Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

Ahh, it's that time again--break out the wallets and go shopping because it's officially "Christmastime!"

What a load of hooey.

Forgive me my Ebenezer ways, but to me, the mindless idiot mentality of "Ready, Set, Shop!" is frightening. The weirdly symbiotic relationship of stores and consumers sets my head reeling. Take this for example: how many stores do you know that will open hours earlier than usual for masochistic "early bird" bargains today only? I can think of several. Kohls and Fred Meyer opened at four-freaking-a.m. for their heavily advertised sales. And yes, they have a right to do that. Question I'm thinking of is this--if no one showed up, wouldn't they stop doing it? We'd have to spank'em for a couple years before they got the idea that the additional overhead in staffing wasn't worth it.

I'm of the contingent that likes to sleep in on my day off. Not to mention I find the idea of making workers wake up at 3 or earlier to go to work for no personal gain patenetly inhumane. At least pay the poor sucker double overtime if you are going to take them away from their families and force single parents into acrobatic contortions to arrange childcare. Not eveyone's grandma live in the neighborhood, you know.

Ooo, I know...High Scrooze factor here. I'm not anti-Christmas, however, I am all for conscientious consumerism. There's going to be a lot of cheap, plastic crap purchased today. And they are bargains, to be sure, but on whose backs does the low cost fall? Underpaid workers in "democratized" countries? Underpaid workers here? It might make you think twice before purchasing those things that not only aren't necessary, but aren't built to last.

And we are told to continually up the ante. On Christmas morning, when I was a kid, my stocking would usually hold a couple outfits for Barbie, a set of pencils with my name on them in gold print, a pencil sharpener, a little notepad with a cute cover, and a couple tangerines and peanuts. Maybe some chocolate. Not bad. I never expected Santa to be a source of endless wealth and resource. After all, there were millions of other kids in the world and hopefully, the elves weren't working in sweatshop conditions. Nowadays, turn on the television and you'll find cell phones, ipods and digital cameras touted as stocking stuffers. Yes, they are all small enough in size to fit into a stocking, that's true. But as a kid (and even now), I always considered the traditional stocking to be somewhat of an "appetizer" if you will to the "main entree" of gifts under the tree. If you get some expensive, digital high-tech toy in your stocking as a kid, what's left under the tree is probably a disappointment.

Or much more expensive. Every year a number of families go into debt to produce a "perfect Christmas"...perhaps some hope giving will cover the multitude of parenting sins that have taken place throughout the year (those times that Ma yelled at the kids because she was just exhausted, or the soccer games missed because Dad had to work). Or because we feel that we have the means, be them cash or credit, to get our kids and spouse what they really want and we know what it was like to be disappointed when we opened a gift. Yeah, that sounds a little touchy-feely, but guilt is a great motivator; unfortunately, it usually motivates us to find a quick-fix gift instead of changing our parenting or getting some counselling around those feelings of being deprived we suffered from earlier in life. So into debt we go, we spoil our kids by trying to give them everything they want and at the same time set a poor example of fiscal responsibility. And when the credit card statement arrives in January, these parents will be more likely to snip at child and spouse...thus the cycle continues.

Okay, a lot of complaining here, you might say, so what do I propose as a solution? How about giving our dear ones a loving dose of reality? Let's start with one idea: One cannot have everything one desires. Choosing one or two desired items is a start. How about a piggy-bank with $20 in it, so that they can start saving for that high-ticket item they are wanting, and a list of opportunities to earn money? If they want the latest video game system, here's a start...or if they choose to spend the money on something else, so be it. It's not a parents responsibility to make their every dream come true, but it's wonderfully wise to give them an opportunity and some support to make it happen themselves.

Or how about more experiential gifts? A certificate for a date at the zoo or go-cart track, just the two of you or you take your child and a friend. What about a "how-to" kit to get started in some form of art, craft or model-building, or a set of lessons in something your child's interested in, say beading or karate? Younger children can develop an interest in the world around them through beginning stamp collecting kits and a map of the world to stick pins in. Or give them your time by choosing a project to work on together and then making time to follow through with it. Building a model, sewing or knitting a blanket, or even building a playhouse in the backyard together will all provide far more meaningful memories than just being given any one of those items.

