s nothing that tugs at a parent’s heart like the hollow face of a hungry child. On the other hand, there’s nothing that makes a parent’s eyeballs distend, roll backwards, and practically dislocate themselves, like witnessing the antics of a child who feels a little hungry, complains about it, and expects a custom-made meal to be delivered on the spot.

The child, in this example, is mine.

Yesterday, my husband, son, and I hooked up to play a late afternoon front nine (keep in mind that I didn’t know what “front nine” meant until I was about thirty years old) on our neighborhood course (also keep in mind that, growing up, the closest thing our family had to a neighborhood course was, well…nothing). As we repeatedly made our way from the rough to the fairway, into a sand trap, and over the green, my twelve year-old son, Taylor, began to shank his drives. The more balls he shanked, the testier he got, the testier he got, the more he shanked. Why the male gender has failed to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between these two variables is beyond me. But he’s young and I digress.

Even though his facial expression is familiar, that’s not my son. Image via sportsillustrated.com

Exhausted by a transition from summer to middle school that pushes him out the door every day by 6:45 a.m., frustrated, and possibly a bit disinterested, he stood on the green ignoring a view that could have inspired the creation of the earth itself and asked a simple question.

This is the view my son couldn’t see. Image via ccatcastlepines.com

“Where’s the beverage cart?”

“I don’t know. It’s late in the day, but I’m sure it’ll be around soon,” I said.

“I can’t believe it isn’t here. This is ridiculous,” he replied, grabbing his ball from the fairway and storming toward the next hole (keep in mind that if I had pulled a move like that on my mother, she would have coldcocked me before I had the chance to take a step…by the time I staggered up from my face plant into a bunker, stunned and babbling course etiquette backwards, she would have finished the hole and moved on, with or without me).

That’s not my mom. That’s a vampire. Image via http://www.reasonforchange.com

At the time, my reaction to his mini-outburst was much less measured than I’d like to admit, but I can say in retrospect that he was having a moment. We all have them. Even Oprah. In fact, I have about a dozen an hour on that fateful day each month when standing anywhere within my peripheral vision holds the equivalent danger as juggling molten-hot machetes on a tightrope (keep in mind that if you mess with me on the Tuesday before the Thursday, you’re taking a risk that’s not worth the reward). As the saying goes, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Image via mszigzag.typepad.com

In hindsight, Taylor was as within his rights to complain as any kid invited to walk a beautiful golf course with his parents could be, which is to say, not at all.

And that’s where I have a problem.

My problem rests on the premise that even though he knew it wasn’t right to lose his temper, he didn’t know that the reason he lost it, contextually, was wrong.

The math breaks down like this: every time we play golf, we walk the course. Every time we walk the course, the beverage cart comes around at about hole five or six. Every time the beverage cart rolls up, Taylor gets a snack, often something more spectacular than anything he could ever pull from our pantry. Every time he gets a snack, we sign the bill.

My husband likes the beverage cart too. Image via golfdigest.com

We do this because we want him to experience things that we didn’t as kids. All parents hope their children have more than they did growing up. By popular definition, “success” is another way of saying “Congratulations, you’ve achieved the American Dream.” The words are practically interchangeable in our culture, even if they sometimes sound hollow.

But I’m finding that for a generation of children being raised today, “have more” doesn’t necessarily mean “do more”, and that’s not good (keep in mind, that our kids will most likely need to “do” a lot more than we did to get ahead when they’re adults).

What did Taylor do to earn a one-on-one trip to the golf course with Mom and Dad? Nothing. Yesterday, that’s pretty much how he treated it. Like nothing. The instant gratification he derives from getting a snack-on-demand wasn’t there, and because of that, he lost sight of the things around him that are much more important.

In many respects, our children are growing up in a world that we never knew existed when we were kids, because it didn’t. Where we played with blocks, our toddlers manipulate touch screens. Remember the days when your Dad schlepped you to the library so you could spend an hour deciphering the Dewey Decimal system to look through an ancient card catalogue and find the one book in the entire city on yellow-bellied marmots for a report? Taylor doesn’t, but he can pull up more images of that nasty rodent than you’d ever want to scroll through on his phone. Do you channel the Von Trapp family and sing songs with your children in the car? Me neither, because my kids’ headphones are shoved so far into their ear canals that they automatically de-wax themselves pushing them in and back out.

