Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My favorite movies of 2008

I'm sure several of these movies were released prior to 2008, but of all the movies I watched this year, these were my ten favorites. I wanted to do a six list, but couldn't stand leaving off the last four.

1. THE NUMBER 23: Original, intriguing story. Perfectly suspenseful. If Jim Carrey was born to do comedy, then I'm glad he stuck around to do drama (The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, anyone?).

2. THANK YOU FOR SMOKING: Being a non-smoker, I mistakenly believed I'd be severely disinterested in this film. Instead I was delighted by a creative and intelligent satirical comedy. And I don't know if anyone else noticed, but throughout the entire movie, not a single person was shown actually smoking (except on a TV screen showing a black & white movie). I found their creative ways to exclude the visual in a film full of smokers very interesting.

3. THE HOLIDAY: The best way to describe this movie: ADORABLE. Every protagonist as cute as the next, each moment more tender than the one before it, while remarkably circumventing the gag factor. Clever. Fun. Charming.

4. THE DEPARTED: This sat around in our DVR for months before we finally decided to watch it. LOVED IT far more than expected, even with the brutal Scorsese ending. Kept thinking about it for days...the ultimate sign of a very good movie.

5. SWEENEY TODD: Grotesquely gut-wrenching. Passionately heart-wrenching. Perfectly cast, performed, and artistically designed. This ain't no Rogers & Hammerstein musical. Sondheim, Burton, and Depp form a magical trio.

6. WAITRESS: More spiritually profound than expected. Very witty, honest, and an overall delight from start to finish!

7. 3:10 TO YUMA: Western flicks, not usually my favorite. It took me about 20 minutes to get connected with the plot, but from then on it was awesome. However, it was a shame to have Christian Bale looking so horrid for 2 hours.

8. AUGUST RUSH: I thoroughly enjoyed this film, in spite of the child's strange raspy intonation throughout. The acoustic guitar pieces were incredible, and both love stories enchanting.

9. THE FOUNTAIN: Poignantly mind-blowing. Asks those questions in life that can't be answered. A uniquely inventive story told through breathtaking visual imagery.

10. JUNO: I really enjoyed this story because it seemed gritty and real, despite a few instances of contrived comedic dialogue. I still thought it was funny and found myself identifying in a strange way with the central character. And I just learned that Juno was directed by the same man (Jason Reitman) who wrote and directed Thank You for Smoking. Coincidence? I think not.

Six worst movies of 2008

Most of these movies were probably released prior to 2008, but of the movies I watched this year, these were the six worst (without considering any that I couldn't even bear to finish, such as Conversations with Other Women and Monster-in-Law).

1. GOOD LUCK CHUCK: I am continually amazed at the kind of CRAP that passes for a movie. 'How can we take a bunch of footage of a guy having nasty sex and turn it into a full-length feature film?' Who needs a plot or decent acting skill when you have Jessica Alba's face and body on the screen?

2. LUCKY YOU: What was bad: the story, dialogue, acting, direction, and editing. What was good: for about 25 minutes near the end they departed entirely from the horrible sub-plots and focused on an intense poker tournament so I felt more like we were watching ESPN than the awful movie.

3. NEXT: Very interesting concept, with plot holes big enough to drive a semi-truck through. Disappointing.

4. LICENSE TO WED: One of an overpopulated movie genre that is painfully frustrating to watch. Characters involved in situations no one would put up with in real life and which have a very simple solution that the protagonists inexplicably cannot figure out.

5. CRANK: This could have been labeled Speed 3; this time his body is the bus. For action-movie lovers, you might not be able to beat 90 minutes of a guy forced to keep his adrenaline pumping, but the relentless intensity lost its appeal without a good storyline to ground it.

6. THE INVASION: Really, really bad. If the cheesy zombie-movie plot weren't enough, the filmmakers over-exerted themselves in trying to emphasize a political/existential point about the human race. Also, instead of letting the audience react to the story as it unfolds, they kept using lame dialogue and camera angles to reiterate the obvious.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Stocking stuffers

The idea of a Christmas stocking bulging with valuable, yearned-for items is foreign to me. Throughout December, I see advertisements with an eye-catching starburst containing the words "Great Stocking Stuffer!" for products such as CDs, electric razors, iPods, Wii games, and diamond earrings. This leads me to believe that to much of the world, the determining characteristic of a gift suitable for stocking stuffage is its diminuitive size: if it's small enough to fit in the stocking, it's a stocking stuffer. And a stocking isn't really "stuffed" unless it is filled with multiple items, which by my calculations means that many people spend hundreds of dollars just filling stockings. I am sure that is more than my parents budgeted for each child's entire Christmas bounty.

I've always been of the opinion that every gift should receive the attention and appreciation it deserves. Our family always opened gifts one by one, taking turns, and it is one of my favorite Christmas memories. I loved making signs with each family member's name, and taping them to various seats around the family room before we could divvy up the gifts. Not one box was unwrapped until everyone was sitting in his or her assigned place beside a pile of presents. I enjoyed watching my family members open their gifts almost as much as opening my own. Anticipation is half the fun, after all, so why rush the process? And why put expensive, desirable gifts into a stocking when they could be carefully unwrapped for all to admire?

As a child, our stockings typically contained only three items:

1) An assortment of Christmas goodies. I specifically remember little chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas for some reason.

2) An orange. We were taught that the orange symbolized gratitude for our blessings, because during the Great Depression (or perhaps a war -?-) it was very difficult to acquire a fresh orange, especially during the winter, and so it would have been a very special treat at Christmas.

3) A scroll tied with ribbon. This piece of paper contained a poem, whose rhyming lines provided clues to the whereabouts of our "stocking gift," which was usually the most awesome, or at least too-large-to-wrap, surprise gift. My dad apparently stayed up late typing these poems after we went to bed on Christmas Eve, and reading them was sort of the culmination of our Christmas experience.

As a child, and even now to a lesser degree, I would experience a few moments of melancholy after all the gifts from under the tree were unwrapped, realizing that suddenly Christmas was over. But then I would quickly rejoice upon remembering that our stockings still hung over the fireplace. Not because they were filled with another slew of tiny, meaningless presents, but because there would be an exciting treasure hunt to find that last gift--possibly the one I've been asking for since Halloween!

My new little family tends to keep Holiday spending to a bare minimum. I have only actually stuffed our stockings twice now. Last year my motivation in doing so was mostly to provide the experience for our Japanese exchange student, since my daughter was too young to understand. Filling our stockings remains merely an afterthought as Christmas approaches.

The lack of fanfare surrounding our stockings has inadvertently started a family tradition of our own. I still include the traditionally orange. It comes out of the drawer in the fridge to hang in the toe overnight, then is returned home to the fridge following its moment of glory.

But I also wander around our house on Christmas Eve collecting appropriate items to stuff in our stockings. That's right: things we already own. I have an assortment of cheap little Christmas toys leftover from goodie bags I made for our employees' children one Christmas, so everyone gets a kazoo or a tiny yo-yo with a Santa sticker on it, or a nifty spinning top. Last year, all those dumb little toys went back into the bag with the others, so I was able to give Madelyn some of the same things in her stocking this year. I don't think she even noticed.