The same can be said for gifts one might give a spouse. How about arranging a camping trip, just the two of you, or a special night out at a hotel? An evening out with dinner and tickets to a play or to see a favorite band. The opportunities to build up your relationship are endless. Yes, all of these things involve a certain amount of money, but they don't have to be expensive. Try getting those tickets for a favorite local band; going out to that favorite restaraunt you loved whey you were dating and both a little broke. The romance will overshadow the price tag.

So there you have it, my solution for that nasty over-done consumerism problem. It isn't perfect, but I think it's a start. Until we all start whittling our children wood toys and raising sheep to make beautiful hand-knit sweaters... giving with a sense of purpose and thought is a big start in making the holidays a bit more meaningful to those that live with us. Being able to smile at those around us because we aren't harrassed by debt is a wonderful gift we can all enjoy well into the new year.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


It's been one of those weeks. Baby still snotty from a cold, and while Joe was in Boston for work, Joaquin's first tooth surfaced. Those tiny serrated edges, those sore little gums...we have had some tough moments. I now understand why, not too long ago, rubbing their gums with a fingertip of whiskey wasn't frowned upon. I have to wonder if it is any worse than the unknown ingredients of the more-accepted Baby Orajel. I'm not sure, but we'll go the pharmaceutical route, as CSD doesn't get their knickers in a twist over those sorts of things. But personally, if something's going to make my tongue numb, I'd kind of enjoy having a little bit of a buzz to go with it...but that's just me.

A silly picture for a week that needed comic relief. This is Joaquin at Week One. Joe sent this to me one day with the caption "He's beginning to look more like his Daddy." Well, honey, let's start with the milk teeth before we move on to facial hair...

Friday night found me sitting in the kitchen with the lights out, a candle lit and a glass of petite-shiraz, looking out the window at the rainy twilight. My sister and I were on the phone, discussing the challenges of our guys being gone, either physically or just mentally not being present. "You have three, how do you do it when Ralph's away?" I asked. She said that when all else fails, a cozy time on the couch with a pile of books worked wonders. Ah, blankets and a good book, my two favorite things.

Although Joaquin is only seven months, we do like to read. "Angus and the Cat" by Marjorie Flack is a favorite and always is greeted with his little chubby-cheeked smile when I bring it out to read. Another we picked up from the library this week is "Wee Gillis" by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson. Leaf and Lawson are responsible for the wonderful story of Ferdinand the Bull--you might remember him as that mellowest of Bovine, who liked to 'just sit quietly and smell the flowers'. "Wee Gillis" is yet another story of a likeable protagonist whose individual proclivities and abilities don't necessarily render him a great fit for the future others envision for him. Gillis is a young Scotlander who is born of both the Highlands (his father) and the Lowlands (his mother) and comes to a point where he must 'choose forever' which he will be, a Highlander who stalks stags or a Lowlander who tends the long-haired cattle. That he finds his own solution to the limitations others impose is by chance, but utterly also by choice. I'm enjoying this book immensely and wish I'd discovered it as a child myself.

As for me, I've just finished Sefi Atta's "Everything Good Will Come". Atta is a Nigerian-born author and her debut novel left me with much to chew on afterward. The narrator is Enitan Taiwo, the daughter of an English-educated lawyer and an angry and restrictive mother who has turned to religion after the death of her young son. Both parents have high standards; her father would like for his daughter to be an educated, liberated young woman--a radical thought in 1970's Nigeria--and not be bound to the house and the kitchen, in the service of men. Her mother refuses to let her play with the outspoken and brassy neighborhood girl, Sheri Bakare. While Enitan cultivates her relationship with her young neighbor friend on the sly, her hometown of Lagos continues to exist in a state of extreme wealth and poverty and political unrest as coup after coup takes place in her country. At a tender age, a tragic turn of events serves to shape the girls lives for the next twenty years. The story that follows made me wonder a bit about my own place in the world, how my actions impact the lives of others, and what it means not only to be a feminist but a person with a conscience.