The Dewey Decimal System is almost as old as Joan Rivers. Almost. Image via http://www.afterelton.com

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. With the best of intentions, we damage our children. Keeping that thought in mind, I can’t help but wonder if parents who are willing to give their kids anything also take away something critical that means everything. Do I fall into that category? Sometimes. There are things I do well when it comes to raising my children to become responsible adults, but today I’m focusing on what I do wrong.

As the debate around our nation’s entitlement state roars down a bloated, bipartisan road toward a November 6 collision with itself, perhaps, instead of simply targeting the entitlements already being given, we should also focus on how we ensure that our children avoid this path. Does the current road need repair? Yes, but future generations can get a better start if they walk down a street that begins with chores and ends with education. Or begins with education and ends with validation. Or begins with validation and ends with communication. Or maybe our kids should just take out the trash.

If life’s about the journey, our children had better develop strong calves. Image via media.knownew.com

As humans, we’re a complicated mixture of nature and nurture, and it’s the combination of the two that makes us who we are to become. Yesterday? Taylor wasn’t the kid I wanted him to be, but most of the time, he is. He now understands (more fully than he’d like) that a trip to the golf course is earned, not given. I’m not writing this to embarrass him, rather, I’m putting this out there to call attention to myself, with the hope that through my children’s eyes, I learn the exact lessons I’m supposed to teach.

I Said I’d Never Write About Politics, But I Know Paul Ryan and I’ve Got Some Advice.

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Who am I to Paul Ryan? No one and everyone.

I’m a forty-two year old suburban mom who knew Paul in college. I’m also a registered Democrat who has voted for both parties over the last twenty-four years. I live in Colorado, a state that offers electoral votes crucial to the outcome of this year’s presidential race. I’m a bleeding heart who lives in a gated community. I’m self-sufficient, yet I feel a responsibility to help others who are in need. As a voter, I’m a pretty interesting mix, difficult to label and hard to define. In my experience, most women are, and from what I understand, our demographic will be a deciding factor in November.

Who is Paul Ryan to me? Someone to watch.

As a U.S. citizen, I’m troubled by the precarious spot our nation occupies on an international chessboard of pieces in constant flux. I don’t support finger-pointing and placing blame for an economy that was weakened by both parties as much as free will. I’m concerned about the future of my children. I dislike negative politics and am frustrated by the inability of our bipartisan House and Senate to find common ground. I’m an optimist who believes tomorrow will be a brighter day, but I see real storm clouds in my direct line of sight. I want our country to move forward, and I’m worried about falling behind.

I’m a daughter, a sister, a mother, and a friend. I vote with my head and I vote with my heart. I read. I listen. I debate. I decide. I’m a potential liability and asset to both campaigns.

Three generations of women who don’t always vote the same way. Image via Stacie Chadwick

And with Mitt Romney’s introduction of Paul Ryan as his running mate, I’m now engaged in this race in a way that I hadn’t been before. Maybe it’s the deepening differences I see in the platforms of the two opposing parties. Better yet, a curiosity around the potential impact of a clear, if not controversial voice. Perhaps it’s due simply to the fact that I know Paul. More likely, it’s my hope that he’ll take the time to reacquaint himself with me, and by that I mean millions of women like me who will vote in the upcoming election.

I also consider Paul to be a friend. Am I jumping on the bandwagon headed straight from Janesville, WI to a national stage? Probably. Although I’ve followed his career, I haven’t spoken with Paul in over twenty years. But something about his addition to the shape of our legislative landscape piques my interest. Regardless of political beliefs, I’m proud that we graduated in the same class at Miami, watched votes together in the Senate gallery when we interned in D.C., and hung out on campus. I’m betting on an accurate memory of the person he was when we were college kids masquerading as adults, and a time-honored belief that as individuals, we don’t really change. In the heat of battle, we often forget the people behind the politics. I knew him as a smart, ambitious, honest guy with Midwestern values and a focused vision. I’m sure he still is. And now? He’s running for Vice President of the United States of America. When I tell my children that they can be anyone they want to be, I can now point to someone I know who is.

Children masquerading as adults. Image via Stacie Chadwick.

