Spoiler alert. You can stop writing 2022 on your checks now.
If all the retail shelves stuffed with Valentine hearts and candy are any indication, New Year’s confetti is in the rear view mirror. We’ve said ‘Bye Felicia’ to the old and and opened the door to another 365 of mess and magic. We get another shot at being our best selves and we can’t afford to walk without intention – but, in spite of ourselves, we will.
Minutes count down each New Year’s Eve and days tick swiftly from the calendar until another year ends, like Ground hog day, since the world began. And, it will rinse repeat each year, long after we are gone. Years go on. Life goes on. And time teaches us how to live with the worst, as we try to make each day the best. Married, widowed, single, black, white, sick, well, gay, straight, time marches on for everyone. All we can do is hang on for the ride, as we do the best we can, alone — and together.
As the new calendar yawns empty before us, do we regard it with hope, or dread; wonder or resignation? None of us have a clue what we will be looking back on this time next year. But with any luck, whatever life throws our way, we’ll have the chops to deal with it, better and stronger.
“What the new year brings to you depends a great deal on what you bring to it.” Vern McClellan
We can help squeeze the best out of this new calendar. Going forward, we can bring awareness, increased sensitivity, understanding and, if we’ve been paying attention, some timely fire in our bellies to stand up for what’s right. On our watch, virulent rhetoric has been seemingly accepted, greed has proliferated, politics teeter on dangerous historical territories, dividing us all in the process. What if our nation stands up with courage, and unity? What if we thought more about all the peoples across the globe who are terrorized and killed daily in their own lands? What if next year we could say we helped those, even in our own neighborhoods, with food insecurity who can’t make ends meet? What if we took better care of the disabled, and the disenfranchised?
In pretty much any departed year, we’ve seen babies born — and loved ones die. We’ve experienced all the jubilant, terrible, happy, tragic things a year can and does bring. We’ve lived through corruption, secrecy and political insanity that’s divided a country and spins on its crazy track. We’ve lost and won jobs, had reunions and estrangements. A pandemic terrorized and took precious lives, as our morale goes up and down like a roller coaster.
America seems to have lost its way. At the very least, it forgot its way to the fuse box. Once a beacon for democracy, the last years of batshit crazy political insanity has cause a giant power outage. Suddenly, keeping the lights on in that iconic city on the hill is in serious question.
The last years have dimmed a lot of America’s radiance. Do we shine in our ability to keep our people safe? Nope. In healthcare, we place 170th in infant mortality, spend twice than most developed nations in medical care yet have fewer doctors and fewer hospital beds per capita. We place 125th among nations in literacy, and have the 81st highest murder rate, including the most guns anywhere! We’re number one in debt, in GNP, defense spending, and the economy — but only if you count the illustrious 1%.
“In my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” Ronald Reagan’s vision of America.
Maybe we were once less than shiny but at least we were uber idealistic. We loved the IDEA that we were better than we are, special, entitled. President Reagan stated that ‘the Shining City Upon a Hill’ was a utopia, divinely bestowed by God on the worthy. The term has been used by presidents and politicians ever since to illustrate their vision of America. We’ve been led to believe that we are on a special mission from God to spread democracy throughout the world, which might be a good plan – if we could practice and hold on to it ourselves.
Though Ronald Reagan didn’t invent the lofty phrase, he did make good use of it. The poetic vision of a radiant city actually originated in a 17th century Puritan sermon by early Boston governor, John Winthrop. His concept was not to taunt Europe with America’s greatness’ but as a na-na-na-nana refute to Catholics about Protestantism. Who knew? To them, it was less a place than an idea regarding Christianity, which morphed through the decades into ethnic exclusion, enslavement and social superiority.
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people will be upon us.” John Winthrop, Governor of Boston
Protectors of early democracy were also complicit their carelessness of it. Early settlers were no strangers to slavery, religious intolerance or their own conspiracies. (Do the Salem Witch Trials ring a bell?) Even as we told ourselves we believed the best in each other, we decimated the original American peoples, elbowing them to the side as we made this place our own. And of course we needed help building it, so we shipped in cargos of humans from another continent, excusing our travesty through generations as right and just. Many still do.
