Sunday, July 31, 2016

Huh... Weird!

Last month we attended a birthday party for an adorable 1 year-old. It was in a Portland park, and it was a lovely sunny day. There were treats and food and even a small keg of beer. It was a great afternoon party.

If you haven't been to Portland before, me telling you that the park was in the SE section of town wouldn't mean much to you. So I will just describe it generically: it attracts a very relaxed, hippie, natural, unique, dare I even say odd but so very kind sort of crowd. SE Portland is where pretty much anything that is not normal but not hurting anyone is going to happen.

So here we are in this park, minding our own party business, when my husband and I hear the voices of some people walking behind us and they say, "Wow, a keg in the park! Huh...weird!" We turned around to see who was impressed by this only moderately unusual party-with-keg. And what we saw was a couple walking two goats on leashes. Only in SE Portland do people walking their goats to the park on leashes call a keg party "weird"...  


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Road Trip

I just returned from a three week road trip. As I reflect back upon those weeks to decide what was the most seriously annoying part, it is hard to come up with just one single thing. Given that we saw 15 national parks/monuments, I predicted the most annoying thing would be the U.S. National Park Service rudely deciding to have their centennial celebration on top of this trip I planned long before they did their math and publicized it. Surprisingly, the parks weren't nearly as rammed with people as I expected (except Zion... never, ever go there) so I was quite pleased with that. And, even the kids did pretty well with all the driving thanks to the tip from my sister to listen to Harry Potter audio books. So what, then? Easily, the most seriously annoying thing was people's widespread lack of interest in following park rules. 

I checked, and it seems I have not had a really good rant on the subject of rules before. As a person with OCD tendencies, I like things to be orderly and predictable. Likewise, that comes with an affinity for rules, since (in general) rules are designed to keep order, whether physical, social, or otherwise. And like your parents may have said to you a thousand times, "There are rules for a reason!" ... well, duh. But what so many people don't seem to get isn't that part. They know WHY rules are there, but they just seem to feel no particular compulsion to follow them.

Our lovely national parks have lots of rules, and yes, they are for good reason. I would argue the most important ones are those that preserve the park, since otherwise, what good does it do to have it established as a protected area? I saw many instances of people deciding that their trash was OK for everyone else to have to look at, and that they could climb up that thing or stand in that place where it said not to because, well, probably the intense need to show off photos of this on social media where you look like you are the only one there (because you were, because you were that idiot out of bounds, thank you). But the thing that really got me were the videos in the Yellowstone visitor's center of people getting too close to the wildlife and being attacked. These videos, combined with signs everywhere, and then your own subsequent sightings of these huge bison, for example, should be plenty of motivation to keep a great distance. Yet, of course I saw it over and over. People more interested in getting a photo than in living, apparently. It is really surprising there are haven't been more tragedies given how stupid people are.

And I could digress into a rant about deaths of people who were not following clearly posted rules and how I don't really feel that badly for them, except then we wind down into the parts of my brain that are not socially acceptable that no one really wants to see. Plus the families of these dead people have to live with not only losing that person, but the knowledge that it was senseless. I am not a (completely) unfeeling witch.

Really, the worst part of being on a family vacation and seeing person after person, from country after country, in place after place, just simply not following the rules, was having to explain it to my children. "Maybe they can't understand them?" I said, trying to be reasonable, since I heard more languages on this trip than I have heard in a long time. But I don't think that accounts for the widespread lack of interest in doing what was being asked (or moreover, NOT doing what was being asked) and the kids weren't buying it anyway. And so, throughout my vacation, we had variations on a conversational theme of 1) what that person is doing that is against the rules, 2) why they might be doing that, and 3) predicting the outcome of the behavior. The WHY was the hardest for me to answer, because my logical brain can not compute why people break rules or seem to feel they are an exception. So, I used that opportunity to blame it on social media pressure and people being self-centered or short-sighted or otherwise suffering from a common-sense disability. I explained there is just a part of the population who doesn't want to follow rules and these are the people who might end up in jail during their lives. We never got to see any consequences in real-time like a bison goring or someone falling off a cliff. I wasn't hoping for that (mostly) but would have liked to have someone to at least get a stern lecture from a ranger. My kids follow rules, and I would like to keep it that way. But realistically, I feel like if no one else follows them, eventually they are going to wonder why they bother. 

P.S. A request to anyone who ever stays in hotels. If you set the alarm clock, please turn it all the way off before you check out. The person in the room after you probably does not also want it to go off at 5 a.m.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Don't Be Dead For Retirement

If you are at least 40, you know a number of people who are recently retired, or are planning to retire soon, because this is your parents' generation. I feel happy for my parents, as they have pretty much all been retired for at least a few years. Furthermore, all of them have continued to have explorations, adventure, happiness, and LIFE. I can't ask for more.

But sadly, I have also known way too many people who have, 1) died soon before their magical retirement date, or 2) retired and then died within days or a year. How much does it suck that you spend your whole life building up to and saving for this magical freedom event and then you don't even get to enjoy it? I just don't even get it. And sure, tragedy strikes once in a while and that is a fact. But I feel like I know, or know of, way too many people who worked hard toward the big R and then kicked it right on the verge of it getting good. And that is seriously annoying.

