Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Santa and Jesus Nativity Scene

I discovered a stack of Katie's drawings on her art desk while I was attempting to find a pencil with a working eraser.  We are a household of mistake makers.  Pencils remain long while their tiny eraser hats shrink within days of entering our house.

The drawings all have a winter theme.  I have no idea why, just before Halloween, Katie is suddenly getting excited for winter activities.  The leaves outside are dropping like, well, they should.  No sign of snow or wintry weather.  We've got a good month or two left of autumn.  Katie must be one of those over-planners, always thinking ahead.  Like my mom, who is an artist too.  I need to watch this one or here pretty soon she's going to start telling me to shave my legs and write romance novels.

So far, Katie has respected my unconventionality.  It's the least I can do to reciprocate in my appreciation of her art.

"Santa and Jesus Nativity Scene" by Katie Carleton

I asked Katie if she meant for it to be Joseph in the nativity scene and not Santa.  She said, "No, Santa is visiting the Baby Jesus."

I dig it.  I can be cool with Katie's unconventional nativity scene, but it does, like all good art, lead me to question what it means to us as a culture.  For example, does anyone else feel sorry for Joseph?  I mean, come on, he was a good step dad but his good works go wholly, even holy, unnoticed.  The artist has left him completely out of this drawing.  What does that say about our society that we honor imaginary gift-bearers more than real humans who do the daily care-taking of us?

Perhaps I'm over-thinking the artist's intent.  Perhaps this drawing is less a reflection on society and more a reaction to the Target Wish List catalog that appeared in our mail the other day.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The President of the Entire United States

If Gov. Romney wants to be President of the United States, he needs understand that means the entire country.  He needs to learn how to consider the perspective of all citizens and not just the ones whose lives resemble his own.

Here's a chilling quote about Mitt Romney from Michelangelo Signorile's post today in HuffPo, which you can read in full here:

"I've never stood before someone who had no capacity for empathy."

It reminds me of this video of Romney out on the campaign trail.  Watch how Romney reacts when a Vietnam vet asks about his stance on marriage equality:

This Vietnam vet is an impressively tough old dude.  Thank you for your service to our country, sir.  I'm voting for President Obama, who thinks all veteran's spouses deserve equal benefits.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup

Source: Wikipedia

Brr!  It suddenly got cold outside.  Katie's stuck at home with a mom with a sinus-headache.  No fun at all.  One good thing, though: we have American cheese, butter, bread, and tomato soup.  The ultimate It's-Cold-and-I'm-Cranky meal: grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.  Mmm.

Parent-Teacher Conference: Empathy Is a Skill

"Mouse" by Katie Carleton

Will and I just got back from Katie's parent-teacher conference.  We were sent home with a folder of some of Katie's projects.  This one above caught my attention.  I'm glad to see they are teaching first graders the skill of perspective-taking.  Try to put yourself in another's shoes, or, in this case, another's bare paws, and think about how it would be to live in this world.  That is a skill we all need to hone.

Looking over Katie's mouse book above, I like how Katie's mind thinks.  She herself loves cats.  But she understands that if she were a mouse, she would feel differently about cats.  Good work!

As we were leaving the conference, Katie's teacher stood to shake our hands and said, "I really enjoy Katie.  She's such a sweet girl."

I'm glad to see public schools focusing on the whole child and not just test scores.  Academics are obviously important.  If a child doesn't know how to read or add and subtract, she will have tremendous difficulties as an adult in our society.  But if a child doesn't learn how to empathize, life will be much more challenging for her as an adult too.  "Plays well with others" is an elementary skill that serves all ages.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Alive and Dancing" by Katie Carleton

Me: "Why do the sun, the rainbow, the sky, the flower, and the grass all have smiley faces?"

Katie: "Because they're all alive.  They're dancing."

Living Artfully with Intensity

After stumbling upon the realization that I might in fact be smart and not mentally ill, I feel pretty stupid that it took me so long to figure it out.  But I don't really care.  That's the good thing about being a late-bloomer.  It might have taken me longer than most to recognize this gift within me, but I'm lucky to have become open to it at a time in my life when I feel the most willing to take risks and work hard to make my life amazing.  Hitting my own midlife as my brother died of liver failure made this person who had spent her life ignoring and dulling and numbing and avoiding start to pay attention.  To mortality.  I grew tired of thinking about life and ready to live it.  But how?

Maybe thinking is my way of living?  Maybe living between the paradoxical states of thought and action is where I find the artful life?

I've been doing some research on so-called gifted adults.  Gifted is a weird word.  And smart is too vague.  I mean, if I'm so smart then why hadn't I figured out before that my brain is odd, but it's also unique.  My thoughts are ambiguous, but they're also deep.  My depressions overwhelming, but also meditative.  My energy can be manic, but also productive.  Difference does not always imply damage.

So I checked out this book, Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults, edited by Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski.


It's kind of freaking me out how much I can relate to it.  I jumped ahead to Chapter 10: Advantages and Challenges of Lifespan Intensity.  There, on page 177, I found these wise words I'd like to share with you:

Just as gifted children and youth do no "outgrow" their intensity, neither do adults, even into the latter years of their lives.  "Rather than labeling intensity as excessive, expanded sensitivities might better be defined as a major component of artful living" (Jacobsen, 1999, p. 157).

It's so nice to know my weirdness might be used for good in this world.  I've spent far too much of my time worrying about the day they'd come to lock me up in a padded cell.  It's reassuring to know my eccentricities might sometimes get me down, but they also help me lead an artful life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John Green Makes Sense of Our National Debt and Budget Deficit

Confused about all this debt and deficit talk among politicians?  Yeah, me too.  Thank God for John Green.  He manages to turn a complex issue into something not just understandable but downright entertaining.  Watch it!  If nothing else it's reassuring to hear that neither Obama's nor Romney's plans are actually too radical.  So, worse case scenario--your guy loses--our economy probably won't collapse as soon as the last celebratory balloon falls from the winner's ceiling.