I also include some yummy treats. Last year Madelyn got a baggie full of goldfish crackers, and this year a package of yogurt-covered blueberries. She couldn't eat them though, since she'd already brushed her teeth, so back into the Costco box in the cupboard they went. I gave Gary one of the candy bars that he had bought for himself last week, and a package of Simpsons fruit snacks that have been sitting on a table in my office since the movie was released in July 2007, both of which also went directly back onto the candy shelf.

So currently, the stocking extravaganza is more for the expectation of tradition than practical gifts. One day, when we have more disposable income, I wouldn't mind upgrading our stocking experience from "what-do-we-have-lying-around" to providing a few useful or fun, but inexpensive, items that my family members would actually like. Maybe one day I'll even get creative and reintroduce the stocking poems in our family. But I don't think we'll ever be the family with a GPS or platinum bracelet overflowing from our stockings. I love wrapping presents way too much for that!

What are your fun Stocking traditions?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Flashback Friday: Tent Indignities, Part II: The birds and the bees

Continuing a three-part series, the second installment of Tent Indignities begins where we left off last week: nine tweenaged cousins huddled around a battery-operated lantern inside a cavernous surplus tent stifling our laughter with pillows while whispering tawdry tales.

A topic made taboo is one guaranteed to surface in any situation where curious teens are left to talk among themselves. And for a bunch of religious kids trained in abstinence, what do you suppose is the most fascinating, scandalous topic? The Wedding Night.

In my recollection of teenage social structure, one's demonstrated knowledge about sex (whether real or feigned) could directly impact his or her popularity and reputation. At age 9 or 10, I didn't know much, so tended to listen more than talk in situations like these. If it wouldn't have affected my coolness quotient inversely, I probably would have liked a spiral notebook and a pencil to scribble enlightening morsels as quickly as my older cousins could spin them. Where had these cousins acquired their education? Parts from the public school system, parts from older (also chaste) brothers, and probably parts from many hushed exchanges like this one in the tent. Hearsay, rumor, anecdotal gossip--all the makings of good sex education, right?

While the reality of a honeymoon lingered in the very distant future, our clumsy conversation about "doing it" proceeded. A conversation no doubt riddled with speculation. Sprinkled with legend. Suddenly one of my cousins said to her older sister, "I don't think our parents did it on their Honeymoon, because you weren't born until [a date that was mathematically several greater than nine months following their parents' wedding date].

Ah, innocence exposed. I may not have known much about sex at the time, but I am positive I understood that adults join together in intimacy more often than babies are made. What may have been a humiliating experience for my beloved cousin might also have been a great lesson for us all in why it's best to remain obtuse when the subject at hand is not one of your own expertise. Although figuring the mathematical query of wedding vs. birth dates foreshadowed this cousin's future area of expertise: she recently received a Master's Degree in Math Education.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of Tent Indignities next Friday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All you can eat, and then some

It's Christmas Eve. If there is a better way to celebrate than All-You-Can-Eat, I don't want to know about it. My little family braved the slippery roads (conditions are the worst yet on day 10 of Winter Blast 2008, as the snow is melting into slushy ruts) and journeyed to Izzy's for dinner. It's "pizza, plus a whole lot more," you know!

For generally being regarded as a food snob, I've gained an unexpected affinity for Izzy's. Gary illuminated for me the unique, buttery crunch of their signature thick pizza crust. The salad bar is extensive and fresh. They even have a few dinner entrees which surpass the usual quality of buffet fare. And the buffet concept suits the dining style of a toddler perfectly: "a bite and half of 17 different items, please."

Our Christmas Eve dinner was stupendous. The menu was just fine, I mean it is only a buffet after all, not fine dining. What made this meal so enjoyable was Madelyn's 100% agreeable temperament from beginning to end. She ate and ate and ate, she talked and laughed, she didn't squirm out of her seat or throw a fit when we took something away, she wiped her mouth with her napkin, she wiped her ducky's mouth with her napkin. Are you getting the feel for our Christmas Eve miracle?

Even during the drive home Madelyn was either quiet or cheerful. Being stuck in her carseat often makes Madelyn cranky, and it was nearing her bedtime. About a mile away from home, she started talking up a storm in the backseat. I turned around to visit with her, just in time to see her stick her finger down her throat, gag, then giggle with delight. I think it's common for younger babies to get a kick out of discovering their gag reflex, which Madelyn did a long time ago.

I said, "Madelyn, don't do that, it's icky," then turned back around. I heard her gag again, followed by satisfied laughter. I just shook my head and muttered, "Bulimic baby."

You've probably figured out where this is going. If you're feeling a little slow tonight, I'll give you a hint: my washing machine is full of carseat straps and buckles as we speak.

We arrived home, and when I opened the back door to get Madelyn out of her seat, she lifted her arm and said, "Wet." She didn't have her cup of water to spill, so puzzled, I felt where she was pointing and--wet, indeed. Wet and chunky. At that moment I caught a whiff of regurgitated Izzy's and almost made my own contribution to the mess.

Madelyn has only thrown up one other time, and it was last Christmas day. A bunch of people in my family got very very sick, but Madelyn just puked once and was fine. On both occasions her vomit has smelled rather sweet, which I think is odd. Is it a baby digestive thing? This time, of course, she was not sick at all. She was just purging after the buffet binge.

After picking off a few spaghetti noodles, I stripped Madelyn and put her straight into the bathtub. I was dismayed to find that removing the carseat cover is either impossible or, more likely, very complicated and arduous. Thankfully, the worst of the mess was on the straps, which I was able to unthread and throw in the washer. I just hope I can remember how it all goes back together. Because, you know, I trust my child's life to those 82 inches of nylon.

I'm all about family traditions. But I don't think Christmas Vomit should be one we all go sticking our fingers down our throats to preserve.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter wonderland

For the vast majority of my 28+ years of life I have resided in the greater Portland area. Snowfall is a relatively rare occurence here, and when the flakes do appear, they often immediately melt onto the wet pavement. The idea of a white Christmas is generally confined to song, since I can only recall two (one was actually last year, but the snowfall probably measured three eighths of an inch).

If you were to watch any local news this past week (I don't--although special "storm coverage" has pre-empted regularly scheduled programming of Simpsons reruns. Lame!), you might hear intensely uttered phrases such as "Storm of the Century!" and "Winter Blast 2008!" possibly accompanied by thrilling theme music. Unusual weather brings out the best of local news, don't you think?

For no other reason than your viewing pleasure, some interesting photos I have taken over the past several days:

view from our back deck on the first day of snow

rain chain frozen solid with animal tracks in morning snow

amazing icicle formation

husband's afternoon snow angel perfectly covered in a new coat of white (even his little head imprint remains)

the snow level has reached the chair seats (huskies love it, but can the deck hold out?)

maybe the deck will last, but can a K-mart patio set withstand the pressure?

