Sunday, November 23, 2014

Women and Body Image - loving ourselves now, not 5 pounds from now

Even before going to see the movie, “Muffin Top – A Love Story”, the issues of feminism, body image, sexuality, and a woman's right to decide what to do with her body had been on my mind a lot lately. I suspect it has something to do with having a 21-year-old daughter.

“Muffin Top” talks about what it means to be a feminist. Yes, you can still enjoy wearing make-up, coloring your hair, and even getting cosmetic surgery, if this is what you want to do. No, you don't have to buy into the fashion model ideal - which is stupid and impossible. It encourages women to love themselves now, not five pounds from now. I'll add to this, five pounds in either direction. My daughter rounds UP her weight when asked.

It would be nice to say these issues are dated, but they aren't. A few glances to the side bars while cruising the internet includes headlines such as:

“The Sexiest Celebrity Butts” (Guess what? Yep. They're all female)
“Controversial Skinny Pill Hits Nation” (Yep. There's a photo of a woman)
“Ten Women who Aged Horribly” (Really? Says who?)

There are also all those fashion magazines with the impossible models, photoshopped to look like Barbie dolls. The movie, based loosely on Cathryn Michon's book, “The Grrl Genius Guide to Sex (with other people)”, starts off with Cathryn's character, Suzanne, talking to her students in a university class on feminism. Soon after, Suzanne's husband leaves her for a younger, thinner woman and Suzanne is trying to figure out the whole dating scene again.

“Muffin Top” is a low budget film, made by Cathryn and her husband, author Bruce Cameron. Cathryn got her friends involved, women and men who read the script and liked the message. These include actors David Arquette, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Melissa Peterson, Retta, Dot Marie Jones, and delightfully, the late Marcia Wallace, playing herself. Bruce and Cathryn's dog, Tucker, also has a role. It is a fun and very funny movie, only occasionally going a little over the top (okay, it is called Muffin Top so it's appropriate) with scenes such as the ones with the weight loss guru, and becoming downright silly.

For the most part, I think they got their message across. Suzanne's lectures were particularly helpful in this. It did leave me with one thought. I understand the idea of cosmetic surgery being okay... and this is a movie set in Hollywood. However, for most women, cosmetic surgery will never be a choice. It's expensive and insurance doesn't cover it. Most of us need to learn to love our bodies without that option. There are also a lot of us who are feminists who choose not to wear make-up, high heels, or dyed hair. That's okay, too. 

The best part was seeing a feminist film with wonderful funny women, who come in all shapes and sizes, in lead roles, something rare in movies, and hearing a woman tell her story without feeling the need to constantly bash men. The male characters, except for few caricatures, are nice. They don't care about physical appearance nearly as much as the women do. Are we our own worst enemy?

All in all it was a fun romp and definitely worth seeing. It is available through instant download (go to the movie website: and, if you're lucky, you might be able to catch one of the Red Carpet Premiere showings, as we did.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who is this Aunt Maribelle?

I had a child in my kindergarten class who was having a wonderful time at nap, dancing around the kindergarten, making noises and generally being such a distraction that no one could rest.  I wasn’t in the classroom during nap time but I would often come down and see this little girl sitting in the front office with our secretary, next door to the kindergarten, because she had been so mischievous.  Somehow, I had to find a way to turn this around.  She was learning very well how to be mischievous but nothing at all about how to rest.  So, the next time I came down and saw her in the office, I picked her up and put her on my lap and told her this story:
When I was growing up, we used to visit our cousin on the farm and the first thing we did when we arrived on the farm was look for the cats.  We knew that there would be at least one cat that had kittens.  My cousin always knew just where the kittens would be found and soon we would each be happily cradling a kitten on our laps.  Then we would wrap them up in our sweaters (and here I wrapped my sweater around the child) and carry them quietly into the house and play with them in my cousins bedroom.  And we had to keep them very quiet because Aunt Maribelle didn’t allow kittens in the house at all and if she caught us, she would be angry with us and she might even make us scrub the kitchen floor.  So we would put the kittens on our laps and pet their tummies till they fell asleep.  Most of the time they would fall asleep but sometimes a kitten wouldn’t want to sleep and it would meow very loudly!  Then Aunt Maribelle would come and we would have to take the kittens outside again.  And then we’d have to scrub the kitchen floor.”
I then cradled the little girl and carried her back into the classroom and put her on her nap mat.  I whispered quietly in her ear, “Now, be a quiet little kitty so Aunt Maribelle doesn’t hear you.  I don’t want to scrub floors today.”
Two weeks later, the girl’s mother came to me and said, “WHO IS THIS AUNT MARIBELLE??!!”  Every day for two weeks, her daughter would come home and say to her mom, “I was a quiet kitty at nap today and Aunt Maribelle didn’t even know I was there!”
My Aunt Maribelle enjoyed the story, too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Now, I don't want to alarm you, but..."