Unpopular Is Not the Same As Alone

While working up the gumption to give novel writing a second try, I've been absorbing inspiration and advice from other writers I love.  Here's something from Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake that I'll try to remember as I slog through the writing of what will no doubt be an unpopular story, but one I still feel compelled to tell:

Still and all, why bother?  Here's my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them.  You are not alone."

That right there.  Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut.  For a secular humanist, you sure came up with a wonderful motto for lost souls.

Vote Early!

I actually enjoy standing in line on election day.  It fills my civics-geek heart with pride, mingling with my fellow citizens.  But this year Kansas changed its voter ID law, and I'm worried the confusion over the new law could cause lines to be unbearably long, even for weirdos like me.  So I'm going to vote early.  If you want to avoid long lines on election day and you live in Johnson County, Kansas, here are your choices to vote early:

Vote early in person, beginning October 22nd at these locations:

  • Johnson County Election Office
  • 2101 E Kansas City Road, Olathe
  • 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Monday - Friday, October 22 - November 2
  • 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Saturday - October 27, November 3
  • 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 Noon Monday, November 5

  • Great Mall of The Great Plains
  • 20345 W 151st Street, Olathe
  • Across from License Bureau
  • 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Monday - Friday, October 22 - November 2
  • 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Saturday - October 27, November 3
  • Closed November 5th

  • Metcalf South Shopping Center
  • 9531 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park
  • West Entrance 
  • 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Monday - Friday, October 22 - November 2
  • 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Saturday - October 27, November 3
  • Closed November 5th

  • Ten Quivira Plaza - Shawnee
  • 12156 Shawnee Mission Parkway (one block west of Quivira Rd)
  • 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Monday - Friday, October 22 - November 2
  • 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Saturday - October 27, November 3
  • Closed November 5th

Vote early by mail, beginning October 17.  Ballots must be received at the Election Office by 7:00 p.m. on November 6th to be counted.  

To vote by mail, complete an Application for an Advance Voting Ballot by Mail and fax to (913) 791-8931, (913) 791-8932 or (913) 791-8933, or mail to Johnson County Election Office, 2101 E. Kansas City Road, Olathe, KS 66061. A separate application must be submitted for each election unless the voter qualifies for permanently sick/disabled status.

For more information, visit the Johnson County Election Office here.

If you are reading this and you want to vote early, but you don't live in Johnson County, Kansas, check out this link, or leave me a comment below and I'll try to help you figure out if you can vote early too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tattooed PTA Mom

My daughter's conservative, suburban school has the coolest PTA mom.  I've seen her a couple times now.  First at the "Breakfast and Books" event, snuggling with her son as they read a book and enjoyed a hot breakfast together.  When we sat next to each other, I mentioned that Katie talks about her son a lot and says he's really cool.  PTA mom responded, "Yes, he is a very special person," smiling so big I could see a flash of the silver piercing in her tongue.  She turned her face to kiss her son's cheek.  I noticed an Eye of Horus tattoo on the side of her head, between her eye and her hairline.  Later, when she turned the other way, I saw she had another one on that side too.

The other night PTA mom was working the concession stand at Movie Night, her tattoos keeping an eye on the crowd, four eyes smiling as she hands out bags of popcorn and candy to cute little kids.  I would not be surprised to one day see her in a sleeveless dress, showing off her I [heart] PTA tattoo on her skinny bicep.  What a wonderful weird community this place I live has become.

Wilson Phillips Ear Worm: A Bridesmaids Review

"I hate the fucking Eagles, Man." - The Dude

The Big Lebowski is my favorite movie, so any other movie I watch ultimately gets compared to this Coen Brothers' masterpiece.  I finally got around to watching Bridesmaids last night.  It was great, right up until the stupid ending.  I hate fucking Wilson Phillips, man.  Why'd Judd Apatow and all the creative heads behind Freaks and Geeks that collaborated on this movie ruin it with such a lame-ass Bollywoodesque soft-rockout jam featuring Wilson Fucking Phillips, man?

Ugh.  I felt like this when it was over:

So, although I do recommend watching the movie, because it is laugh out loud funny, especially the character played by the hilarious Melissa McCarthy, if you don't want the song "Hold On" to be your next ear worm, stop the movie before the couple says "I do".

Happy Anniversary, Will!

Will and Becky, October 22, 2004

Will and I got married eight years ago today.  I'm hesitant to say such a thing, because it implies that I was not a whole person until I met Will and he somehow completed me, which is untrue and unfair to my single self who always did the best she could, but my life would not be what it is today, which is to say, outstanding, if it weren't for Will.  He supports me as I complete myself.  He's the best husband I could have ever asked for.  I hope he finds a similar satisfaction and support from me.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gifted Awareness

Gifted sounds so much better than depressed.  Or anxious.  Or whatever my latest shirk has labeled me.  Or I've labeled myself after a few hours obsessing on WebMD.

Wouldn't it be ironic if, instead of simply being depressed, or anxious, or blaming my struggles on posttraumatic stress disorder, I'm actually, well, gifted?

What's got me thinking is this article, "Giftedness As Asynchronous Development" by Stephanie S. Tolan, Tip Network News, Spring, 1994:

"It is vital to remember that giftedness (in childhood and beyond) is an internal reality, mental processing that is outside of norms. Achievement, as important as it is, is merely an expression of that mental processing.  Achievement may fluctuate depending on a student's immediate situation, his relationship with a particular teacher, the availability of courses of sufficient challenge and interest, even physical health. Giftedness does not depend on such variables. Whether or not it finds expression in achievement or unusual performance the internal difference remains.

"That internal difference is likely to include emotional intensity, unusual awareness and tolerance of complexity and paradox, and a potential for extraordinary moral development. During childhood and beyond these innate attributes may enhance or interfere with performance on various tasks, depending in part on how well they are recognized, understood and guided by the adults in the child's environment.

