Saturday, October 31, 2009

Memories of Halloween

"Halloween was always a struggle for me," my mom said to me on the telephone earlier today. "364 days a year I taught you NOT to take candy from strangers, and then, on one night I was supposed to dress you up so you were unrecognizable and send you out to beg for candy from strangers. I never understood it."

To her credit, or perhaps in homage to my naivete, I had no idea my mom had such anti-Halloween feelings. I have very fond memories of the creative costumes she made; and our costumes were always homemade, never store-bought. One year she made me a bumble-bee costume, with the body made of poster board hung sandwich-board style on my body with and styrofoam wings. I remember the bubblegum machine costume she made for my brother - a clear garbage filled with small colored balloons and a little hat with a fake nickel coming out of it. As a kid I loved the creativity involved in thinking up a costume and finding a way to construct it. I remember being an angel, a zombie, and a fisherman.

I also loved trick-or-treating. We went out for what felt like hours, unsupervised. (I learned today the unsupervised part was because my mother refused to go candy begging with us.) We lived in a densely packed community filled with children, the bustle of kids and lights and doorbells was intoxicating. Mr. Schenk, one of the 6th grade teachers at my elementary school, lived about a mile from us, up through tony Twin Hills, and we'd strive to make it to his house before he ran out of the full-sized candy bars he and his wife allegedly gave away to the kids who legitimately lived in their neighborhood. I remember an old woman who lived in a pink and strangely foreboding house at the start of the fancy street that bordered the local park. She always gave away creamy Life Saver pops, but only after you did a trick like recite the alphabet backwards or sang Yankee Doodle. Every year we'd draw tiny strips of paper out of a glass bowl to discover the trick we needed to do to earn our treats. My siblings, and, as I got older, my friends, and I would wander the streets for hours, careful not to miss a house with the lights on as we weaved from one street to the next for blocks. There was never a clear line of demarcation that told us we needed to stop and go home. We walked and rang and laughed for as long as we possibly could. I remember being out so late that many neighbors would leave their candy buckets out on the front porch so they didn't have to answer the door anymore.

When there were no more houses with lights on, my five siblings and I would troop home and eagerly dump our plastic pumpkin-shaped collection buckets on the floor. And then we would sort the candy into piles for favorites, piles for things we'd be willing to trade, and always, one or two Snickers bars for mom. And then we'd start trading. I'd give away Good and Plenty, boxes of Dots with two or three of those faux jujubes in them, Tootsie Roll midgies, Butterfingers, and hard candy. Chocolate caramels, Twizzlers, Peanut Butter Cups, and Baby Ruth were among the candy bars I eagerly sought. When we were done sorting and trading and counting, the candy would go back into our buckets and I'd carefully dole out one or two or ten pieces a day for my lunch bag or snacks I'd try to sneak at school.

As an adult, I actually have no great fondness for Halloween. While I enjoy the sweetness of seeing young children excited by their costumes and the novelty of getting candy, I generally find this holiday to be disconcerting. I feel unnerved by, and disingenuous around adults in costumes. I've dressed up only once in the last 15 years, at a Halloween party hosted at the commune where I once lived. (I felt like an idiot in my rented green sequined mermaid outfit carrying a tinfoil covered pitchfork intended to look like a trident.) I don't understand why some people want to trick out their houses in order to seem spooky or dangerous or pagan. And the greediness that I embraced as a child is now a little gross to me. I was at the mall earlier today during the "trick or treat" hours, and the place was teeming with kids and their parents trying to angle for the best treats. "Let's hurry up and get to Godiva. They better be giving out something good," was a frequently heard exclamation as I dodged and weaved to avoid the crowds.

We do have a jack-o-lantern on our porch, carved with enthusiasm by me. And a plastic cauldron, courtesy of the neighborhood "Phantom", sits by the front door filled with white chocolate Kit-Kat bars (dyed orange), boxes of Nerds, and those hateful Midgies. It is 5:15 now. And I imagine in the next 30 minutes or so we'll start to see the dozen or so neighborhood children begin to trickle through the neighborhood, nervously prodded by their parents onto strangers' porches, to ask for candy. And BMG and I will "oooh" and "aaah" over the costumes and make a big show out of the generous handfuls of candy we toss into the brightly colored receptacles carried by the princesses, robots, and medieval knights who roam our suburban street. I do this because I remember how much fun this was when I was a kid and I want to do my part to offer this same delight to the little people who creating their Halloween memories tonight.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This body is not mine to own

I read an explanation of the Easter story of the crucifixtion that, for the first time ever, made sense to me. It is in the book Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. Given to me by BMG for Christmas last year, I have been trying to read this short novel for nearly 10 months. It is the kind of book I've read eagerly and then had to put down to reflect on what I was experiencing through the author's words. I have repeatedly lost my place and unintentionally re-read several chapters as a result.

I came upon a passage I had not yet read this morning, while reading at the dining room table as I munched a leftover salad. In it, the Buddha incarnate, is trying to explain the process and the rationale behind reincarnation. Or maybe he is responding to our protagonist's question about the existence of evil. Regardless, the Buddha character, Volya Rinpoche (which I've learned is pronounced "Rin-poh-chay"), explains that Jesus was nailed to a cross to remind us that our bodies do not belong to us, that they are temporary vessels that house our spirits.

This makes more sense to me than any Christian explanation of the Easter story I have ever heard. And as someone who has struggled with loving and taking care of her body, it is one of the move moving and profound "aha"s I've had in a long time. Who cares what my body looks like? What is important is the cultivation of my soul, the love I feel for the essence I bring into the universe. Now and forever after.

