Category Archives: etc.

What Does Friday Even Mean?

Today is Sunday, but in a way, it’s still Friday. The whole month has been nothing but Fridays, in fact.

We used to have Black Friday. It was the day after Thanksgiving, when the turkey-bloated got their exercise by standing in checkout lines in stores, trying to get a jump on their Christmas shopping. To lure in the many still suffering from postprandial torpor, many stores began offering special sales and deals on that day.

(Okay, I’m showing off. “Postprandial torpor” is the technical name for “food coma.” But I digress.)

Tech geeks got their shop on on Cyber Monday, when computers and other paraphernalia were offered at Low, Low, Bargain Prices!

Those were the days when Friday and Monday actually meant something.

Now, we have Black Friday for the whole month of November. And I don’t mean just four Fridays, either. Thirty days of Friday. And the Cyber Monday people have given up on Mondays altogether. They’ve succumbed to Black Friday fever as well; they just toss in the towel and lower their prices all month long.

Of course, I have a tendency to ignore sales. I know that there are people who haunt the sales. They refuse to buy anything that isn’t at least 10% off. I’m more inclined to whimsical shopping, buying things whenever whimsy strikes me. Fortunately, that means anything I buy in November has a good chance of being on sale anyway.

Maybe subconsciously I’m observing Black November (that doesn’t sound right), because I’ve already done all my Christmas shopping. In fact, everything I’ve ordered has already been delivered and is sheltering in place in my study closet, safe from marauding cats and an inquisitive husband.

Every day is Cyber Monday to me, since I do all my shopping online. For that matter, I do my banking and bill-paying online, too. I feel like a supervillain, coordinating all my plans from my keyboard. Of course, I can’t wrap presents online (and I refuse to pay extra to have my purchases wrapped by the assorted vendor-elves). So, I really hope my husband finds ripping open Tyvek bags to be suitably festive.

(I do have one tiny gift bag decorated with butterflies that was included with a pair of earrings I ordered for myself. I suppose I could put the SD card I bought for hubby’s camera in it, although butterflies aren’t really Christmas-y in this part of the world. The camera itself will be in a plain brown box. But I digress again.)

It’s pointless for me to complain, though. After all, the Fourth of July only occurs on the Fourth anymore when it falls on a Saturday. Hardly any holidays stay put. Thanksgiving is reserved for Thursdays, but it can be anything from the 22nd to the 28th. Easter bobs and weaves, refusing to settle on a single date. You know it’s a Sunday, but you have to be a mathematician or a priest to figure out which one. (Or look it up online like I do.)

Christmas is always December 25th, but it can fall on any day of the week. So the day after Christmas doesn’t get a spiffy name like “Exchange Your Presents Tuesday” or “Discount Candy Cane Wednesday.”

The next thing we need to do is make sure that “Giving Tuesday” isn’t relegated to a single day when all the selling gets whole weeks and months. Maybe some useless – I mean, generous – billionaire could match donations to charitable organizations. I can think of a few who could use a little good karma. So, if there are any billionaires reading this, step right up! Giving November can use you – I mean, will appreciate your philanthropy!

Things I Want to See in My Lifetime

World peace? An honest politician? A flying car? A second season of Firefly? Being able to retire? A printer that works?

Those are all worthy – though extremely unlikely – goals. But I want something else.

The first “thing I want to see in my lifetime” was to have a published book. Now I’ve done that. Twice. Check, check.

Another “bucket list” item was to see the Amber Room in St. Petersburg. The Amber Room is a recreation of a room in the Catherine Palace lined and decorated entirely with amber, weighing over six tons. The original Amber Room was constructed in the 18th century; later, it was disassembled and disappeared during World War II. It’s now considered lost forever, though there are always theories about how the pieces are on a sunken ship somewhere or in boxes stacked in an abandoned Nazi bunker.

Now that’s pretty much out of the question, what with U.S. relations with Russia, combined with my lack of funds for taking such an elaborate vacation. I’ll just have to be satisfied with my collection of amber jewelry and trinkets.

(Amber is prehistoric, fossilized tree resin. There are sometimes flies, mosquitos, or other bugs trapped in it, which makes the amber worth considerably more. The best-known varieties are clear golden in color, with shades from pale honey to nearly brown. There are also green amber and cherry amber, but I don’t care much for them. But I digress.)