"The child who perceives typical rough and tumble competition on the playground as purposeless violence and connects that violence to persistent ethnic warfare on a global scale may become depressed and cynical about the future of humanity. He may withdraw and become a bitter, self-isolating loner. Or he may, instead, set himself the task of attempting to understand the roots of conflict, and commit himself to a life of peace-making and diplomacy." 

Wow, that sounds like me.  The bitter, self-isolating loner stuff during most of my formative years, but fortunately the attempting to understand the roots of conflict and peace-making part as my life progresses. 

Am I gifted?  Like a person who never knew they had ADD until adulthood, can a gifted brain go unrecognized for over forty years?  I feel obnoxious sharing such a question with the world, but maybe not so much if being gifted has a negative flip side.  It's OK to talk about how being unaware of my own giftedness has caused problems in my life.  It's not like I'm up here bragging, hey guys look how smart I am.  What I'm really saying is, oh, so that's why I've always felt like such an outsider.  Maybe my brain is not damaged or defective as some mental health practitioners (and pharmaceutical company ads) have told me.  It simply processes awareness and insight into things that interest me faster than the way most other people's brains react to new stimuli.  That's a fancy way of saying I absorb information quickly.

And if I am gifted, what do I do with that knowledge?  Maybe just feel better about myself.  I have to admit, I feel much better thinking hey, I'm weird because I'm smart, not because I'm damaged.  I can handle weird-smart.  I feel proudly part of nerdfighteria while watching John and Hank Green videos, but I never associated my love of the Greens with any sort of giftedness on my part.  That's kind of funny, really, if you think about it.  I was not self-aware enough to notice my proclivity toward "unusual awareness".

But I'm a middle-aged woman, so who cares if my odd behavior comes from being gifted or being neurotic?  Like so many things in life, it's probably somewhere in the middle.  It's not like I'm still in school, and that knowing I'm gifted would lead me to take classes that would enrich my natural talents.  But there's still time to mold Katie.

I found Tolan's article while reading this fantastic blog post about parenting a gifted child.  I hadn't been looking for information about raising a gifted child.  I'm just a fan of the blog Surrender, Dorothy and the latest post was about this topic.  It led to my doing more research about Tolan's work and gifted adults, which I'm glad I did.  I don't feel so stupid for being unaware of my own giftedness.  As Tolan states in this article:

"The experience of the gifted adult is the experience of an unusual consciousness, an extraordinary mind whose perceptions and judgments may be different enough to require an extraordinary courage. Large numbers of gifted adults, aware not only of their mental capacities but of the degree to which those capacities set them apart, understand this.

"For many, however, a complete honoring of the self must begin with discovering what sort of consciousness, what sort of mind they possess. That their own perceptions and judgments are unusual may have been obvious since childhood, but they may have spent their lives assuming that this difference was a deficit, a fault, even a defect of character or a sign of mental illness (Lovecky, 1986; Alvarado, 1989). Thinking independently may seem foolhardy or antisocial.

"Who am I? is a question they may need to ask themselves all over again because the answers devised in childhood and adolescence were inaccurate or incomplete (Silverman & Kearney, 1989; Tolan, 1992; Wallach, 1994)."

Asking such questions of myself is helpful for my own well being.  But even more importantly, such self-awareness could help me be a better parent for Katie so I might understand what she's going through.  I don't know if Katie is gifted or not.  I mean, of course I think she is, but there's nothing special about a mother thinking her child is special.  As Anne Tyler so simply and so beautifully expresses in her masterpiece Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in the scene where Jenny has dinner with Mrs. Payson and her awkward, bumbling son Josiah, "Jenny had never thought about the fact that Josiah was somebody's son, some woman's greatest treasure."

Katie might very well be a Josiah or a Jenny.  No matter what, I can honestly say my heart will continue to burst with pride at whoever she is as long as she's true to herself.

Also, what child isn't gifted in his or her own way?  Everyone I know has special gifts.  

Part of the reason I never thought of myself as gifted is I'm surrounded by gifted people.  My mom, my siblings, my husband, my daughter.  People at the library where I work.  So I never thought of myself as being particularly intelligent   Intellectual, perhaps, but not remarkably intelligent.  There's a fine distinction.  The fact that I care about such a distinction probably has something to do with that gifted thing or whatever it is about me that propels me forward in life, insatiably curious and questioning.

Right now my six year old daughter is upstairs reading a book that is categorized as a 3rd grade and up reading level.  My husband is composing a song on the piano we've had just a few months even though he's never had a lesson.  I am taking a second stab at novel writing.  Well, not right this moment.  I'm procrastinating on my blog so it takes longer for me to finish the novel and face criticism of it because it's so important to me.  This is important to me too.  But it's easy.  I'm good at it.  I have a talent for narcissism and self-deprecating humor, so I'm a natural blogger.  But novel writing.  It's haaaaaaaaaaard.  It takes focus and energy and dedication.  If blogging is minute rice, novel writing is taking off your shoes and working the rice paddies. 

So, excuse me as I go slip off my shoes and set a good example for Katie, my greatest gift.

Does Mitt Romney's Family Have Financial Ties To Some Types of Voting Machines?

A wooden ballot box used in the northeastern United States circa 1870.  Source: Wikipedia

"Research in progress".  That's what this Snopes article says.  I can't wait to find out the results.

If Mitt Romney's family has financial ties to some types of voting machines, that would certainly be a conflict of interest.  I was a big proponent of using voting machines back in the days when I was a poll worker, a job I like to brag about and watch as people's eyes flash for a second with the thought, "Pole worker?  Was Becky a stripper?  Oh, poll worker..." I loved the voting machines because they were so easy and efficient, two of my favorite adjectives.  I'd assume the Luddites who demanded a paper ballot were simply being paranoid and unreasonable.  But now I'm not so sure.