“Scent is our most potent form of time travel.” Victoria Erickson
Isn’t weird how life events are so often indexed by smell? Our noses program us to remember the most offbeat memories by scent. Baby powder transports is back in time to squishy babies, fresh from the bath, deliciously cuddly and dusted with the stuff. The aroma of freshly baked cookies opens a door to just about any time milk and a tasty little ‘somethin-somethin’ made our day.
Of course, we can’t take all the credit for logging a brainful of aroma information. Like most complex things the human body flawlessly executes, your olfactory senses neatly link smells to situations. Often that process produces a conditioned response, like how just a whiff of a vaguely familiar odor of the dentist office makes us want to walk the other way. Researchers claim that whatever smells a mother favors, while the baby is in utero, infants prefer as they grow. That actually makes perfect sense, considering how I love the smell of garlic and lilac (not in that order). That’s the beauty of the ‘emotional brain’.
“Scent is the strongest tie to memory.” Maggie Stiefvaver
Scientists call the way we link scent to experience, an associated learning mechanism, which just means our emotions and sense of smell are hardwired to our brain. Our perceptions of odors not only create an emotional, conditioned response to them, but can even influence how we think and act. That makes perfect sense when you think of places like healthcare facilities, where the fragrance of lavender is used to calm and relax, while often masking other less appealing odors! So often I remember a scent even more than the actual event – or maybe that’s just a side effect of aging!
I’m a 60’s kid. I admit to bell-bottoms, Beatles and banana bikes. But the psychedelic flavor of those colorful days also brought the iconic musical Camelot, a romantic tale of knights and maidens, later co-opted by a couple in the White House named Kennedy. Once upon a time, I found my own version of Camelot, or at least as close as I would ever get to it since our story began in the middle. And though we lived the time-honored vows of ‘sickness and health’ in technicolor, I never factored in that happily ever after wasn’t in the cards.
Then again, Camelot isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In fact, both in fiction and application to life, the tale was very different than Lerner and Lowe’s magical creation. While, like the mythological King Arthur, beginnings of almost everything are built on the best hopes and ideals, there always seems to be an unseen Merlin, whose machinations run opposite to our best hopes.
“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeplybecomes part of us.” Helen Keller
My Camelot came complete with a room full of tiny medieval toy knights, that often threatened to overrun the place. My husband’s affinity for the little suckers necessitated his building carefully crafted castles, drawbridges and moats as strongholds against miniature armies of weapon-wielding knights. Unfortunately, even alligator filled moats are no match for cancer but knowing my funny husband, he would have had a comeback for that.
“Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, live with a car battery.” Erma Bombeck.
People say a knight in shining armor are often those who never had their mettle tested. I met a few of them; I even dated them. You know, those dudes whose shiny metal suits were actually tin foil. That’s why I almost missed the knight whose armor had as many dings and dents as his car bumper. He was the real deal who fought his share of dragons, especially the most fearsome of all. I witnessed that man’s spirit, self-confidence, courage and self-esteem tried beyond toleration yet, each time, he got back on that horse (actually a green Nissan) to battle another day. Yet, even those who earn their knighthoods, through years of epic battling the two-headed beast, can still be defeated.
No hot chicken wings. No nachos. No hair-on-fire chili will grace my house this weekend. I do admit to cheese, but then there’s ALWAYS cheese. I don’t own one piece of licensed sports apparel and the only yelling at the TV might be knee-jerk reactions to political reporting (which pretty much happens every day.) As both the most un-athletic fan in any room and a self-described renegade, the whole concept of Super Bowl Sunday excites me as much as a Zombie Apocalypse. Sorry, not sorry. Even if I don’t get the hooplah, I’m all for a hallowed sports day – just not here.