It's a rare book that reads so deeply; five pages feels like twenty, and the world Atta describes as so colorful and diverse, with so many different peoples living inside the same area ascribes as "one country" by colonial rule, can easily remind one of Iraq or other countries where so many people opposing religions are trying to live within a small area with a given amount of resources. Nigeria's main export is oil and there is much discussion of the concentration of wealth and power by one faction of the population, and what sort of poverty and despair can befall the rest who are not so lucky. In this militaristic society, Enitan sees firsthand the dangers of speaking out against the regimes, which are many, and must make choices to live as she has been taught by her elders and peers, or to live an authentic life. Sheri Bakare lives the life of a woman who understands the accepted and socially safe position of being a submissive woman while also manipulating that system to get what she wants and needs to live. Both women are wonderful examples of people who don't truly believe their world around them is correct in its perceptions of women, but they both find their paths in ways that feel true and honest for themselves.

Dealing with themes of global justice, gender issues, interfamily relationships and so much more, I'd highly recommend "Everything Good Will Come" to anyone with a book group.

And now, my brain needs a little rest. I've just started the latest Harry Potter...perfect reading after a taxing, teething week.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Beer Me--Yeti Another Reason to Visit Belmont Station

Ahhh, beer! There are few things on the planet better than beer.

Yesterday was one of those perfect days. I packed Joaquin up in the stroller and headed for Portland Nursery and then headed over a few blocks to Belmont Station. In the last year this establishment moved from its former digs on Belmont Street next to the venerable Horse Brass over to SE 47th and Stark. The change has only been for the better.

In keeping with their former location, Belmont Station still stocks a mindboggling variety of beers; "Over 1000" reads the sign. Whether it refers to types of beer or actual bottle count, it's still a lot. But now, there's the Biercafe next door where you can get a hot sandwich, soup, or a variety of simple plates (think Greek hummus with onions, pita and olives and feta..that sort of fare) along with a beer of your choice, on tap or by the bottle. Bottles in the store side are priced twice "To Go" and "Drink Here" with the obligatory OLCC markup for corkage fee, so if one of the carefully selected four taps on the Biercafe side don't meet your liking, or if you feel more inclined to grab a ginger ale or Jones cola, you have a lot of options. A big plus, the BierCafe is also nonsmoking indoors.

Wade was tending the bar last night, and overheard me exclaiming my delight at the arrival of a keg of Dogfish Head's "Festiva Peche" a peach ale I had been looking forward to trying. I've heard the fresh-tapped flavor is different than the bottle, and wasn't disappointed. Fresh and whitish in color (and I'm not usually one for paler beers, except of course, IPAs), the Festiva Peche was a real treat and went down smoothly. I was almost tempted to get a liter to take home.

We also tried the Anchor Christmas 2005, gingery and sprucey and quite rich. This is the kind of beer that puts you in the mood to celebrate. I heard from a brewer at the bar that this year's Anchor Christmas in bottles is less spice, more spruce, so if that's your thing, consider grabbing a six of that to curl up by the fire with. Speaking of seasonals, I've also been rather partial to the Alaskan Winter ale, a little sweet but not cloyingly so, with some spruce notes, and have to give top honors to Anderson Valley once again for a stunning Winter Solstice. A beer with depth, sophistication and a hint of sarsparilla; put together with finesse, Winter Solstice is wholly satisfying, and exactly what we would expect from a brewery that consistently carries top honors in the beer world.

I left last night with one purchase, Great Divide Brewing Company's Yeti Imperial Stout. Imagine, beer you can drink with a fork! All the hop notes of a great stout as well as a darkness and depth that reminded me of another wonder, North Coast's Old Rasputin. (As we like to say round here at our house "There's no disputin' the Old Rasputin".) Both are strong stouts that can stand up on their own two feet, but drink'em slow, because they can also kick your ass. The Yeti may be one of my fave picks for winter brews this season. It'll put hair on your chest, but hopefully not mine.

I'm glad I live in Portland, a city where you never have to drink a Bud or PBR. Even the corner stores sell Lagunitas and Rogue. What would I do anywhere else? Thankfully, I'll never have to know. I'll raise a glass to that!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Little Guy

So, my girlfriend and I went out for a walk yesterday. It was beautiful, the leaves crisp and all sorts of brown, ochre, gold and a pale yellow. They were crisp, caught in the wheels of the stroller every now and then, making a soft 'shhhhh' as I walked. We stopped for coffee and then went back to her front yard, where her daughter and my son played under the maple tree. The above picture was taken by Maarit, and so many thanks, it will be sent hither and yon to everyone who would care to see our little guy playing in the leaves.