No, what I really want to see in my own lifetime is a quotation from me on a t-shirt or a coffee mug. I know that I can order them one-off printed with anything I like (and I’ve had my book covers made into t-shirts and earrings), but what I want is to have someone else produce and wear them. I want to be in an airport and see someone wearing that shirt. I want to walk into an office and see someone drinking out of that mug.

Unfortunately, I don’t really have any sayings worth saying. Perhaps my most well-known one is “If my aunt had wheels, she’d be a tea cart.” That could, I suppose, appear on a t-shirt with a nice weird graphic of an aunt with a tea cart. My other signature saying is, “Sad, but true. True, but sad.” That’s short enough to fit on a mug, but a little nonspecific for anyone to take as their preferred slogan.

Of course, there’s also “DBF&P,” which stands for “Drop Back Five and Punt.” This is a phrase my husband and I use often because we’ve had to do it so often in our lives. Maybe the t-shirt would read “DPF&P*” with the translation as a footnote. I have plenty of obscure t-shirts and mugs (and shot glasses). Maybe someone else collects them too.

Most of the quotes from my blogs are too long for a mug, or even for a t-shirt. For example, “Teachers are the artists and architects of the future. We owe them a little more slack and a lot more support.” Readability would be a problem. It seems out of the question for me to be both meaningful and pithy.

Another thing I would like to see is one of my Facebook posts going viral. So far, I’ve had no luck there, either. I pass along plenty of other people’s posts, but almost no one passes along mine. Of course, that’s likely because most of the things I post are personal – interesting (at least to me) things that are happening in my life and funny things my husband or cats do. Apparently, our little family is insufficiently amusing.

The other day, I did download a meme generator (called, cleverly, Meme Generator) in hopes of putting a novel caption on an existing photo. The thing is, I didn’t want to use the too-familiar ones like “Disloyal Boyfriend” or “Change My Mind,” and again I have the problem of thinking up a clever caption short enough to fit. So here’s what I came up with as a trial run. This is my husband in a bar in Ireland. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to post it yet.

You can help make one of my dreams come true. Vote on whether I should post this meme (keeping in mind my husband doesn’t have Facebook) or not.

Why No Kids?

Once a friend’s young daughter asked her, “Why don’t Janet and Dan have any children?” Robbin explained to her that not every couple had kids, and she seemed to be satisfied with that.

The real answer is more complex.

The idea of having children occurred to us after we got married. Dan definitely wanted kids. I said that if we were going to have them, I would want to have them before I turned 30. Then, when my father was dying of multiple myeloma, I thought that if we were going to have a child, it would be nice to have it soon, so that he could see his grandchild. Although we tried for a while, nothing happened. I later decided that wasn’t a very good reason to have a child.

(Dan’s parents had, well, encouraged us to present them with a grandchild. I figured that since their other son had three kids, that would have to satisfy them. They later acquired a total of five great-grandchildren.)

One of the big reasons, though, was that I struggled for most of my life with clinical depression and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which had a heavy depressive component. I spent a lot of time immobilized, isolating myself, and living in a dark fog that I emerged from only to cry. And I decided that it would be unfair to subject a child to a mother who suffered with a disorder that made it difficult to take care of herself, let alone someone else. “Mommy can’t; she’s too sad” didn’t sound like something that you could explain to a young child.

I know that there are many people who have bipolar disorder and also have a child or children. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Once I was stabilized on medication and therapy, I might have been able to raise a child, but now that I am, I’m no longer of an age when child-bearing is possible. During the time when I could have had a child, my mental health was not stable enough for a family with children.

Then too, I had the feeling that I would be outnumbered. Dan’s inner child is, shall we say, close to the surface. I feared that he and any child we might have would run riot, leaving me to be the disciplinarian, the mean mommy. This was probably unfair and untrue, but the bipolar disorder also left me prone to imagining the worst thing possible in any situation.

Gradually, I gave up the idea of ever having children. Dan had a hard time adjusting to the idea. He would brood about it and feel the loss keenly at times. Later, he decided that he agreed with me – that with the state the world is in, it would be problematic bringing a child into it. And he satisfied his paternal urges by helping other people as a counselor.