So surrounded by a cacophony of shrieks and giggles sung by kids who are stealing the last ounce out of summer on their way back to school, enough dirty laundry to fill a semi, and a stack of bills, I’m doing what I said I never would. I’m flipping my position and writing about politics. I’m offering unsolicited advice to someone who pays people to advise him. I do this because I’m a woman and a friend. It’s my nature. Humor me.

***

Dear Paul,

Mitt Romney’s misspoken reference to you as “the next president of the United States” plays directly into what should be the underlying backbone of your political strategy. Run with a broader vision than the role of Vice President and set your own course.

Show us how you simultaneously lower government spending and make a real commitment to education and job creation. As mothers, we have children who are high school dropouts and can’t support themselves, and post-college boomerang kids who are underemployed. We understand that there’s a real chance their generation will reach a ceiling constructed at a lower height and of lesser materials than ours, buttressed by flawed trusses and support beams. Show us a concrete plan to correct a system that’s broken and produces students who continue to slide behind other countries in core curriculum, is rooted in the industrial age, and pays teachers much less than what they’re worth.

Addressing the economy is a given, so consider looking at it from our point of view. As mothers and wives, we’re often the emotional backbone as well as a financial anchor for our families. What we earn in a paycheck we give back in time spent away from our children. Dig deeper than budget cuts and tax reform in addressing our role in this issue, and show your sensitivity to our increasingly complex jobs.

The Wall Street Journal has championed your cause for years, but the majority of its readership is already part of your base. Embrace media outlets that will challenge your voice, but give you a long runway. With your intelligence and passion, a successful one-on-one with someone like Katie Couric could be a brilliant move, made more so by the failure of your predecessor’s endeavor.

Show us how you privatize Medicare without decimating it. We’re the daughters of aging parents and the mothers of children with disabilities, and often serve as emotional and physical lifelines to three generations of our family. We’re taxed and we’re tired, and yes, a little scared.

Disclose your tax statements. Immediately.

Follow your heart. The ugly side of bipartisanship is based on a world painted in black and white, when most of reality exists in various shades of gray.

Channel Alex Trebek and brush up on foreign affairs. You already know that Syria is further away from Wisconsin than Russia is from Alaska, so silence the naysayers.

Dial down the camo and the ammo. There’s a large group of undecided female voters who will roll their SUVs to save one of the thousands of overpopulated jackrabbits darting in front of their truck as they race off to the grocery store to figure out what’s for dinner.

Give us a small glimpse of the family behind the photo op. To the extent it’s not invasive, let us see the side of your life that we live every day…dropping the kids off at school after the tardy bell rings and staying up late to watch the Olympics as laughter turns to tired tears. We’ll relate to the emotions behind the smiles on your annual holiday card because we know how many tries it takes to get the perfect picture.

My family had to climb a fourteener, build a guard rail, and go without water for three days to get this pic. OK, not really, but it felt like it. Image via Stacie Chadwick.

You’re a well-versed, physical, engaging public speaker: use your open hand gesture and tone down the finger pointing. The first makes us feel included and the second one doesn’t.

You’re an athlete, you vacation in Colorado, and you love the outdoors. It might be a good idea to take a well-documented run through our great state. There are a lot of thirty to fifty year-old female voters who are athletes, live in Colorado, and love the outdoors.

Act like both a CEO and a salesman. Use your gut to champion causes and finesse to drive them home. Women follow people we trust and hire people we like.

Translate the budget deficit into a language we understand: a realistic picture of how the current trajectory will impact our children and our grandchildren’s lives is much more meaningful than rhetoric.

You’re at the heart of our demographic, and your youthful enthusiasm is appealing. Don’t run away from your age.

As women and constituents, we’re straight, gay, wealthy, and poor. We’re married, divorced, widowed, and single. We’re CFOs of corporations and Treasurers of the family budget. We’ve started businesses that have flourished and others that have failed. We’ve decimated our savings accounts and we’ve cut our discretionary spending to build them back up. We’ve sacrificed for our families and feel a twinge of guilt whenever we take time for ourselves. We’re smart, dedicated, and we care about the future of our country. We’re uneasy about the prospect of war but are passionately committed to taking care of our soldiers. We’re healers who want to leave the world a better place for our children than the one we gave them, and we’re not sure that we can.