What do you think?  Should we go back to paper ballots and staying up all night to find out the election results?  I'm fine with waiting a few extra hours, even a few extra days, if it means we're dealing with accurate information.  But paper ballots can be lost too.  Should we continue with our technological advancements and make rules that say, sorry, if you're running for office, your family can't make a profit off the voting machines used to elect you?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Comedian in Chief: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at the Al Smith Dinner

I really enjoyed this year's video of the Al Smith Dinner fundraiser.  Politics doesn't usually give me the warm fuzzies, but moments like this it does.  You can watch the entire video above.  From C-Span:

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave keynote speeches at the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The charity fundraiser is a traditional light-hearted joint appearance for presidential candidates where they joked about themselves, their opponents, and the 2012 campaign.  

Founded in 1946 by Francis Cardinal Spellman, the Foundation honors the memory of Alfred E. Smith who died in in 1944. Al Smith was a four-time governor of the state of New York and former presidential candidate.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“People seem to be very curious as to how we prepare for the debates.  Let me tell you what I do.  First, refrain from alcohol for sixty-five years before the debate.  Second, find the biggest available straw man and then just mercilessly attack it.  Big Bird didn’t even see it coming.  And by the way, in the spirit of Sesame Street, the President’s remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter O and the number sixteen trillion.”  -- Governor Mitt Romney 

“It would be easy to let a healthy competition give way to the personal and the petty, but fortunately we don’t carry the burden of disliking one another.  Our president has had some very fine and gracious moments.  Don’t tell anyone I said so, but our forty-fourth president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud.  You can oppose, in our country you can oppose someone in politics and make a confident case against their policies without any ill will.  And that’s how it is for me.  There’s more to life than politics.  At the Al Smith Foundation and the Archdiocese of New York you show this in the works you do in causes that run deeper than allegiance to party or any contest of the moment.  No matter which way the political winds are blowing, what work goes on day in and day out by this organization, and you, you answer with calm and willing hearts and service to the poor and care for the sick, in defense in the rights of conscious, and in solidarity of the innocent child waiting to be born you strive to bring God’s love into every life.  I don’t presume to have all your support and on a night like this I’m certainly not going to ask for it, but you can be certain that in the great causes of compassion that you come together to embrace that I stand proudly with you as an ally and friend.”   -- Governor Mitt Romney 

"It says something about who we are as a people that in the middle of a contentious election season opposing candidates can share the same stage.  People from both parties can come together, come together to support a worthy cause.  And I particularly want to thank Governor Romney for joining me because I admire him very much as a family man and a loving father and those are two titles that will always matter more than any political ones." -- President Barack Obama

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Elect Dave Pack for Kansas House of Representatives District 23

This blog post is aimed at my Johnson County, Kansas friends regarding the upcoming state elections.  I understand completely if you bow out of reading this post now if you are not one of my Kansas friends.

If you do live in Kansas House of Representatives district 23, please consider voting for Dave Pack.  If you live in Johnson County, Kansas but you have no idea which House district you live in, check out this voter lookup tool on the Johnson County Election Office website.  And don't be ashamed if you have to look it up. I did too.  Democracy is a learning process.

Dave Pack came to my door a few weeks ago, and I'm afraid I was rude to him.  I should know better, too.  I canvassed for Greenpeace back in 1991, so I know how difficult it is to engage in conversations about important issues with people in their doorways.  I had doors slammed in my face when I'd ask if they'd like to sign a petition to ask our metro leaders to develop a curbside recycling program.  I had lonely elderly folks complain to me about how their children never call when I'd mention wanting to save the planet for our children's future.  I finally couldn't take it any more and quit one day when a man screamed in my face with such force I was afraid he was going to come after me with a shotgun, yelling at me to get off his property.

I don't do the door-to-door stuff anymore.  It's easier to promote causes via the internet these days.  When I want to encourage my friends and neighbors to sign a petition, I simply click a few buttons and share it on Facebook or my blog.  It's so much easier, and safer, than randomly hitting up strangers with a knock on the door.

I didn't mean to be so rude to Dave Pack when he walked up my driveway a few weeks ago, but it had been a very long day and I was cranky.  I was trying to get the groceries out of my car and into the fridge, dodging dogs and cats and a hungry kid asking me how soon dinner would be ready for the five thousandth time since we'd left Costco.  Because it was still relatively early in the election season and no other candidates had bothered to stop by, and because the only people who ever knock on our door anymore are trying to sell something, I assumed he was yet another guy asking me if I needed a new roof or my lawn mowed or a security system installed in my home like most of the others, so I cut him off before he even began speaking with, "Sorry, it's a bad time.  I've gotta get dinner ready."  He smiled graciously and left without a fuss.

Then a few Dave Pack yard signs started popping up throughout my neighborhood.  I got a flyer in my mail with Dave Pack's photo on it, and I realized that was the guy who came to my house.  After studying the flyer and checking some facts online, I felt bad for missing the opportunity to talk to someone who shares my values.  That's such a rare treat.

Once, when I was in high school, a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on our door late one afternoon when I was home from school, but before my parents got home from work.  They seemed surprised when I offered them a seat in our living room and a glass of water.  My breath probably still smelled like Boone's Farm from the night before and I was probably wearing a homemade hippie skirt my mom sewed for me.  I didn't look like them, all neat and tidy and wearing suits.  I didn't look like someone who walks around spouting out about how God is on my side.  They might have thought I was crazy.  But they seemed like nice guys, so maybe they thought I was simply being nice by inviting them in. But honestly, I was the one who had the agenda.  I had recently decided that I did not abide any organized religion that does not love all people, so I immediately asked them what they thought of gay people.  I stopped listening when they began describing hell.  They left me with a book to read and I left them with some opinions of my own about how Jesus loves everyone, we shook hands, and that was that.  I would never shout at someone who comes to my door, even if they do not share my values.

I didn't shout at Dave Pack when he approached me a few weeks ago, but I certainly didn't warmly embrace him either.  I never even let him tell me who he was or what he was there for.  