Whose silly idea was this social security and 401k stuff that says we work ourselves really hard all our lives so that when we are old and not as able to enjoy life then we get to do whatever we want? Of course, I recognize the reality of what it is - money doesn't grow on trees and the economy is hard sometimes and the young and healthy need to work - OK, fine. But why are we all running the rat race so hard when many of us finally get close to retirement and then die before enjoying it? 

I think that more of us, in the face of reality that work and savings need to happen when we are young, should also face a hard reality... You might not live to see retirement in the classic sense. Therefore, it is your duty to yourself and your family to be sure that you enjoy as much "periodic retirement" as you can. Maybe it is only two weeks a year to go camping, or to the city, or a stay-cation where you plant your own vegetables. Maybe you can take a month hiatus between jobs. Maybe you uproot and spend a year in another country where you can live on $20/day and have the time of your life exploring another culture. But please... do something. Plan to do LOTS of somethings that you truly enjoy and would do if you were retired today. The only thing you have for sure is now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How Are You?

We all ask it. Maybe many times a day. You might additionally ask a similar question to this such as, "How was your weekend?" or "Did you have a good vacation?" Well, I am here to tell you that unless you really want a truthful answer, please don't ask. It is seriously annoying.

Even my 11 year-old can tell you there are only two acceptable answers to the question, "How are you?" They are: GOOD or FINE. Because while the asker might actually know that there are other possible answers, their trust in the machine of your compulsion to be socially compliant reassures them that you will give only one of the acceptable answers. If you deviate from the acceptable answers, the asker is sure that you will do so in such a way that spreads happiness and good cheer, such as to say, "I am fantastic!" or "It was the best weekend in at least a decade!" or "It was the vacation of a lifetime!" And this deviation is acceptable, because cheerleading is a cornerstone of America.

But you know what? I have no problem with the question or with the acceptable answers, so long as they are true. What I do have a problem with are those times when you actually really want to answer the question honestly but you know you aren't supposed to. If you say, "This is the worst day of my life!" or "My kids were assholes for the entire trip and it was an epic waste of money and time!" you are going to get The Look. And The Look says, "Please don't tell me anything that makes me uncomfortable..." (even though I asked) "...because I don't actually care about how you really are I just want to be friendly and socially appropriate and then move on to the next thing. Why aren't you doing it right?!"

As a person who is above average at saying the wrong thing, I can tell you that if you don't really want to know then I really wish you would take charge of the social responsibility by not asking if you don't want to hear it. How dare you ask me how I am and then look at me like I am a freak because I actually told you the truth?! I mean, if you are really living in optimistic awesome world where everyone gives the right answer all the time (and Donald Trump doesn't exist), then why are you even reading my blog?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


When you read just this one word, whether you are an American or not, it brings to mind certain feelings, concepts, principles, values, etc. The interesting thing is, for every person there is a different spin on it - what makes America what it is, or is not. Typically, this comes along with a judgement of who is to thank for it or who is to blame for it. It can't ever be so simple as a geographic unification of sorts, because -- too many reasons to mention.

Take a look at this photo from my local Target store.

When I saw the photo, I immediately became transported to the Mossimo fashion headquarters, in a conference room with a group of designers. Today's inspirational endeavor is: come up with an America shirt where the letters that spell America itself will be the inspiration. Using the American flag last year was just too darn easy and already overused by the Gap. The design manager begins, "So let's brainstorm all the things that we think are symbolic of America, shall we?"

"Hey," interrupts Todd, "I think first we need to decide on the canvas. I mean, what kind of shirt do we think is the epitome of America worthy enough to wear our design?"

"Duh," says Mark. "White wife beater." "You mean white tank top, asshole!" shouts Jenny. "It is the most American of tops until jerks like you ruin it." "OK, sorry," Mark apologizes, "but we still agree on the canvas?" "Duh!" says Jenny, "So long as you also add red and blue piping. Because you know, America!"

Design manager says, "OK well we agree on that, so now let's be sure to think about images we can incorporate into the letters that spell America. I mean really, those that are most culturally salient and important to our identity as Americans. Thoughts?"

"Hot dogs for sure," says Amy, "because every summer BBQ in America has them! Lots of them!" "And don't forget chicken drumsticks!" says Susan. "Everyone in America loves their chicken right on the bone, and if it is deep fried, even better!"

"Cluck all you want, but nothing says America quite like bacon," says Bob. "If you don't have bacon you may as well be in a third-world hell-hole."

"I can't believe no one has said pizza yet," chimes in Jimmy. "Well, dufus," says Mark, "everyone knows pizza is from Italy. What is American about that?!?" Jimmy responds, "You are so dumb it hurts sometimes. The point is not where pizza originally came from. WE eat it and WE make it better than anywhere in the world. Now it is OURS. I mean really, you think they have Pizza Hut in Italy? Idiot." Mark taps his fingers but says nothing.

"Well," says Jane, "I don't even hear anyone talking about what kids in America like. Don't you want them shopping with Mommy at Target and telling her to buy this awesome America tank top because it has popsicles on it?!? Who doesn't love popsicles?!?"

The design manager beams, "I just want to thank all of you for your hard work today! I think we have enough ideas for the design and it is going to be really great!" A hand raises up slowly in the back of the room. "Erika? Did you have something else?"

Erika reluctantly answers, "Um... so I am just wondering why it is all food? Is unhealthy food what really best represents America?" (sounds of crickets) Design manager rolls her eyes and says, "Alrighty then, we are done for the day! Thank you!"