We vote with our heads, and we vote with our hearts. Understanding the significance of that phrase is the key to your success in our demographic. Your introduction to this race has attracted our attention. My best unsolicited advice? Find a way to keep it.

Regards,

Stacie Whitten Chadwick

No matter where you go, your friends will always have your back. Image via Stacie Chadwick.

As always, please feel free to leave a comment. My only request is that you refrain from personal attacks and inflammatory statements. Due to the polarizing nature of the subject matter, this is my first and last foray into politics. I think.

Colorado is Burning

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I’ve always been a big non-believer in luck, at least the kind that bleeds bank accounts dry because it’s tied to an arbitrary sequence of numbers that careen down a treacherous path to nowhere. The definition of luck I subscribe to isn’t random. It can’t be bought or sold. It’s more of that mathematical equation based on the concept of preparation plus opportunity yielding positive results…a fortunate position that’s actually earned through hard work, dedication, and skill.

With devastating fires consuming large chunks of my state, I’ve thought a lot about luck lately, and how my perception of its significance is changing as quickly as the landscape morphs outside, both products of a caustic natural catastrophe fueled by a flame that flickers and fades only to catch the wind and ignite under a hazy cloak of dark sky.

Image via notmytribe.com

Colorado is one of those rare places that captures the attention of anyone with vision. If you’re fortunate enough to get here, you never want to leave, because the perspective inspires artists and poets, athletes and day-trippers, and you and me to harness a small piece of the beauty surrounding us and do more. Become better. Grow stronger. Rise to the occasion of a 360-degree view.

But Colorado is burning, and I want to know why.

Image via canoncitydailyrecord.com

Someone who’s deeply religious might say that the fires are simply God’s Will. I’m not that person, because many of the things I want to see stretch beyond the grasp of my mind’s reach and are firmly rooted in the beauty of the landscape that is now being destroyed. Any higher power I might believe in doesn’t cherry pick victims.

Image via foxnews.com

A scientist could point to Global Warming, one of the probable causes of the lingering beetle infestation that’s killed so many of our trees and created forests full of kindling. While that’s arguably a factor, trees don’t spontaneously combust.

Image via handcraftedsites.com

An ecologist may speculate that the fires are simply a means of deforestation, and thus, a necessary part of life’s natural cycle, but this point of view doesn’t take into account the loss of hundreds of homes and displacement of tens of thousands of evacuees who sit in a daze on second-hand sleeping bags with the pins and needles of loss stinging their spines.

Image via tampabay.com

As I watch the smoke plume into the sky, surrounding and swallowing the mountain views I’ve always taken for granted, there’s one thing that’s clear. Short of the sickening thought of an arsonist lighting a match and letting it fly, there isn’t a single spot to place blame. These fires belong to everyone and no one, because as much as any other factor, they are the result of luck. Horrible, catastrophic, painful, defective, damaged luck.

Image via bloomberg.com

Colorado is burning, and similar to the view out my window, the way I see the role that luck plays in life is different today than it was last week. There’s the luck tied to opportunity…a cooler day, a subtle shift in the wind patterns, or a sudden storm over the foothills that sneaks up unannounced. We need that.

Image via forbes.com

Then there’s the luck associated with preparation that will impact the trajectory of this fire…the complex matrix of organizers, first responders to the scene, and thousands of volunteers working 24/7 to help those in need. Without them, this fire would be a raging incumbent, unchallenged and out of control.

Image via coloradodaily.com

Finally, there’s the luck I didn’t quite believe in before this catastrophe…call it serendipity, kismet, karma, or a fluke. It’s that point in time when everything right or something deeply wrong happens for no apparent reason, and life simply looks up. Or down.

My state has been on the wrong side of luck for too many days in a row now, and we’re all trying to do whatever we can to force change. Thanks to the generous residents of this amazing place I’m fortunate enough to call home, a group of us will take a truckload of supplies down to Colorado Springs today in an attempt to help those who are fighting future loss, and others mourning the things that are gone.

