Category Archives: Society

Labels in Genre Fiction, An Argument

This topic has been on my mind for a while and cemented when I was at a writing conference a couple of weeks ago. One of the panelists asked a really great question: What makes a book considered horror? Many thoughtful answers from the audience were given and lots of people nodded their heads in agreement. Then he gave us the *real* answer: because that’s the shelf they put it on at the book store. It was an answer I hadn’t considered before. Every story written, especially in genre fiction, is classified as one thing and marketed that way. But any good book better have many different elements or it risks falling flat with readers. It’s a safe bet that a crime story has some elements of horror. So do many fantasy novels as well as contemporary ones. And what about romance? Every story could use a sprinkle of it.

That was the ah-ha moment for me about book labels. I have always struggled with them, especially when people ask what market I am writing for. What’s the difference between Young Adult and New Adult? Or Middle Grade and Juvenile? Fantasy can be Epic or Urban but isn’t it all just Fantasy? Even Science Fiction can be space opera or hard science. It can be overwhelming when all you want is a good book you’ll enjoy. Bottom line, the only thing that makes a book Young Adult is because that’s the shelf we find it on at the book store. It’s been a while since I’ve relied on the library to acquire reading material but I’m pretty sure there’s only three main sections: Children, Fiction and Non-Fiction.

With this realization, I no longer find it necessary to defend or criticize anyone’s choice in a book because it is considered Young Adult. I’m not even sure how it has became such a heated debate among people but it is, in every circle of friends I have who are readers. I hate to admit it, but I’m guilty of uttering the words “I don’t read Young Adult”. Even though I devoured the “Twilight” series when it was new and couldn’t wait to get the last one on release day. (Writing that sentence makes me feel like an alcoholic admitting I might have a problem.) Say what you will about the writing, but the story was fresh and new at the time and well told. I wasn’t the only person at the time sleep-deprived because we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the story until the wee hours of the morning. So why, in the later years when they were making the silly movies that barely did the books justice, did I feel slightly ashamed to have liked reading them? Because the series had been labeled as Young Adult and now every adult who liked it felt a twinge of something. As an adult, the label Young Adult tells us “you’re too old to enjoy this”. Shame on all of us who bought into it! Stories are stories and should appeal to you based on how you feel during and after reading it. Nothing more.

The other side of the coin is also true. Why should we limit what kids read by dumbing down fiction or skipping the real life elements just because those parts might make us uncomfortable if kids read them? I cut my teeth on hard core science fiction and horror with L. Ron Hubbard and Stephen King long before I was out of elementary school. I stole my mom’s smutty romance novels almost as early. The Adult and Horror labels they would all fall under now scream at kids “you aren’t allowed to read me yet”. As a parent I even bought into the inherent censorship that comes with these labels, much to my chagrin. I wonder if I went to the school library today if I’d even find those kinds of titles on the shelf? I know I’m going to find out!

Call me a crazy mom but I’m going to let my teen, who has just discovered how much she loves books, to read anything she wants to try. Because where would I be as a reader, and as a person, if my parents had limited my options back in my own formative years based on ridiculous labels? Do I hope she will take advice from me on whether I think she will like it and allow me to covertly keep her as innocent as I can for as long as possible? Of course. But I’m also not naive because I was thirteen once, too.

I understand the need for classifying books so readers have a general idea of what they are getting based on the shelf they are sold from. But let’s get beyond the labels meaning anything more than that. Every story will not appeal to every reader, and every book could be classified different ways. Just find a good one you love and read it proudly! I promise to stop judging fellow readers based on what they like to read and instead rejoice that there are enough readers in the world to keep all of us aspiring authors motivated to create and publish more stories to enjoy.


Life without judgement

It has been almost two years since my brush with death changed everything about how I live my life. The difference in myself was very stark this past weekend at the annual family reunion with my mom’s extended family. All the cousins who were my best friends growing up – and still are – plus their spouses and kids all gather at a resort with a water park and spend the weekend playing in the sun together. It is always a blast and I always have a fabulous time but usually it is accompanied with lots of internal stress and dialogue about having to be in a bathing suit around others who are more “-er” than me… younger, thinner, prettier. You get the picture.

This year was different. This year I never once looked in the mirror with a critical eye – or at all come to think about it. Nor did I constantly look for strategic ways of sitting so I looked better (as if that way even exists since your body is your body regardless of how you sit). I just had fun with my kids without a care in the world. No cover-up included!

We spent hours – literally – walking back up the hill and the stairs to the top of the water slides, all the adults taking turns sliding with all the different kids – my own, my nieces and nephews and my cousin’s kids whatever they would be called in the genealogical sense. Several times I thought with gratitude about how far I’d come in a year – from being physically incapable of it to rocking all the cardio without losing my breath in the process.

It made me think about all the people I’d ever compared myself to in the past to make myself feel better and wonder what things they could say they had overcome to just be where they were. Kind of humbling when you think about it…

A month ago I had my yoga world rocked to the very foundation. Weeks later, I’m still discovering things in my practice that are transforming and growing from that one ah-ha moment when I realized that I don’t use my entire foot for anything. It occurred to me this morning, while my 147 pound yoga instructor sat on my sacrum to illustrate how to stretch my straddle deeper, that if you’d told me three years ago that yoga could still be fresh and new every week that I wouldn’t have believed a word. And that the old Terra might have given up after that ah-ha moment because the inner voice would have convinced me that I was no good at yoga. Instead I’ve left all expectations of everything at the door and find joy in the newness of re-learning every pose differently. As I always say, yoga is a journey not a destination. I’m consciously having to take my own advice not to judge myself against anything – including myself from four weeks ago when I never used my heels. Now I know how people can practice yoga for a lifetime and I love how every trip to the mat brings new insights about myself – all because I leave the judgement out of it.