"Winter greetings" with the initial dusting of snow on 12/14

"Let it Snow?" about 18 inches later on 12/23.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Flashback Friday: Tent Indignities, Part I: Hooked on Phonics

Presenting the first installment of a three-part Flashback Friday Series: Tent Indignities. Three stories which all occurred within the same tent at the same campsite, but not necessarily during the same camping trip. I have endured my share of humiliation this week, so these embarrassing stories feature some other characters in my life: beloved cousins.

I have a large, but close, extended family. My maternal grandparents' Christmas card for 2008 boasts a photo of 108 tiny stockings hanging from the mantle, representing themselves, each child, grandchild, spouse, and great-grandchild in the family. I love having a lot of cousins, and while the progression of life and distance have separated many of us from much more than a Christmas-card relationship, I retain fond and hilarious memories of growing up within this big, funny family. The majority of our clan is predisposed to a very sarcastic sense of humor, with an added affinity for fart and toilet comedy. And not just the kids.

For several summers as a pre-teen, most of the family convened for a week-long camping/boating trip at Prineville Reservoir. It seemed that my uncle had some connection there because we always got this particular row of campsites that was boat dock-adjacent and primarily consisted of well-shaded grassy areas (unusual in the Central Oregon desert). Prineville is one of these "camping" resorts with flushing toilets, warm showers, and a convenience store. But it doesn't have a pool, golf course, or day spa, so can still accurately be considered a form of camping. Really, if there is a campfire with s'mores, it's still camping.

After a full day of death-defying tubing behind Uncles Steve and Don's boats, punctuated with breaks for card-playing in the shade to recharge, all of the cousins in my general age group would retire to the same giant tent. I believe it was one of those army surplus tents: a green canvas structure tall enough to stand in and comfortably sleep 12.

I was part of a threesome of girl cousins the same age, we each had an older sister, plus a few cousins from other families comprised nine of us within a 4-year age span. The only two males in this unit are brothers, a few years older than me. Upon arriving at the campground one summer, a novel word began to spring from these boys' lips. Pronounced ree-nob, it was used as a direct insult, in sentences such as, "Shut up, renob!" or "You're such a renob."

Such playful name-calling was a common form of kidding around in my family, so the rest of us girl cousins laughed, while intermittently harassing them for an explanation. They led us on all day without giving in, most likely turning the curious label on those who badgered them about it.
After dark, the tween tent was the place to be. In spite of our parents' best efforts to get us to shut up and go to sleep, we continued telling jokes and being stupid for as long as we could physically remain awake. The primary challenge was to stifle laughter into suppressed snickers without spitting all over everyone. Failure to do so would certainly lead to hysterics muffled by pillows. And that would just invite a flashlight-toting adult to come rapping on the canvas.

Some mighty good s'mores must have loosened the boys up, because one of the older girls finally convinced them to give away the origins of their secret word.

"Just spell it backwards" the older brother said, with an arrogant roll of his eyes.

There was a moment of silence while we all quickly reversed our Hooked on Phonics techniques, followed by a unison groan of disgust. We acted like they we thought they were such childish boys, but obviously were all clandestinely thrilled to be included in such a devious scandal. The revelation was an ideal segue into a new conversation about sex, a topic as mysterious as any for a group of 9- to 13-year-olds (foreshadowing for next week's story).

About as much time had passed since boy cousin explained the definition of renob as it has taken you to read from there to here. At this point one of the girls my age interrupted the new sex conversation by blurting out in utter bewilderment, "Bonner...what's a bonner?"

Confused silence. Then restrained guffaws as not only her pronunciation error was analyzed, but also her delay in reaching the conclusion. And apparently since no one else had spoken up about it, she thought she was the first to figure it out.

Stay tuned for next week's exciting edition of Tent Indignities!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The cruelty of strangers

Until today I have held to a mistaken impression that people in this world are generally good. We all make mistakes, but I believed that after leaving behind the brutality of junior high, we all figured out that our own self-worth shouldn't be predicated upon the destruction of others'.

I am more emotionally fragile than I usually care to admit. This trait is occasionally disadvantageous as a business owner, boss, wife, mother, and member of society. I have learned to employ certain tactics to help me function in the world, but that doesn't disqualify me from being a sensitive soul.

For reasons that probably have roots in suppressed early trauma, I am particularly sensitive about my looks. I seldom feel attractive, and sometimes find myself needlessly worrying about what others might think of my appearance. Especially recently, since I have acquired the infamous "mom" body and am uncomfortable in my ill-fitting wardrobe. It's ironic, however, that I rarely take the time to put on makeup.

So it was with genuine reservations that I posted the two recent discussions of my celebrity resemblances. I hated the idea of posting a close-up image of my face, especially in such proximity to the likeness of the beautiful Mrs. Tom Cruise. I feared that people would be thinking precisely what one individual had the nerve to actually write in a comment [expletive edited, grammar left in context]:

"your actually f****** hideous to be honest and I can't see u looking like anybody on any celebrity list. maybe rosie. maybe miss piggy"


This person is a complete stranger to me and was obviously deliberately being an asshole. But his or her vile remarks were enough to completely ruin my day, and unfortunately I won't soon forget the scathing words. Thankfully I can be sure, because of my website monitoring software, that this person is not anyone I know attempting to say anonymously what he or she has long wanted to say to my ugly face. "Anonymous" actually lives in one of three cities in which I have no known contacts. Plus, I'm sure I don't associate with anyone who would write "your" instead of "you're" in the context of the insult.

This experience brought me the opportunity to learn a new internet term--troll: "someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community...with the intention of provoking other users into an emotional response..." I read on to learn that the most effective way to discourage trolls is to ignore them, "hence the often-seen warning: 'Please do not feed the trolls.'" Well, eat up, despicable troll. I realize that your fateful click to my website was the one-time result of a search for a particular celebrity's photo (who I'll refrain from mentioning in an attempt to reduce the amount of Google traffic directed here), so hopefully my troll cuisine won't induce further insults.

As personally offensive as this comment was to me, it brings up a larger issue of how real people out there find the audacity to be so heartlessly malicious to other real people. Anonymous might be a parent. He might have participated in a Secret Santa gift exchange at work. She might be singing along to the radio stuck in traffic right now. He might play fetch with his dog. She might cheerily answer phones at work. Anonymous is likely a regular person, with friends and co-workers and maybe even a family. I'd like to believe that the most callous stranger would not say those words to my face, even if the thoughts arose. But this facade we call The Internet, for all its glorious purposes, provides a delicate mask which apparently permits sadistic inhumanity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No sign of Katie, but how 'bout Norman?

Just so you know I wasn't getting any wild-hair ideas that I actually bear any resemblance to the beautiful Katie Holmes, I'll share with you my celebrity look-alike collage. My Tucsonian friend shared the idea after my random Katie post, and you can do your own too.

My collage is absolutely disconcerting, so let's analyze my humiliation for your entertainment, shall we?

1. Perhaps I have some Asian ancestry of which I am not aware. My top 3 matches are from Thailand, China/Hawaii, and Japan, respectively. These are beautiful models, granted, but my skin is totally butt white!

