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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beautiful Girls, Part II

Alex was at a sleepover last night- here the girls were playing with cameras and mirrors. This photo has managed to capture their charm through glee, naivety and pure enjoyment of friendship. That is beauty.

Beautiful Girls

Last summer when I found my 13-year old daughter crying her eyes out because she hated the way she looked in her swimsuit, my heart fluttered between sadness, indignation and, quite honestly, bewilderment. I’d never seen Alex emanate a shred of self-consciousness about her figure before. A muscular-build (not fat, not stick-thin and still adorable in a tankini), something apparently made her feel like avoiding the public pool. And she was willing to give up a day of fun in the sun because she felt ashamed of her figure. 
So it began. The inevitable lack of confidence every female feels at sometime in her life. That moment when we realize that we can never be "pretty enough." 

Even though I convinced her that day to put on the suit and have fun splashing around with her buddies, we haven't squelched the insecurities. It frustrates me beyond belief because I can’t believe this girl won’t see herself as anything but beautiful. She simply responds with a - "But you're my mom. Of course you think that."
As a little girl, I looked forward to watching every pageant that was televised. And God bless my mother, but I remember her emphasizing the importance of posture, dieting and exercise if “you ever wanted to look like any of those women”. (Don’t get me wrong,she was even more encouraging of my academic studies so I could make something of myself.) My mother was (and is) a very pretty lady. And as I think back, there wasn’t ever a time when I didn’t believe that being beautiful wasn’t important. 
Baby fat was a concern early on. And by the time I reached high school, I had given up school lunches. An apple, a granola bar and a diet coke became my meal plan. It kept my weight at a dainty 95 pounds. Once I zoomed off to college and quickly found the “freshman fifteen,” it was swiftly noted. Easily swayed by any overt opinion, I restarted my starvation techniques and took up jogging. In no time at all, I was dipping below 95 pounds. Pretty skeletal for a 5’5” frame.
Eventually, I found my way back to a healthy weight and a healthy attitude. But now, as I raise my girl, I wonder how I got myself into that predicament - and how she can avoid the same unhealthy attitude.
Of course I  don't blame my parents. They are loving, kind people who only ever wanted the best for me.  They were most likely unaware of my eating disorder. And I can only assume that they unintentionally bought into the wrong kind of message - a message that has spanned the ages: Women need to look beautiful. Always. 
And what do beauty pageants teach girls? Some may argue beauty pageants are changing - it’s not about the bikini or the evening gown competition anymore. It’s more about charisma and intelligence. Really? Then let’s just have some fire and brimstone debates. Maybe we could throw in a few speeches with topics like the 19th Century Women’s Movement!  I’d love to see a pageant like that.  Oh, and the dress code? Who cares. I’d vote for t-shirts and jeans. Loose-fitting, of course.
I want my daughter to understand that she is beautiful -exactly the way she is. Of course, she needs to respect her body - treat it well. Exercise and eat right, but don’t make it something it’s not. Most importantly, I want my daughter to dream real dreams. No silly beauty pageants. Real life stuff. Using her acumen and her own agenda, I want Alex to know that she can make a difference in the world without having to wear more mascara.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Keep the Force -In Your Back Pocket

I remember the day clearly. It was a cold, dreary Saturday afternoon. And I found myself sitting, ear-to ear with my son, fascinated by the third installment of the Star Wars prequel "Revenge of the Sith."  Oh sure - initially I might have been enamored with Anakin Skywalker's hair. But eventually, after renting (and eventually purchasing) the entire George Lucas series with the bonus features, our entire family was captivated by the magic of Star Wars.

Jumper cables, cell phones, swiss army knives - all handy tools to keep around in case of emergency, right? Well, in our house, we like to keep a lil' something we call "The Force." Allow me to demonstrate.

Need someone to get some chores done? Invoke Jedi mind tricks...With two fingers and a steadfast glare, command, "You will scrub the toilets. You will scrub the toilets."  (Sometimes dollar signs help results.)

Or, need to practice your fencing skills? Without  becoming fatally injured? Toy light sabers are fabulous aggression-reducers. And I'm sure it's a great workout. (I wonder how many calories I burn during a duel? My son sure seems fit.)

