Tuesday, December 26, 2006
OK, so I do Weight Watchers online. And I visit their message boards, because it's a great way to get tips from people, get the support you'd normally get going to a meeting, and just chatting with people who have similar interests. One of those message boards has been incredibly rewarding to me since we're knitters and we've combined our love of knitting with our urge to help people; we do prayer shawls. Now, we're a nation-wide group of women - we've never met face-to-face. But we have 2 common bonds: Weight Watchers and knitting. And we've combined the two. So far this year, we've done 3 shawls, each of us knitting anywhere from 3 to 5 inches per shawl. We've sent them on their rounds with a card that each of us signs, putting her city and state in with a message to the recipient. Sometimes we know the person. Sometimes we don't. This has probably been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. We've donated shawls to a free clinic, a woman who's having chemo, one of our own(!) who was hoping to donate the shawl to a womens shelter, but who ended up having a major health issue of her own; and we're going to start another one in the new year. It's a simple prayer shawl, k3 p3 pattern. We have knitters who can whip out a pair of socks in a weekend, and then there are knitters like me - slow and poky, barely out of "scarf school." This pattern can be done by any of us. And it's great. We've come closer together as knitters - and we all know that knitters are sisters-in-fiber anyway! We call ourselves "KnitWits" - and refer to each other as "Knitsters." These women, whom I've never met except through e-mail and the message boards, are friends. No, you don't have to meet face-to-face. You just need a common bond. Being knitters is our bond - and our craft is helping people from all over the country. As the year ends, I reflect on what we've done and I can truly say that I'm blessed to be a part of this group.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Aretha sang about it. It’s popular today for companies to say that they treat both their employees and customers with it. And it’s in every school handbook we know about. What is it? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Respect for others, self, and property. Recent incidents in local school systems point out the need for respect. But then we ask: How and by whom? Respect must be earned. But first, it must be taught. It is the parent’s job, first and foremost, to teach children how to respect others, their property, and their rights. We live in a society circumscribed by rules, laws, and manners. These manners include being polite to others, considerate, and respectful. Respect is due, traditionally, to adults from children, simply because adults have lived longer. That’s an arcane custom, but not one which should be arbitrarily tossed out in the current “got to be my kid’s friend” climate of child-rearing. Children need to learn that “respect” doesn’t mean one person is always right. It doesn’t mean one person “is the boss of the other.” Respect is the basis by which we engage each other in today’s society. Those who’ve been taught to respect one another are usually those who’ve been taught by their parents that each person is important in this world. The Golden Rule says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Did you know that this is but one version? In most mainstream religions, this rule exists. Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Udana-Varga 5:18) Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary.” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a) Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” (Sunnah) How do you treat people? How do you allow others to treat you? How do you treat your children? Your spouse? Your best friend? Look at these relationships and then look at what you are teaching your children. Are you teaching your children that there is a “right” way to speak to people and a “wrong” way? Are you teaching your children that the “rules” apply to “others” and not to them? Are you teaching your children the basics: “please’ and ‘thank you’ when interacting with others? Do you teach your children by example? Do you treat others well? Are you respectful in your dealings with others, or are you always thinking “It’s them against me”? Because how you treat others – those close to you and those with whom you deal on a daily basis – forms the core of how your children learn to live in this world. It’s troubling enough in today’s society. Guns are in schools. Kindergartners bring weapons to class. Television and music seem to hold more sway over kids than parents do. It’s time to bring this back around. Bring back your basic parenting skills and teach your kids respect. This will help them function as they grow to be productive adults. They can’t live in this world without it. And without it, it won’t be much of a world to live in.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