2. Famke Janssen is my favorite match. She is gorgeous.

3. Okay, the next two are GUYS! What's up with that? At least Jesse McCartney is slightly attractive, but who is this strung-out looking Norman Reedus? I haven't even heard of most of the movies on his IMDb resume. But then again, before today I had only ever heard of two of the "celebrities" in my collage.

4. Selma Blair is a name I wouldn't be ashamed to be called.

5. And again with the lovely dark skin, several hundreds of shades away from my pale pastiness.

I don't know how this all works, but the results are certainly disappointing. I want my money back.

Bring on the Christmas cards

This infatuation is admittedly puzzling, but very clear. I absolutely love receiving Christmas cards. I get excited about great designs or cleverly formulated letters (in my experience the most humorous cards are written by men), revel in seeing family photos of loved ones, and truly do enjoy reading about each year in review.

While most people are more or less indifferent to Christmas cards, there are plenty who mock their intentions and methods. I get those jokes, I really do: staying in touch with people you rarely if ever speak to or see, dolling everyone up in matching outfits and posing among autumn leaves, writing gag-worthy letters bragging on each family member's academic and sports-field achievements, etc. I can make fun of Christmas cards with the best of them, yet come December, I start checking my mailbox nearly every day hoping to find a plethora. (Our usual mail-retrieving frequency is about twice in a good week, partly because our mailbox is a block and a half away. There is a set directly across from our driveway, but the one we were assigned is around the corner and down the street. Lame.)

I even head to the Christmas card display area in other people's homes. I like looking at the different layouts and photos, and seeing if we know any of the same people. But Lord have mercy on the mutual friend who sends a card to my host and not to me. (Just kidding. Mostly.)

This year I have a new card-displaying device. Actually I bought it last year at Pier One, but my husband complained about it being a waste of money (it was ten bucks), so I set it aside to return. Only I never returned it. So this year I cut the tag off and put it to use! So I will enjoy seeing my Christmas Card collection on my wall for several weeks. I suppose this is a once-a-year equivalent of displaying all your "friends" on MySpace. They aren't necessarily people you maintain any regular social contact with, but oh my, look how many there are! You are so popular! Having Followers of my blog would make me feel popular too, but since none of you are willing to publicly admit that you read this, I'll have to continue deriving my sense of self-worth from the number of Christmas cards I can display in my little wire rack.

So keep them coming, friends!

PS: We also have Madelyn's birthday cards on there for now, so don't be alarmed at the cartoon teddy bears and florescent pink princess.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Flashback Friday--er, Saturday: Magic Pillow

Yikes. Yesterday was a very full day. Had I even remembered it was Flashback Friday, I still would not have had time to produce the quality narrative you have surely come to expect. And clearly I didn't have the forethought to write it up Thursday in preparation. I messed up, okay?! Stop criticizing me!

Aaaanyway, today's flashback takes us all the way back to early childhood. For many years, my older sister Diana and I shared a bed. Like I imagine is the case with most sisters, being in the same room could either feel like an episode of Ultimate Fighting Championship ("As real as it gets") or an episode of Barney and Friends ("I love you, you love me, we're a happy family...").

The best part of sharing a bed with my sister was that she had a Magic Pillow. Oh, how I envied it. Whenever I lost a toy, or a special stuffed animal I was snuggling with, Diana could just punch some buttons on the wall above her pillow, and when she lifted it, my lost lovey would miraculously be there. The reliability of the phenomenon was astounding.

Most often, we utilized the Magic Pillow during that time of night when we were supposed to be going to sleep, but usually kept talking and playing in bed. A typical bedtime Magic Pillow implementation sequence might go something like this:

Diana: Hey, where did your Tiger Kitty go?

Me: [gasp] Oh no! [searching the bottom of the sheets] I just had her...

Diana: Maybe my Magic Pillow can find her.

Me: Oh yes! Please find my Kitty!

Diana: [punching imaginary buttons on the wall] bee bop beep beep [lifts pillow to reveal missing stuffed kitten] Ta-da!

Me: Tiger! Hooray! That Magic Pillow is so amazing!

Diana: Yeah, I know. [smug smile]

I don't recall exactly how I discovered The Truth behind the pillow. It was probably revealed by naively pleading with Diana to ask her Magic Pillow to find a truly lost toy. So eventually, I realized that Diana was simply stealing my Tiger Kitty (etc.), hiding it under her pillow, and leading my innocent, childish self to believe that the pillow itself had magical toy-finding powers. The audacity!

So later, when I shared a bedroom with my younger brother, I became the ruler of the Magic Pillow. I passed on the proud legacy of deceit to John. Only he didn't typically sleep with a lovey, so I had to be a bit more creative. After the lights were out, I would excuse myself to go to the bathroom. While there, I'd look through the bucket of various bath toys--which, in actuality were just regular, non-water-related toys that we played with in the bathtub--and sneak back into our bedroom with a handful concealed in my jammies. Then the exchange with John would begin about as cleverly as, "Hey John...I haven't seen your White Power Ranger in a while, have you? I wonder where it went? Maybe we should try the Magic Pillow."

It's a wonder he believed the farce as long as he did based on my shameful tactics.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Katie n' Me

I want to apologize for the verbosity of yesterday's post. It was a long one, but that single story covered no fewer than eight separate talking points. Today, I'll keep it short and sweet, and even include a celebrity photo to be sure this post won't be mistaken for an intelligent discussion.

The other night a very sweet friend complimented my haircut, and added that I look like Katie Holmes! Usually I brush off that kind of sycophancy as well-intentioned politeness, but it wasn't the first time someone has made this comparison.

Do you see the resemblence? Maybe if I had any makeup on. But I guess if being tall and having short, dark hair elicits a compliment of such magnitude, I won't turn it down!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Target shoes: cheap. Target customer service: still sucks

My first major objective this morning was a venture to Target. It had to be done first, based on the rest of the day's schedule. And the earlier the better, because Madelyn is best-behaved during the moment a little while after waking up but as far before naptime as possible. Once Madelyn was out of bed, I didn't allow myself to be distracted with my to-do list or checking my e-mail, I just set to work changing, feeding, entertaining, dressing, brushing, and packing with a goal of getting us out the door. With no out-of-the ordinary delays or distractions, we pulled out of our driveway one hour after Madelyn woke up. Before having a child, I could have left my house 8 minutes after waking up: clean, fed and lookin' fine. I don't want to think about the time demands for departure preparations when multiple children are involved. It seems like half of a mom's day could be spent just "getting ready" to do what they actually intend to do.

The primary purpose of today's trip to Target was to purchase some items for our upcoming company Christmas Party. But since it is rare for me to have time to go to a fun store like Target, I also planned to do a little family Christmas shopping as well. I wanted to be on the lookout for a pair of winter boots for Madelyn, for one thing. She commandeered the pair that Randy's niece was wearing last night, and not only did she love wearing them, they were totally cute and functional to boot. (Ha ha, BOOT, get it?....Right.)

