Muslim women in India: Are they like us?

My daughter Lydia, who is two and a half years old, noticed this picture in the newspaper I was reading.  This is a photograph by Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images, as it appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, February 12, 2017.


LYDIA: Who are they?

MAMA: They are standing in line to vote in India.

LYDIA: Are they like us?

MAMA: Well, they are people.  They live in a country where the grownups vote to choose a president.  They stand in line like we do.  But their country is far away, so some things are different.  They have different people to choose when they vote.  And they are all wearing headscarves.

LYDIA: I wear a headscarf!  It’s blue.

MAMA: These have some very pretty flowers and patterns.  (We admire the scarves until something else catches her attention.)
I vaguely recall that I once tied a blue bandanna around her head.  She has often seen Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women wearing scarves that completely cover their hair.  Are they like us?  Yes and no.  We all are people, and the things that are different between people make Earth an interesting place to be.  That’s not so hard to understand.

Is Your Pussyhat Keeping Someone Warm?

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper.  Click photo to read the article

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper. Click photo to read the article “Pittsburghers pledge to continue fighting after women’s march.”

In photographs of last Saturday’s women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and around the United States, many pink hats are visible, most of them with ears, indicating solidarity with the Pussyhat Project that was so popular it caused shortages of pink yarn in some parts of the country.  It’s obvious that many thousands of pink pussyhats now exist.

Why haven’t I seen any of them this week?

I live in the East End of Pittsburgh.  This is a very liberal area where support for equal rights is seen as a good thing by the general public; it’s highly unlikely that someone would be harassed for wearing a feminist symbol in public around here.

The weather has been warm for January but damp.  I do see people wearing knitted hats.  I haven’t yet seen a pink hat with ears, not even one.  Where did they all go?

If you have a pussyhat, wear it as your warm hat for the rest of the winter!  Let it remind you and everyone else that this protest was not just a one-day thing but that we need to stand up for equal rights for everybody every day!

If you have a pussyhat that you are not going to wear again, for whatever reason–please give it to someone who needs a warm hat or to an organization like a homeless shelter that will put that hat on a cold head.  A warm hat can keep a person alive on a cold night.

Don’t let that knitting go to waste!  Share the warmth and keep America great!

How to Save the Earth from Donald Trump and the Republican Congressional Majority

I was devastated by last Tuesday’s election results.  There are many reasons I object to Donald Trump (like his racist lies about crime) and many reasons I hoped for a Democratic majority in Congress, but what I’m writing about here is our environment.  Even if you voted Republican, you may not want to live in a polluted wasteland that’s getting hotter every decade, so while this government is advancing the parts of its agenda that won your vote, you’ll want to take action to keep Earth habitable. What can we do?

First, it is not too late to stop Trump from taking office!  It’s possible for the Electoral College to vote for the winner of the popular vote (Hillary Clinton) so that she becomes President instead.  This probably won’t happen, but it’s worthwhile to speak up if you support the idea.  (A more realistic goal is to abolish the Electoral College before the next election.  How is it fair that a Wyoming resident’s vote counts 4 times as much as a Texas resident’s vote?!?  We the people should get one vote each!  Here’s more about what’s wrong with the Electoral College, and here’s what we wrote about it before the 2000 election disaster.)  We’d still have the Republicans in Congress, but they can do less harm with a Democratic President.

Next, start now stuffing Trump’s suggestion box with pleas for environmental protection!  Especially, oppose his absurd goal of abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency–it will be bad enough if he appoints someone blatantly anti-environment to head the EPA, but if he manages to get rid of it entirely, we’ll really be at the mercy of big polluters as our state governments scrabble to protect us (or don’t even try, as is likely in some states).  This action plan for slowing global warming includes many good ideas to advocate.  Will Trump’s administration really heed the input of ordinary Americans?  The fact that they’re asking for it means it’s worth a try.