Joaquin is at such a wonderful place. Befitting the season, the first food he seems to be really enjoying is winter squash. I caught him scrutinizing the rubber tree yesterday, examining the cluster of leaves at the top and following the trunk down to the pot, then back up. Really studying it. This morning he sees the dazzle of light reflected off the mirror of the Whoozit onto the ceiling, follows it with his eyes as he maniupulates his toy. This lasted a whole minute. He never lost track of it.

And he's making the milk sign. Deliberate or inadvertant, I'm unsure. But's lovely to see this little fellow becoming more interested in his world. I'm excited for him.

There's one thing he's still interested in, however, so I'd better get upstairs...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Two Little Hours

It's been a heck of a week in Babytown. Baby J came down with a cold exactly a week ago this morning. It's been a lot of snot-wiping, sleeping upright, and walking the stroller until he fell asleep. Fortunately, we had a lot of sunshine which made the cool weather comfortable, as this was the best way for him to sleep. Unfortunately, that meant I couldn't nap with him, which I was aching to do. Kind of hard to nap on the hard cold porch while the stroller is out back. It was a week with no real breaks at all. Nonetheless, his cold has nearly disappeared, and now daylight savings time made it all catch up with me. We were up at six this morning. Not good.

I had my first cup of caffeine in six months this morning, thinking it would help me make it though the morning. Somehow, after 6 month of decaf, I didn't realize how crabby and wired I'd be after one cup of tea. (Oh, and waking earlier than I usually do.) However, that soon came to light when Joe, who had slept in for two hours, complained about how the cat woke him a few times early this morning. Now, I'm not sure about this, but I think a wee little part of me kinda wanted to smack him. Not that I would. It was the caffeine talking, I'm sure of it.

If any guys are reading this, listen up: When you wake up in the morning and see that bleary-eyed mama in the bed next to you, have the good courtesy NOT TO COMPLAIN about any animal waking you. Even repeatedly waking you. That bleary-eyed mama goddess has been multitasking in her sleep, dreaming the demented (often the "where the hell did I put that baby?" dreams), listening for the baby, nursing the wee one not once but 3-4 times before sunrise, staying awake enough to make sure baby doesn't lose the nipple and suck a hickey onto her boob, and then trying to make sure she really doesn't have to go to the bathroom before going back to sleep because, god forbid, if she gets up, it's going to be next to impossible to get back to sleep again for an hour or so. And she might wake the baby in the process of getting up. Oh, and her body is making milk. So you see, she's not really getting much time off. So if the cat or dog or the squeaky hamster wheel annoys you in between snores, please wait until we've had a cup of decaf, or say, dinner and a glass of wine, before complaining about it. We will be in a much better mood and not want to tell you, in unsparing detail, how freaking lucky you are.

All that said, I proposed to take a couple hours to myself today. Joe was fabulous and agreed, but it was difficult to figure out what I wanted to do. Decided to go for a short walk to clear my head out, only to discover how frustrated my efforts are. I thought about gardening, but my gloves are destroyed and I forgot to get new ones this weekend. I thought I might do some sewing, but some furniture needs to be moved before I can access my sewing machine again. I thought about working on some thank you cards, but I'm not in a particularly grateful mood. I thought I might sit on the back porch and drink a gin and tonic and stare out into space but my backyard would just chastise me for its sad state of neglect. You cannot mother a backyard and a child, and besides, I'm out of limes, which are really essential for a g&t.

So, like the compulsive writer that I am, I wind up here, smacking out the letters, hoping to feel like I've done something worthwhile in my two hours. Perhaps I'll do some writing on a piece I've been working on about giving positive attention for neutral behavior. Perhaps I'll try to load up the ipod with the last couple of albums I've picked up. It's so hard to decide, but I do know this...I've got one more precious hour to go and I can't waste it.

I sometimes wonder if it's more work to have this time available, more frustrating to figure out how to use time when it's so precious, than to not have it at all. I'm sure I'm examining the teeth of the gift horse here, but feels a little like that question "You are on a desert island with a stereo and only five records. Which records do you take?" It seems to be more pressure than the occasion should reasonably warrant. When you have only two hours to yourself out of a whole week, it kind of feels this way.

But I get an intermission. Baby needs a milk fix. So I'll post this, milk baby up, and go do something else. Heaven knows what.....