Super Bowl Sunday has become one of America’s biggest unofficial holidays. For weeks before the big game, commercials remind us to stock up for the event. Some even throw in a few ads that urge us to buy a spanking new flat-screen to watch the revered game on – just for good measure. Well played. You can’t be too over-the-top for Super Bowl.
The hallowed day is as traditional as Easter Egg hunts but with play by play narration. Did you know Super Bowl Sunday, overflowing with beer and obscene amounts of snacks, is second in consumption only after Thanksgiving? Uh huh. With my lack of Super Bowl enthusiasm, it’s hard to believe I’ve ever gotten an invite to those soirees, but I have and, well the snacks were nice. Sometimes, even when we have no pulse-racing affinity for any team, we still become a fan by extension, like genetic predisposition. We rah-rah the family brand because, God forbid, raising another set of colors (did I say I wasn’t into Football Con?) might be as unwelcome as the opposition political party and there’s more than enough of that. I do wonder, though, knowing my unhealthy love of formaggio, if being a Cheese Head might be acceptable.
For my fellow sports ambivalents, rabid cheering for the team du jour falls into the “I don’t get it” category. I mean why do guys shout instructions to coaches or players on TV anyway? Clearly, the objects of their irritation can’t hear a word of their helpful couch-side coaching diatribes. Yet, overly enthusiastic, grown ass men still yell (or curse) at their industrial size flatscreen, clueless that they are not on the coaching payroll. And when the team wins? What’s with all the chest bumping ‘we’ won anyway? “Who’s ‘WE’, Kemo Sabe?” as Tonto once said to the Long Ranger. I’m pretty sure the team with the Empire State building size trophy is the only one getting the supersized diamond rings, trip to Disneyworld and paycheck bonus you could retire to Monaco on.
To fans of America’s pigskin pastime, the Super Bowl is Oscar Night on steroids. These days, nosebleed seats start at more than $5,000; and prime 50-yard line seating behind the bench upwards of $20,000. I can’t imagine ponying up the price of a small car to sit bundled to my eyeballs for hours, in freezing temps, to watch a ball get kicked back and forth. But then, I doubt I would be missed since my athleticism is a non-starter anyway. My MEH attitude about sports, however, does not include those of my grandkids’ varying sports forays. Yes, I’m THAT gramma paparazzi voicing embarrassingly loud cheers for my munchkins but, then everything is relative. Literally.
“The reason women don’t play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit I public”. Phyllis Diller
I maybe be an oddity of my gender since there are a heck of a lot of women who love football. In fact, 45% of pro-football followers are women. I’m in awe of them, I’m just not one of them. It’s not a Venus and Mars thing; just my thing. I suspect men (and my few sports-savvy women friends) reading this post will A. roll their eyes, B. decide I’m a sports ignorant kook (you may be right) or C. want to teach me the finer points of the game (others have tried).
Pro sports have long been thought a stand-in for warfare, soothing a savage inner beast that goes back to primitive times, tribal competition and the Roman Coliseum. Part of the romance of football may be conquest – it just hasn’t conquered me. Then again, there is something to be said watching those Michelin men in tights, um, spandex. (smiley face emoticon) Maybe envisioning athletes as our hulking, helmeted surrogate warriors, the embodiment of our best genetics protecting the tribe with a lot of testosterone thrown in, might help.
Um, still nope.
Second down. Punt. Field goal. See? I have absorbed some of the lingo, if not the lovefest. Since I’m also a grandma of 5 boys, I’m also aware of the downside of that cheery artificial turf – the very real concern over concussions. No longer a dissed possibility, brain damaging concussions have been frighteningly annotated from HS fields to major football arenas. Boys’ and men’s lives have been forever altered for want of an often violent game. Football increasingly protects the leagues more than the players. That pie-in-the-sky diamond Super Bowl ring seems hardly a fair trade for permanent head injury.
To everyone stocking up on a groaning board of chili and beer this annual Super Bowl Sunday, have at it! Even if your team doesn’t win, your snacks will be awesome! But as for me, I’ll take a hard pass.