The biggest hope I have is that my girls will see me just as their mom and remember only how much fun they had doing things with me. I already know they don’t see me as I see myself. Once I called myself fat and my oldest looked at me funny and said “you’re not fat, Mom.” Which stopped me in my tracks. If you haven’t read this article about When Your Mother Says She’s Fat , or watched this ad about doing things “like a girl”, check them out. They both helped me see where I was my own worst enemy in putting myself down because I didn’t measure up in the areas society focuses on.

In the grand scheme of things it is more important to live every moment regardless of how we feel about ourselves – especially when faced with the reality that every day might be your last. If you wait to enjoy life until you’ve lost that last 20 pounds (or fill in the blank with your own demons) it might be too late to make the memories you are putting off. Your kids could be too old, you could be too old, or the opportunities could have passed you by. Make every moment of every day count, no matter what. And leave the judgement out of it!


An argument for honestly reviewing books – and why every reader should do it

I’ve blogged before about how diverse reader’s tastes are noting that there are so many ways a book can be regarded depending on who reads it. So there must be a way to slog through all the books out there and narrow down which ones you personally will like. Which is why I argue that every reader has an obligation to honestly and objectively review every book they read.

I’m a huge reader. No secret there. What many don’t think about is that the number of books you can read in your lifetime is finite. There are far more books out there than you can read in one lifetime. Yes, even yours. That finite number varies by person depending on how fast and how often you read. For example, I read three books a month on average. That’s thirty six books a year – give or take. If I have twenty more reading years, I only have time for seven hundred and twenty more books. Ever. Which is why you really should choose wisely. For the same reason, I also think you shouldn’t finish a book that doesn’t hook you and keep you entertained either. Unless you’re in a book club since arguably you have an obligation to read those selections regardless.

So how do you pick which books to read so you get the most out of your remaining, and technically very limited, reading time?

Personally, I use recommendations from friends and fellow readers. Another reason I love Goodreads so I can see what people say about books before I decide. (Especially helpful when you have friends who read and enjoy the same books you like so you can see what they enjoyed – or didn’t.) I shy away from books that don’t get at least an average three-star rating (out of a possible five). But here’s a little secret… I usually only read the middle of the road reviews and I especially am interested in the “bad” reviews. Those are the reviews that – if written objectively – give me the best insight. If I see that someone didn’t like a book because of something that I might actually like, I’m more likely to pick it up. If someone didn’t like how dark a book was or how bloody the action was but I really like dark and bloody books, I would probably pick it up.

In the past few months I’ve heard arguments from many different people about not wanting to honestly review every book which all boil down to a couple of general ideas that I take exception with:

“I don’t usually review if it is going to be less than 3 stars.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

I think both of these arguments approach book reviews from the wrong side of the issue. I don’t review books for the author’s benefit, my reviews are designed for other readers like me so we can find books we like (and avoid those we won’t). The hard truth that every author must grapple with accepting is that no matter how much effort and love went into writing a book, not everyone everywhere will love it. Reviews are designed to be the unbiased opinions of readers, and everyone everywhere is entitled to their own. Once a book is in the hands of readers, there’s nothing that an author can change about it anyway.

What if every review was a glowing one and there were no differing opinions? Or what if no one reviewed books ever because they were worried about hurting either the author’s feelings or the feelings of those who had a different opinion? Then every book would be as much of a gamble as randomly picking something off the shelf – without reading the jacket. By not giving an honest and truthful review, regardless of how you liked or didn’t like a book, you’re doing a disservice to every reader who comes after you looking for insights on whether they would like to read it. Of course I don’t think you should completely trash a book (or the author) if you don’t like it, but give me an objective and constructive reason why you didn’t like it that can help me decide if I might also rather skip it. Then let me decide.

Because of this, I rate books in the following manner:

  • 5 stars = Loved it! I abandoned all aspects of my life in order to voraciously read this book
  • 4 stars = I really enjoyed it and I would highly recommend it to others – but I still slept at night, mostly.
  • 3 stars = I liked it but I didn’t love it. I found nothing to complain about but it didn’t rock my world either…
  • 2 stars = I didn’t like it overall although I did finish it. (Incidentally, books with this rating have generally been ones I read for book club which illustrates the point that it takes all kinds of readers and not everyone likes the same things.)
  • 1 star = I either hated it or I didn’t finish it

On top of a star rating, I always give the feel of the book and the impression it left me with overall. I don’t bother with a synopsis of what the story was about from start to finish, you can get that elsewhere. What I really emphasize is what worked for me and what didn’t, and why. Something that would help someone else objectively draw conclusion as to whether they would like it or not. I do this because those are the kinds of reviews I look for when deciding to give a book a spot on my finite list of things I’ve read between now and when I die.

You remember what they say about treating others the way you want to be treated, right? If you are a reader, won’t you consider doing this as well? Future readers will thank you, myself included!


The Wonder of Diversity in Fiction

Everyone is different, we all know that, right? This week I realized there is far more striking diversity in what people read than I’d ever given thought to. I devoured – and I mean devoured – a book a few weeks back by a fellow author I met at LTUE called Beatrysel. Afterwards I raved about it to everyone I know. And then was shocked – SHOCKED – when one of my besties from my writer’s group picked it up and said she just couldn’t get into it and didn’t really love it. It got me thinking…

I knew that there were different tastes – ten years in a book club has shown that over and over again. In the microcosm of my own book club, there are people who adore the young adult genre even when they are far from the intended demographic the books are written for. There are those who love historical period pieces. And the holocaust. And the classics. And there’s a handful of us who love fantasy. An even smaller handful who love horror. And for all of those who love a particular subset of books, the niches they discard are just as varied.

What makes you love what you read and reject what you don’t like? I’ve thought for years that we all read with our own filters. Those experiences we’ve had in life that taint the glasses we look out from also tend to define how we take things in. Most fiction has one thing in common across all genres – it evokes an emotional response in readers. Based on an individual’s emotional make-up, those responses will be different for different books. What a wonderful world we live in that for as many varied kinds of readers, there are that many varied kinds of writers providing the kinds of books everyone everywhere want to read.