I’ve had people tell me that I should have children. A psychiatrist I went to even told me that in my old age, I would miss not having children. A friend told me that he thought I should have passed on my genes for intelligence. Others have thought I should be open to such a blessing from God. I brushed off these opinions. As well-meant as they might be, this was a decision that Dan and I had to make for ourselves.

Most of our friends had children and, I have to admit, almost every one turned out well – even outstandingly. Despite the difficulties that every family faces, their families were loving and the children well-raised. Some of my friends have even become grandparents (which I found a little alarming the first time it happened).

There are several reasons that some people say that not having children is a bad thing.

First and foremost, there’s an idea that not having children is selfish. In this view, couples prefer to spend money on themselves rather than spending it on a child or children. I will admit that Dan and I sometimes take vacations, and anymore, they’re expensive. But there have been times in our life when we weren’t meeting our bills. Food insecurity is a real thing; at one point we were eating $.20 frozen burritos and $.35 boxes of mac-n-cheese. At another time, we were on food stamps. Again, I know that people do raise children on reduced circumstances, but it seemed inadvisable when we had a choice.

My psychiatrist’s comment that I would regret not having children when I was older proved not to be true. I am more convinced than ever that our choice was a good one. Besides, I don’t feel that adult children should be solely responsible for their parents’ upkeep. They may have children of their own that they need to support. If they can do it, great! But having children for that reason seems like a big assumption to me.

Then there’s the idea that I should have passed on my genes. As far as I can see, genetics is kind of a crapshoot. There aren’t any guarantees. Even if I did pass on my intelligence, which is far from certain, I would risk passing along less good things, like the bipolar disorder and a family tendency to cancer.

Am I happy living in a child-free state? Yes. Do I have regrets? No. This is my life and I have made my choices. Other people are free to make their choices about having children, and I applaud the ones who do it and do it well. But societal pressure is a form of peer pressure that I didn’t feel called to comply with. To those who don’t understand, I can’t explain it any better. I am satisfied with the way my life has worked out.

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In the Kitchen 2.0

I watch way too much Food Network. I’ve only ever tried to make two recipes I learned there and one was really only a theory, not an actual recipe. The actual recipe I tried was Ina Garten’s Triple Ginger Cookies. (I learned that when Ina says “jumbo eggs,” she means jumbo eggs.) The theory was Bobby Flay’s Tangerine Turkey, which I adapted to use orange juice instead of tangerine.

(Bobby Flay is so predictable. No matter what he cooks, he always includes one or more of his favorite ingredients. In addition to the tangerine juice, he invariably includes Calabrian chiles, pomegranate molasses, and either bourbon or tequila. Sometimes even when he’s making dessert. I don’t know why they even bother to have a blind tasting on Beat Bobby Flay. But I digress.)

But, even as Flay never changes, lots of changes do occur in the cooking world – all manner of trends come and go. For a while in the 70s, everyone who got married received a fondue pot. Later, the trend was blackened everything, which meant either burnt or way too spicy. Now we have pumpkin spice everything. Though with nearly everyone hating on it, it may not last for much longer.

But there are other trends in food and cooking, and the times, they are a’changing. What do we have now?

I’m glad you asked. We have bacon on everything. Avocado toast. Salted caramel. Poached eggs. Cauliflower. And, apparently, buttered saltines.

Bacon is such a trend that it appears everywhere. Strawberry-bacon crepes. Garnish for a Bloody Mary. I can’t say whether this is a recent trend. It feels like it’s gone on forever. Today I heard that men’s second favorite thing, apart from sex, was not beer but bacon. (I just had a brilliant idea for a new flavor of edible panties. But I digress some more.)

Avocado toast has a rep for being the chosen chow of hipsters. Although I have no objection to it (I love avocados and have eaten many a slice of toast), I’m not sure what’s so exciting about guacamole on bread. Though you do eat guacamole with chips, and that’s another grain product.

Salted caramel is something I heartily approve of, and I hope it stays in vogue for many, many years. I wouldn’t have thought just from hearing the name that it would be good, but I love caramel and was willing to try a new version of it. Now I’m hooked. Makes me wonder what other candies would be improved by salt. Chocolate? Butterscotch? Peppermints? No, probably not, though someone is bound to try it sooner or later.

Poached eggs are appearing everywhere, especially on sandwiches. The idea is to rupture the egg when you chomp into the sandwich so the yolk becomes some kind of marvelous sauce. The chefs describe it as “unctuous,” which I have always associated with “oleaginous,” loosely translated as “smarmy,” something I don’t want my sandwiches to be. I once ate a burger with a poached egg and it unctuoused all over my sweater. I was not a happy chomper.