Was I a helicopter mom when my kids were baby humans? Hmmmm. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! Looking back, there were a few times I just might have qualified. There were the times I urged my pre-teen daughter to let me know she arrived safely at her friend’s house – who lived at the end of our street! Then, there was the cringe worthy moment I ran into the local bank my high school senior daughter worked, begging them to let me take her home before the beginning snow storm took hold. Not one of my finer moments. On the other hand, I never did my kids’ homework or school projects FOR them, so there’s that. Still, doesn’t everyone have a crazy button just waiting to be pushed?
Okay, maybe not.
I’m pleased to say, now that grandchildren are the focus (victims) of my worry, I’ve let up on the controls. Usually. That is except for the times I whisper my over the top concerns about them maybe needing a warmer jacket to which their moms, with practiced eye-rolls, calmly reply “they’re fine, Mom.” Groan.
Being overprotective and over-controlling, while hardly an optimum parenting style, is also not a new idea. A term first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book, “Parents and Teenagers”, helicopter parenting is still alive though maybe not ‘well.’ They’ve just gone 2.0, being dubbed tiger or ‘lawnmower’ parents, mowing down any obstacles in their kids’ way, damn the cost. Some parents, intent on getting their children into the most prestigious nursery schools, begin their helicoptering when the babes are still in the bassinet. There are parents that, out of necessity, like special needs or allergies, have to be more singularly focused on their children. Yet many, even overwhelmed with work, a big household or economic constraints, treat their children more balanced and sanely while conversely, other parents absent themselves completely.
“A lot of parents will do anything for their children except let them be themselves.” Banksy
I’m not proud today of having been a mommy hovercraft. I could blame a lot on my own strict, controlling, appearance-focused parents but that’s just passing the buck. I could say I was the ultimate worry wart but at least I showed unconditional love, something that was elusive to me. I could even wonder if so much of my inordinate worry was based on fear, often unreasonable, that they would be injured or ill, shadowed from the loss of my young brother.
2021 was one hell of a year. But if you’re waiting for a sparkly new one, well, you might have to wait awhile.
An unrelenting pandemic. Shocking violence in the US Capitol. Devastating forest fires. Desert locusts. Murder hornets and the craziest, scariest year of politics anyone has ever witnessed. No wonder we’re jonesing for whatever will stop our brains from melting! It doesn’t seem to matter what the calendar says. From everything we see and read — Groundhog Day continues.
COVID-19 rages, once again, across the nation, though now disguised as the variant Omicron. Masks and mandates were often ignored or fought against giving the virus a get out jail free card. Our brains were exhausted, often savings were, too and food insecurity was evident in our nation of plenty. In the face of all the grief, confusion, fear and disillusionment, we badly need to find the flip side – and hope it’s a whole lot better.
“What a heavy net is it, indeed, carrying as it does all the births, deaths, tragedies, wars, love stories, inventions, transformations and calamities that are destined for all of us this coming year.” Elizabeth Gilbert
Will 2022 be the turnaround we need or — just another magic trick? In a country where a 2-year pandemic is still a runaway train, every day is a challenge. Vaccines are here, but Omicron proved that our COVID testing supply was caught with its pants down and availability has become more like a stagecoach than an Acela. We are realizing that though this new variant maybe weaker in scope, apparently so were our masks. N95’s are short in stock and high in price gouging. It will take a while, probably quite a while, for us to live ‘normal-ish’ again. And if we continue to set virus forest fires by not adhering to pandemic social distancing, masking, vaccination and a decent helping of common sense, it will set up housekeeping permanently.
We all want our lives back, not just those who strip off masks in hissy fits in Walmart. Until we get the simple fact that what hurts one, hurts all, a spanking brand new COVID free year will be a long time coming.
What do we do in the meantime when often the smallest positivity can be a heavy lift? I find myself swinging from yearning for family hug marathons to being resigned to the admittedly comfy nest of my house. What if we did committed to a reset, something out of the box and outside of ourselves? How about a little New Year Nengajo? Cousin to our Christmas cards, this Japanese custom is a nifty new year way to show gratitude to friends and family who’ve looked out for us, were kind and helped us during the shitshow year we just put to bed.