So let me make it up to him by pimping his message on my blog.

Please, I can't urge you enough to go read about Dave Pack and what he wants to do for our district and our state.  I'll quote a few things from the flyer I got, but please also check out how he stands on various issues compared to his opponent by reading his responses to questions from the Kansas City Star on its Midwest Democracy Project site here.  Dave Pack's full responses are here.

Quotes from the flyer I got in the mail:

I retired from a 40-year career as a professional statistician in June 2012 and filed to run for the Kansas House 10 days later, changing my Unaffiliated registration to Democrat.  So I am not a politician, but a citizen who is very concerned with the direction Kansas is going.

Being "Successful Together" requires:

Quality public education at all levels, a crucial element in Kansas' economic strength

Government working in partnership with the private sector, as it did in the astounding economic growth of Johnson County over the past 60+ years

A fair tax code under which everyone pays their fair share

A government safety net for those among us in need

A true democracy where every person has a voice

"I found your flyer in my door when I got home from work tonight.  I am a registered Republican and a Christian, however I am appalled at the far right that the Republican Party has become.  What has happened to working together to solve our problems, to not being extremists?  After visiting your website and reading about you I am pleased to give you my vote."  --Kimberly Patrick

"We support you because you represent a more moderate and reasonable Kansas and stand up against the uncompromising legislators in office.  Your positions on education, taxes, the environment, and women's health with keep Kansas from falling behind other states."  --The Hamel Family

Barbie + Einstein = ?

I love helping Katie with her homework.  Even math.  In principle, I hate math.  All those pesky absolutes, certainty there is a "right" answer.  Life is not like that.  Life is one big giant maybe.  I prefer to wallow in the ambiguous muck of humanities.  I'm fascinated by human development.  I love watching my daughter's brain churn right before my eyes.  So I put aside my personal feelings about math and cheer my daughter on as she briskly computes these abstract concepts.  I sit back and smile, hoping she continues crossing the bridge that divides math and humanities, enjoying herself no matter which side she finds herself.

And don't tell me it's just a girl thing, that soon she will fill up her brain with our culture's pink propaganda and whine, "Math class is tough" like Teen Talk Barbie.  Just because she's a girl and that's what girls do.  I mean, yeah, math is tough for some people.  Some perfectly smart people whose brains just don't work that way.  Like me and my bachelor's degree lacking ass.  I can't pass College Algebra, which for some reason is a requirement to get a Literature, Language, and Writing degree at the state college.  But not all women have the same brain.  My mom loves math.  Mom's a retired accountant.  She still does her husband's bookkeeping and files their complicated taxes.  For fun.  She enjoys doing those goddamned Sudoku puzzles that make me want to rip my eyeballs out of their sockets and ask God, why, oh why, for the love of humanity, would you create some people's brains that actually enjoy the sick sadism that is Sudoku?  And then also create other people's brains with such an intolerance to math?  But at the same time, I'm cool with it.  Remember, I'm the one who likes the unanswerable questions.  And wouldn't the world be a boring place if we were all like me?

So far, I've kept my aversion to math a secret from Katie.  I don't want to influence her aversions.  I don't like bananas, but I still fed them to her when she was first eating solid foods because I know they're nutritious and that even though I think they're fucking disgusting lots of sweet widdle babies love them.  What's hideous to me might be delicious to you.

The funny thing is, I think I'm learning as much from helping Katie with her math homework as she is.  A couple of times she's shown me her worksheets and I honestly didn't understand what they're asking her to do.  Like last night.  I didn't know what the "PT+" and "TA-" and "C-" meant in question three on this worksheet:

Katie explained, "PT means put together, so you add them together.  TA means take away, so you subtract them.  C means compare."

Hey, that makes sense.  Even I can understand that.  Maybe this math stuff isn't so bad after all.

Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."  In my six years of parenting Katie, that is a formula I am certain is right.  But it goes the other way too.  If your six year old can explain it to you, you both understand.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sh*t My Mom Says: Rooting For a Good Play

The quote of the day comes from my mom, Bev Martinmaas, who was talking about upcoming plans with my stepfather: 

"We're both fans of all football so plan a weekend of sports watching.  I sometimes forget and root for the wrong team because I just like a good play." 

*I put that asterisk in the title for Mom's sake, gosh darn it!  

Binders Full of Women - Is Mitt Romney a Closet Fan of Affirmative Action?

I awoke this morning to find the internet has exploded with Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" comment from last night's debate.  Tumblr has a hilarious feed here

But what's captured my attention is Mark Shields' analysis on PBS NewsHour, beginning at minute 2:55 in the clip below: 

"Can I tell you what the lead is -- OK -- what the lead is? Women in binders.  I mean, that is -- that will be the clip that will be seen around the world, Mitt Romney. And the interesting thing about that is, he told the story about the women in his Cabinet, was that was affirmative action. That is affirmative action.  He got all these men. And he said, no, no, can't we find some women? Go out and find some women. That's the definition of affirmative action.  And I will be interested to see The Wall Street Journal editorial page attack him on that tomorrow."

I just checked the Wall Street Journal and I see no such editorial yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Watch the full debate below on PBS.  Yes, the same PBS that Mitt Romney has said he'd like the federal government to stop funding.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning from Arguments

I have to work tonight, so I'll miss seeing the second presidential debate.  I can catch it later online.  I can't wait to see how Obama handles himself after his lackluster performance last time.  And it will be interesting to see if Mitt Romney comes across as personable at a town hall-style debate.

But I don't really care who "wins" and who "loses".  Same is true when I spar with my politically-minded friends.  I care less about winning an argument and more about learning from it.

Should be fun to watch no matter what.

A Second Try

Here is a conversation between Me Last Year and Me Today:

I opened my Google Drive folder this morning to get back to work on my second novel.  My second novel.  Ha!  That makes it sound like there is a first.  There is, sort of, if you want to call the unpublished manuscript gathering dust and dog hair on my desk upstairs a novel.  After a year of half-assed query writing, e-soliciting literary agents I've never met, and struggling to create an interesting book proposal for a book even I'm no longer interested in after re-reading it for the five hundred millionth time, I gave up trying to get my first novel published.