Image via 2amazonaws.com

But in an attempt to somehow brush up against that serendipity, kismet, karma, or fluke from above, I’m also crossing my fingers, doing a rain dance, and wishing on a star with the hope that the skies will clear, the fires will retreat, tomorrow will be better, and the kind of luck we need so badly will come back around to the right side.

If you would like to contribute to the fire relief efforts, place considering making a donation to the American Red Cross http://www.coloradoredcross.org.

American Girl: Give Those Dolls Some Balls!

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Let me start by inserting a spoiler alert. I’m no big fan of the multi-zillion dollar American Girl (AG) franchise.

“Why?” you ask, as you throw down exactly $173.00 plus shipping for a doll that looks like the tattletale who rats everyone out at school, forgettable plaid dress, pair of patent pleather saddle shoes, and an overpriced miniature Goldendoodle you can pick up at Target for $4.99?

Molly McIntire is sad yet cute.

Molly McIntire needs to tell her mom to stop shopping in the school uniform department. Image via Wikipedia.

That’s why. Well, that and a lack of compelling role models for my daughters.

My seven and nine year-old girls feel differently, however, thanks in no small part to the monthly catalogues that arrive in the mail with more regularity than my period. So in an effort to better understand their fascination, I conducted a non-scientific study of the American Girl world. Curious to see if I could find a doll to fit either of their dispositions, I trolled the website for hours in an attempt to identify a match (not the Bitty Babies though…those things freak me out).

This bitty baby is creepy. Image via strollerfreak.itgo.com

To be fair, I can see why my daughters, along with millions of other girls across the country, are attracted to American Girl dolls. They perfectly fit the profile of what our conventional “girl next door” culture defines as attractive, and are pretty and bright-eyed, with flawless skin and thick, glossy hair. The original dolls each tell a personal story, and their narrative is filled with positive traits including honesty, kindness, creativity, and optimism.

These are great qualities, but in the modern-day world my daughters are learning to maneuver, they aren’t enough.

AG’s first line of dolls is based on historical periods, and each comes with a background story attached. Take Addy Walker, a doll who’s “escaping slavery to find her father and brother.” I’m all for acknowledging the past, but slavery?  Couldn’t the executives at Mattel have come up with something a little more inspirational for a ten year-old African American, or any young girl for that matter, to embrace other than one of the most oppressive facets of American History? What about a doll made in the spirit of Rosa Parks or a mini-Coretta Scott King?

In the same vein, historical character Josefina is “from her family’s New Mexican rancho.” With a serape over her shoulders and a cross hanging from her neck, is she getting ready to make tortillas to stuff into a piñata for a neighborhood fiesta? Josefina looks like she just stepped off an Old El Paso taco dinner kit, and with similar profiles built on stereotypes, these dolls simply don’t inspire in a world where I expect my daughters to push beyond the boundaries that two-dimensional labels create.

Yo quiero Taco Bell. Image via inmamariquita.galeon.com.

In addition to these offerings, American Girl pitches a more modern doll, cleverly allowing ‘tweens to choose their likeness in skin tone, eye color, and hair (well, sort of…the more “ethnic” options don’t exactly slice in tandem with our nation’s current demographic pie). Because each mini-me comes clothed in a forgettable pair of lavender pants and shirt, your style-savvy daughter is sure to sprint directly to the overpriced unsale rack as soon as she’s created her doll.

And here’s where I have another problem.

While there’s nothing implicitly wrong with cheerleaders and ski bunnies, that’s not how my girls roll. Where’s the snow boarder shredding it down the mountain? The hockey center who just scored a goal? How about a surfer struggling to catch a massive wave?

A lacrosse player and skate boarder move the gender-biased dolls in the right direction, but why not push a decades-old envelope a little and add hip-hop to compliment ballet, and a girl who races a motorcycle instead of a horse?

In other words, give those dolls some balls!

Original drawing by Danny Manion

Avery Williams is a ten year-old AP student who lives in the city and loves photography, snowboarding, and hanging out with friends. She’s an amazing woman-in-the-making, and deserves a doll with balls.

Moms like me (and there are a lot of us) are raising daughters who focus not on what it means to be an “American Girl,” but something with much more depth. We’re working from a global platform as we teach them to be open-minded, multi-cultural, fearless, unbiased, and strong. It’s our hope that they’ll push beyond the superficial borders of pretty and perfect on a fast track toward fierce and outspoken. They may be biracial, adopted, or from fractured families, and they’re all learning to handle life’s ups and downs.