The Perspective and Importance of A Moment

Today I gained the perspective of a forty-two year old. Because I now AM a forty-two year old. It is funny to look back on my late thirties when I started to refuse to acknowledge birthdays and dread that the age number kept getting bigger and what it all meant that I was ‘getting old’. Everything shifted when faced with my own mortality but nothing quite so much as this little thing. When the alternative to getting older is being dead, you start to wonder which is really the worst thing that could happen.

An old friend I haven’t seen in years – but thanks to the wonders of Facebook get to talk to and interact with – said today that my face hadn’t changed since we worked together twenty years ago. It was the nicest thing and proves that aging doesn’t have to be a horrible process. Could it be that happiness and joy are the magical facial cream everyone has been looking for to achieve younger looking skin? Could embracing your life and appreciating everything and everyone in it with open arms and without judgement lead to a younger and glowing countenance? Or was he just flattering me?

I’ve been internalizing a lot these last couple of weeks of yoga training, thinking a lot about being present in every moment and every situation. Things like noticing when Baby Sister gets whiny and I get frustrated and realize I have my focus so fractured between multiple things that I ‘think’ need my attention. The reality is that she is the one thing that needs my attention (usually) the very most in that moment. Thirty seconds of eye contact and direct engaged conversation are usually enough for her to restore harmony in herself and run off to sing and play with her babies leaving me to finish all the other unimportant but pressing things I’ve got going on. What if that’s what everyone needs once in a while? What if life were really that easy? What if it is more about being fully present with someone rather than posing for a selfie over and over until you get it just right?

Have you noticed that there are no longer any bad candid pictures out there? Thanks to the wonders of technology you can immediately see what that “snapshot” is going to look like and decide to accept or re-do until you get it just right. And once you capture it just right, there’s always editing software to remove blemishes and brighten the colors and whatever else you think wasn’t perfect about the authentic moment the lens captured. What kind of a legacy are we leaving for our children when they look back and only get to see what we deemed were the ‘best’ photos of us instead of the ‘real’ photos of us? Are we all taking life way too seriously or taking ourselves out of the real moments to capture the perfect portrayal of the same moment for the benefit of everyone else? What if all that matters is being happy and not all the stuff we surround ourselves with?

These are the things I’m thinking about on the second birthday that I might not have ever had. Ultimately I hope I can be the kind of person that ages gracefully and who people look at and wonder “why is she so happy?” regardless of how many wrinkles are on my face or how high the number next to my age gets. I’ll tell you, forty two never felt so wonderful!


Religion and Politics… oh my!

One of the nicest things about living in the United States is that I have the freedom to choose – or not choose – a religion and not be discriminated against because of that choice.  It should be the same in the political arena.  I’m a huge proponent of my fellow citizens taking the time to exercise our fundamental rights as Americans – voting.  And while I do have very strong personal opinions on which candidate I think will do a better job, I don’t think picking “the right” candidate is any more important than just getting out to the polls.  Nor am I ever going to ostracize someone for picking a different choice than me. What infuriates me is when people try to make me feel I’ve made a bad choice – whether it be for rejecting a religion or for picking the other guy on election day.

I had a really great heart to heart – middle of the night – discussion with some friends a while back where two of them expressed how refreshing it was to know this about me.  We were talking about religion mostly – both are members of the religion I was raised in and later rejected as an adult – but the conversation also turned to gay rights which is one of the major hot points in today’s politics.  In expressing my differing views I never once made them feel their choices were wrong or that they weren’t entitled to the same freedom I always demand for myself when making my own choices.

Which begs the question:  How did we get to be such a society where it is no longer about having the freedom of choosing for ourselves but about which choice is made by the majority?  Why is it that a Muslim or an Athiest is viewed differently than a Christian?  And why is the political stage so awash in religious tenets?  Why has “conservativism” become a choice of Christianity and the “liberals” the ones trying to destroy the “In God We Trust” folks?  Don’t people remember when ‘In God We Trust’ was added and that most of our parents didn’t pledge allegiance to a flag that included the word “under God” in it when they were children? Since when has the conversation been more about proving your choice better than allowing tolerance for everyone’s choice?

Bottom line, religion and politics have become far too intertwined and far too much emphasis on personal worth has been placed on both choices a person makes.  Just because my opinions or belief system differs from yours doesn’t mean I’m wrong any more than you are wrong because you made a different choice than me.  In this very crazy political season, I hope there’s others out there with the same thought process because if not we are going down a very slippery slope as a nation and it makes me sad.  Remember, once you invalidate someone’s personal beliefs it undermines the very fabric this great nation was founded upon.  Today it might be tolerance that you show another that someday will come back to you from others and you’ll be thankful you had an open mind.


You can’t make me… or can you?

I just looked back on my blog archives to make sure I wasn’t naming this entry the same as the one I did on this subject this time last year and to my amazement find I DID NOT blog about this last year! *gasp*  Hold onto your hats, this is a rant two years in the making now…

I work for a healthcare company (which will remain nameless here for my safety) and have for about 4 years.  I work in I.T. and have never been in a patient care environment for my job.  The first two years when it came time for everyone in America to get their flu shots, I signed a waiver that I wasn’t going to get one.  Employees either had to provide proof they got stuck or weigh in that they weren’t planning on it so the company can mark us all off on their little lists.  Two years ago, they got smart and offered a ‘permanent waiver’ if you were never going to get a flu shot which would make it easier on the head count every year.  I was elated to eliminate the yearly hassle of the waiver.

Then the following year – last year – they decided that everyone was required to get the shot no matter what.  So much for a permanent waiver that didn’t even last a year!  The only exception being if you had a religious reason – other than the “I am using my free will to choose not to” – or a doctor-verified medical reason not to get it.  I was furious!  Want to get me motivated?  Tell me I can’t do something and I’ll prove you wrong.  Want to incite me to violence?  Force me do something I don’t want to do.