Cauliflower came around with the advent of the gluten-free movement. As I understand it, gluten-free food is really beneficial only if you have celiac disease, but that doesn’t stop every Tom, Dick, and Harriet from swearing by it. And everyone who likes gluten in their mac-n-cheese, pizza crust, and rice pilaf swearing at it.

As for buttered saltines, I just learned this week that this was a thing. Personally, I don’t think it sounds very exciting, not the way bread and butter is.

Celebrity chefs are responsible for a lot of other kitchen trends, not necessarily associated with food. Take clogs, for example (specifically Crocs). I recently read a whole article on this – I think it was in the LA Times. Apparently, Crocs are valued for their non-slip soles and their ease of cleaning up after spaghetti sauce spills on them. But I’ve noticed that celebrity TV chefs are now wearing fancy sneakers – brightly colored or sequined ones. I don’t know how well they stand up under bolognese, but I guess if you’re a celebrity chef, you can always buy new ones.

Even kitchen equipment has changed. It used to be that no self-respecting chef would go anywhere without their squeeze bottles, the kind that used to hold ketchup and mustard in diners. They were used to decorate plates (and food) with dots, spirals, and squiggles of whatever sauce was on the menu. (Old joke: “Do you have everything on the menu?” “Yes, what would you like?” “A clean menu.”)

Nowadays, chefs have paintbrushes to put a swoosh of sauce on the plate for the food to rest on. If they can’t afford paintbrushes, they make a swoop with the back of a spoon. Which is all well and wonderful, but you can’t write Happy Birthday in chocolate on a plate if you’re using a spoon or a paintbrush. (Unless it’s a wee tiny one.)

When I was in college, there was a class called Food Facts and Fads. I never took it, so I don’t really know, but I think the fads they were talking about were extreme diets. Personally, I say to heck with the fad diets! Bring on the salted caramels!

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“You Can’t Scare Me…”

No, this isn’t a Halloween post. If the postage stamp you see here isn’t enough of a clue, the rest of the title phrase is “I’m Sticking to the Union,” a song by Woody Guthrie.

(Woody Guthrie also wrote the song “This Land Is Your Land,” which isn’t the patriotic staple it’s been made out to be. An alternate verse goes:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

Another verse was derogatory about the government’s response to the Great Depression. Guthrie was quite the socialist. But I digress.)

Where was I? Oh, yes. Unions.

Unions have a bad rep. I’m not saying that there aren’t any reasons for this, but I am saying that unions have a real, positive function. Not all unions are about burying Jimmy Hoffa beneath the pitcher’s mound at some baseball stadium. They don’t all insist that their members can’t work for reasons specified in some clause-filled contract. And not all of them take weekly dues from employees’ paychecks while not doing anything at all for them.

Unions have legitimate functions. They always have.

Unions got their start when workers rebelled against companies and bosses that exploited them – kept their wages low and their jobs dangerous. And not just low like wages today are low. During the Great Depression, when Woody Guthrie was singing and the IWW organizing, Okies lived in camps and tried to feed whole families on the few cents a day they got for picking fruit.

The corporations fought back, of course. They employed strikebreakers to bust heads. (The union organizers were not blameless peaceniks. In addition to strikes and work stoppages, some of them resorted to bombs.)

But eventually, unions became legal and started working toward making life better for employees who had formerly been exploited. They got beneficial laws passed and virtually invented the 40-hour week, weekends, and vacations. They worked to outlaw child labor and unsafe working conditions in slaughterhouses and coal mines.

They’re so important that Cornell University (and some others) has a College of Industrial and Labor Relations, in addition to the usual ones like the Colleges of Engineering and Agriculture and my alma mater, the College of Arts and Sciences.

But what have unions done for us lately? I actually have an answer for that.

You see, my husband belongs to the UFCW, the United Food and Commercial Workers union. And last year, he became a shop steward. Most of the time, that means that he and other union reps handle grievances that store employees have – instances where the management isn’t abiding by the contract on matters such as scheduling, taking breaks, and other routine matters.