Our daughters are the world’s future leaders, innovators, and pioneers because we’re helping them challenge stereotypes and redefine the meaning of status quo. They are thoughtful, intelligent, risk-takers who aren’t afraid to ask questions, speak their minds, and take a stand.

As mothers, we long to lock eyes with that confident little girl in your line-up of dolls who will grow up to be a scientist, Pulitzer Prize winning author, or President of the United States…a role model whose inspiration reaches well beyond clichés, matching outfits and perfect hair.

But for me, she doesn’t exist.

So, until American Girl offers a reasonably priced, balls-up doll for my girls to cherish, I’ll take my $173.00 plus tax somewhere else. Now if I could just get the grandparents to back their quest to buy plane tickets for a holiday brunch and trunk show at the flagship store in Chicago, everything will be O.K.

Danny Manion is my friend Carrie’s super-talented eighteen year-old son. He’s on his way to Academy of Art in San Francisco next fall. If you’d like to see more of his work, go to http://zerewin.tumblr.com.

 


I Think I Threw the Presidential Election

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No, not that election. The Eastern High School Class of 1988 presidential race. Like, duh.

I’m not kidding when I say there’s a real chance I may have tainted the results. Add the fact that I was actually one of the candidates, and you’ve got the makings of an Academy Award-winning thriller. Think All The President’s Men plus really big hair, raging hormones, dried out Clearasil acne wipes, and teen angst, and you’ve pretty much got the seedlings of a plot. (O.K., so maybe my story isn’t Oscar-caliber material, but it’s at least BAFTAish, or something the International Indian Film Academy would really like).

Tricky Dick. Image via Flickr.

Anyway, in order to move forward in life we sometimes need to go back. In this case, all the way to 1984, when as an EHS freshman, I ran for and won the Vice Presidential race. Back then, Eastern was the home of the fighting eagles, Future Farmers of America (FFA wants your offspring, especially if Jon Junior knows how to wield a scythe), the Rifle Team, and some sweet hamburger hash made in Home Ec. Serving as Vice President was totally awesome because:

Our lunch ladies loved serving hamburger hash.

1. Similar to other VPs, I didn’t have to actually do anything the entire time I held office. Our class President was the heavy lifter, and as Vice President, I just sat in the lunchroom at after-school meetings, nodded my head strenuously to everything she proposed, and threw back like, three Mountain Dews and five or six Little Debbie snack cakes in an hour. By the time we finished? I cruised out the door in a sugar-coated fog and laid down some serious back handsprings waiting for my mom to pick me up.

2. I trolled around every hallway and corridor in the building without a pass. In high school, the freedom to go where you wanted, when you wanted traded like jail cell currency.  Because I was an elected official, our super-sleuth security guard who busted kids for smoking in the bathroom, cutting class, and bad personal hygiene, just smiled and waved whenever I walked by.

3. Major action in the yearbook. Check out the ginormous pic on the front page of the freshman class section. That’s me in the top left corner with braces, cloisonné earrings, and my eyes closed. I’m probably taking a nap.

I wanted asymmetrical hair sooo bad. But Mom said no.

All in all, being VP was pretty great until all hell broke loose the summer before sophomore year when our reigning President’s family decided to move. Left with a gaping hole at the top of our ranks after summer break, all eyes turned to you-know-who to fill the spot, which I was happy to do because:

1. I still had braces and thought that Class President credibility might deflect from the consistent cornucopia of processed lunch meat stuck between my teeth.

2. Class Officer status was the gateway to being voted Class Favorite. Class Favorite was the portal to, well, an entirely parallel universe of popularity…snagging both the best table in the cafeteria (if you beat the upperclassmen through the lunch line), and the back row on the bus (unless you had a friend with an older brother you could pay to drive you home).

3. I wanted that big picture in the yearbook again.

4. Winning would score major points with my mom.

With a fair amount of effort on my part and the support of my class blowing like the wind at my back, I won. Thrust into a position of real expectation, I surprised myself and thrived.

Life at the time was pretty sweet. Or so I thought. But every rise paves the way for a massive fall, and mine was bathed in a hue of true idiocy.