How did they force us all to comply with this violation of civil rights?  By threatening us with suspension and eventual termination if we didn’t succumb to the needle by certain deadlines.  I know what you’re thinking – How can they do that?!?  Isn’t that discrimination?  Isn’t it against some fundamental human and civil right that we have to choose?  I’ll tell you how – because Utah is a right to work state which means they can fire me for whatever whim they choose.

Last year I was outraged… and when it came time to march down with the cattle call and get our badges scanned and fill out the paper and sign below the statement that says ‘I am choosing to get this shot even after I’ve been told the risks’, I crossed out the statement I didn’t agree with and signed the paper.  The turd from Human Resources refused to accept my paperwork saying the company’s attorneys wouldn’t allow any alteration of the forms.  The following dialogue ensued:

Me: “But that means you are asking me to sign something that isn’t true because I don’t have a choice to get the flu shot and I’m not willingly choosing to get it.”

Him: “Of course you have a choice, you don’t have to get the shot.”

Me: “But if I don’t get the shot I get fired.”

Him: “True.  But if you choose not to get the shot knowing those are the consequences you still have a choice.”

I looked at him, seething, and couldn’t argue with the logic.  If I had the financial means to walk out the door right then and never go back, I would have quit on principle alone.  But, alas, I have a family I help provide for that I had to think about.  There were many I heard who did walk away from their jobs and I applaud them.

For weeks stories floated around about how people who had claimed an exemption for religious reasons or medical reasons had been denied and still required to get the shots.  Apparently a slight allergic reaction wasn’t enough, it had to be a severe allergic reaction.  And the religion exemption was even harder to get.

Why am I so against the flu shot?  It isn’t the flu shot specifically because I wholeheartedly believe that those who are susceptible to getting the flu or are at risk for other factors should get the flu shot.  But I’m not in either of those categories.  I have not had the flu in over 20 years.  So tell me how a dead virus grown in eggs and gambling that the epidemiologists correctly guessed picked the way last years virus would mutate to get put in the vaccination when there are hundreds of strains of the flu virus will protect me any better than my amazing immune system already does with a flawless track record.  I didn’t even get the H1N1 vaccination when I was pregnant!  No, for me this is just a violation of my right to chose what I do and don’t put in my body. 

This year I was resigned that I’m still not allergic to eggs – thank GOD since I eat them every day – to get me out of what I knew was looming again.  Instead, I did a bunch of research trying to find if there was a religion I could join that would impart me with some tenet I could waive to say forcing me was ‘against my religion’.  Me, wanting religion.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Interestingly enough, I found one!  But even that came with a catch….  The Congregation of Universal Wisdom is against basically everything medical because they believe all things are cured by the laying on of hands on the spine.  PERFECT!  What’s the catch?  To join the congregation requires a one-time ‘donation’ of seventy-five dollars.  SEVENTY. FIVE. DOLLARS.  Oh, and if you require an affidavit of membership with a statement about their stand on immunizations, include an additional fifteen bucks and we will express mail it to you.  I wonder how many other people who typed “is there a religion against flu vaccine” in their google search hit on the same page and how long this congregation has been around…

So, what is worse?  Being forced to do something you don’t want to do with the threat of losing your job; or being exploited financially by people who cleverly found a very specific niche market of people just like me who are willing to go to great lengths not to be forced into an unwanted immunization?  In the end, my pocketbook won over my sense of outrage and my arm still hurts where they stuck me with that damn needle full of flu vaccine which I’m hoping doesn’t mess with my already amazing immune system and isn’t tainted with viral meningitis.


Myth busting

Ever heard someone say it is so much harder and more time consuming to cook dinner every night?  Or that eating healthy costs so much more money?  Or that wearing special shoes or taking a miracle pill will help you tone your body and lose weight?  Well today I’m putting on my myth-buster hat and tackling all of these.

We’ll start with “it’s so much easier to pick up fast food on your way home from work rather than cook dinner” with a peek into a day of my life.  This particular day was crazier than most.  I headed off to work in the morning leaving Baby Sister with her nanny after scooting Big Sister out the door to walk to school.  (Yes, my kid walks to school – shouldn’t every kid?)  I worked a typical day except that I had to leave a couple of hours early since Big Sister’s dance studio decided once again to conduct business as if none of the dance moms actually work outside the home.  Meaning specifically that she had to be in full hair and make-up and across town by 4:30 for the annual team photo shoot.  Awesome, since I don’t usually get off work until 5:30.

I left the office at 3:00, rushed home while project managing Big Sister’s efforts from the phone in the car, and did the fastest make-up and hair I think I’ve ever done including ringlets.  Big Sister has stick straight and super thick hair – I love that she did not get my curls except for when she wants curly hair and it becomes a chore.  Thank god for my Chi and my ability to use it for creating curls in addition to it’s straightening properties.  Of course Murphy was alive and well since the shirt I’d bought her the night before was too big through the chest when she put it on.  I had to get creative with safety pins because I didn’t have time to whip out the sewing machine to take in the sides. We left the house only ten minutes behind schedule leaving Baby Sister with Daddy and hoping they were correct that the shoot would only take an hour. Pictures were fabulous and we were headed back across town by 5:30 now hoping traffic wasn’t too bad.

This was also the night of our first neighborhood walk-about which we never miss.  During warm weather months, two or three different families host little block party gatherings so that everyone can wander around and mingle with each other, catch up on gossip and meet any new people who have moved in.  It started at 6:30.

Here’s where the myth comes in.  Considering I only had an hour to drive across town, feed my kids dinner and head out to the next activity,  society would say I had to pick up either burgers or a $5 Hot n’ Ready pizza on my way home.  But NO!  Instead I went straight home, browned up some ground turkey, made it into taco meat and served my kids taco’s.  Well, Big Sister prefers to eat her taco fixin’s atop corn chips instead of in the crunchy shells and Baby Sister prefers little individual piles of cheese and meat, etc to eat as finger foods so basically, I ate tacos.  The point is, it took me no more time than it would have to sit in the long ass line I passed at the Wendy’s as I drove by.  Not to mention how much healthier my choice of meals was by comparison.  Plus, now I have an extra pound of taco meat in my fridge to eat left-overs in the next couple of days when I’m in an even tighter pinch for dinner – say tonight when Big Sister has to be at the dance studio by 6:30.