After recently reading Bridget's rant about Target shoes, I decided to go next door to Payless Shoe Source to look for this first item. It was a self-satisfying plan to stick it to Target for their unwillingness to bend store policy in the name of customer satisfaction when the situation truly warranted. Not that Target would ever notice. We actually found the perfect boots, and it was a buy one, get one half price sale, so I also picked up some cute brown shoes in Madelyn's new size. I was disappointed when I reached the register to pay, however, that the unmarked boots were $34.99. That is a lot for children's shoes, in my opinion. But after the inordinate amount of time we had spent in the store (see: toddlers and shopping), I bought them anyway, knowing that I would return them if I find a better, cheaper pair. Plus, I think Madelyn might have broken a necklace on display (I didn't see her do it, but discovered her pushing the beads around the floor), and I didn't tell the lady, so I felt it best to buy some shoes.

At Target, I found this pair of boots for only $19.99:

They aren't quite as cute as the Payless ones. But they are about 85% as cute, for 57% of the price, so the boots from Target boast a net gain of cuteness per dollar. Now I have them both, so I guess Gary can decide which he likes better (yes, my husband does care about what our daughter wears, what's wrong with that?). I hated to reverse my sticking-it to Target, but what are you gonna do? The boots have no superfluous glittery coating or appliques or fancy stitching at risk of prematurely wearing out, and they are Champion brand, which gives me a (probably false) sense that they are of higher quality. So it looks as though I may have failed in my ability to help you undermine Target's shoe-selling success, Bridget. I am sorry, yet at the same time delighted to have saved $15 on these totally cute boots. (Now that I'm seeing them side by side, their relative cuteness is a debatable factor.)

I love shopping. But a toddler in tow completely destroys the experience. I like to meander, look, compare. I often zig-zag through stores because I passed an item I forgot that I needed. Today in particular I was shopping for gifty-things, so it wasn't as quick and simple as checking pre-determined items off a list. My husband has great success shopping with Madelyn because he is a determined shopper. At the grocery store he knows what we need and basically always buys the same things, and at a store like Target he would only be there for a specific article, find it immediately, and get out as quickly as possible without knocking over displays or other humans.

Our best techniques to keep Madelyn happy in the cart are a) letting her ride in the basket part (I know, but at least I insist that she sits down), b) giving her snacks, and c) letting her play with each new item that is added to the cart. This works fine for Gary, apparently, but at my dawdling pace, Madelyn is guaranteed to get bored and restless before the trip is halfway over. At that point my choices are to help her remain entertained and calm, or go home without accomplishing at least most of my objectives. Since it's rare that I have the time to make a trip like this, and every store is at least 20 minutes away from home, I usually opt for the latter. Sometimes I let her down to play with non-breakable things on the bottom shelves while I mull over important decisions like: 15 ounces of cheap-looking cocoa with marshmallows in a cute reindeer mug for $11.97 or 11 ounces of high-quality flavored cocoa--no marshmallows--in a lovely-yet-sensible tin for $9.99? This plan ultimately leads to an even longer trip because I have to help Madelyn put all of the M&M-filled candy cane-shaped plastic tubes away after each such imperative decision.

By the time we finally found the checkout (literally, because I was in an unfamiliar Target location and got all turned around in the office supplies/literature section), Madelyn was not in any mood to sit in the cart. Even if she had been, there was no room, since the basket, child seat, and undercarriage were all piled full. I had foolishly forgotten to bring Madelyn's cup of water, and after all her "distractions" (aka snacks), she was very thirsty. So I put a bottle of water from the impulse-buy fridge on the conveyor belt. Madelyn was content to stand nearby drinking her Aquafina while I finished unloading the cart, separating business from personal purchases for two transactions. The last, rather involved, thing I had to do was tell the cashier the dollar amount I wanted activated on each of about 20 gift cards. At this time, Madelyn was starting to wander, but I constantly shifted my attention back and forth between the cashier and Madelyn to make sure she didn't get into the neighboring register's cubbies or pull any merchandise off of shelves. While Madelyn continued sipping her water and walking in circles, I told the cashier the denomination for the next group of gift cards, to which she inexplicably replied, "Uh Oh."

"Uh Oh?" I thought in that instant before I realized she was looking in the direction where my daughter was, yep is still, standing, but now she is not spilling her water but holding the bottle upside down and dumping out every last drop onto the tile floor. I lurched toward her and was miraculously able to grab the bottle when there were exactly 2 droplets left inside.

I know why Madelyn dumped it out. She had seen the stack of paper towels on the shelf under another cashier's cabinet, and wanted to use them. This girl understands that paper towels serve no worthy purpose without liquid matter to soak up, and therein lies her reasoning. I grabbed some of those paper towels and started wiping up the small lake, with Madelyn's very enthusiastic help, I might add. Soon another employee came with more paper towels and called in some backup assistance. They set to work cleaning the puddle, and I awkwardly continued trying to aid the effort as well. No one ever made it clear whether I was expected to help clean up after my daughter's mistake, or if they would prefer to take care of it utilizing their own methods. The uncertainty of expectations amplified an already embarrassing situation.

During this fiasco, I still had more gift cards to activate, and there were lines at all registers, including mine. So I was wiping the floor, giving instructions to the cashier, swiping and signing for my credit card, and trying to keep Madelyn from splashing in her exciting new puddle. And the entire time I am also trying to apologize that my daughter--in all of her malicious two-year-old-ness--spilled her water bottle.

Throughout the 4-5 minutes that all this was happening, not one employee (there were four directly involved in the situation, one of which I believe was a manager of some kind) ever said anything the likes of "Oh, don't worry about it!" or "These things happen," or "It's no problem, thank you for shopping at Target" amidst what I thought were obviously mortified apologies. Not even "the look" that signifies understanding and pardon for any wrong-doing. The sentence I remember hearing after I my attempted final plea for forgiveness was, "Would you like to go ahead and push your cart through before we put this stuff down?"

"Oh yeah--uh, sure," I sheepishly replied, realizing I was just in their way. I pushed my white-and-red plastic bag-laden cart through what remained of the puddle, then turned around to the manager-type and said with a smile, "At least I spent a couple thousand dollars, right?"

Maybe she didn't hear me. Because she didn't smile, or say thank you, or even goodbye, any of the most primitive elements of customer service. I'm sorry that the water got spilled. But you know what else? I'm also sorry that I paid $1.35 for that water and didn't get to drink any of it!

None of the employees said anything particularly mean. They weren't being intentionally rude or condescending. What they were doing was their "job," which at that particular moment entailed cleaning up a spill. They were so focused on accomplishing the task at hand, that they allowed their customer's needs at the moment to go completely unnoticed, and even let an opportunity to provide rudimentary customer service slip through their damp fingers.