That's me at the bottom with my feet kicked back on the desk. And a stupid look on my face. And a Mountain Dew in my hand.

In an effort to make everyone happy that year, I played both sides to the middle.  Not in my Presidential duties…I was pretty solid there. I failed in the day-to-day details with my friends…the exact people who voted me into office, but more importantly, shared the highlights of my life.

Whenever my old school besties asked me to hang out on the weekend, I’d say yes, find out that my miscreant upper class boyfriend was going somewhere else with or without me, ditch my original plans, and follow him right down the road to my demise. Not only was I hanging out way too much with someone everyone else said was a waste of a second thought, I was spending zero time with the people who mattered; after saying I would, then bagging out at the last minute, making up a transparent excuse, and canceling plans. I was a total turncoat, or the slam of all high school slams, two-faced.

Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face in The Dark Knight

Image via Wikipedia.

Sitting under a heavy cloak of the damage I’d done, I half-heartedly ran for President again at the beginning of my junior year because, really, what incumbent doesn’t seek a second term? I lost (big shock), to my Sergeant-at-Arms who I thought had my back. But I was totally out of touch, and she probably thought I was doing drugs in the bathroom with my loser boyfriend (for the record I wasn’t), and was looking at a bigger picture than I wasn’t allowing myself to see.  All’s fair in love, war, and high school though, and today I hold no grudge.

Queen Bee (comics)

Class President and Queen Bee. Image via wikipedia.

By winter break, I truly felt the sting of loss. Not the election necessarily, but the gravity of important friendships I let slip away. So rather than spending my weekends pining after a guy who wasn’t going any further than juvie jail (that relationship is a blog in and of itself: totally cute rebel who walks the wrong side of the line and has a Pied Piper effect on anyone who crosses his path, or maybe not anyone, but definitely me), I got my act together. I dumped the loser, started dating a great guy (still older, but every girl I knew trended up), and began the process of fixing all of the important relationships I allowed to fall apart.

English: Studio publicity portrait for film Giant.

By the time senior year rolled around, I was back. Tight with my besties, focused on the future, and ready to run, again, for the spot at the top. I was lucky. My friends gave me a second chance, which isn’t the way every story unfolds.

Eyes clear and looking forward, I realized how much I missed being a leader while following someone else around, and I wanted my old job again. I made flyers, posters, buttons, and glitter-glued banners with my name in huge, neon-lettered sparkle paint. I promised a ski trip to the seniors if I was elected (yes, you can pledge whatever you want in high school and you can actually ski in Kentucky if you don’t mind face-planting down an ice hill in your long underwear and Jordache jeans), and envisioned plans for dances, parties, and prom. I chose a grassroots representative in every home room, spread the word, solicited votes, and put myself out there. I wanted to win. Bad.

But because I was seventeen, or stupid, or still a little too concerned with looking cool, I voted for the incumbent Prez when it came time to cast my ballot. Yes, I intentionally put my chit solidly behind the other team. In case I lost. Which I did. As fate and everyone voting that day decided it should be.

When the school Principal announced that the other girl had won, he made a point to note over the PA system for everyone to hear, that it was the closet class election in the history of our school. This meant nothing to everyone else and the world to me. So I got up, calmly walked out of class (my former officer status still bought me a free pass in the halls), slammed into the girl’s bathroom, and cried.

Big hair can hide your pain.

Had I lost by a vote? Handed-delivered the election to my opponent in a vain attempt to act like I didn’t care? Changed the course of history on that fateful day?

Probably not, but there are lessons to be learned here, and if anyone running for office or running away from the good things in life happens to stumble on this blog, you might consider taking my mistakes to heart.

1. Don’t take anyone for granted. Ever. Especially people you truly love.

2. Protect your base, because if you don’t? They’ll find someone else who will.

3. Stay away from anyone who might tarnish your reputation. Or does drugs. Or gets tossed out of school. Or goes to jail. Or treats you badly. Or is crazy. Or doesn’t floss. Or is a future embezzler. Or kicks your dog.

4. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

5. Don’t try to be all things to all people and try not to be anything to some.

So that’s it. My elected official days are long gone, which is good, because now that I’m writing, you never know when the skeletons in my closet might decide to wake up.