Friday, October 23, 2009

That crazy sawdust smell

I had an olfactory experience today that reminded me of one of my childhood fears. The fear of being "that kid" who threw up at school and caused a chain of event that resulted in that VERY distinct smell of puke mixed with sawdust permeating the classroom. I can remember classmates throwing up in class fewer than a handful of times, and I still remember the intense fear that I'd do it someday, and everyone would be mad at me for making the classroom smell terrible. And how about those poor teachers, who had to content with the smell and the riled up students? Or the custodiam who had to clean up our childhood sickness. Ugh all around.

What were your childhood fears? Did you ever throw up at school? What do you remember of it? Are you a teacher? Have you ever had a kid throw up in your class? What was that like?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Which way do you blow?

It is allergy time for me - either Fall or the new kittens are leading to torrents of messy sneezes here in the Tiny Bungalow. While in a snotty crisis in the kitchen this morning, I grabbed a paper towel to empty my nose. While blowing into the rough surface I wondered, "Am I wasting paper towel with these actions? Should I have dashed into the bathroom, nose covered, to do this, rather than grabbing the nearest disposable surface and having at it?"

So, I ran the numbers to see which is less expensive per sheet - paper towels or facial tissues. The results, I decided, would determine all future nose blowing actions for me for now until the end of time.

Here are the caveats. We're a tiny family in the Low Rent District of the beautiful seaside suburb. This means we buy the smallest packages and cheapest brand paper towels and facial tissues. I'm sure the numbers would be different if we were buying facial tissues with age defying exfoliants embedded in the paper fiber, or paper towels that could be used at least 100 times before needing to be tossed.

With that out of the way, this is what I found:
Paper towels cost $0.013 per sheet.
Facial tissues cost $0.012 per sheet.
This makes facial tissues the more economical choice for blowing your nose. UNLESS, as BMG points out, you have a big mess on your face, or maybe a nose bleed, and need more than one tissue. If this is the case, then head into the kitchen and grab a paper towel because they are more absorbent and it is likely you will still need only one to contain the body fluids.

I also ran the numbers on toilet tissue (again, the brand and size we use) and found that, if one were to use 15 squares of toilet paper for a single nose blow, the price would be IDENTICAL to the price of one facial tissue. So, in the interest of efficiency, I may stop buying Kleenex knock-offs and just place rolls of toilet paper in strategic locations around the house during allergy season.

PS: I give credit to this blog for the awesome photo which accompanies this post. Thank you!

Monday, October 12, 2009

"The missing man was last seen wearing..."

"...white Nike sneakers, blue jeans, a green T-shirt, and a red North Face jacket."

It strikes me that this is the dumbest way to get the public psyched up to help find missing people, kidnapped children, and criminals. Putting on a new outfit is the EASIEST thing to change about oneself or one's captive. So why is it one of the first things our public safety officers and journalists report on when they need help finding someone?

Imagine this scenario: I see the man above (who has been missing from a nearby suburb for a week). I've scrutinized his photo in the paper and realize this guy, who is hitchhiking along a highway, looks identical to the missing man EXCEPT he is wearing Green Chuck Taylors, black jeans, a black t-shirt and a dingy Members' Only jacket. And I decide not to call the police tip line because the guy I see isn't wearing the identifying clothing reported in the paper. This could happen, right? People aren't that smart.

Maybe this is why we have scores of websites in this nation dedicated to finding fugitives, missing children and missing people?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reflections on turning 40

"Hyperopic (far sighted children) are able to pull things into focus which is how they manage without glasses..."

My ability to pull things into focus sans spectacles has come to an abrupt end in the last week or so. Seriously. As a far-sighted person I've often bragged about my ability to compensate sans spectacles for the 33 years I've been a four-eyed girl. My glasses are more often found perched atop my head acting as a hair styling aid than an eye sight aid.

Until this week. Now if my glasses are off for more than 10 minutes during my waking hours I find myself with an excruciating headache which nearly incapacitates my ability to find said glasses. So, with all of my 39 year-old wisdom, I've come to realize that the glasses cannot come off. Not without painful consequences.

This makes me feel old. Well, older anyway.

I'll be marking the end of my 40th year on this planet in eight months, in June 2010. With this important milestone circulating in my subconsciousness I've been finding myself reflecting on other milestones not reached, items on my personal "Bucket List," and stages I've burned through in my adulthood.

How did you mark your 40th birthday? I've thought about planning to jump out of a plane (too fleeting?), whitewater rafting down the Grand Canyon (too expensive and time consuming), trekking to Mount Kilimanjaro (too expensive and time consuming but maybe worth it), or having a giant party (too narcissistic). Nothing feels quite right yet.

I've been pushing BMG on the topic of marriage lately. On Friday night, while driving home from a favorite Boston restaurant, I said to him "I don't want to die at age 85 having never been married. And if it isn't going to be you, then I need think about the point at which it will be too late for me to find someone I love enough to want to be married to." I also want to own a home, to feel like I've accomplished something significant in my life, and to be the kind of aunt my nieces and nephews regard as super cool and interesting. I want to be less hung up about my body, the loss of my father to divorce, being as impressive as Nelson Mandela or Forrest Church.

I'm not afraid of turning 40. If there IS a party I won't buy the stereotypical "Over the Hill" vulture and tombstone party favors. What it feels like is a time of reckoning, a time of transition as I get serious about and settled into this life, as I celebrate both my choices and the paths I have yet to take on this journey called living. I expect to embrace my 40th birthday, even if I don't feel fully ready.

I have eight months to keep my eye glasses on and pull my life into focus in time to celebrate turning 40. I look forward to sharing it with you.