I left the store feeling frustrated and sad. But what intrigues me most in the aftermath is that I can see myself in those employees. I am very task-oriented. I seek to accomplish jobs and find satisfaction in checking projects off my to-do list. This situation was a good reminder to quit doing all the time, and remember to just be sometimes. Being there, listening and watching, may help me accomplish more in the end.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Confusing Story Time

My daughter loves to look at books. And we love reading to her too. There are some children's books that boast beautiful artwork and meaningful, well-written stories. But the genre of juvenile literature also includes some truly disappointing crap. Sometimes the duds are in the form of stories starring familiar television characters, but not as often as I would have thought. Most of our books are hand-me-downs, and some feature characters from TV shows that Madelyn has never seen (Arthur, Rugrats, Pooh...). Contrary to what I would have originally assumed, several of these books are relatively delightful, making them fairly bearable to read over and over again. And since Madelyn doesn't associate the book with a desire to watch the characters on television, I make no distinction between reading these and other generic early-readers.

One particular set of books is so horrid that I feel compelled to share them for your mutual enjoyment. I actually ordered this set of "books" about manners from a catalog. I should have concluded based on the price of around $8 for ten books that they weren't really books at all, but more like booklets. I would easily forgive their small size and flimsy materials if the content of said booklets was respectable. Rather, the stories are kind of confusing, and the messages about manners vague. So gather the kiddies around for story time, because here are my two favorites.

Bear and Hippo were playing together when they saw something buried in the sandbox. They reached in together to pull the object out.

"My goodness," said Bear, "it's a dollar." [Author could use a lesson on playground colloquialism.]

"What should we do with it?" asked Hippo.

"We should see if it belongs to someone," Bear said wisely.

The two of them walked around the playground until they happened upon Skunk. [Happened upon? Really?]

"Hey, Skunk. We found a dollar," said Bear, "and we're trying to find its owner."

"I wish it were mine. I could use it to buy a new book," said Skunk. [Yes, just what every kid would do with a dollar.]

Bear and Hippo said goodbye and left to see if anyone else had lost a dollar. [But Skunk had not lost a dollar, so "anyone else" could be read incorrectly.]

They saw Mouse and Piggy playing in the sandbox and checked to see if it belonged to either of them.

"I wish I had a dollar to lose," said Mouse.

"Me too," Piggy said, laughing. "You guys should buy some candy with it. That's what I would do." [Prejudiced stereotyping: the fat pig wants to buy candy.]

"That would be nice," said Bear, "but somebody might need this dollar."

The two friends kept searching. They saw Kitty and Bunny and went to see if either one had lost the money, but neither had.

"Maybe you could put up a sign so the owner will know where to find you," said Kitty.

"Yeah," Bunny said, "that way you're sure to find the owner, if there is one." [We are now halfway through the story, and the central plot conflict has nothing to do with sharing.]

Hippo thought the sign was a good idea, so he and Bear posted one on the fence surrounding the playground.

"We'll find the owner of this dollar for sure now," said Hippo confidently.

"Let's set up a table and wait for the owner to stop by. If no one claims it by the end of the day, then we can keep it for ourselves," Bear said.

They waited all day, but nobody came to claim the dollar. Their friends stopped by from time to time and offered advice on how to spend the money. Finally, the sun began to set. Bear and Hippo decided to call it a night.

"Okay. We'll bury the dollar until tomorrow and then we can safely say it is ours," said Bear. [Where does this burying idea come in? They agreed that if the dollar wasn't claimed by the end of the day, they could keep it. What is Bear's motivation here?]

The next morning they met to dig up the dollar, but it was gone. Just then Turtle walked up with a dollar in his hand.

"Look what I found buried over there," he said. [Since Bear and Hippo had found the money buried in the sandbox, didn't they think it was possible for the same scenario to repeat? If they are wise enough to devote an entire day to finding the owner of one dollar, I'd think this wouldn't be a big surprise.]

"That's mine!" Hippo and Bear yelled together. [Oh! Three lines from the end, the concept of needing to share is finally introduced! I guess this is where we are to assume that Hippo and Bear are fighting over the dollar, even though the single preceding line doesn't entirely indicate it.]

Suddenly Bear realized how silly they were being. [One line to introduce the conflict, and one line to resolve it. He 'suddenly realized' they were 'being silly' so everyone now wants to share. The natural way kids resolve conflicts!]

"I know," he said. "Let's share." [Bear is brilliant! But did they share with Turtle too? He didn't deserve any of their hard-earned dollar.]

Bear and Hippo wanted to do the right thing, but then they got greedy. It wasn't until they shared that everyone was happy. Friends always have more fun when they share.

[I'm not sure that shouting "That's mine!" reads as being greedy. I would assume Bear and Hippo still intended to share the dollar between themselves, but they were right (although perhaps a bit intense in the delivery) to explain to Turtle that they had found the dollar the day before. This story was much more about working together to find a solution, being patient, and doing what is right than about sharing. Those are good concepts to teach as well, of course, but kids would learn more about sharing if the conflict were one they might regularly encounter, such as fighting over toys or sharing their favorite snack. The message here about sharing is pretty hazy.]

One day after lunch Mouse and Turtle were playing happily. Then Mouse felt something squish between her toes.

She looked down and saw a candy bar wrapper on the ground and her foot covered in chocolate.

She and Turtle looked over and saw Bear eating the same kind of candy bar he ate every day. [At least it wasn't Piggy.]

Mouse went to talk to Bear.

"Bear, look at what you've done to my dress," said Mouse. "Please don't just drop your trash everywhere!" [There's the magic word, but used in an obscure context for a children's lesson on saying Please.]

"It's just one little piece of garbage," said Bear. "It's not hurting anything."

"It ruined Mouse's dress," said Puppy. "Besides, Mouse asked nicely, and there's a trash can right here!" [The same Bear that put up signs about a lost dollar and waited at a table all day to find its owner can't toss his wrapper into a trash can five feet away.]

Puppy decided that they'd have to prove their point another way. [Because, apparently, saying please doesn't always get you what you want...] They followed Bear every day after lunch and picked up his litter each time he dropped a candy wrapper.

"We'll show Bear how to clean up," said Skunk as he stuffed a wrapped in to Puppy's backpack. [When did Skunk get involved in Puppy and Mouse's little mission?]

"I hope so," said Puppy. "He's got to learn his manners somehow." [Ah, a very subtle emphasis that there is a manners lesson in this booklet.]

Back in the classroom, the students tried to talk to Bear about littering again.

"Littering makes the playground look like a dump," said Puppy.

"That's silly," said Bear as he tore off a piece of paper, dropped it, and watched it float to the floor. "Look. This piece of paper will just blow away," he said, "never to bother me again." [They are inside the classroom now, so how will it blow away?]

"Please Bear, you have to try to understand," said Mouse as she opened a book. "All of this trash makes it hard for the fish to live in a pond. It all starts with innocent litter, like yours." [Mouse is holding a book open to a picture of trash floating in water: a green bottle, a tin can, a tire (can that even float?), and a candy wrapper--which looks just like the one that Bear dropped! Gasp!]

The picture made Bear feel a little bit sick. When it was time for lunch, he could barely finish his meal. [Bear's sense of decency comes on rather suddenly in both of these stories. I would commend the author for character continuity throughout the series if it weren't for Bear's outstanding social awareness in the last booklet.]

The others ate quickly and hurried outside to carry out their plan.

