Friday, April 19, 2013

Radio Silence... and a Song in my Heart

If you haven't been paying attention to US news, this week has been pretty freaking terrible. The bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday were horrific. Then, reports that mail directed to President Obama and a US senator contained the poison ricin (which might prompt one to eerily recall the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent letters laced with anthrax spores just seven days later). In West, Texas, a fertilizer plant exploded, destroying a significant portion of the town, killing several and wounding many more. And then, we saw the US Senate's bill proposing universal background checks be required for the purchase of firearms get shot down. ...

And in the middle of all this, Kiddo is celebrating his sixth birthday. 

What's a Mom to do? I couldn't turn my brain off, but I needed to be able to be present (and happy, festive) for my little guy. Six is a special birthday, and he's my sweetie-pie. He deserved to have parents who could enjoy his birthday with him. 

So, I've kept the radio off. The television off. Joe and I haven't discussed any of these scary things in front of Kiddo. We are respecting his innocence. We want him to feel that his birthday is the most important thing to us right now, because he's six and he deserves to continue to think in such naive ways. It won't be something we can sustain forever, but right now, we are letting him have a little peace. 

I enjoyed Wednesday thoroughly. The sun was out; I walked the 2 mile round trip (most of it with one of his honorary Aunties) in the beautiful Portland springtime to get Kiddo some cupcakes for that evening. The flowers are blooming, the dogwoods pink and white are just radiant. We were determined to drink in the day, and talked briefly--only briefly-- about current events, about looking for the helpers and about how the media so mismanages these events. That morning Kiddo had opened his presents; that night, we had a good dinner and savored our cupcakes.

Thursday was harder. I cried a bit yesterday night. The television has been mostly off all week,  and I was surprised by some images of the blasts, images of horror-stricken, devastated people. People just like my neighbors, just like the people I love. My heart caved in and I wept for a while, getting out all those emotions I'd kept in check this week. 

And today the manhunt for the second suspect in the bombings is all over the airwaves. This morning meant a shopping trip for a small 'friends' birthday party tomorrow. As I waited for the bus home, my backpack and another bag besides, all loaded with snacks and birthday entertainments and cupcake mix, an old Rogers and Hammerstein tune, "It Might As Well Be Spring" came to me. I have a great version of it sung by Buddy Divito on a 1945 Harry James radio show cd. No one was at the bus stop with me, and so I began to sing. 

I'm as busy as a spider spinning daydreams,
I'm as giddy as a baby on a swing,
I haven't seen a crocus or a rosebud,
Or a robin or a bluebird on the wing,
But I feel so gay in a melancholy way,
That it might as well be spring,

Even though the world feels shaken up, I will keep moving forward. Like the song says, I am happy but there is a current of sadness which runs through these days. For the next few days, when Kiddo is around, the radio will stay off.  The television is off in the daytime as usual. We will keep our heads in the game. The song I sang lifted my heart for a moment, and it's these moments I have to hold onto. I have a house to clean, a floor to vacuum, cupcakes to make, dishes to do, streamers to hang.... and I have faith that it will all get done.

We keep pushing on, in the face of the worst of what some people in the world has to offer. It seems like things have piled up since last  year, with so many shootings (Aurora, Colorado; Clackamas Town Center here in Portland; Newtown, Connecticut,; and so many  more I can't even think of them all)... all these tragedies. Maybe it's part of the human spirit, to keep going. "Don't ever let them win" sings Neil Finn, and these words have been inscribed onto my heart for the past few months. We keep going, keep pushing forward. It doesn't make the tragedy and hurt and heartache of it all any less, not at all. But perhaps the lesson is to savor and appreciate life all the more, because it is so very, very precious. 