I'm sure those words were meant to keep me calm. I hadn't started to panic because I really wasn't sure what to panic about, but I'll have to admit, those words had caused a small alarm to go off in my brain, even if it was just because I didn't know what he was going to say next, and especially since, HE was a police dispatcher at the other end of the phone line.

The day started off with such promise, really it did. My friend, Marie, had offered to help me pack up things at my parent's house and I was looking forward to the company. We stopped at Starbucks to fuel up for the job ahead and got a couple of sweet rolls, just in case we needed something to sustain us through the morning.

My goal today was to get most of the kitchen packed up, find some of the items my parents needed at their new apartment, and take the old rifle bullets we found in my dad's office down to the city police station. No problem. 

Until we found the tear gas in the back of the kitchen drawer.

I didn't know what a tear gas container looks like and I wouldn't have known what this was, had it not been for the paper wrapped around the canister and labeled with my dad's handwriting: "Caution, military tear gas". Actually, the writing looked nothing like that because it was my dad's handwriting and almost illegible, but I've had lots of practice reading his grocery lists in the last six months and I figured it out quickly.

From my last article on this blog, you know what I think of guns and weapons. My only goal at this point was to get rid of it as safely and as quickly as possible. I put it in the box with the old rifle bullets and we drove down to the local constabulary. Somehow I assumed I could just walk in, hand it to someone, and walk out. I was wrong. 

"You'll need to call the dispatcher." The woman behind the glass pointed to a black phone on the opposite wall, "They'll send an officer to pick it up."

I did as I was told and told the dispatcher what I needed. A moment of silence. 

"So, you have this in your car?"

"No, I have it with me."

"You.. have it with you... in the building?"

"Yes," I said firmly. 

That's when he said, "Now, I don't wish to alarm you, but...(long dramatic pause)... you need to go outside and wait by your car. An officer will meet you there." He went on to explain to me about how tear gas can become unstable and he didn't want to chance having it go off in the lobby of the police station. He also took my name and asked where I was parked.

So I went back out and explained the situation to Marie. She was supportive. 

"I figured if you weren't out in 30 minutes, I'd go in and post bail."

After about ten minutes, an officer came and asked to see what I had brought. I started to hand the box to him and he backed away, saying, "I can't take it right now, I just want to see it." So I opened the box and showed him the bullets and the bag with the canister. 

"I'm sorry," he said, "We're not allowed to dispose of tear gas. We'll have to call the bomb squad."

So, we waited and waited some more, all the while Marie made comments on how the police obviously would be watching me, they probably already had a file on me, and how they'd probably search the car.

"It's okay," I said, "it's not like I have any dru... oh shit." I had forgotten about the trash bag filled with expired prescription drugs in the trunk of my car. I hadn't yet figured out how and where to dispose of them. There were even a few... narcotics... in there.

We laughed till we cried and then got hungry and debated whether or not to call and have a pizza delivered to the police station parking lot. We decided against it when we realized we'd have to explain the possibility of the pizza delivery person encountering the bomb squad.

Eventually the officer returned and said he'd talked with the bomb squad and since this was a small container of tear gas, it was okay for the officer to take it.

"It's military strength," he informed us, "It could stop a bear."

Which leads me to the one question I forgot to ask my dad when I told him the story.


I'll be on the safe side and assume they had a bear infestation at some point and needed to keep them out of the kitchen. Anything else, I'm not sure I want to know.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Have We Lost the Gun Battle?

Guns are here to stay. They're out there and no one from the government is going to go door to door insisting that people give them up. The NRA is powerful and there are a lot of folks who are so enamored with their rifles, revolvers, and semiautomatic weapons, they would be willing to defend their right to own them with their lives. Even more certain, they defend their right with their vote.

In 2010, there were 2,694 children and teens in the United States who died from guns*. That's more than the total number of US military casualties in the whole Afghanistan war** (2001 to June 2014). We are our own worst enemy.

I am tired of the violence. I am tired of the arguments. I am tired of the cliches:

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. On more law won't stop criminals. Gun control advocates just want to take away our guns. It's not right to punish responsible gun owners because of the irresponsibility of a few. We need guns for our protection. We have to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government.

I could come back with my own arguments about how often it is children killing children with their parent's guns or joke about how much safer my family would feel if they knew their myopic wife and mother with Parkinson's disease was packing heat. I could point out our government has some built in ways for people to get involved and work to change the direction of our country. It's called learning how the government works and getting involved. Our government is far from perfect, but it mostly functions quite well. 