I haven't though, perhaps naively, given up my dream of being a writer.  In fact, since I cut back to part-time hours at the library over a year ago with the goal in mind of getting published, I feel like an actual writer more than ever, despite failing to achieve my goal.

"Published, Schmublished," I say.  Fuck marketing myself.  Fuck begging for a little attention from a pimp with an advanced literary degree and a fancy office somewhere across the country.  I'd rather blog in my basement with the mold keeping me company.  I write nearly every day.  My voice is heard by thousands of people.  Or at least thousands of times by the same handful of fans who come back for each of my posts.  How cool is that, knowing I'm not alone in my weird thoughts?

All I know is my blog is getting massive amounts of pageviews daily.  I don't need a publishing house fattening up my bank account and sending me on book tours to sophisticated locations to feel like my dream has come true.  I'm a writer.  Already.  I feel it every time I click that big orange "Publish" button at the top of my blogger account and I sit back to watch the pageview counter rise.

Still though, I'm prone to pangs of jealousy I'm not proud to admit whenever I have a lucky encounter with a published novelist, or when another blogger I've been following posts the good news that she's gotten an offer for her first novel.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm thrilled for them.  But it's difficult for me to not compare myself to other writers and start to regret how good I am at rationalizing happiness.  Do I really only want to blog?  Do I want to write because it feels good, or do I want to write because I have something important to say?  Do I not hold a special place in my heart for the healing powers of fiction, knowing that some topics need more than a few paragraphs in a blog to address?

I do want to publish a novel.  Even if it's hard.

These essays I post here, they're great.  I love them.  I love having a forum to express myself and to talk about how politics shape our daily lives.  I love how focusing on the details of anybody's daily life can promote the broad feeling that we are all interconnected.  I love the instant gratification of blogging.  I write.  I post.  I share.  You read..  It's simple.  It's streamlined.  It's easy.

Easy is good.  But so is complex.  And nuanced.  And hard.

There is something special that develops between a novelist and a reader.  It takes hours to read a novel.  Days.  If someone is willing to spend that much time focusing on your ideas, they deserve something you devoted yourself to.  

So I'm going to give myself a second try with this novel writing thing.  It's hard.  I know that.  And its ultimate resting place could very well be next to its older sibling lying on my desk upstairs.  If nothing else, when I've bankrupted our family by my unpaid literary pursuits, we can use the manuscripts as kindling for the garbage can fire keeping us warm on the streets.  But my second novel won't go anywhere until it moves out of my head, so I gotta get back to my manuscript and quit blogging about how I want to write a novel and just go write it already.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Trick or Treat's On Me: Candy Pumpkins

Candy Pumpkin.  Image source: Icravepumpkins

Mmm.  Candy pumpkins.  They are so much better than candy corn.  Candy corn gets hard once you open a package and they hit the air.  Candy pumpkins stay chewy and fresh much longer.

I just ate a handful of them.  When Dr. Linda Bacon recommends eating a "variety of real food, primarily plants" in her book Health at Every Size® I suspect she does not categorize candy pumpkins as a health food like I do.  They're orange.  That's beta carotene, right?  I'm eating my colors.  They're pumpkins.  That's a plant, right?  I'm following Dr. Bacon's advice.

I guess the Trick or Treat's on me.  Happy Halloween!

"I Don't Care Who Wins" Political Yard Sign

On our way to the Johnson County Democrats' field office to pick up some political yard signs, Katie asked me if I think Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will win.  My heart swelled with pride that my six-year-old not only remembered both of the presidential candidate's names and pronounced them correctly, she asked such a thoughtful question.  That's my girl.

"I don't know, Sweetie.  We'll see in November," I answered.

She was quiet a moment until she asked, "Mom?  Is there a sign that says, 'I don't care who wins?'"

Who is this child?  She must get such apathy from her dad's side of the family.  Humpf!

Spelling Testy

Katie has her first spelling test Friday.  My six-year-old has ten words in her homework packet to practice.  Seriously?

What are your thoughts on giving spelling tests to first graders?  Alfie Kohn, an educator I admire, thinks we should ditch testing students.  I'm prone to agree with him.  Especially first graders.

Katie got mad at herself when she misspelled the name of her school and the word "apple" her first try.  Seriously?  Those are freaking hard words for a six-year-old to spell.

"Why do you get so mad at yourself when you make a mistake, Punkin?"  I asked.  No, there is no "mp" in the word the way I say it.

"Because I don't like to make mistakes!" she shouted as if hurting my eardrum would make me understand her feelings better.

"Hey, hey, hey!  Simmer down.  I don't like to make mistakes either.  But you know what?  I have lots of practice making mistakes.  I've made lots of mistakes in my forty-one years.  So now I'm really good at making mistakes."  I smiled because I knew this would get her attention.

The kid has a future in silent movie acting, if that ever makes a comeback.  Her face had an exaggerated "huh?" look about it.

"I'm good at making mistakes because I learn from them.  I mess up, but then the next time I try something, I get a little bit better at it because I know what not to do," I explained.

Before you go giving me awards for mother of the year, understand that in less than an hour I'd be increasing my daughter's vocabulary of interesting swear words while berating myself for burning the pot stickers.  Again.

But this time only on one side.  And we didn't even have to dismantle the smoke detector.

I can't wait until Katie is old enough to appreciate the bad spelling jokes on Your Grammar Sucks.  Then she'll see for sure she's too hard on herself.  Sometimes you just have to laugh at mistakes.

Haircut: The Highlight of My Day

photo by Steve Snodgrass

Katie, first thing this morning: "What are we going to do today, Mommy?"

Me: "Clean the house!"

Katie, rolling her eyes: "Oh.  That doesn't sound like fun at all."