They took all of the wrappers they had cleaned up for Bear and spread them out in the sandbox. Mouse made a flag out of one of the wrappers, then stuck it in the top of Bear's sand castle.

"That's perfect," said Mouse, very pleased. "He'll learn his lesson now." [A little vindictive?]

When Bear strolled outside, he finished his candy bar and dropped his wrapper on the ground as usual.

"What's going on here?" asked Bear when he saw the sandbox.

Mouse answered, "We picked up all of your litter and put [the word 'it' should be here] in the sandbox to prove how gross littering is." [This message is unexpectedly strong for a booklet called "Please."]

Bear realized he was wrong about litter. He quietly threw away all of the wrappers. [What better way to "teach a lesson" to your friend than by embarrassing him in front of everyone?]

"Please excuse my behavior," he said. "I promise I will never litter again." [Hey! There's the word of title significance again!]

In this story, litterbug Bear's friends remembered their manners, even when Bear did not. "Please" is one of the nicest words you can use. When you'd like someone to do something, or you'd like to be forgiven, always ask nicely by saying "please."

[Once again, we have a nice story here about why littering is not appropriate, but any contextual lesson about saying please is ambiguous at best. Why not call this booklet, "Don't Litter" instead?]

I hope you have enjoyed this installment of Confusing Story Time.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Flashback Friday: What happens in Vegas...

...eventually gets posted on my blog for your entertainment, it would seem.

Some of my best vacation memories are from the one I took after my freshman (only) year of college with my cousin Emily and her mom. My Aunt Linda invited me to join them in Las Vegas to celebrate Em's 22nd birthday...her treat!

Emily and I were basically Siamese twins during my stint at BYU. I moved out of the on-campus housing into her apartment building for the second semester. Although I was lucky enough to live in Heritage Halls, the more apartment-like dorms on campus, it all still felt like an extension of high school where you are forced to live with your pretentious classmates. What could be worse?

I was much happier living in a real apartment with real college students. Now that I'm thinking about it, I have lots of fodder for the Flashback Friday fire from that semester. But today, we're talking about the Post-finals Vegas Vacation.

One night, while Aunt Linda entertained herself with some blinking, clinking machines, Emily and I went out on the town. At this time in our lives, our priority at any given moment was to meet and flirt with cute boys. During the Bellagio fountain performance, we set sights on our prey: a couple of normal-looking guys staked out a short distance down the concrete railing who looked as though they might have a similar goal for the evening. Naturally, we struck up a witty and charming conversation, and soon learned that Dave and J.J. were both returned Mormon missionaries. We were confident that of all the men we could have picked up on in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip, these two would be a pretty safe bet. What a strange coincidence.

The rest of the evening was spent wandering through the Hot Spots of Las Vegas nightflife flirting innocuously with our new friends.

J.J., Emily, Kristen, and Dave in V Bar at the Venetian on the coolest couch ever. The only other sofa like it is owned by Madonna.

The pinnacle of our risque evening came sometime in the wee hours. We thought it would be amusing to find a wedding chapel, I suppose just to take some hilarious pictures. Not a drop of alcohol had been ingested, so there were no intentions of using the facilities for a regrettable purpose. A spontaneous wedding would be representative of a truly wild Vegas night, so I guess poking fun at it is the kind of thing a bunch of Mormon college kids do for ironic fun. When you don't drink or gamble, what's left to do in Vegas?

We meandered down to the lower level of some casino where we found the wedding chapel, nestled tastefully between storefronts, including the Harley Davidson store and a souvenir shop offering an unrivaled collection of refrigerator magnets. Unfortunately, the chapel was closed in the middle of the night. This was an unanticipated snag in our plan, considering tales of impulsive mid-night unions in Vegas abound. I guess those take place at the Church-of-Elvis types, not in chapels associated with the fancy resorts.

We weren't about to relinquish our scandalous objective though, so Dave and I posed for this intrepidly romantic photo:

Much to J.J.'s dismay, Emily was too chicken to kiss a stranger. Or at least her sense of moral integrity was more persuasive than mine. That thrill is the sort I lived for once upon a time. And this photo would have made another good schocker to send to my mom.

That story is pretty fun all on its own, but for the cherry on top, let's fast-forward three years. I had been dating Gary for about a year when his mother became engaged to the man who had been like his Step-Dad since the tender age of eight. Bonnie and Dale decided to get married in Vegas, and Gary and I took a fun road trip so we could be there to support them. Walking through the mall level of Ballys Resort brought some hazy memories to the surface. When we reached the chapel, I saw a white vinyl emblem on the window identical to the one in the photo above, and realized that Gary's parents had chosen to solemnize their marital commitment at the precise location where my rebellious teenaged escapade transpired. I took pleasure in reflecting on some treasured memories that weekend, but I don't think I ever mentioned the bizarre twist of fate to my future in-laws.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Starbuck's v. Coca-Cola

For 19 years of my life, I was a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Even though I no longer go to church or practice the religious doctrine, I continue to live by many of the guiding principles and values I was taught. I retain great respect for Mormons and am very appreciative of my religious upbringing. I won't be discussing my spirituality today; that subject is way too complex, and at this time, still too personal.

But even while I was devoted to the gospel doctrines, I was a little confused about one bit of the Word of Wisdom. Apparently this is a common debate, even amongst Latter-Day Saints, but please don't roll your eyes. I am not trying to Bible-bash or question anybody's faith. My intentions are honest, and I feel that it is a valid question.

The Word of Wisdom is contained in the Doctrine and Covenants scripture, a book regarded by Mormons to be revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith from God. In simple terms, it is a "health code" by which Mormons live, and for the most part consists of recommendations that many medical profesionals would also suggest to promote optimal health (no tobacco, no alcohol, eat meat sparingly, etc.).

There is one verse, D&C 89:9, which says only, "And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly."

In my tenure as a Mormon, we were taught that this statement refers to coffee and tea, and thus were commanded not to drink those beverages. I always assumed the rule was in place because caffiene is an addictive drug. Yet there is no official church doctrine prohibiting consumption of other beverages or foods containing caffiene. I knew Mormon families who forswore caffienated cola. Usually that's what my parents would buy too. It was never a concern for me because I have always hated cola--of any brand--and still do to this day. But you won't go to a Relief Society potluck without plenty of brownies laden with the forbidden drug.

Several years ago, I was attending a business training with my mother and sister. During a break, my mom left the room to buy a Coke. She specifically mentioned her interest in getting a little something to wake her up for the remainder of the meetings. After she left, I calmly asked my sister about it. With genuine interest in the doctrinal basis, I asked why coffee is not allowed by the church, but cola is okay. Without skipping a beat, my sister vehemently blurted her response: "I don't drink Coke!" If it were 1992, I totally would have gone, "Reer!" I've never had the guts to ask anyone about it since then, realizing it is either a sensitive subject, or a lack of understanding of the principle prevents the formation of an intelligent answer to a sincere question (the latter being a probable cause of the former).