I cook ninety-five percent of the time at home.  It isn’t always quick and easy but it is always better than anything else I could feed my family.  The extra effort this activity requires is actually on the front end when you’re doing your grocery shopping.  I usually have the basics on hand like spaghetti (I make my own amazing and authentic sauce) or homemade macaroni and cheese (that actually uses cheese and milk instead of powdery blobs of orange chemical concoctions you get in the box).  Then I mix things up with a few preplanned meals in mind for the week.  We always have tons of fresh fruit in the house and the crisper drawer is always full of veggies.  With a little creativity I can throw together many a meal just by opening the refrigerator – even if I don’t know exactly what’s for dinner before I walk in the door from work.

It makes me wonder who exactly “they” are that says it is so much easier to buy crap from a fast-food joint and eat out of a bag every night.  Probably the people marketing the crap in a bag from all those different places who only care about their bottom line.  And let’s talk about cost!  I can feed my family of four for an entire week buying the ingredients to cook my own meals on less than what it would cost to eat out just one meal a day for that same week.  This is based on fact since we had way more money left over at the end of the month once we started eating in versus when we were subscribing to the marketing ploys.  This was also before I’d pulled my head out of my ass about things like processed foods and high fructose corn syrup evils. 

With obesity rates in adults and children alike continually rising, I wonder how long before the general population demands better choices in their food that contribute to better health instead of sacrificing long-term health for the convenience of a packaged dinner or fast food slop.  Most of the food we eat isn’t even real food when you look at the ingredient label.  When was the last time you had to list the ingredients on a head of lettuce or a bundle of bananas?  Even more frightening is how many people I talk to who never even glance at the ingredient list of the ‘food’ they consume every day.  When you cook your own meal, using real whole foods you know exactly what you are eating and feeding to your kids.

There was a story in the Washington Post this week about how Sketchers are settling a lawsuit for $40 million.  Turns out they were lying when they said wearing their funny looking shoes would tone your lower body without stepping foot into a gym.  You can’t tone your lower body by wearing a pair of shoes and sitting on your ass all day any easier than you can lose weight and keep it off by eating some fad diet or taking some pill that causes side effects worse than just keeping the extra weight on.  You have to eat real food to nourish your body and burn more calories than you take in every single day.  Period.  There’s no other way around it.  Trust me, I’ve tried it all (minus surgical measures where I drew the line).  When is society as a whole going to wake up and realize that corporations are only after one thing – to make money by selling us crap we don’t need – and start listening to common sense again?

I challenge you – if you aren’t doing it already – try cooking for a week and see how easy it really is.  You don’t even have to have a recipe box that your mom or grandma handed down to you anymore.  All you need is Google – recipes for everything and anything are right at your fingers.  It’s an amazing world out there!  And if you want a quick, easy to read, common sense book on how to incorporate real food back into your diet, I highly recommend “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” by Michael Pollan.  That little book was partly what changed my life years ago and should be required reading for every American – in my humble opinion.


Vindication

Being ballsy paid off!  Within two hours of sending my email to Big Sister’s principal, I got a reply that she wanted to discuss my concerns with the fourth grade team and the district curriculum specialist and then would get back to me.  I figured that would be the end of it… a nice little sweep under the rug and hope I went away.  But, I got a personal phone call from her two days after my email. 

Bottom line, she and the district curriculum specialist both agreed with me.  The worksheet the teacher created to go along with the social studies book they are reading emphasized the wrong things and they will be working with her to re-do it.  The subject was that of immigration in general and the background on the Mormons was a small part designed to show the cause and effect of why they decided to push further west than the current boundaries of the United States. 

Additionally, the principal sent me a photo copy of the chapter the questionable worksheet had been created from.  It was refreshing to see how far-reaching the subject matter was with the following section headings:

     Who Were the Mormons?
     To the Rocky Mountains
     The Mormon Trail
     Planning the Trip
     The First Two Pioneer Children
     The Advance Party
     The Salt Lake Valley at Last
     African Americans Come to Utah
     People by the Thousands
     The Long Trip
     A Daily Routine
     Working on the Trail
     Crossing the Rivers
     Buffalo Chips!
     Don’t Get Hurt!
     Pesky Insects
     Handcarts Across the Trail
    

My favorite part is the last page of the chapter with questions on “What Do You Think?”

  • Do we have the right in America to join any religion we want to, or join none at all?
  • What could help us be more tolerant of people who believe differently than we do?
  • Can you think of other groups in history who have moved to new places so they could live their religion without being persecuted?
  • There are many different kinds of persecution.  Talk about what it means.  Talk about why we should try to treat other people fairly.
  • What would you have disliked about the trip to Utah?  What would you have liked?
  • Can you remember where in the West the pioneers who were not Mormons going?

It was so refreshing to be thanked for bringing such a matter to the attention of the principal.  I had feared I would be labeled a troublemaker.  And now I know that at least the educators at my local school really do have the best interests of my child’s education at heart.  (And that they are in fact teaching diverse subject matter!)

I even got a follow-up email several days later making sure I had received the copy of the chapter and whether I had any additional questions.  I am now the biggest fan of our principal and know that she was sincere in telling me she wants parents to bring these kinds of concerns to her.  If only all educators were this committed.

Go me for standing up for what I knew wasn’t right and knowing I made a difference in my child’s education because of it.  


Ballsy Bitch

It’s been so long since I had something really great to rant and rave about and the Universe must have realized I needed an outlet for it because it delivered up an opportunity so rare this week I almost can’t believe it. Here’s some background so we are all on the same page…  I live in the glorious state of Utah where the lines between Church and State are more often blurred than not.  Contrary to popular belief, not every resident of Utah is a Mormon.