But no one is going to listen. If you are reading this, I'd be willing to bet you are not an NRA supporter. You're probably a peace freak like me. It's been almost two months since a child was killed at a school. The initial panic, sadness, anger, and frustration has subsided and there's not much about it in the media right now. Have we forgotten already? Has this become so common we are numb to it?

I briefly considered another cliche - If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Maybe they're right and our country would be safer if everyone had a gun. A gun license could be issued along with our driver's license. Then, as criminals become more sophisticated and have larger and better weapons, we'd be required to do the same. The gun manufacturers would love it.

A couple of people have told me it's just the fact you have a gun that protects you. Having it means you won't have to use it. This sounds familiar - what was the arms proliferation called during the cold war? Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD.

The whole MAD scenario wouldn't work for me, so what would I do if I were threatened? I hope my role model would not be Clint Eastwood, but Antoinette Tuff***, a front office worker at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy near Atlanta, Georgia. When a gunman came into her school, she calmly talked him into putting down his gun and giving himself up. This could have been another mass shooting. Instead, no one was hurt.

I could also look to the late Fr. Roger Mollison, a Catholic priest and friend of mine who once talked a young man into putting down his gun and having some cookies instead. The man had come into Fr. Roger's youth center and threatened to kill him. Fr. Roger also talked a woman out of killing herself by explaining calmly that it wouldn't be fair to the cleaning lady who was coming in later that evening and would have to clean up the mess.

Both Fr. Roger and Antoinette Tuff admitted they were terrified at the time (and undoubtedly for some time after) and they knew they could have been killed. At any moment, the gunman could have just started shooting. This is obviously not a method one can count on to be successful.

I would still not want to carry a gun. I choose to believe that most people are good and, as long as I don't take unreasonable risks, I'm reasonably safe. I don't feel the need to carry a gun to protect myself. Yes, there is a slight chance I could be killed, but I could never, ever kill another human being. Even if I could, being the hero and saving the day is a lot harder and a lot less likely in real life.

We all have to die eventually. That's not an option. We can, however, make the choice not to kill. That's the path I choose. But hey, I'm just an old peace freak. What do I know?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Winter's Worth

It's half past spring and time to be busy again. The winter was a lovely time to slow down and rest a little. I've learned I need to prioritize if I want to be active and not crashing from exhaustion. This means I had to give up a few things like my art classes at the high school... and dance. Prioritizing isn't easy.

This meant that other than spending time with our grandchildren and my parents, I mostly stayed in hibernation at the University of Colorado at Denver. I had done my research and the data had been promising. A great number of students are capable of sleeping in university classrooms. It was, of course, my intention to sleep as much as possible through the winter. It didn't work out so well.

The classes I chose were too interesting. No way could I sleep through them. Just so you know, in case you plan on following my example, here are two classes to avoid if you want to sit in a corner and sleep:

American Political Thought with Professor Thaddeus Tecza

Some people might mistakenly assume that any class talking about political thought would be boring. Even if it were possible to find such a class somewhere, discussing politics with Professor Tecza is anything (and everything) but boring. This was a 3 hour evening class and I still couldn't fall asleep. After the first 20 minutes, I stopped trying and started learning.

This was a challenging class as the group of students was, in many ways, a microcosm of our society. I learned just how paralyzing it can be for those who are so rigid in their thinking, they cannot consider anyone else's point of view. I also learned how paralyzing it can be if you insist on understanding and respecting every point of view without thinking critically about what you believe and why. This class may have ended, but the learning goes on.

Introduction to Creative Writing with Professor Eliot K. Wilson

Professor Wilson is too creative and funny to miss anything he has to say. Besides, he encourages students to bring food to share - food as in cookies, brownies, chocolate. By the end of the semester, I had eaten enough I could have gone into hibernation. He's also a demanding teacher. My blog readers (all three of you) will be grateful to know he has challenged me to write better. This is a humbling task. He gave us the tools. Now it's time to practice and practice - and read good poetry and short stories.

For class assignments, I often spent days carefully choosing the words for one line of poetry only to have the professor suggest tossing out the entire stanza. I doubt anyone would consider blogging to be great literature, but to be on the safe side, I didn't tell him about my blogs. 

What happens now? With spring and summer there is a lot of garden work to be done and places to go with the grandchildren. The senior auditing program is being revamped this summer, so I don't know what possibilities there will be in the fall. If at all possible, I plan on continuing with my studies. Maybe I can be the world's oldest college student some day.