The contract (and applicable law, for that matter) says that employees are entitled to breaks at regular intervals. A cashier at his store, who also happens to be diabetic, wasn’t receiving those breaks for lunch or even pee breaks when she needed them. Her managers weren’t giving her regular breaks because they were understaffed and no one could relieve her so she could relieve herself, as it were. The shop steward (my husband) and the union representative for the area brought a grievance and the management had to start filling in for the cashier themselves if there was no other employee available to give her a break.

Most people think of unions as people who negotiate wage and benefits packages with management. That is one of their most important functions. Recently, Dan was involved in the negotiations. They went on for months, in fits and starts. In the end, the company agreed to a $.50 per hour raise for all the workers – even the cart-pushers. It was less than the union wanted, but more than the company first offered.

Yes, there are problems between labor and management. And unions have been weakened over the years by unfavorable legislation that has tended to favor employers. (Don’t get me started on so-called “right to work” states. They’re anything but.)

But overall, I think that unions are still an important force in the business environment and a necessary one. From what I’ve seen, the UFCW is attentive and involved, putting forth their efforts to better the working conditions for employees. I’d like to think that Woody would have approved.

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No Bitey!

Our cat Dushenka is really a sweetie. In fact, she’s a love-muffin. She’s a part-time lap cat and is given to nose touches, head bonks, and loud purring. She slurps my husband’s forehead. Sometimes at night, she walks back and forth across our (formerly) slumbering bodies, making sure that each of us gets some of her attention. We call her the Incredibly Pettable Pet.

But, once in a while, she goes a little wild. If we rub her belly a bit too long or scritch and fuzzle her head a bit too much, she changes. When she gets overexcited or overwhelmed by all the play, her teeth come into play, too. She bites the hand that pets her.

Most of the time this is just a love-bite, with no attempt to harm. She just places her teeth on your hand or wrist. When that happens, I tell her, “No bitey” and withdraw my hand. She knows that when she calms down I’ll go right back to adoring her and demonstrating it with more caresses.

This week, however, she didn’t follow her usual pattern. This time she chomped down on my forearm. And drew blood. There was nothing different in the way I was petting her. I wasn’t pulling her tail or touching any of the places she doesn’t like to be touched. (Not that there are many.) I immediately stopped petting her and went to get a tissue to mop up the blood. The mark was gone by the next day. It didn’t get infected the way it once did when Dan’s cat Matches bit me on the web between my thumb and forefinger. And since then she’s been perfectly agreeable.

Why did this happen? Well, the BCSPCA (2022) says, “Many cats exhibit what behaviourists call ‘petting-induced aggression,’ an instinctive reaction to something they find unpleasant, even painful. Compared to dogs, cats are generally less tolerant of petting. When, where and how long cats can be touched before they become overstimulated vary from cat to cat.” Another source compares it to being sensitive to being tickled. When it’s just too much to handle, the tickle-ee tries to get away. If they can’t, they lash out (Shubin, 2022).

(Yes, I’ve been doing some work that requires me to use APA 7th citations, and I can’t quite break myself of the habit. And yes, I have also been tickled past the point of play into pain and know what it is like. Nonetheless, I didn’t bite anyone, though I probably should have. But I digress. Twice.)

Still, while Dushenka’s occasional bites are almost certainly petting aggression, that isn’t true of every cat that’s ever sunk their teeth into my tender (but apparently yummy) flesh.

Anjou, for example, got to me while I was sleeping. She came to me in bed and gave me the ol’ face-nuzzle. I grunted and tried to ignore her. I failed in this, because she immediately nuzzled me again. I grunted louder. Then she nipped me on the tip of the nose, which startled me nearly awake. Reflexively, I caught her up with one hand and heaved her off the bed. My husband said she flew through the air in a graceful arc and never stopped purring the whole time. It’s a pretty picture and I hope it’s true. He’s been known to exaggerate. But she certainly didn’t seem to resent it and showed no sign of harm or even stand-offish-ness the next day.

Another bitey cat was Louise. We got her when she was a tiny little baby kitten. I bonded with her right away, to the point I could even hold her belly up like a baby in my arms.

When we went to bed, however, it was a different matter. Every night, she wriggled under the covers and attacked our toes. Her teeth may have been tiny, but my God, they were pointy! They were like little needles piercing our lower digits. (Afterward, we referred to her as “naughty baby Fek’lhr,” a joke that almost no one gets. But I digress again.) Fortunately, she grew out of it.