Also, start now making contributions to organizations that lobby for the environment and/or sue polluters.  My favorites are Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund and Union of Concerned Scientists.  It’s easiest to set up a monthly donation (put it on the credit card whose rewards scheme is most useful to you!) so that you donate consistently and kind of painlessly; this also minimizes the nagging emails you’ll get, and I’ve found that environmental organizations are better than other charities at reducing paper mail when you ask them.  Think you can’t afford to donate?  Look for changes you can make to save money and the environment, and put aside the difference.  Another option is to make something environmentally friendly that you can sell (for example, root cuttings from your plants and pot them in repurposed containers that you decorate) and donate the profits.

As issues come up affecting the environment, contact your senator and congressional representative encouraging them to vote for a clean and healthy world.  Phone calls may be more effective than email or paper letters, but if you aren’t able to call during office hours, emailing is better than doing nothing–staffers often count the pro and con emails received about an issue, even if they don’t have time to read each one in full.

Vote with your purchases.  The main reason Republicans in general oppose environmental regulations is not that they want all living things to be poisoned and fried to a crisp, but that they want businesses to make as much money as possible.  One thing that is giving me hope is that during the George W. Bush administration, 2001-2009, despite the anti-environmental attitude and actions of the President and Congress, ordinary citizens’ interest in being more “green” surged, making environmentally friendly options far more available than they had been.  Trend analysts pay a lot of attention to this kind of thing, and businesses respond.  That’s why they took the genetically-modified organisms out of Cheerios and Grape-nuts, for example.  Consumer pressure works!  Do your best to show corporate America that we want less packaging, fewer harmful chemicals, more organic and vegetarian foods, more reusable products, more renewable energy, more fuel-efficient engines, more public transit, and so forth.

Get ready for 2018!  Check out your representatives’ environmental scorecards, and if they’re not doing their jobs protecting Earth, get ready to throw the bums out and elect someone greener!  Every representative in the House and 1/3 of the Senate will be up for re-election in 2018.

What else can we do?  Did I miss anything?

I’m still appalled by the election results, but doing what I can to work toward making the world a better place works for me!  Just in case I sound too chirpy here, let me add: I’ve been working on this for a long time.  Not only did I slog onward in my ever-greener lifestyle throughout the George W. Bush administration, but I was dodging excess packaging and picking up recyclables and line-drying laundry during the first George Bush administration and on through the Clinton years.  It isn’t always easy, but I’m truly speaking from experience when I tell you that trying to do the right thing has always been worth it.

America is SAFER now than it used to be.

I worked with crime data for 17 years, and occasionally someone would say, “Gosh, that must make you so worried about your safety!”  No.  It didn’t.  It had exactly the opposite effect.  There are four patterns I saw, over and over again, that made me feel safer:

  1. Crime rates in Pittsburgh and in the United States overall were already declining when I started working for the Pittsburgh Youth Study in 1998 and have continued to decline or remained stable ever since.
  2. Most crimes (especially sexual assaults and homicide) occur between people who know one another; they are not random attacks by strangers.
  3. Homicide and shooting victims are disproportionately black and male.  I am white and female.
  4. Every map of crimes in Pittsburgh shows that I live near the middle of a large low-crime area.

I could write a lot about what I’ve learned and how it’s influenced my sense of personal safety, but at this moment in American history I need to focus on helping you understand how safe you are and who’s trying to mislead you.

Monday’s presidential debate included repeated ranting from Donald Trump about the number of murders and shootings in Chicago during the Obama administration, implying that Chicago has become more dangerous and that this is Obama’s fault.  Trump would like you to believe that America is a very dangerous place and only he can save you from hordes of dark-skinned killers.

U.S. Violent Crime Rate 1960-2014

Graph from factcheck.org based on FBI data. Click graph for full article.

“Almost four thousand” is an overstatement of the 3,624 homicides in Chicago since Obama’s inauguration, but 3,624 is still a lot of people, and as Hillary Clinton said, “One murder is too many.” Yes. But the fact is that murder is far less common in Chicago, and in the United States overall, than it was 15 years ago–and that was a big decrease from 20-25 years ago. If presidents are responsible for violent crimes that occur during their administrations, then by golly, George Bush Senior was the worst president ever!