Then the other night, my husband and I were gathered with two of my siblings and their spouses (all active members of the church). An appropriate segue in the conversation lead Gary to ask about this particular church directive. As would be expected of a caring, intelligent adult, he was very respectful and showed a genuine interest in learning the truth without criticism.

I was glad that my brother-in-law Randy took some time to provide a thorough explanation (although it did not, in the end, answer the question). He shed some light on the history of the Word of Wisdom that I did not know: this revelation was the result of Joseph Smith's annoyance at the cloud of smoke at their priesthood meetings and his wife's complaints at having to clean their filthy chew off the floor. Here it is according to Brigham Young.

Randy provided more facts on when which prophet said what about the Word of Wisdom, and how today it is generally accepted that coffee and tea are forbidden, while the choice to drink other caffienated beverages is left to the individual. But I gathered from his explanation (and the fact that no one else chimed in with additional information) that they don't really know why it's coffee and tea and not Coke and Pepsi.

There is an unsubstantiated rumor that the reason has to do with the church "owning" Coca-Cola, or investing in large shares of its stock. Of course the Mormons don't own Coke. Although it wouldn't surprise me a bit for such a wise and wealthy organization to invest in this successful company. Of course their portfolio would be diversified enough that such an investment would not warrant distinguishing cola from coffee when their potential for health-impairment is so similar. In fact, if you consider the carbonation and sugar in cola, vs. the beneficial antioxidants in coffee, I'd wager that coffee is the lesser of the "evils."

Please correct me if I'm wrong on this one, but my research concludes that the church has never officially declared that caffiene is the reason coffee and tea are prohibited. If that is true, then the argument about why chocolate and cola are allowable is a moot point. But if caffiene isn't the culprit, then it doesn't make any sense that herbal (caffiene-free) teas are acceptable. For what other reason could coffee and tea be outlawed besides caffiene? The verse specifies "hot drinks," so perhaps we should all be avoiding mulled apple cider and hot cocoa. Caffiene affords the most logical explanation, but that leads us back to the original question: why are cola and chocolate not included in the prohibition? If the answer has to do with the relative amounts of the drug, then we could get into a whole new discussion about serving sizesand frequency. And most Mormons I know wouldn't even consider a taste of coffee or a sip of wine, which would be less harmful than a large Coke any day of the week.

I understand that church leaders advise against substances and even activities (gambling) that have addictive qualities. But I don't understand how cola or chocolate are less addictive than the "hot drinks" from which I was always instructed to abstain. Case in point. I personally witnessed a woman struggle through a very difficult time "quitting" her Diet Pepsi addiction. She was miserable, and difficult to be around. That isn't an unusual situation. On the other hand, I know plenty of people (gasp! I am one of them!) who enjoy an occasional Starbuck's Cinnamon Dolce Latte (etc.) and aren't in danger of becoming slave to the drug.

There is a difference between having a glass of wine during a special dinner and being an alcoholic. There is a difference between an infrequent coffee date with a friend and requiring 3 cups o' joe in the morning to reach basic functioning capacity. There is a difference between getting a Coke with your Big Mac on occassion and driving around with a 42-oz. Big Gulp every single day of work to remain alert. And yeah, I guess that means there is also a difference between passing a joint among friends in college one night and getting high so often that it impedes your ability to live a normal life.

Perhaps all these musings answer the question. I finally discovered this official statement made in 1972: “With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.” (Priesthood Bulletin, Feb. 1972, p. 4.)

Okay. So that makes sense. Admonition against using drinks containing habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. The trouble is, individual predispositions toward addiction vary. So I suppose to be safe one can just rely on the last part of the message, and avoid all ingredients deemed "harmful." But it stands to reason that if a person enjoys an occasional mocha, or even goes wine tasting with friends once in a while, they shouldn't necessarily be ostracized.

The modern interpretation of the Word of Wisdom generally promotes a healthy lifestyle. Once again, I understand the physical benefits of avoiding unhealthy substances, or at least exercising some degree of moderation. But I am still curious about why coffee and tea were specifically chosen as the special "hot drinks." And my research into the Word of Wisdom (conducted solely on LDS-sanctioned and neutral sites, no anti-Mormon propaganda) unearthed several other jewels, which I won't get into now except to say it's interesting how much interpretation and time can alter words. I'm not trying to convince anyone to start drinking coffee or wine. People who are curious about Mormons often ask me questions like the one I posed here. If nothing else, perhaps by sharing my investigation, I have offered some substantive information with which to build a comprehensible response to such a question. But there is always the angry, self-righteous way too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The stash

If you have been wondering why I keep getting fatter and fatter (I know I have), the photo below should unravel the mystery. No it is not a pregnancy pee stick with a pink plus sign. Sorry.

Behold, our treat cupboard. That's right: we have an entire cupboard with two pull-out shelves dedicated to housing edibles of the sweet snack variety. And recently, this is more of a backup plan, since our counter has been decorated of late with various baked goods and candy we have received as gifts/party leftovers/church fellowship bribes.

I would like to point out a couple of things about the photo, though. In our defense, most of the items pictured are never touched. For example, we dumped Madelyn's Trick-or-Treat haul in the front corner. We don't really care for the selection, but hated throwing it away, you know? Also, most items on the top shelf were intended to be toddler snacks, but we rarely give them to her since we feed our daughter much more healthfully than ourselves, apparently. The brown box right in the middle is bona fide Japanese chocolate-covered potato chips, left here by Yuka. She went home to Japan in June. There are really only a few staple treats here, two of which are indicated by the gaping bags, clearly left open to facilitate ease of handful acquisition without wasting precious time pulling apart the resealable closure.

As owner of (and faithful believer in) multiple Curves facilities, it is embarrassing to admit that I enjoy some manner of delectable treat no less than once per day, and usually more often. The thing is, I manage to exercise 5-6 days every week. We eat healthy, balanced meals most of the time. But it's time to admit that I am addicted to sugar. This is an addiction whose power must rival that of nicotine or coffee, but is so often overlooked. And I'm a victim of it. I know because it is very difficult for me to turn down sweets, even when I'm stuffed full, and even when there is no reason to have them. My mind can be saying to me clearly, 'you don't need to eat this,' and I take another bite.

There is a certain euphoria that accompanies the delicious sweet taste, and it's a deadly combination. I'm sure there is research out there to support my assumption that the chemical effect on the brain is similar to what some drugs would do, although almost certainly more mildly.

I have been working with people who need and want to lose weight for over six years. It is no fun to see them struggle. But as their Curves coach, I can provide information and encouragement; the rest is up to them. I have thus far been blessed with a decent body composition, but I think many of my Curves members looked about like me 15 or 25 years ago too. Everyone started by gaining the first five pounds. I know I need to be more vigilant, but overcoming addiction is hard. Conversely, justification is so easy to come by. And given that it's "The Holidays" (Halloween through the first week of January, you know), I'll be faced with my vice at every turn.

I won't ever be that person who doesn't eat junk food. I love it. I'm happy to pay for the privilege through faithful exercise. I believe moderation, not abstinence, is the key. So the second week of January, I'll start moderating like nobody's business. I swear.


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