Right now, Dushenka is upstairs cuddling with Dan. If I hear a yelp, I’ll know why. It’s not as likely to happen to him, though – Dan has thicker skin than I do. I know it’s not because he doesn’t pet her.

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The Dry Well

So, it’s come to this. I have nothing left to write about. Last year I attempted a post on Halloween and how it has been taken over by adults. I then realized that I had written the same post in 2019. Not word-for-word, but almost paragraph-for-paragraph.

This has happened to me with many posts I have written lately, including my invention of a personal style, also done in 2019; plus-size peoples’ problems, now and in 2017; learning styles, and probably more. Thanksgiving came around last year, and also my birthday. I’ve already mined those subjects for posts and don’t want to revisit them, even if I could think of something new to say about them, which I can’t.

This proposes a problem or at least a difficulty. Have I already written everything I know about? Why am I just repeating myself? Or have I reached the end of my creativity?

It is ironic for me to confess this, because I have written about this same dilemma a number of times: in “Your Writing Brain” (2021), “As a Muse, Depression Sucks” (2019), “How to Write When the Muse Takes a Hike” (2018), “Muse Blues” (2016), and possibly a few others I’ve totally forgotten. Obviously, running out of inspiration is a subject near and dear to my heart, or at least close to the surface of my brain, as I think it must be to most writers.

In those previous posts, I have suggested ways to revitalize the writing juices. Read an author you like and try to incorporate their style or some aspect of their writing as an exercise. (I tried writing à la Mary Roach, but that resulted in too many footnotes.) Take off in a direction you’ve never gone before (politics, sex, children, history, economics, theater, or whatever).

Instead, I’ve delved into my memories. Visiting my country relatives as a child. Meeting Captain Kangaroo. Adventures in Girl Scouting. But my memory is notoriously spotty, so I don’t know how long I can keep this up.

I suppose I could plumb the depths of my other blog, bipolarme.blog, but those posts seem a little dark for what is meant to be a lighter-hearted blog. If only the cats would do something adorable! But no, they won’t cooperate. Neither will my husband. He hasn’t even done anything annoying lately, like the time he “volunteered” me to cater his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. In another state. As a surprise (to me and to them). (I refer to this as one of his near-death experiences. But I digress.) In fact, he’s been so sweet that he just got me a kalanchoe for my office (which spellcheck didn’t like, though I certainly do).

I read a lot, so I suppose I could do book reviews. But the books I read aren’t the latest bestsellers. Often they are children’s fantasy books or science fiction that’s decades old. Other books I like are on distressing subjects like autopsies, the Spanish Flu, lobotomies, and accidents while mountain-climbing. I suppose I could write about why these subjects fascinate me, but that doesn’t seem likely to fascinate you.

In posting this, I’m taking after my husband, who once wrote a paper for school explaining all the different reasons he couldn’t write a paper for that class. It got an A. I should be so lucky.

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Vacations That Are and Aren’t

There are vacations that refresh, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations where that create memories, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations that are, and then there are vacations that aren’t.

My husband and I have had plenty of wonderful vacations, with scads of natural wonder, historic locations, local events, and places to explore. We’ve been to England, Monserrat, Croatia, and most recently Ireland, to name a few. (We also had a great time in Benson, AZ. Why Benson? “Benson, AZ” is the theme song to a sci-fi movie called Dark Star, which only a few people ever saw. What’s there to do there? Exploring caves, star-gazing, and visiting rock shops, among other things. But I digress.) We often returned exhausted rather than refreshed, but we’ve made memories that will last (I hope) until we’re older and grayer.

However, a gentleman of my acquaintance, who prefers not to be named, is on one of the vacations that aren’t.

He’s going to spend eleven days with, let’s say, his beloved ancient aunt and his cousin who live in, let’s say, Colorado. He has done this before, so he knows what he’s getting into.

What he’s getting into is work. Not his normal, paying work, though. His aunt has a long list of chores for him. And when I say chores, I don’t mean washing the car, which his aunt still does herself. I mean re-graveling the driveway. Clearing out a huge attic. Painting the porch. Installing a generator. Fixing the washing machine.

Or all of the above.