But here's where The Force really came in handy.  This week happened to be Red Ribbon week in school, which means the kids had to dress up in a theme each day. (Ugh. Just what we need - to subtract another 15 minutes of getting ready time in the morning.) Anyway, the Force  came through again! Career day: Jedi. Costume day (no masks allowed): Jedi. Nerd day: well...I couldn't go that far. But I thought it. Anyway, Cole's homegrown Jedi costumes have worked well for him this week.

Master Jedi Cole
But the most utilitarian use of the Force in our house comes when we happen to be in Star Wars mode and one of us has had a bad day. One or all of us will cozy up to the afflicted. Often the idea of popping in one of the Star Wars (or Harry Potters, to be honest) DVDS will float around. And we'll express our love by offering, "Oh, and by the way...May the Force Be With You."  It's our way. Our geeky, Star Wars way. But it works well.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

For the Sake of Learning?

Okay, I'll admit it. I have bribed my kids. No - I bribe my kids. "Eat all your vegetables. Then you can have some ice cream....If the basement is clean, maybe we'll go to the movies."  Then something occurred this week that really irritated me. And it occurred it to me, "What kind of lessons are we teaching our kids if we constantly dangle carrots in front of their cute pug noses?"

Our awesome school (and I truly believe in its awesomeness) kindly requested donations to incent students to boost ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) scores. Most of us reacted with a &*$? Give students stuff to do well on their tests? Shouldn't they want to do well? For the sake doing well?  After visiting with a teacher friend, apparently this philosophy doesn't work. And our sacred school is on a watch list because of the low scores in this particular area. And after thinking about the issue, how different is this act than bribing with ice cream or movies? Not sure.

Last Sunday, our family was having dinner at Applebee's. And talking about getting As and Bs...taking tests and what not. I asked the kids, "So when you miss something on a test, do you know why? Or do you make sure you find out why?"  Cole continued to chow down on his cheeseburger. (I think he had lost interest in the conversation by then.) Alex shrugged and picked up the dessert menu. But my hubby aptly replied, "I just assumed that if I missed an answer, I had guessed wrong."  Touche.

All this talk has worn Percy out.
Perhaps I truly am the geekiest of all geeks. But there's something about the word "academia" that invigorates my soul. And I enjoy (yes, enjoy) the challenge of the TEST! And to see the results? To see if possibly, just possibly, you could achieve a perfect score? What could bring more self-satisfaction than that?  Certainly not an I-tune card. But what do I know? I'm a just a geeky Mom...who needs to bribe her kids to clean their rooms.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

And They Call It Puppy Love!

I had been feeling a bit blue - for no one particular reason. Sinus headaches. An absent husband harvesting his crop. The continual hectic pace that keeps the house  messy, messy, messy. (And perhaps I had become too ponderous about the Women's Movement of the 19th Century? See blog post below.)  Yes - I fully realize these are all pathetic excuses for a sour mood given that I wasn't trapped in a mine shaft for 69 days. (Stay with me though.) But then something happened.

I fell in love.

He's completely charming; although, I must confess, he's much younger. (Please don't excuse me of being a cougar, or you might very well scare him away.) He's almost timid - perhaps he's been hurt before? Oh,  there's something irrevocably enduring about his warm, chestnut eyes! They make my heart melt. They make all of our hearts melt at the Kramer household (even our Germanic stoical patriarch). Meet Perseus Jackson Kramer, a.k.a. Percy. (Yes, named after the infamous demi-God.)

Percy -next duty, winning over the cats...

A long time ago I would never miss reading this very average comic strip (can't even remember the name). And one day it nailed the utility of a dog as companion. The girl (name??) had come home from a crappy day. And as her dog (name??) sat licking her face, she looked him in the eye and (with comic strip bubble dangling above her head) she stated to her faithful dog, "YOU know how to ruin a perfectly awful day."

Percy - YOU also have broken a perfectly crabby mood. Thanks, Buddy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ladies of Seneca Falls by Miriam Gurko

Ms. Cady-Stanton and Miss Anthony

This is something I'd normally only post to my Read. Write. Share. blog, but I feel  kind of passionate about this particular topic. So my apologies if it seems pedantic.