Me: "Oh, do you think we have to have fun every single day?"

Katie: "Well, yeah, Mom.  I'm a KID."

Me: "Well, we might go get your hair cut."

Katie: "Yay!  That will be the highlight of my day."

Me: "You like haircuts that much, eh?"

Katie: "No, Mom, remember: They give me a lollipop when it's over."

Friday, October 12, 2012

7 Billion Shiny Boxes

Beautiful post by Hank Green, "Human Sexuality is Complicated":

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cousin Liz, Will and Grace, and Modern Family: Television For Social Change

Today is National Coming Out Day.  The first person I came out to was my mom.  When I was growing up, I'd watch All In the Family with my mom.  My dad reminded me of Archie Bunker.  Mom reminded me of Edith Bunker.  So strong in her kindness.

I complain a lot about the mushy brains of my fellow Americans who pay more attention to television than they do the upcoming presidential election.  It saddens me that more people watched TLC's (The So-Called Learning Channel) "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" than either the republican or democratic conventions.  But I understand that television can be an important art form for promoting social change.  Shows like All In the Family help change American's minds about what it means to live in a fair society.

"Cousin Liz" episode 2, season 8 of All in the Family

Growing up in the seventies was a progressive pop culture lover's dream.  I was reminded yesterday of the All in the Family episode "Cousin Liz".  And this was not the only show to broaden American's minds about gay people.  Look at this list.  Another favorite of mine was Soap, which had a prominent gay character played by Billy Crystal.

Today, it's shows like Will and Grace and Modern Family.

Here's to television as a tool for social change.

Thank You Mrs. Carleton For Reading To Us

I got to be the mystery reader in Katie's class yesterday.  Even Katie was surprised when I showed up.  The kids treated me like a celebrity.  Katie introduced me to her classmates by telling them, "My mommy is a librarian!" as if being a librarian were the equivalent to being a rock star.  Come to think of it, Morrissey's mom was a librarian, so rock stars we may not be, but we do encourage such behavior in our children.

First I read Baby Food by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers to give them an introduction to the artists' work.  The kids had fun guessing all the vegetables and fruits that were used to carve the food sculptures.  Then, for the finale, I read Dr. Pompo's Nose by the same artists.  It stars a bunch of carved pumpkins.  It was a big hit this time of the year, when the kids are starting to plan how they want to carve their own Halloween pumpkins.

Today Katie was sent home with her backpack stuffed full of these thank you notes from her and her classmates.  What an amazing present to receive.  If ever I'm feeling down, I will look at these letters and feel better.  How sweet a simple thank you can be.

Breakfast and Books

I got to attend the Breakfast and Books program at Katie's school this morning.  Am I the only person who thinks it's ironic that her public school is caving to Mrs. Obama's Let's Move policies by holding assemblies where the principal talks about food and obesity, where we're sent home letters warning us of the change in nutritional standards that require each student to select at least one 1/2 cup serving of either a fruit or a vegetable with each school lunch, and where many of the worksheets my kid brings home have pictures of anthropomorphic healthy snacks dancing around the page, and yet they host a program that, from what I can tell, uses bacon to bribe parents into coming in early one morning to learn about the importance of reading with our children?  The teacher didn't even hesitate to pour more into her cup when Katie asked for a refill on her high-glycemic index apple juice.

One of the reading teachers asked me to write my name on the sign up list so they could keep track of all the participants.  But no one asked me to keep track of how many slices of bacon we consumed.  I guess I just got paranoid when a libertarian friend of mine shared this news article about Big Government stepping in and meddling with our kid's eating habits.    

Even if I'm not paranoid, I know I'm overly sensitive about the issue, being a former fat kid and all.  I've blogged recently about how his public school is sending Cameron Larkins to fat camp.  I'm quite vocal about my support for the Health at Every Size movement.  But the message I took away from the Breakfast and Books event was this: it's OK to reward yourself with delicious food and drink if it means you'll read more.  They're fine with stifling their usual chants about healthy food so you'll score higher on their standardized reading tests.

I understand why they do it, though.  Public schools need more funding.  They will cow to Mrs. Obama's childhood anti-obesity campaign to get more federal funding for educational programs.  And, they'll also placate you with saturated fats and nitrates if it means kids will perform better on achievement standards that keep funds coming too.

I wish public schools just got more money without having to do all these song and dance routines.  Focus more on teaching children critical thinking and empathy skills and encouraging them to enjoy a life-long love of learning rather than push them to study hard for a test.  But, dang, that bacon sure was good.

As an animal lover, I'm not usually a big meat eater.  Then I got dogs.  My sweet furry kids who spend all day just wanting to sit as close to me as possible turn into ferocious wild beasts when they encounter a baby bunny or a chipmunk or squirrel or some such fuzzy critter.  My poor, sweet dog Sawyer, a beagle lab mix and therefore a gifted hunter, gets so confused when she attempts to bring me her catch and I begin screaming at her to "DROP IT!!!"

I spent decades eating a strict lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.  A few years ago I began eating fish, chicken, turkey, ham and bacon from time to time, trying to add more sources of protein to my diet, which is recommended for people like me who have PCOS.  But also, as a former anorexic, I wanted to prove to myself that I was over my hangups and no longer needed my self-restricted diets to control my life.

So I ate a piece of bacon in Katie's classroom this morning and it was fantastic.

Then I came home and read this article about the 70-year old man who was eaten by his hogs.  My first thought was, "Well, what was the guy planning on doing to his hogs once they were nice and fattened up?  If the hogs could stand trial, they could plead self-defense."

When I was still abstaining from meat, people would often try to argue with me, "But humans are at the top of the food chain.  It's just natural."  I enjoyed reminding them that bears, sharks, even hungry dogs if left home with their dead owner for too long, eat people.

And apparently even domesticated hogs.