(OOPSIE, did I mention this is a religious and political post?  Here’s your disclaimer and chance to bail as if the fact I warned you I would be proceeding with a rant and/or rave wasn’t enough, right?)

Big Sister is in the fourth grade and I found a gem of a fire-starter in the sty of her backpack.  It was a worksheet with twenty questions where you have to fill in the blanks to complete the sentence.  When I saw it I was so enraged and immediately asked Big Sister what it was.  She said “Mom, before you get mad, Ms X told us to make sure when our parents got mad that they were teaching religion at school to tell you that it is against the law for her to teach us about the beliefs of any religion and that this is just about the history of Utah.”  Clearly the teacher suspected that there would be flak in regards to this little worksheet.  She was not wrong.  Which begs the question, why proceed when you already know it is questionable material?

In response to this worksheet I drafted the following letter which I sent to the principle via email:

Dear Principal,

My fourth-grade daughter brought home school work from what she says was Utah History but which appears to have nothing to do with Utah History.  Instead, it is teaching her about Mormon specific church history.  Where is the separation of church and state when it comes to curriculum?  When I questioned her about what it was, she had already been given a response from the teacher – Ms X who is not her homeroom teacher – who had apparently told the students how to respond when their parents asked why they were learning about religion.  Her rationalization was that because she was not instructing them on the belief system of a religion then it was okay to teach since this was about how Utah was founded.  While there is no disputing the historical fact that Utah was settled by Mormon pioneers escaping religious persecution, tell me why the following questions (taken directly from the worksheet) were relevant to that discussion:

Mormons was a nickname for people who belonged to a new church.
Joseph Smith was the first leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The church was started in New York state in 1830.
Mormons sent missionaries to teach about their church.
Wherever the Mormons went, they were always forced to move, because no one liked them.
They moved from New York to Ohio, to Missouri, then to Illinois.
People did not like the Mormons, because Mormons believed their church was God’s true church. (Not teaching about beliefs?)
Mormons religious beliefs often upset people who were not Mormons.
There was also problems with their neighbors over politics and land.
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot and killed in Illinois by a mob.

Out of the 20 questions on the worksheet, I believe only the following statements would be considered relevant to UTAH history:

Moving west took much planning.
The pioneers were going to move more than 1,000 miles.
To help the Mormons move, there were only wagons, horses, mules and oxen.

However, I also believe that the not-so questionable statements could be presented even more non-religiously by referring to them as pioneers instead of Mormons.  With respect to the settling of Utah, it is completely irrelevant what religion the pioneers who first came here were.  Besides, there were Catholic missionaries here long before the Mormon pioneers if we are talking about historical facts…

I expect that if my child is learning the history of the Mormon church that she would also be required to learn the same story about where the Catholic church started, who the first Pope was and when the first congregation was established in the Utah valley.  Same with the Protestants, the Baptists, etc.  I know I am not alone in my concern with the way this curriculum is being presented and would appreciate your addressing it immediately.  If you would like a copy of the worksheet I can provide that as well.

Regards,

One of my closest friends who herself is the mother of a fourth grader at the same school told me I was the only person she knows with balls big enough to actually send that to the principal.  Is it my outrage at the social injustice of the matter or is it merely my argumentative and bitchy nature that fueled my sending the letter?  It’s probably a little bit of both.  Having grown up here “in the land of Zion” amidst all the religious overtones and outright judging where your choice of religion is the number one topic of inquiry when you first meet a person, I’m a little sensitive to protecting that pesky right of religious freedom that was given each American in the Constitution.  I believe that extends to the right of my children to be educated by the public school system with zero inference or interference by any religion.  Period.  Before you get all outraged, I stand by the last paragraph of my letter.  If they wanted to introduce a world religion class that gave equal time to studying the basics of every religion of the world, not only would I embrace the prospect of my child learning more about diversity, I would not react to this subject matter since it would then be a valid form of school work.  But they weren’t teaching that, were they?  Nope.  This was supposed to be either a History lesson or at the furthest stretch a Social Studies lesson.  Either way, giving my kid facts about a single religion’s history instead is not acceptable

In my opinion it’s no different than giving your own spin on history just because you like your version better than the plain old facts. But then again, we do that every Thanksgiving where we celebrate the Pioneers and the Indians and their harmonious feasting, don’t we?  Instead of sugar coating what really happened in our past we should own it – we came here, declared the native people savages, took the land from them, slaughtered them when they defended themselves and in the end rounded all the survivors up to be banished to the crappiest land around, never to leave it.  That is what Thanksgiving really celebrates… but that isn’t what we tell our elementary aged children.  And this is just one example.  Lucky for my kids, they have parents who round out their education at home in both religion and history.

Religion is a deeply personal thing and as such should be taught in the home, not the school.  But, I live in Utah where every Junior High and High School has a little annex building just barely off of school property where any kid who wants is allowed to have a free period to walk there and attend Seminary classes – but only of the one religion…  Hubby was even ranting the other day about how another religion – I think the Catholics but don’t quote me on that for sure – were wanting to purchase land for the same reason near the site of a new high school and were being blocked from doing so.  How is that fair?

Bottom line, I wish the separation of church and state was taken far more seriously in our country and especially in my own public school system.  Look at where the Middle East got when they decided to rule their country based on their majority religion.  We need to take religion out of the political arena, too – who cares what religion any one candidate is?  By judging his or her religious beliefs as being better or worse than any other candidate’s it fundamentally erodes their Constitutional right to freely practice whatever religion they choose free from discrimination and persecution.  If I’m not mistaken that’s why the Puritans came to America and *oddly enough* the Utah pioneers came west.  But I digress…

I did get a response from the principal that she would be looking into the situation and would get back to me.  I can’t wait to hear what they have to say about it all!


Where were you on September 11, 2001?