In yet another misguided attempt to "protect" our children from the "bad" things in life, teachers are now being urged by parents to avoid red ink when correcting papers, because the red ink is “offensive,” “causes stress to the students” and is “degrading.” Give me a break. I am grateful to all the good teachers I’ve had. I’m grateful to Mr. Novotny from grade school – who used plenty of red ink and somehow we survived. I’m grateful to Mr. Wnek, even though I still don’t like math much. I’m grateful to Sr. Bonaventure during my high school years. Those notations by Sr. Bonaventure on my Spanish papers made the muddy waters of learning a lot clearer. Mrs. Kallan – now a retired judge – put more red on papers than most. But she taught me the craft of writing. She taught me the value of the correct turn of phrase and how to write clearly, organizing my thoughts so that the reader could follow each step of the way. Poor Mrs. Reichenbach had the dubious job of teaching me algebra. I’m not exactly a mathematical genius, but I learned. Sr. Matthias Marie went through our typing exercises like Sherman through Georgia. But thanks to her, I type as easily as I speak. Mr. Ernst at my junior college used red to teach us the finer points of Criminal Justice theories. Mr. Asher – he was another one who used the color of correction frequently. But as a philosophy teacher, he taught us the art of the argument. You may not have liked their methods, but if you were paying attention, you learned. Professor Howe and Professor Miller at my university were – and are – both talented teachers who used their share of ink to make sure that we understood the basics of logic and critical thinking. And there were other instructors in accounting, finance, marketing and business classes. Again, by that time, red ink shouldn’t have raised any red flags that you didn’t know were coming. All students are stressed, no matter where they are on the learning continuum. I have a hard time with the recent spate of protests about the “red ink” controversy. Aren’t parents (and students) being just a tad too sensitive? Believe me, I’ve talked to plenty of teachers. They don’t have time to sit there and think up ways to aggravate you or your kid. Think about it…the red ink oftentimes said, “Good Job” or “Nice Work.” The red ink was a sign that the teacher was paying attention to those hours of homework. Sometimes, a paper that just had a grade on it was disappointing. I wanted the “goodies” on my papers just as much as I needed the corrections. There are so many other things that urgently need fixing in our education system. Funding it adequately springs to mind. And gee, so many schools are “in the red.” But nobody seems bothered by that red ink. It’s only the ink on the students’ papers that appears to bother anyone. Self-esteem is important, but so is learning to take direction and learning to accept criticism. Kids need to learn that very important skill. They need to know that sure, a teacher is tough. But life is tougher. And when you’re on the job and your boss hands you back a memo that is – shall we say – creatively and heavily edited, you should resist the temptation to call your mom to have her complain. If you don’t learn the lessons life hands you early on, there’s a good chance that the next thing of color you’ll see on the job is a pink slip.
Monday, September 04, 2006
In my time as a columnist, I’ve written about many things. I’ve discussed world and local events, and the trend toward “butt advertising” where young girls (and some women who should know better) feel compelled to wear shorts and sweatpants sporting such phrases as “Princess,” “Bootylicious,” and my all-time favorite, “Notre Dame Mom.” And I’ve written about Red Hatters (and gotten more kudos than criticisms, by the way) and rude video-camera parents. But now it’s time to discuss real summertime fashion gaffes. Men. No, men aren’t out of fashion. But it seems that some men have a collective gap in their sartorial sense when summer hits. My dad, with a real talent for turning phrases, had a good rule of thumb for clothing. He used to say, “That outfit looks like they tried to squeeze 5 lbs. of sausage into a 3 lb. casing.” Skin-tight is a no-go for more than 90% of the male population. Unless you’re the next centerfold for Cosmopolitan, don’t be painting on your pants. Same with shirts so tight the buttons strain. It’s just not a good look. Buy bigger and just admit it. We’ll understand, believe me. Baggy pants don’t look good on anyone either, no matter what your age or physical condition. We don’t want to see your skivvies. Belts are good things. And anyway, how can you walk when the crotch of your pants is hanging somewhere around your knees? Pajama pants? Well, let’s dissect that. Pajama – bed clothing. Not to be worn outside, no matter how buff-and-tough you think you are. And yes, people really do see when you dash out to get the paper. Put a robe on. Better yet, get dressed. Ratty t-shirts make good rags. Period. If you must keep that t-shirt from college or your first concert, find someone to make a quilt or pillow out of it for you. Or learn to do it yourself. Hey, it’s done on a sewing machine, which is a power tool of sorts. Otherwise, the shirts are shop rags, guys. Same goes for any t-shirt that may have been white once in its life. Pit stains, food stains, tears and rips…they’re outta here! Tank tops are ok in certain circumstances. Those stretchy undershirts that go by a variety of names not necessarily printable here are not outerwear. Ever. Golf shirts and khaki shorts are very nice. But not with black socks that go half-way up your calf and dark shoes or sandals. Ditto with the white-socks-and-sandals gig. Try deck shoes or woven leather sandals. If you’re going to do flip-flops or sandals, do yourself a favor and have a pedicure. No, it’s not girly. It’s good for your feet. Please. No Speedos. Enough said. Wear sunscreen. Do us and yourself a favor. Beet red only looks good on…well, beets. If you wear a hat, please take it off when you’re listening to the national anthem, you enter a building, you’re in the presence of women (we love that), or you’re saying the pledge. By following these simple fashion tips, you can avoid (a) sunburn; (b) looking really dorky; and, (c) people pointing at you and whispering. Trust me - your favorite people will thank you for this attention to detail.