It's quite possible that I might be difficult to live (unlike before), now that I've read a completely fascinating account of the 19th Century women's movement.  Oh sure, I'd heard of Susan B. Anthony. And knew she had something to do with women's suffrage. (And of course, we banking professionals are all too well-aware of the nifty silver dollar done in her honor.) But just ask me about this amazing Quaker-feminist-speaker-writer who never even lived to see the 19th amendment passed. We all have those people we can't wait to meet in heaven...Jesus (of course), our grandparents, Buddha, and so on. Well, Miss Anthony is in my top five. Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be there as well; although, I dare say I might be a bit intimidated by her. Simply put, my greatest question to these courageous women would be: How far do you think we've come? They might just turn around and tell me, "Look, here are the things you still need to do."

To encapsulate how this book affected me in a blog is impossible, but here are a few thoughts to summarize:
  • It took 72 years from the first organized women's convention to grant legal authority for women to vote. 72 years! Trivia: When was the 19th Amendment passed, allowing women to vote? Hint - It wasn't terribly long ago (in a historical sense). The answer: 1920.  Although, women have been paying taxes since...uh, we landed on Plymouth Rock perhaps?  Interesting. Does anyone recall a little saying that went something like "taxation without representation"? I believe the book points out how a few feminine property owners, such as Susan Anthony's sister, Mary, would pay her taxes along with a note stating "Paying Under Protest." 
  • The masculine consensus was that women were too frail or didn't have the capacity to make such decisions. And a populace women's vote could be the detriment of the country!  Obviously, this argument is flawed at many levels. Most women weren't allowed an education. But so what if a woman wasn't educated? If a man wasn't educated or intelligent, was he not allowed to vote? Of course he was.  (I didn't come up with this argument - one of the great minds at the convention at Seneca Falls argued this point.) As for the capability for women to learn?  We must give thanks to our Quaker brothers and sisters for being the predecessors of equality in this particular issue. If they had not brought up female and male to be educated equally, who knows where women would be today? This issue continues to boggle my mind. Even today's classroom, don't girls mature more quickly than boys? Couldn't society see this in the 19th century? Most recently I read an editorial in the WSJ from Thomas Spence How to Raise Boys Who Read . Instead of creating these dumbed-down grossology version of novels, shouldn't we be holding them accountable to learn at a certain level? (Let's say the same level as our female student? Tee-hee. Issue aside - the article is worth reading.) Anyway - I was thinking how the 1800's culture would read the title to Spence's article as such a paradox! 
  • In general Quakers led the cause in the education of females; however, there were a few brave non-Quaker women to buck the issue of education and demand more than elementary schooling, i.e., Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The great men of our country (and they were great in many other ways) argued that the Bible commands women to be subservient to their husbands. A few great women, the aforementioned, could not and would not accept this. So, they needed to learn Greek and Latin to translate the original text of the Bible. Of course, they were called heretics and much worse, for that matter, but eventually, they came to prove their position upon equal standing as men. And guess what? There were many, many men that believed in what they had to say.
  • I'm getting a bit windy, aren't I?  Okay, I'll try to be succinct, but these points are worth reading. (Oh, maybe you should just read this book...I'm just barely touching the surface.) The Civil War actually was a setback to the movement.  Almost all of the women felt their contributions to the War would earn them "points" in the eyes of the government. When the the black man was allowed the vote, surely women would be allowed to vote as well. Not so much. Susan B. Anthony was the only one to predict this. The Republic felt that women needed to put their selfish wishes on the back burner. It was the negro's time. It couldn't be done all at once.  Where did this leave the black woman? Ask Sojourner Truth - one of the few Black Abolitionist Women. It set them further back than anyone could imagine.
  • Beyond suffrage, what were the other issues of the women's movement? If women owned property, it went to her husband. If they divorced, the husband gained custody of the children. Women couldn't sign a contract. If a woman was beaten by a drunk husband, she had no civil rights. If she was raped by her husband, she had no civil rights. If the woman worked outside the home, all earnings went to her husband. And of course, the education of women for any of the fields open to men has been a long and arduous journey.
  • Issues of abolition and temperance ran parallel to women's rights in the 19th century. Would you believe these issues actually hampered the women's right movement? I alluded the Civil War setting back the women's movement above. But temperance? Well, there were two major entities who absolutely did not want women to get the vote; politicians and the alcohol industry. Politicians didn't want women taking note of the corruption - and cleaning up their machine. And the alcohol industry saw women as the ultimate  victims of alcohol abuse. So, put those two factors at work and the result? 72 years of fighting for the vote.
I've been trying to decide, where does this leave us today? Obviously, women have all the possibilities as men in terms of education and career paths. Susan and Elizabeth are smiling down at that. But I think a few of us are not carrying on the fire of the women's movement. Women's pay is not equal for the same job uniformly across industries. And surveys show that the majority of childcare and household chores are still carried out by the woman even if both are working full-time. This is NOT freedom. (Is this the collective psyche that girls are the natural caretakers? Whatever!) I love taking care of my family - so should my husband. Anyway, I think there is some work to do. I'm going to start by making my daughter and son read this great work by Miriam Gurko. And I'll end this rant with a quote from Susan B. Anthony:

"Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much yet to be done."-  Susan B. Anthony 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Verbal Quandary

The other day our management team holed up for a day in a strategic planning meeting. At one point we were discussing the age-old issue of customer loyalty.  (Not to worry - I won't go into details of that tantalizing session here.) Suddenly, there was a word I wanted to use, disputing the theory of customer loyalty. But it wasn't coming to me. The word, I mean. The definition was clear in my mind. "The refusal or inability to act."  But the word? A complete blank ________.

As a matter of fact, we had moved on to many other topics and the mysterious word still befuddled me. It haunted whenever my mind found a chance to creep back to that moment of customer loyalty versus _________. ACK! What in the heck? Isn't the study of words my hobby? Don't I consider myself somewhat of a verbivore?

Word. Word. Is it....."complacent"? No, it's a noun, silly. A noun..."Complacency"? No. Not it.

On the way home from the strategic planning session, something scary occurred to me. "So, this is it. Alzheimer's begins." Then I started to think about physics. The word. It involves physics! Once step closer.

By supper time (still bothered by this elusive word), I asked Alex if she has studied any physics. "Nope." she replied. "What's physics again?"

Finally, I went to my PC and googled "physics" and "state of inactivity." Within thirty seconds I had my word: inertia.  Yeah, pretty heavy stuff, huh? Stephen Hawking would be impressed it took me all day to think of that one. (Anyway, the point I was going to make that often it's not really customer loyalty that keeps people from changing brands; it's usually inertia. )

So, this morning as I was reading through Cole's homework, imagine how delighted I was to see my son learning about Newton's First Law of Motion! And in capital letters (wouldn't you know?) Cole had neatly defined that amazing inactive state of stasis known as...inertia.

I could've just asked my nine-year old...gheez.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wild Kingdom


Last night I went out to feed some scraps to Shrek, who happened to be having a late night snack on the deck. Shrek, as some of you may recall, is the feral cat who reluctantly joined our family but has become so comfortable with the Kramer surroundings, that he now EXPECTS a daily ear scratching. (I even have had the pleasure of picking him up and carrying him out of our house on occasion...just your basic cat whisperer stuff.) Anyway, back to last night. As I bent forward to pet the little scruffster, he shot me a glance. Only he didn't shoot me a glance. It was a opossum.  (Sidenote: For you grammar gurus, would the correct article be an "a" or an "an" preceding opossum?) Cripes. Is there some sort of animal honor roll for those who frequent the Kramer Bed and Breakfast for Varmints? So far: skunk, fox, opossum, raccoon, praying mantis (just today!), bull snakes and garter snakes (at least the vile serpents don't make it to the deck - compliments of husband equipped with spade), and a few other rodents of which the cats wouldn't think of allowing to live. So feline.

It makes me think perhaps my former life was filled with an incredible amount of action - and fighting off wild animals was one facet of it. So, in designing my pro forma, I opted for a life a bit more on the banal side.  A Banker - who likes to dabble in writing. Perhaps live someplace quiet, with a pretty landscape, like, um, Iowa.  I was probably putting the finishing touches with the proverbial husband and two kids, getting ready to enter into this life when a thought occurred to me. "Stop! God? Maybe we shouldn't take all that adventure away. Perhaps, just, tone it down a bit." So here we are.
Praying Mantis - photographed on our deck. Looks much larger in real life. And grosser.
Oh, and guess what else happened last night? Cole and I ran across eight baby kittens in the middle of the lane back at the old farm last night.  (Mucho bueno than a pack of lions.) I found one today and had it purring for me. Just the type of adventure I need.
Here's the adorable kitten whom let me scratch it's chin. Moment captured with the magic of my Blackberry.