I sat there, feeling smugly satisfied that the hog farmer got what was coming to him.  Then I burped.  It tasted like bacon.  I prefer my cognitive dissonance with a side of home fries and cheesy eggs like we had at Katie's school this morning, so I closed the hog article and read on down my newsfeed.

I saw an adorable photo of my gay friend's long-term boyfriend holding my friend's sister's and her wife's newborn baby.  There we go.  There's a sight that gives me hope for the progress of the human race.  His sister and wife were able to legally wed because they live in Washington, D.C.  My friends live in Missouri, so they have no such rights.  But that doesn't keep them both from loving their new nephew.

One of the reasons I'm voting for President Obama in a few weeks, even though I'm disappointed with many of his policies, including Michelle Obama's Let's Move drive, is because of his stance on Marriage Equality, and gay-rights in general.  Today is national coming out day.  Today, in the year 2012, it seems like everyone I know loves gay people.  Even Christians.

What a wonderful thing, to have lived on the cusp of a new millennium and witness such progressive social change.   To have been born in a time when gay people, drag queens and poor street hustlers no less, fought back and began demanding respect and fair treatment.  I was born in 1970, just a year after the Stonewall Uprising.  Now, nearly forty-two years later, I get to "like" photos of gay friends holding their nephews by not-quite-marriage-but-it's-getting-better on Facebook, and share witty posts from George Takei, and share memes from straight-allies wishing everyone a Happy National Coming Out Day.

During Breakfast and Books, Katie read to me Eric Carle's wonderful book about a former fatty with a binge eating disorder who transforms into a beautiful, proud butterfly, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  A good meal and a good story about an underdog who triumphs.  Turns out Breakfast and Books is a nice path to social change.

Unless you're the pig.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pre-Review: Tanner Colby's Some of My Best Friends Are Black

I attended the infuriating and fascinating discussion of Tanner Colby's new book Some of My Best Friends Are Black tonight at the Kansas City Public Library.  It contains a section devoted to the story of how here in Kansas City real estate developer J.C. Nichols capitalized on racist whites' fears of having black neighbors by creating subdivisions that excluded people of African descent from owning property.  And Block Buster realtors would bait widowed white women into selling their homes dirt cheap, out of fear that the neighborhood was "turning black", leading to white flight from the urban core to the suburbs.  

At the end of the discussion, an African American man stood in the audience and held up the deed to his house, which he had purchased in the 1990s.  The deed, dating back to when the house was built in 1902, clearly states that people of African descent may not reside on the property.  He stood there and read it to us.  And when he finished, he smiled.  Because now the house is his.

I can't wait to read the book.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Moderation Is the Key

I saw this article today that showed several rock stars' high school photos.  Most of them looked like dorks or druggies, but Kurt Cobain of all people looked pretty, well, sweet.  Like a nice boy you'd trust to water your orchids and feed your dog when you went out of town.  Not at all like someone who would grow up to create brilliant songs about how fucked up we all feel but then seek solace at the wrong end of a shotgun.

I look back at my own high school yearbook photos and I look pretty sweet too.  Not that I write brilliant songs or plan on killing myself.  But I'm yet another artist who complains about my miserable existence as a young person, and yet the photos show otherwise.  Here I am on the left with my friend Jennifer on the right in my senior yearbook, looking like a bouncy, happy Phish fan long before I met my husband who turned me on to the band:

Why is it I mostly remember sobbing alone on the floor of my bedroom, listening to The Smiths, rather than blowing bubbles at the park with a friend?  Why do negative memories take up so much space in our current consciousness?  

I think that's why people turn to drugs like heroin, like Cobain did.  Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips and clonazepam, like me.  Milwaukee's Best, like my brother Pat before he died of self-inflicted liver failure.  Drugs, food, and alcohol soothe an anxious soul.  Sometimes you need a break from the negative memories.

The trick is to use your crutch without abusing it.  After a lifetime of disordered eating, I finally feel like I have control over my vices.  I've been invited to write my personal story about what life was like for me as a fat kid.  My story might be used by a professional writer in her third book about Health at Every Size®.  I'm so thrilled to even be considered for such a project.

And yet, I'm also terrified.   

When I was twenty, taking classes at the community college, my composition instructor, who also was the music editor at a local newspaper, asked me if I'd like a job writing for the paper.  He had called me on the phone.  I stood holding the receiver up to my ear, dumbstruck, staring at the white wall of the apartment that I'd soon abandon when I realized I wasn't quite ready to be a responsible adult.

"Who me?"

We stayed on the phone for what felt like hours but I'm sure was really mere minutes.  I thanked him, but declined.  I wasn't ready.  I lacked confidence in my ability to work on deadline and for such a large audience.  He couldn't believe it.

"You don't have a fear of failure.  You have a fear of success," he told me.

Well who doesn't?  It's been my experience that the cockiest people are just not living in reality.  And so people who are less sure of themselves need to find ways to calm down and realize it's not that big of a deal, precisely because life is so meaningful that if you focus too much on the challenges you might worry yourself into a state of demotivation.  So when I worry too much, I take a few deep breaths or I take a walk to clear my head.  And when that doesn't work, I pop open my prescription medication.  What's the harm?  That I'll be able to function in life and reach out to people I think could be helped by reading my stories, and not worry myself into a state of catatonia?

What was it the late, great Bill Hicks said?  

“You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.” 
― Bill Hicks

By the way, happy birthday today, John Lennon.  Thanks for letting Ringo sing a few tunes.

My grandma, a sharp and clever wit, needed her "nerve shots" to get out of bed each day.  My mom, an artist of the ebay and etsy-selling variety, smoked for forty years and zones out in front of the TV.  I dabble in my own ways of coping with the anxiety that seems to feed our family's creative forces.  But I'm healthier than I ever have been.  Just recently I had to throw out a sack of Lay's Sour Cream and Onion chips because they had grown stale before I got around to eating them all.  

As my amazing, creative husband Will says in one of my favorite songs he's written, "Moderation is the key to survival in today's world..."