Nothing encapsulates the meaning of Thanksgiving more than this Buddhist proverb. When we realize gratitude isn’t turkey or a holiday but a way of being, we are already blessed.
Not every Thanksgiving finds us spilling over with gratitude. Times of loss, of grief, of illness all color our gratitude scale. At times, we might even feel as carved out as the bird on the table, yet there are always blessings to be found, often in abundance. And that gratitude is what we share with others.
It’s easy to be thankful when life goes our way but when bad things happen, it’s a lot tougher to see the silver lining. When we look around or even back, we find moments of peace, joy, laughter and love. Sometimes, pictures help jog our memory so I thought I’d use a few to express some pictorial gratitude of my own this Thanksgiving.
Quarantine. Climate. Political insanity. A short commercial break with a cup of tea may not be the craziest idea.
Starbucks diva. Yeah, no. I’m not the cool chick who nonchalantly orders a Double Mocha Grande, extra whipMacchiato. (Is that a thing?) You can tell I’m not a coffee maven. Though the heady aroma of a steaming cuppa-joe will always be enticing, my belly says otherwise. To this queenager, tea has never been coffee’s poor relation but a pretty badass elixer.
For as long as I can remember, tea has been my drink of choice. Though I ditched cream and sugar a long time ago, I grew up watching my parents sweeten their cups of tea with mounds of the stuff. Through the years, tea has been my go-to with friends, family and anyone who needs a little somethin-somethin. Steeped in aromatic little gossamer bags, tea has absorbed too many stories, laughter and tears to count. It’s been background music through years of kid playdates, grief shared and friend connection. Steaming cups of tea have held secrets, belly laughs, copious tears and advice, both given and taken, making apt the term, Tea and Sympathy.
You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea — and that’s sort of the samething.
My life is steeped in tea. It begins my day, and accompanies me throughout its hours. Tea is a grounding, a connection to nature, the proverbial cup of life. Herbal is my thing, though I admit the decadent Chai Latte, a tea equivalent of a venti caramel frappucino with a double shot of espresso, is my guilty pleasure. Sometimes ya just gotta go with it.
A timely repost of this blog since, itproves once again, that truth is stranger than fiction and that patriarchal politics is working overtime. Enacting policies meant to rob women of their autonomy, we are on the road to making yesterday’s misogynistic vision of dystopian ‘great again’.
Jazzy red cloak. Wacky white bonnet. The perfect outfit for women in jeopardy. As political climate in the realm of reproductive heats up — again, The Handmaids Tale is becoming a little too close for comfort. Margaret Atwood’s book was dystopian fiction; real life is often much, much stranger. Inspired by the sociopolitical issues of 1970 and ’80s America, as well as a little-known a 17th century woman, I’m sure Atwood never imagined it could become a playbook for current events. But for years, politically and religiously radical movements have been brewing a perfect storm.
The surreal fiction of The Handmaids Tale depicted women in reproductive slavery. They were forced to bear the children of the elite, where their scarlet cloaks and crisp bonnets underlined their subservience. Most of the unlucky women had become infertile due to environmental toxins (yikes) except for a very few, like the iconic protagonist, Offred.
Atwood wrote that “the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, would need only a period of social chaos to reassert itself”. Chilling? Well, grab your sweater because politics has woven its way to the bedroom once again. Legislating women’s innate rights has become less rhetoric and more budding, backwards policy. Its sanctimonious fervor has gotten teeth and bitten into state rulings, deciding, by male jury, what is best for women’s bodies.
Newsflash. Getting pregnant is generally not a solo activity. Even if you hail from Gilead, it still takes two. Perhaps men need to be reminded, before they rule on what a woman can do with her own body, how procreation works in the first place. Unfortunately, like in Gilead, women are considered responsible for whatever happens to them and men are free – to judge.
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance; you have to work at it.” The Handmaid’s Tale