My heart goes out to those in Boston, those in West, Texas, and to all of those who have very heavy hearts this week. May we all be blessed with moments of peace.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Need Stiffer Penalties for Rape and Sexual Assault... and Prevention Begins at Home, Too

Yesterday brought something very ugly to my email in-box. Two different petitions, from two different parties, each urging me to sign letters asking local authorities to investigate the sexual assaults of two different underage girls.  As if the gang assaults weren't devastating enough, both girls had committed suicide after not only living through the atrocity of sexual assault, but also having to live with the enduring humiliation of their assault being posted onto social media websites and the bullying which followed. 

I'm not sure I can think of anything worse for a young person to have to live through. To then have their worst nightmare on public display, open to gawking, scrutiny and ridicule by their peers: this is too, too much. Boys posting pictures of what they consider to be their conquests.... so arrogant, entitled and flaunting what they feel is sexual prowess... this is sick. So while I am deeply saddened that some  young victims of these crimes do commit suicide, I also want justice. 

I want those boys to be facing stiffer penalties, which should include not only the sexual assault of a minor and distribution of pedophilia, I want them to be charged with involuntary manslaughter. 

These young women had a future. Until some boys, who believed themselves to be invincible, irresistible and above the law decided to steal it from them.  The website Suicide.org states that:

"It is quite common for rape victims to suffer from depression. And untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide. About 33% of rape victims have suicidal thoughts. About 13% of rape victims will attempt suicide. Suicide attempts may occur years after the rape." 

This is something we cannot ignore, the cause of the deaths of these young women. Even if the victim does not kill themselves, they may very well experience post traumatic stress disorder. In a report, from the website Mental Health Impact of Rape, we find the following data:

 Almost one-third (31%) of all rape victims developed PTSD sometime during their lifetime; and more than one in ten rape victims (11%) still has PTSD today. 

Rape victims were 6.2 times more likely to develop PTSD than women who had never been victims of crime (31% vs 5%). 

Rape victims were 5.5 times more likely to have current PTSD than those who had never been victims of crime (11% Vs 2%).  

How, then, can we continue to assign measly sentences to the boys who commit these heinous acts? I was disgusted when the Steubenville rape case resulted in a puny one year in juvenile detention for one of the perpetrators and "at least' two years for the other boy, who was also charged with photographing the underage girl naked. They will both be registered sex offenders for their lifetimes. 

Yet, this, to me, is not enough. The fact that they chose, again and again, to drag an unconscious person from party to party and to repeatedly violate her goes far beyond two boys making a mistake. This is beyond what most of us would consider a bad choice. And it is continuing in other parts of the world, perhaps because we haven't brought the message home loud and clear~

Do this to someone and your life as you know it will end. 

We need the boys who do this to be locked away for a long time. We need those who stood there and witnessed this poor girl being violated -- those who did absolutely nothing to help-- to be serving jail time, even short sentences. We need to send a message which is loud and clear that this will not be tolerated. That if young men choose (it is a choice) to sexually assault a young woman, the singularly most frightening moments of their life are going to be in their faces immediately. These boys need to get the message that it won't be one or two years in juvie, that it will be at least five years served in juvenile detention as well as adult prison. They need to know that investigators aren't going to drag their feet but will be locking them up first thing and then asking questions. When we have actual proof of these crimes, law enforcement should be doing everything possible to protect the victims.

The other reason I am concerned regarding the slow path to investigation and justice is that I believe this also puts the young men in danger. In the case of Audrie Potts, one of her assailants was still attending school for over half a year. I am concerned that an angry, destroyed parent whose child has committed suicide might not wait any longer for justice. They may choose to take matters into their own hands. 

We have to stop thinking of this problem as 'why are underage girls getting drunk and raped' and start talking about how we, as an entire culture, contribute to the problems we are now facing. 

We need to address some of the small stuff first. How our kids are allowed to speak to each other reflects one aspect of our culture's violent attitude toward women. My ears ring regularly with young men calling each other 'bitch' in a derogatory manner. They act like it's all in fun, however, the underlying statement is that women are not worthy of respect; that any possible feminine traits are to be considered weak and disgusting and subject to derision. Some of us also allow our sons to play games which feature women being abused and degraded verbally and physically. We need to stop this right now. There's no value to those situations, albeit pretend, and this should not add to the allure of a game-- the possibility of pretending to slap and beat a woman is a sick, disgusting thing which video game companies should not be offering. No one benefits from these depictions.