Friday, May 12, 2006
What IS it about the combination of red and purple, liberally encased in glitter and feathers of every sort, on women of a certain age that gets on my last nerve? In the spirit of disclosure, I must admit that I’m about 1 ½ years from being counted in that age group. I’m 48. And I’ve already warned my friends: NO RED HAT STUFF when I turn 50. Of my closest friends, only 1 has turned 50 so far. The rest are further away from contemplation of that year. But we’ve already had that discussion. The Red Hat Society (www.redhatsociety.com) started out innocently enough. Based on the poem by Jenny Joseph called “Warning,” a woman in Phoenix decided, around 2001 or so, that she was going to have fun as she grew older. She decided, like many others, that old age is a gift, not a burden. Ms. Joseph’s poem has become the Red Hat anthem, reading in part: “WARNING – When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” Red Hatters (and others) seem to particularly enjoy the last stanza of the poem, which states: “But maybe I ought to practice a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.” The poem is empowering to some women, giving permission for them to be themselves after they’ve spent most of their adult lives caring for others. The notion of the Red Hat Society is not a profound one…they want to have fun. After all, we have enough doom and gloom in our lives. We should be able to gather with our gal pals and just flat-out enjoy each other and our lives. But somewhere along the line, it went a little sideways. Some women (not ALL of them) choose to indulge in an orgy of bad dressing and sometimes seem to claim a sense of entitlement that goes beyond “assertive” and borders upon “obnoxious.” That’s just wrong. As far as sartorial sense, there seems to be (again, in SOME women) an overabundance of polyester and spandex on mature figures; and an overabundance of glitter, feathers and flashing red pins. More disclosure? I like purple. It’s my favorite color – in all its shades. From the nicest lilac to periwinkle to a nice vivid shot of regal purple. But not paired with red. And not paired with anything flashing. And only if it fits appropriately so that I don’t look like a wayward Fruit of the Loom grape. I also like red. One of my favorite suits is a cardinal-red color that I think looks just spiffy. I’m just giving my opinion, but I have to tell you that, for me, if I’m over a certain age (and over a certain weight), the only time I should be wearing anything red and flashing is if there’s an ambulance wrapped around me. Let’s face it, there aren’t too many people who’re young who look good in spandex ANYTHING. Much less red and purple stretchy stuff. And the red shoes with the purple ensembles? Only if you’re Dorothy and on your way back to Kansas. Let’s digest that whole “over 50” thing. I know some absolutely fabulous women who are well past 50. They don’t need to be defined by bad wardrobe decisions. They’re so comfortable in their skins that I rather envy them. So should there be a cut-off for the Red Hat age group? Many would undoubtedly say no. But many women I know who are over 50 – and several well near the end of their 60s – say that the whole thing is an excuse for bad dressing and bad manners. At a recent event I attended, the Red Hatters were out in force. Admittedly, there were a few who were just darling. One woman was in a lovely lavender tweed suit and it was outstanding. Her outfit was tailored well, there was just enough of each color and the outfit fit her – she didn’t compete with what she was wearing. On the other hand, there were several women who came in and caused me to say to myself, “What was she thinking?” Even another friend of mine (who admits to being “well into” the Red Hat age group), when faced with a gaggle of Red Hatters, said to me, “Oh my.” But really. Are we still where we need to define ourselves by our outfits or “colors”? I would think – or I would hope – that by the time I feel the need to further define myself, it won’t be just by what I’m wearing. And anyway, the only time I want to be seen in feathers is if they’re angel wings.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Ahh, spring! I can open my windows, listen to the birds sing and hear children playing outside. Feel the breeze blowing and hear the leaves rustle in the trees. Oops, I almost got to that point, except that, coming down the street is some jerk with subwoofers rattling the bolts off the frame of his car and a bass rumbling so loud that our canary has just vibrated off his perch. I can no longer hear my husband, and he’s sitting next to me. Ahh, spring! Mind you, I love music. That is, music defined by the dictionary as “the art of producing significant arrangements of sounds, usually with reference to rhythm, pitch and tone color, especially if pleasing to the ear.” I think that means songs excluding heavy breathing and phrases that begin with, “Oh baby.” And it means excluding that 4-letter word beginning with the letter “F” and phrases about rotten women, telling how “real men” put them in their place. I don’t want to preach and sound like somebody’s mother (even though I am somebody’s mother), but come on! Yes, everyone has a right to listen to music. However, that doesn’t mean that when you’re in your yard, I have to listen to your music – when your yard is half a block from mine. And it doesn’t mean that when you’re driving up the street, I have to listen to your radio. Don’t even tell me “if it’s too loud, you’re too old.” I’m 48. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and I had those battles with my parents about turning down the record-player and the radio. So anyhow, when you’re driving and those speakers are blaring, how the heck do you hear anything else? And do you care that by the time you’re in your mid-30’s you probably won’t be able to hear anything? I read about a visiting assistant professor from Tulane University in New Orleans who founded an organization called Noise Free America (www.noisefree.org). What a concept! We’re bombarded by noise during our every waking hour. Do you realize that from the moment we awaken, we’re virtually assaulted by noise? We get up to an alarm or clock-radio, we turn on the stereo or TV and our day starts. We drive to work or commute on public transportation. We work in noisy environments. Then we go home to our after-work chaos. Most of us live in suburban areas and don’t even realize what a truly quiet night is. The problem with all of this noise is that if we try to tell someone we’re bothered, whether by a loud stereo or an obnoxious cell phone conversation, we’re seen as the aggressor. Yes, my neighbor’s noise may bother me, but might their reaction bother me more? What a pity we’ve lost the sense of community we once had. And how sad that we’ve lost our manners. What happened to a sincere, “Oh, I’m sorry I was bothering you?” Instead, we hear, “Get lost, *^&%.” Maybe, instead of Noise Free America, we should start an organization called “Bring Back Courteous Americans.” For a while a few years ago, we were all very nice to each other. As a sign of normalcy returning, we seem to be getting back to our old selves. What a shame.
Friday, April 14, 2006
While browsing the Internet recently, I came across an item which has caused some discussion among a group of women I talk with. Katie Holmes, the once wholesome and now glassy-eyed object of Tom Cruise’s uber-affection, is due to give birth soon. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s a good chance that you know this. Or you know someone who knows this. There’s consternation among the Holmes clan, since Mr. Cruise is insistent upon Katie having a “silent birth” as recommended by the tenets of his belief in Scientology. I’m not out to knock Scientology, and I don’t write for South Park. For all I know, there ARE aliens out to get us. Far be it from me to be arrogant enough to believe WE are the only intelligent life form out there. Unlike Mr. Cruise, however, I have had children, and I have had labor. Ok, it’s not like it’s portrayed on some cheesy TV shows. You don’t HAVE to bellow your lungs out in order to give birth. But you also have to remember that you’re attempting to push a pot roast through a Cheerio. And that’s not easy work. Another thing you have to remember is that women generally like telling their birthing stories. My mom’s was pretty succinct when we chatted about how I was born. “They knocked me out. I woke up. You were here.” Oh, ok. My sister is still a little perturbed that both of my labors were under 3 hours. Suffice to say that hers were NOT. And we still refer to my youngest brother as “The Gas Pain” because my mom was due any day and was a little uncomfortable, telling my dad, “it’s just gas.” Forty-five minutes after that statement, The Gas Pain was born. For my first son, I was at the attorney’s office where I was working, sitting at my typewriter (this was pre-PC days, folks) and typing my, “I would like to start my maternity leave tomorrow” note. My water broke. My maternity leave started right then, and 2 and a quarter hours later, he was here. After calling my mom to tell her that he was born on the same day as their anniversary and the birth date of The Gas Pain, she said I was full of horse puckies…until she heard him squalling in the background. For the second one, I almost didn’t make it to the hospital. My labor coach’s teen daughter was chatting on the phone with her boyfriend. Yep, THAT was pre-cell phone. And that birth took one hour and 10 minutes. My mother asked me why I had a child so close to Christmas and I asked her if she had pre-planned to have me three weeks AFTER Christmas. See? It’s like guys telling a fish story, only women usually have the proof – the kid – that theirs WAS an ordeal. I do believe that it’s best to remain calm at birth, no matter which side of the table you are on. I do believe excessive noise is not necessarily good – they have epidurals now and they can fix it. However, I have yet to run into anyone in recent times who has had a totally “silent” birth, at least while they were conscious. I believe that birthing is a special miracle. It’s the occasion of a new life coming into this world. No matter how you do it, I think the most important thing is that it should be private and safe. I think that, sometimes we focus on celebrities just to get our minds off the natural disasters, the wars, the genocide and all that other stuff in the news. Birthing stories are fun to share when you’re with a group of girlfriends. And they make great additions to the family history. Playing them out in the tabloid press and on the ‘Net just seems to be a little over the top, even for the over-the-top times in which we now live.