It’s like a “stay-cation,” only with airlines involved. And without the sitting on the porch with a drink with fruit and an umbrella in his hand and his feet in a kiddie pool with The Wild Jimbos singing “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” playing on an iPod with an auxiliary speaker. He does it because he really, truly loves his aunt. She’s in her 90s and needs the help.

(What he doesn’t really, truly love is her taste in music. And TV shows. And movies. And news. All of which she plays at high volume because she is hard of hearing. Fortunately, he just acquired a tablet that has been loaded with streaming services, radio stations, books, and other media that he can browse to his heart’s content. With earbuds, of course. But I digress. Again.)

At least his cousin is going to do the cooking. Except that the cousin cooks for a week at a time, and they have it every day until it’s all gone. The gentleman of my acquaintance cooks too, but not usually after a day of working in the hot sun. Then, his major concern is rehydration, which will likely include iced tea rather than drinks with fruit and an umbrella.

What I’m having is the stay-cation. Without the kiddie pool and The Wild Jimbos, though. My husband is also going to be out of town. I have writing assignments at the moment, so I’m pretty sure I can fill up my days with that and a bevy of dancing boys. Well, and binge-watching cooking shows on The Food Network. It won’t be thrilling and memorable (unless the dancing boys turn out to be real rather than imaginary), but it should be relaxing, with no annoying sweat (except for possibly in case of dancing boys, see above).

The peace and quiet will be welcome. I don’t always like my husband’s taste in movies, TV shows, and music either, and he plays them very loudly. (Hearing loss may run in the family.) It’s much easier to write and type without auditory distractions other than the cats meowing for food.

I think, however, that both I and the gentleman of my acquaintance will need a few days to recover from our assorted vacations before we get back to real work. Not that we’re likely to get much of a chance. Ah, well. There’s always the next real vacation for my husband and me to look forward to. Maybe we’ll even go back to Benson.

More salted caramels, please!

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Fall In!

One time I was interviewed on TV. My husband and I were at the Arboretum, chilling and talking to another nature-lover. A disgusted-looking reporter approached us and said that he was doing a segment on the first day of fall. (No doubt that was why he looked disgusted.) He asked us about our thoughts regarding fall. The nature-lover gave the standard answer about the color of fall leaves.

Dan and I were not so predictable. He said fall made him sad because he couldn’t plant flowers anymore. I said that I always thought of September as the first month of school and that I had mixed feelings because I was no longer in education. The reporter looked even more disgusted, packed up, and went away. When we watched the news, we discovered that we were the only people he interviewed.

(The next day I told my boss that I had been on TV. “The bank robbery?” he said. He had a dry sense of humor, which I loved. But I digress.)

I actually do have mixed feelings about fall, in addition to the education thing. The fall colors are beautiful, though they’re really only impressive when weather conditions during the summer are perfect. And this year, they were far from perfect.

Then there’s Halloween. I’ve written before about how much I dislike it (https://butidigress.blog/2019/10/27/halloween-bah-humbug/). For those of you who want the Reader’s Digest Condensed version, I hate handing out candy. There’s the lack of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, the amount of leftover candy we have as a consequence, and the door-darting cat. There are also the Halloween episodes of nearly every TV show, although they’re not as annoying as the Christmas episodes of every show. There’s no Halloween music except for “Monster Mash,” which gets played ad nauseum. This year, I plan to hide in the bedroom at the back of the house with the lights off (including the porch light) and read by the light of my e-reader.

One thing I do love about the fall is pumpkin and specifically pumpkin pie spice. I’m not one of those who hates on pumpkin pie spice lattes and similar inventions. I seldom drink coffee, so I’m not usually around those. No, what I love are the actual spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. I love the smell of them. I love the taste of them. I love them so much that I’m often disappointed by the small amount of them that most people use in their pumpkin pie. We’ve tried to make our own. This year I’m even going to look up a recipe.

(I saw a recipe online for two-ingredient pumpkin muffins – spice cake mix and canned pumpkin. Of course, I’d have to bump up the spices. I always do when I make my own spice cake. But I digress again.)

Another thing I love about fall is the clothing. Sweaters. I have a large collection of sweaters, including those knee-length cardigans that are probably out of style now, not that I care. I also have a number of sweatshirts and cozy lap blankets. Flannel pajamas, too. I love wrapping up in them. It’s like a fabric hug.