We need to address how we raise our boys. As parents, we must stop excusing violent and aggressive behaviors with the pat phrase 'boys will be boys' and a shrug. There is a time for rough play, when it is agreed-upon by both parties and there are rules to keep things safe, much like in the martial arts. This is a problem that many mothers wonder what to do with-- when our own children are being hurt and other parents apathetically dismiss their child's actions. Be accountable for your kids, folks. If they are hitting, don't make excuses, address the problem, or you are failing your children. We don't hit, period. Not because 'it's not nice' but because it is wrong. Teaching our kids the difference between aggression and self-defense is important, and teaching our youngest kids that there are penalties for hurting others will go much farther in helping our boys know what is appropriate behavior. 

We need to take a very hard look at the fact that our kids are not doing a great job in managing the supposed freedoms of technology. The incidence of young people posting online pictures of crimes they have committed only tells me that we have some very stupid children who have too much access and liberty and not enough common sense. We need to get over ourselves as parents and to get over the idea that cell phones do not make our children safe. Knowing where our children are, knowing whose house they are going to, physically showing up to see that the parent is there and to have an actual conversation with those parents would go a long, long way in preventing the problems we are now facing. Yet, time and again, we hear of parents who would rather give their kids a phone because they feel their child is safer if they can contact them directly. Not true. Our children are much, much safer when we as parents take the extra step of confirming our kid's whereabouts with other responsible adults. 

We need to talk to our kids about bullying, and then continue to talk about it. If your child has a Facebook page or other social networking avenues, you need to be looking at them regularly. Part of having access to social media is to be accountable for it. We need our kids to know that they must report any questionable emails, text messages and pictures to us immediately. Like the recipients of those awful texts and pictures of the rapes, we need to tell our kids that they have an unwavering obligation to report these crimes and that any action otherwise is the same as allowing it to happen. We need to get real with our kids and be part of their lives. We have to be present. 

Let's teach our children that alcohol is never an excuse for anything, period. That they are never to be drinking with their friends, and then let's back that up by ensuring our kids don't go out and do just that. Again, contacting other parents, talking to them, making our own expectations clear and then making our own decisions regarding our children's safety are all our own responsibilities.

Let's also address this at the schools, as well. What rape is must be discussed, over and over. What rape might look like-- that it is not just a question of a victim not consenting or trying to fight off her attackers, but that anyone unconscious in that situation needs medical help immediately. Let's make it clear that if a student sexually assaults another student or witnesses a sexual assault/receives information of a sexual assault or bullying and refuses to report it, there will be very severe consequences.

Will our kids still lie to us? Yes. Will they still try to sneak out or get one over on us? Likely. But if we choose to make it harder for them by simply being present and engaged as parents, we will do much, much better. If we hold our young men who sexually assault girls up to stiffer, more severe penalties, that is one discouragement. And if we set the standard at home that we are to respect all other people, that we never take advantage of someone else who is in a vulnerable position (this includes cheating on schoolwork and theft of property), that underage sex is to be avoided, that sex should always be consensual-- and that good sex is always ONLY consensual-- we have already made a little bit of progress in keeping all of our children safer. 

We as parents must rise up and realize that we are the only ones who can change the future for so many kids. I don't want to see or hear another story about another girl who was robbed of her future. Never again.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Breaking Bad Habits with Family Support

Sometimes, I get a goody in my email. I have Hakea's blog listed over to the right; you should really have a look today. 

We all wonder what to do when our children's bad/annoying/idiosyncratic habits drive us batty or get a negative response from others. I know I have banished my child from the room on more than one occasion for making noises... really, what kiddo doesn't do some strange noise/sniff/throat clearing from time to time? We've dealt with all three recently... which only makes him the most normal, typical kid ever.