It’s been ten years this weekend since the World Trade Center Towers were hit by planes and subsequently collapsed; the act which started the country down the road toward it’s current state with two wars being waged, civil rights restricted in the name of National Security and overwhelming deficits where we are robbing Peter not even pretending to pay Paul.  I worry for my children and wonder what their lives as American citizens will be like when they are my age and paying taxes.  Luckily, Big Sister has already begun taking an interest in the election process and last week asked me when she gets to vote.  At nine she has more interest than half of my siblings do.

But I digress… this is about my memories of where I was on that fateful day in September of 2001.  A day like the one when Kennedy was shot since everyone old enough to have memory of it can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened.

At the time, I was eight months pregnant with our first child, Big Sister.  Hubby and I were living in Tooele, Utah and both working in Salt Lake City which meant long commutes.  Hubby would wake up super early and be on the road by five AM and I would wake a couple of hours later to the television turning on – still the coolest alarm clock I’ve ever had.  I would lay in bed half conscious for the end of the local news until the Today show would come on at seven which was my queue to get up and get in the shower.  Instead of hitting the snooze button I’d watch the first little segment of national news and then get up.  That morning they were doing live coverage special reporting showing aerial shots of the World Trade Center towers, one of which had smoke coming out of it toward the top, and speculating on what could have happened.  Initial reports were just coming in about something having hit it with everyone at that point still thinking it was some kind of  horrible accident.

And then – live on television – I saw the second plane hit.  And they played it over and over for the rest of the morning while the country’s collective sat in shock at the realization this was being done on purpose. Unfathomable.

It’s mostly a blur from there as reports were made about yet another plane hitting the Pentagon and eventually the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania instead of it’s intended target because the passengers fought back against the hijackers.  I remember sitting there in bed rubbing my pregnant belly and wondering what kind of a world I was going to bring this new baby into and wishing Hubby was there with me instead of just a voice on the other end of the phone sounding just as shocked as I was feeling.  He was watching on television at work after a coworker’s wife had called and told them to tune in.

I vaguely remember getting ready for work and heading for the office, much later than usual.  I kept wandering back and forth between the bathroom and the bedroom glued to the television.  Before I left I saw both the towers collapse – still live.  When I got to work, the little thirteen inch TV in the break room on top of the refrigerator, which I had only before seen used by the night janitorial crew, was turned on showing the news recapping over and over what people just tuning in might have missed.  People would wander into the small cramped room, watch for a bit, then wander away.  Everyone who had radios on their desks were listening to news reports.  Streaming CNN was choking our network broadband but not much work was happening anyway so no one said anything.  Everyone was talking about it constantly.  Many were visibly shaken and emotional.  Some never left that room all day.

The entire country was in chaos.   One of my coworker friends had left that morning for a vacation in New York.  I remember being frantic, worried if she was on one of the planes, and relieved when I heard from her.  They had arrived hours earlier and were nowhere near ground zero, as it was later dubbed, but had tried to make their way closer to see what was happening.  One of my closest friends at the time had just sent her husband off on a plane that morning for training in the Midwest.  His plane was grounded when they closed the airspace stranding him in Las Vegas for days until the two of us drove down to get him one night after work.  We returned just in time to change our clothes and go to work the next morning.

I was very lucky since neither Hubby or I had anyone close – or even an acquaintance – who were killed on that day.  Although thousands were not that lucky.  And that doesn’t include the thousands who have been killed since that day in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In reality, the country hasn’t been the same since…  And in many ways it is hard to believe it has been ten years.

Do you remember where you were that morning?


Love Your Body… Challenge

I’ve been thinking about this post all week, prompted by a random friend of a friend who posted on Facebook about her and her sister discussing how all women hate their bodies and wondering how to turn it around with their own daughters who, when asked, couldn’t come up with a single thing they loved about their bodies.  So, this week became the Love Your Body Challenge Week – you know, like when something makes you think and then you can’t stop thinking about it?  And then it takes on the all capitals version in your head?  Yeah, like that.

First, the good news – I asked Big Sister the question and am very happy to report she had a long list of things she liked about her body which included legs and stomach and all the things that most women wouldn’t love.  I was worried she would, at the tender age of nine, already have a complex about all sorts of things.  Especially since just last week she said “I’m fat, Mommy” while patting her lean little – extremely flat – dancer tummy.  Yeah, right… NOT!  Which prompted a twenty minute discussion about how just because other girls at dance have different bodies and shapes she is definitely NOT fat.  I didn’t even have to resort to Google to find images of obesity to illustrate my point.  Thank god! *shudder*  We do watch Biggest Loser after all, maybe that is helping?

But then I started thinking about my own body.  And how I don’t really love it.  And how obsessed I am about changing practically everything about it.  And how I’ve basically been on a diet for the last twenty years.  It WAS a challenge to find more than one thing that I like about my body.  The first thing was easy:  I. LOVE. MY. RACK.  Yes, that rack.  I have an awesome rack and even after two babies it still kicks ass.  But beyond that, what is there really to love?  I don’t have a flat stomach – yet.  I don’t have lean and amazing legs – yet.  I don’t even have great shoulders or upper arms – yet.  But all these things I hate are getting better slowly and I have no doubt that at some point (hopefully in the near future) my efforts at the gym will transform everything about my body that I still don’t completely love.  See, that list was effortless – which is kind of the point.

So, here are all the things that I DO love about my body – which will take you moments to read and which took me an entire week to come up with, which is kind of pathetic but hey, a step in the right direction, right?