I can’t say I love the Peanuts special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but I usually watch it just for the line about never discussing politics, religion, or the Great Pumpkin. I do, however, love the pumpkins Calvin carves in the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. And the Wallace and Grommit animated movie Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And Young Frankenstein. I can even take it when Dan binge-watches The Addams Family.

Of course, when it comes to things I really like about autumn, I recently saw a sweatshirt that says, “My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy.” I may just have to get that.

More salted caramels, please!

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Proto-Feminists on Classic TV

Who were the feminists who were feminists before we knew much about feminists? Who were the role models for young women when role models for young women were thin on the ground? Lately, people have been looking to vintage TV for the answers to those questions.

The first woman that many people think of as a proto-feminist is Samantha Stevens of Bewitched. Samantha was powerful, rescued her bumbling husband from unpleasant situations, and generally made life better with her superpower. (Although occasionally it went wrong.)

Recently, though, I’ve heard the sitcom deconstructed from a feminist viewpoint, and I can’t argue with much of what they said. Samantha gave up her vocation for the man she loved and had to sneak behind his back to work magic. (At least it’s not like the film Bell, Book, and Candle where, when a witch falls in love, she loses her powers entirely. (Also, irrelevantly, I consider BBaC a Christmas movie in the same way that Die Hard is a Christmas movie.) But I digress (three times in one digression)).

Where was I? Oh, yes, Bewitched. When Samantha did use her magic to benefit Darrin, he berated her, yelled at her, and shamed her. Instead of ripping him a new one or even pointing out that he’s an asshole, she meekly acquiesced and promised to do better. And they call this feminism?

In the 1970s, we had the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This sitcom had more going for it, feminist-wise. Mary Richards was a single woman, living on her own, and working at a responsible, possibly high-pressure, job in a newsroom. Mary wasn’t what you’d call an outspoken campaigner for women’s rights – but that’s okay. She was an example and a role model just by the way she lived, without dependence on a man.

The show had some episodes with more overtly feminist themes. There was one in which Mary discovered that she was paid less than her predecessor in the same job. Her boss admitted it was because she was a woman and spouted the now-recognized-as-drivel drivel about a man needing more money to support a family. There was another where Mary championed hiring a woman as a sportscaster. Perhaps most revolutionary of all was when Mary tacitly admitted that, despite being single, she took birth control pills.

Bridging the time gap between Samantha and Mary was the late-60s-early-70s That Girl, featuring Marlo Thomas as Anne Marie, an aspiring actress living on her own in New York. Anne was presented as kind of ditzy, but Thomas found it significant that her character wasn’t married off to her boyfriend in the series’ final season, and she had wanted to name the show Miss Independence.

Later in life, Thomas became a staunch and visible feminist. She once said, memorably, that getting married was like putting a vacuum cleaner to your head and sucking out your brain. She later married talk-show host Phil Donahue, apparently with no vacuum cleaners present at the ceremony. Thomas was also responsible for the ground-breaking 1972 Free to Be…You and Me, an album, illustrated book, and TV special which contained empowering content for children, including feminist themes and stories.

My personal favorite feminist icon in popular culture is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Back in the ’90s, she was the kick-ass embodiment of girl power. Almost 25 years ago (so I guess it was classic TV, though not a sitcom but an action show with comic elements), the teenage Buffy was the “Chosen One” who could, well, slay vampires. The new slayer, who was called when the previous one died, was always a young woman. Series creator Joss Whedon specifically said that his purpose in creating Buffy was to upend the dominant paradigm that the cute young girl was always the victim in need of rescue. Buffy rescued herself and others in every episode. True, she had an unfortunate love life, but many feminists do.

(By the way, I was hooked on Buffy because my husband introduced me to it. The TV series. The movie of the same name was much less good, except for Paul Rubens’s death scene, which was worth the price of admission. But I digress again.)

Now feminist characters are everywhere in TV and movies. We’ve had TV dramas with women as US presidents, women as superheroes, women as crime solvers, women as hospital administrators, and more. It’s good that the industry has finally caught up with the way feminism has changed our culture and contributed to it. I don’t watch sitcoms anymore, so I don’t know if there are strong women in them, but I bet there are. Female heroes and feminist characters have gotten a lot of pushback from the bro brigade, but I think they’re here to stay. Personally, I think we need all the feminist role models we can get. And if my husband likes them too, so much the better.

More salted caramels, please!

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