Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Ideas for 2010

Call them resolutions or a wish list, these are the things that have been tickling the edge of my consciousness the last couple months. Will they become part of my life this year? I don't know, but I hope at least one of them becomes part of yours.

The Washing Line.
You know in movies set out in the country or in the distant past, women are out hanging clothes to dry on a washing line. The sun is beaming down, the shadows play across the surface of bright white sheets--that may be a Downy commercial, actually. Anyway, drying clothes on the washing line has this old world quality to it. Plus it saves energy. I know my dryer runs almost all day when I am doing several loads of laundry and if I could cut that energy use down, I'd be happier.
Here's the catch-- my neighbors will never go for it. And I'm pretty sure my landlord will tell me I can't put one up. But if we just start talking about washing lines, how great they are, maybe our neighbors and landlords will come around.
My in-laws in England dry almost all their clothes on a washing line and their clothes look amazing. Shirts that they have had for years look practically brand new. I think the dryer really wears out the fabric quickly. So think about that.

The Fondue Pot.
Is there any snack more delicious than sweet things dipped in melted chocolate? Yes. Savory things dipped in melted cheese. You don't really even need the pot. Just make the fondue, put it in a microwaveable bowl, break out the toothpicks, and serve.

Chocolate Fondue
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fruit, pound cake, angel food cake, or marshmallows for dipping

Cheese Fondue
1 cup milk
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 tablespoons flour
1 t salt
Ham, sausages, potatoes, tortellini, veggies for dipping

You have your choice. You have your recipes. Let the yummification begin.

Amnesty International.
I joined this group back in college and was a fervent supporter for years. I really liked being able to directly help people who really needed it. I wrote letters on behalf of wrongly imprisoned folks-- peaceful protesters and such-- and asked their governments to give them a fair trial or let them go. Usually it worked, not because of my letter alone, but because thousands of people from all over the world had written. It felt really good.
Amnesty has dropped off my map lately, though, and I mean to do something about it. A few airmail envelopes from the post office and a little research on their website and I will be back in the hell-raising saddle. Yee-haw.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Bit of Christmas Whimsy

Last night, as the clouds rolled in and dusk prevailed, we finished up an early supper and got bundled up for a much-needed bit of exercise. Jim had heard there would be lights and caroling, hot drinks, and merriment along the path at Greenlake. We parked by the community center and set off on the very crowded path. People and dogs were holding and sometimes wearing strings of lights. The path was lit on either side by simple luminaries in white paper bags. My two-year old walked up to the first light on the right side of the path, stopped and bent down to look at the candle. We walked a few steps to the next luminary and he stopped again. He repeated the process for about the next 15 lights, establishing the fact of their sameness. I laughed and walked slowly on with him, content to let him satisfy that need. My five-year old charged ahead, as she likes to do, eager to see what was coming up next.

As we moved away from the lit parking lot, it got very dark. The huge evergreens in the park blocked the light from the street and most of the noise. The lake was quiet and still, a thin crust of ice over the top. Yet the path was filled with people, their anonymous forms filling the space between the lake and the trees with human sound. After about half a mile we came to a group of carolers and stopped to listen. The air was crisp and cool and the lights of the houses across the lake spread straight over the water's surface like drips of paint. The songs ended and we applauded in our mittens and gloves. I marveled how, in this place filled with strangers (and possibly friends, who would know?) we gained a new holiday tradition and breathed in just a bit of the whimsy that makes Christmas so special to me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Think Like a Man, Part 2

As you may know, I have challenged my female readers to "think like a man". Not because men are superior to women, but because I think some female ways of thinking are damaging to our selves: putting others first, expecting others to know when you need to be rescued, etc. Part of this may be biological necessity, but I think part of it is rooted in our American culture.

Look at stories like Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. In Disney versions of these stories, the female main character is a passive, helpless thing, relying on others to not only help her, but tell her what to do and when to do it. A girl entrenched in these stories as an adolescent gets a very clear message: you must wait to be rescued. If your life is empty, if cleaning up someone else's mess all day is less than fulfilling, wait, and your prince will come.

Now I know some people will say Disney movies have changed. Today's princess hero is nothing like that. Ariel, of Little Mermaid fame, goes after her chosen man, after all. She is proactive and assertive, they say. But she is still pinning all her hopes for happiness on a man! She is willing is give up everything to marry a man she barely knows. How many young women have taken this lesson to heart, only to find out ten years down the road that the romantic ideal they were chasing was just a fantasy? They are still not fulfilled.

In order for women to start "thinking like men", they must stop waiting for their prince to come. I want my daughter to seek out what makes her happy, to explore all the possibilities of what her life could be, then choose the best possible path for her. I hope she never gets the Disney message, a cultural diatribe written in pretty sparkly letters. Yet there is another message out there, rising up over the horizon, that tells girls "think for yourself". And I think if all of us, working together, can make this as loud as the other is pretty, the message will come across.

How did you teach your daughter to think for herself?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Blog Effect

About once a week I like to hop over to and read Soule Mama, a blog by a mom who knits, sews, and home-schools her four children with grace and ease (or at least that is how it seems). Usually I feel peaceful, calm and inspired by her photos or posts. But last week I found myself weeping as I viewed her tribute to her youngest child on her first birthday. The photos of the gifts from the siblings, made with such love and care and beauty, made me so sad. I had long envied Soule Mama, but now the startling evidence of her seemingly superior lifestyle was right there in front of me.

Suddenly my life felt hectic, ugly, and completely at odds with my values. While my kids were stuck inside watching TV, hers had been out gathering wood to make blocks and knitting balls for the baby to play with. I can't even imagine the horror on my kids' faces if they got these gifts this month. My daughter dreams of a Playmobil box with hundreds of shiny plastic parts under the Christmas tree. Both kids fall asleep to the sound of traffic on the busy road just beyond our door. That morning I read her post, Soule Mama made me seriously doubt my earlier contention that life in the city is better in the long run than what I had growing up.

Although a blog empowers us by letting us share the real details of our lives, it may also be the great humbler. Reading blogs, I am now regularly reminded how unoriginal my ideas are and how different my life is from the many I have imagined for myself. That is not to say I am disappointed with my life, (my husband and children are amazing and wow me with their special gifts every day) I am only disappointed with my inability to be all I can imagine.