1.  I have amazingly strong legs.  Legs that can run for 10 miles on any given Sunday and (at least once) 13.1 miles of a half-marathon.
2.  I have beautiful green eyes.
3.  I have awesome and thick naturally curly hair.  The fact that my unruly curls are in the love vs. hate column is a miracle in itself.  I spent 36 years straightening every day and loathing everything about my hair.  Now, I have embraced my curls.  I even appreciate how my long dark locks curl on their own with no effort on my part.  It literally takes me 5 minutes  in the morning now that I have found the right combination of NOT combing after the shower and the proper hair products.  It’s also a perk that my hair is thick and “big” enough with the curls that I can run 5 miles, look like a sweaty pig, take the pony tail out, shake, and go.  Voile! All the bigness covers up the inch of sweat at the scalp.  Beautiful!
4.  I have cute ears that don’t stick out.
5.  I have great lungs – hey, that’s part of my body, right?  And without them, I couldn’t run so they count.
6.  I have a nice nose – which knowing that I’m Italian and could have gotten Dad’s shnoz is much more of a perk than you might think.
7.  I already mentioned the rack, right?  My all natural D’s should be at the very top of the list but I don’t want to seem like an obsessed porn queen.
8.  I have great eye lashes – long and thick and dark.
9.  I have great lips – not too full, not too thin, and great for kissing.
10.  I have great proportions to my body.  When I tone it all up, it will be amazing.  My torso is the perfect length, my shoulders are narrow, I’m not too tall and not too short.

I challenged myself to come up with ten things.  Some are smaller things than others and I wish I could go on and on about all the great parts of my body but most of them are still covered in a thin layer of fat which has me still not loving them.  But, underneath that last twenty or so pounds my muscles are getting stronger and more defined and hopefully by summer swimsuit weather I will have a much longer list of things I love.  It is getting easier to look appreciatively in the mirror and notice the results of my efforts.  And, it’s already time for new jeans since all the ones I own are getting saggy in the butt.  And I had to tighten the chest strap on my heart rate monitor last week because it wasn’t working anymore.  Some days the proof is in the pants, some days it’s in the chest strap.  I’ll take whatever proof I can get.  The scale is still just a number that doesn’t define me – I want to be fit and muscled, not thin and waif-y after all.

So, what do you love about your body?  And if you have an easier time listing the things you hate, I challenge you to find ten things you love.  Yes, your eyes and toes can count!  Here’s to focusing on the good in all of us and leaving the super model ideal to the professionals – there are only like nine of them in the world after all so why would that be considered the norm anyway?


Serves you right!

And just like that, we’re back to bitchy…  Last week I had a passive aggressive episode in the gym that got me thinking.  My life is so crazy that it takes having a membership at two different gyms to make my commitment to training actually workable.  Half the week I’m at THE GYM (queue angels singing) and the other I’m at the fitness center at work.  Luckily I have both, but the mix of people at work is… well, somewhat different.  There are a lot of people who only use it for 15 minute increments while on their break and still in their work clothes.  I understand that it IS better than nothing but it is a very different commitment level than those who make time to do a full workout including sweating enough we need to change clothes. I mean, it’s one thing to go for a walk during your break but to have an entire fitness center on the premises and not utilize it fully?  What a waste!

I admit I get a bit of entertainment watching them come and go on the treadmills and elliptical machines and there’s one… um… girl… in particular who stands out among the rest.  Why?  Because she comes in every day, dressed in her skirts and knee-high boots AND jacket or blazer – crazy enough by itself.  But what’s more crazy is the choice of television while she’s at it.  At a glance I’d say she’s in her twenties – early to middle – and yet she’s watching TV that my nine year old likes.  We’re talking Nickelodeon and ABC Family and even the Disney Channel.  Laughable really and at times I find it hard not to do so out loud. 

So back to last week’s episode… I’m on the treadmill sweating like a pig, jamming to some Marilyn Manson doing intervals: two minutes of “normal” running followed by a minute of sprinting.  Because I have my iPod and there were only iPod-ers there when we started I turned the television off (yes, people, there’s an off switch on those things!) and dropped the remote into the cup holder on my left.  Half an hour into my workout, teeny bop girl walks in and climbs on the treadmill to my immediate right and starts looking around for the remote for the TV hanging directly above my treadmill.  I’m watching out of the corner of my eye and I know exactly when she finds it.  Even if I hadn’t been watching, I would have known because at that point she started STARING at me.  Like craning your neck and staring at me from just within my peripheral vision is the same as asking for the fucking remote?  Seriously, it was creepy and it went on for the entire time she worked out.  I kept thinking she would ask me and after a while it became apparent that she wasn’t going to and I thought ‘Oh, you think I can’t outlast your childish stare down?  You are wrong chicky!’

Like clockwork, ten minutes later she turned off her treadmill and headed back to her time-clock punching job (God I’m glad I don’t have to do that!) until the next day.  I’m sure she was totally pissed that she’d missed out on her tween show while she went for her leisurely stroll but here’s the kicker – I would have gladly given her the remote if she’d just opened her mouth and asked me for it.  I even gave her an opening when one of my friends got finished with her cardio and headed for the locker room as I turned and said goodbye – after she’d gotten my attention from my tunes that is.

The snotty bitch in me gloated that I had outlasted the childish stare down after I got over how creepy it all was.  But then I started thinking about the greater tragedy of the whole thing.  You see, that girl is in her twenties and still doesn’t know how to ask for what she wants.  Not the remote in the gym, probably not with her job, most likely not even with her friends – and God knows how unhappy she probably is in the sack!  Tragic, really but until she learns that life lesson she will continue to be frustrated everywhere she turns.  Unable to voice her own desires, she will continue to be thwarted in all she does – usually by bitches like me who know exactly what we want and aren’t afraid to ask – no, DEMAND – what we want both in action and in words.

I made sure to rush home and work this life lesson into a conversation with Big Sister so she hears at an early age how important it is to stand up and ask for whatever it is that you want most.  This is something big enough not to be left to that old ‘lead by example’ bullshit.  There’s too much objectivity in that approach to be trusted implicitly in all things.  Although, I have no fear she will see it enforced daily through my actions.  Later she will thank me when she has a life that she wants and everything as she likes it with her husband and her own children.  And if I see the Disney chick attempting the stare down again, I might just tell her “it serves you right for not asking!”