So, today Hakea offers a great method of changing those habits with family support. Did you click the link yet? I'm not even going to try to paraphrase, she's done such a great job of explaining the family-supported technique, step by step. Bookmark this in your brain if your child is currently not doing something that's driving you and others bonkers... and if they are, have a look today. 

I know I'll be showing this to Joe and then employing this new way of helping Kiddo-- just as soon has he gets past this cold he's got! Timing is everything.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tomato Soup- Marvelous Memories and a Recipe

Tomato soup is one of those things in the world which does not allow for fence-sitting. Much like beets or sushi or even deep-fried Twinkies, either you love it or you hate it. Actually, unlike deep-fried Twinkies, it cannot be a question of not understanding why this food exists-- it's more of something intrinsic to childhood, because that was the time of our lives when most came eye to eye with a bowl of the red stuff.

Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup was my first introduction to this food. Likely, it was the base of the Spam Stew my mom used to make for us when we lived in Honolulu. She did later import this culinary (delight? marvel? absurdity?) back to the Mainland. From what I can remember, Spam Stew required a couple cans of condensed tomato soup, water, a can of green beans, maybe some corn?, and a can of SPAM, cubed up and thrown in, all those ingredients cooked together.

Then came the introduction, via hot lunch at school, of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Hot cheese and tomato soup are like Bogart and Bacall or Bert and Ernie: meant to be together, forever. This was the norm, until middle school when I came face to face with the scariest cheese/tomato combination alive: Cheese Zombies. 

May the culinary deities bless the lunch lady who invented this gift from junk food bliss. The Cheese Zombie was a quantum leap in the decadence department: imagine a giant cafeteria tray holding what was nothing more than a Velveeta pie; crust on bottom, loads of cheese in the middle, crust on top. If you were  lucky, you would get a piece cut from the middle of the tray, literally oozing cheese in long strands as it headed to that largest rectangle of your cafeteria tray. Dunking the 'Zombie' into the institutional tomato soup, complete with little mysterious red lumps-- this--this-- was heaven.

It wouldn't be until I was 28, though, before my favorite tomato soup memory came to be. A bunch of us had gone to the Northwest Film Center to see a retrospective of the work of Ray Harryhausen, a special effects pioneer.  This would be followed with a Q&A with Harryhausen himself.Way back in the day, Harryhausen created his own method of stop-motion special effects called Dynamation. (Did you click the link? Recognize any of his legendary creations, including Mighty Joe Young?) Well, long story short, one of our party asked Harryhausen and his wife one last question during the receiving line: were they hungry?

And that is how I found myself sitting at the old Heathman Bakery on Park Avenue, back in the late 90s, with Mr. and Mrs. Harryhausen.  They were proper, polite, seemingly unfazed at the prospect of dining with some nutty bohemian types who had endless questions about his work. Aretha Franklin played in the background and Mr Harryhausen made a comment to the effect that she sounded like she was being tortured. I believe he had a rather subtle sense of humor, but what do I know? 

However, when his tomato bisque came to the table, he declared the soup "as red as the blood of Medusa". He should know-- he animated her for the 80's movie "Clash of the Titans". 

And that is what has stuck with me, ever since. Whenever I sit down to a bowl of tomato soup, I hear Ray Harryhausen's comment in my head~ as red as the blood of Medusa. How can that not be the best tomato soup memory in my head?

Years have passed and I have moved on from the Campbell's Condensed offerings, even the Progresso varieties won't suit. I have what we might politely call 'food issues' and many things we find in prepared tomato soups-- milk, garlic, onions-- are all off limits to me.  Undeterred, I've set out to make my own tasty red soup and that said, here's the recipe.