Friday, March 31, 2006
Some people ask how I, a practicing Catholic, feel about abortion. They often think I "support" abortion because I support a woman's right to choose. And I've explained it this way. Jesus, the original liberal, sat with sinners and tax collectors. He befriended everyone he could and his ministry is one of INclusion, not EXclusion. I am not perfect. I have made mistakes in my life. I have paid for some, and will undoubtedly pay for others as time goes on. I don't see myself as judge, jury and executioner. I have had friends who have had abortions, and they don't take the decision - or its consequences - lightly. They live with that EVERY day of their lives. My job, as a practicing Catholic, is to support and nurture my friends. It's to be there to discern with them where they should go. And to be there with them when they go - to metaphorically hold their hand. If a friend comes to me and says, "Look, I've decided to terminate this pregnancy," it is simply NOT my place to say to her, "You can't do that becuase you'll roast in the eternal flames forever." My job is to say, "Ok, have you thought out all your options? Do you want to talk through some of this?" And then be there for her when she does want to talk. Or accept that she doesn't. Does that make me an accomplice? No. It makes me available to her as a friend. She will, I assume, be living with this decision far more than I will. It seems to me that I can be more helpful to her if I can help discuss her options; and if I can be there for her when she needs me. This seems more Catholic than being the person who castigates her for her decision or who makes her feel that she's less than nothing for having made a very difficult choice. What if it's a friend who's using this as a convenience? Well, I don't know anyone like that. But if I did, yeah. I think - I KNOW - that I would say, "You know, I don't think you've thought this through; it seems to be a pattern here. Maybe you need to change some behaviors here and re-think this decision and your options." But ultimately, this is up to every woman and her God. Would I do this? Most likely not, being at the end of my fertile time. What about rape? Honestly, I can say that I do not know. How would it feel to carry a child who is conceived in violence, but is, in itself, an innocent byproduct of that violence. Do I have the ability to separate the child from the act - and then raise that child to be the best it can be? I don't know. Maybe I won't ever have to know. But I want to be able to think that I'm a compassionate human being. Made to be LIKE Christ, but not BE Christ. I am, after all, a PRACTICING Catholic. I've got a long way to go before my Catholicism is perfected.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Garter Stitch, that staple of knitters everywhere, makes a lovely piece of fabric. Except that it's mind-numbingly boring to do!! I'm working on a garter-stitch vest. You slip the first stitch of every row as if you're purling and then you knit. And knit. And knit. The panels for the vest are 36" each. There are two. Then you pick up the stitches for the bottom band. I'm using Wool-Ease (Lion Brand) in an oatmeal and a mushroom color. They will make up a nice vest that I can wear with anything. But it's mind-numbingly boring! This is my first "real" knitting project...my first project that will get me out of "scarf school" and promote me from a "facecloth freshman" to a "sweater sophomore." So I keep at it. Why does a person knit? Well, aside from its current popularity in the Hollywood set, I knit because it is very meditative. Kind of like a rosary but using yarn. It requires a certain level of concentration, much like yoga. And like yoga, once you find your rhythym, you breathe into the knitting. I can lose myself in needlework. Then, when the project is completed, I have a wonderful piece of something I have created myself. Whether for my home or for others, it's a tangible part of me that I have created - it can't be purchased, at least how I've created it. Lately, it seems like everything is available to us. Everything but time. TIME spent in the needlearts is time given back to yourself. It's a gift. It's a gift you give even if you don't give the project away. Because you've invested the time. I'm watching Farenheit 451. It's a scary movie about a "future" society that has banned books. The characters live sterile lives in a society that seems uninterested in personal accomplishment or artistry. In our increasingly connected, yet oddly disconnected world, knitting and other needlearts connect me to the women who taught me. They connect me, via the Internet, to other members of the "Secret Society of Fiber Fondlers" (you can see us at any craft store, petting the yarn or stroking the embroidery floss). They even connect me to people "live and in person" when I pull out my knitting in public. Invariably, someone asks if it's hard. I tell them no. And they watch me. And maybe, they get the idea that they can do it. And maybe they do. But even if they don't, they can still see the art is being practiced.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
So what possesses the average writer, knitter and reader to create, maintain and post to a blog when there are (a) so many things to write; (b) too many projects to knit; and (c) all the books one's heart could desire? Well, maybe it's a way to spread the joy a bit. I'm opinionated. And I have published works before, but this is personal. It's like my knitting. It's a piece of me that's given to you. If you read it, peachy. If you don't - just don't tell me; my feelings will be hurt!