Ingredients:
1 large or2 smaller stalks of celery, washed and trimmed
1 large or 2 smaller carrots, washed, peeled, trimmed
1 red bell pepper, washed, seeds and fibrous ribs (white) insides removed 
1 28oz can of good quality crushed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen's Crushed Tomatoes with Basil) 
Italian herbs (or basil, thyme, marjoram)
olive oil
Good veggie broth. (I use the Imagine brand; comes in a carton. Or when I have trimmings, it can be made from scratch.)

Once your raw veggies are prepped, you have a choice; dice by hand into a 1/2 dice the pepper and slice, thinly, the celery and carrot. OR run it through a food processor with a 2mm slicing disc. This will help the veg cook faster. Heat up a large saute pan and add some olive oil, about 1-2 TB worth. Remember, you have a lot of veg to cook down. Saute for a while, then reduce heat and cover-- sweat the vegetables until tender, then add in the can of tomatoes and stir occasionally until heated. While this is happening, I also crush some dried Italian herbs in a mortar and pestle-- about 1 tsp. worth, but you can add more to taste. Stir these in too, and then remove from heat and let the whole thing cool for 20 minutes or so. 

At this point, you can transfer what's in the pot into a blender in a couple of batches; puree and add some broth in, at least a quarter cup per blender batch. This will make a soup with a thick, sauce-like consistency, so you can add more broth if you like it a little thinner. Liquefy for a finer texture.

Once you have processed all of the soup, you will likely end up with at least 1 qt + 1 cup or more of soup, depending on how much broth was added. I like to serve this soup with some fresh lemon juice right on it for a little flavor enhancement, and I don't add salt or pepper until it's on the table. The flavor of the red pepper will shine through, the carrot adds a little sweet (which is a substitute for the savory sweet of onions) and the celery is a nice, crisp complement. Because there is no garlic, the lemon juice adds some zing to the bowl and brings out the great, sunny flavors of the tomato and peppers. You can also tweak this recipe toward sweet with more carrots, or less sweet with more celery or adding italian parsley to the homemade stock.

I like this with a couple slices of sourdough, hot from the oven and dripping with melted cheese. Today, it was combination of the Norseland Snofrisk (goat) and the more quotidian Trader Joe's "Polder Blanc", a goat's gouda. 

Can't have the cheese zombies any more, and wouldn't you know-- I have a kid that hates tomatoes. But I'm hopeful and giving it time. Maybe they'll eventually grow on him. But he does like monsters, so maybe, just maybe, I can one day entice him with a bowl of 'the blood of Medusa'. Stranger things have happened, no?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"I Like You"

Last weekend I stepped out of the bathroom after a nice, hot shower to find this on the wall in the hallway, written in bold black on red paper~

"I LIKE YOU"

It was a nice thing to see.

I like you. Isn't that what we all want to hear, even from people we might not necessarily like ourselves?

I like you. I think about how my stepmother says it to her grandsons, how her voice lets you know that she thinks you are pretty darn special. The way she says it, it means something. It's as if she's telling you something that is really important to her and so it is going to be important to both of you.

We say "I love you" almost by rote to our family. Joe and I close most conversations-- even those grocery store "did you want the red potatoes or yellow potatoes" phone calls end with that phrase. But "I like you" says more. It goes beyond the bonds of filial love; it goes to a place where one says "I take pleasure in you, who you are-- in being with you."

Why do we like people? My guess is that it's really about how those people make us feel about ourselves while we are in their presence. We feel good, valued, trusted... important to them. My favorite "I like yous" have nothing to do with what I've done for someone. Instead, they are in those little moments, playing a game, building something together, working on a project or just being. 

Sometimes, a smile says it. And sometimes, when Mama has disappeared into the bathroom after a bit of frantic run-around getting chores done, it is great thing to see taped on the wall when she comes out. There it floats, surrounded by white paint at my eye level. I wonder how he could have reached up so high, and I wonder what else he can do that I don't know about.  Life is full of surprises, and this is the nicest one I've had in a while.

I like you, too.