And before anybody gets on my case about Bush-bashing, notice that George W. Bush was the president who presided over an enormous drop in violent crime.  Funny how Trump doesn’t mention that–because it would ruin his argument that crime is high and it’s Obama’s fault.

Homicides in Chicago also have declined during the 21st century so far, but the pattern there is even more striking: There was a big drop from 2002 to 2004, and since then Chicago’s homicide rate has never again gotten nearly as high as it was in 2003!

Homicides in Chicago, 2000-2015.

Chicago Tribune graph reprinted by the Los Angeles Times. Click graph for full article.

Now, of course, just because murders are less common now than they used to be doesn’t mean we’re all perfectly safe.  Homicide is still the leading cause of death for black males ages 15-34, and although many of those victims were involved in gangs or drug dealing or carrying guns (all of which increase a person’s chances of getting killed), many were not–every year, some innocent, law-abiding black men are killed because they are mistaken for someone else, because they happen to live in or be visiting an area that is “rival territory” for a gang, or because police or gun-toting citizens don’t give them a chance to explain themselves.  Only 13% of the United States population is African-American, yet 44% of homicide victims in the United States are African-American; only 49% of the United States population is male, yet 70% of homicide victims in the United States are male.  (My calculations are based on data from 2013, from this Census table and this FBI table.)

Every murder is a tragedy, and the prevalence of homicide among young black men is a horror that we must do our very best to control.  My concern is that Trump’s rhetoric makes it sound like America is getting more dangerous by the minute and like dark-skinned people are out to kill you no matter who you are, and this really isn’t the case.  83% of white murder victims are killed by other white peopleThose of us who are lucky enough to be white people living in safe neighborhoods should be concerned about the plight of black people in dangerous neighborhoods out of love and compassion, not out of fear for our own safety.  African-Americans face more risks than they should, but even they are safer now than they were 25 years ago.  Cities across the United States have made real progress in reducing crime, and it hasn’t been done by yelling, “Law and order!” like Donald Trump.

I could go on and on about crime prevention, too, but I’ll stick to telling you a little about what I learned from my own work on the book Young Homicide Offenders and Victims: Risk Factors, Prediction, and Prevention from Childhood.  I did all of the data processing and some preliminary analyses for this book, and I am a co-author of two chapters.  In this book, we studied the 37 convicted killers and the 39 homicide victims who were among the young men we had been interviewing since they were in elementary school, and we determined what predicted who would kill and who would be killed.  These are the nine factors measured when they were in elementary school that predicted which boys were more than twice as likely as the average boy to grow up to kill someone, in order of statistical significance with the best predictor first:

  1. One or both of his biological parents did not live with him.
  2. He lived in a high-crime neighborhood.
  3. His family qualified for welfare benefits.
  4. His mother was younger than 20 when her first child was born.
  5. He was old for his grade at the beginning of the study–either he started school late, or he was left back.
  6. His mother (or the female adult most responsible for him) was not employed outside the home.
  7. His parents and/or teachers agreed with the statement, “He doesn’t seem to feel guilty after doing things he shouldn’t.”
  8. The adult most responsible for him reported that his biological father had ever had “behavior problems.”  (This one bugs me because it is so vague and open to bias on the part of the person reporting, but the fact that it was a strong predictor indicates that it was measuring something important.)
  9. His family had low socioeconomic status–calculated from the current or most recent job and the highest education completed by the adults in the home.

Think about those things when you think about how to prevent murder.  There are so many things we as a society can do to support families so they can raise good kids and to help kids when they first show signs of trouble–instead of waiting until they hurt someone and then throwing them in jail.

Gun control is a factor, too, and a major issue in the current election.  I agree with both candidates that we need to do more to get guns out of the hands of convicted criminals who aren’t allowed to carry guns.  My opinion, informed by what I’ve seen in crime research, is that the way to do this is to control guns much more tightly, more like we do cars: Carrying, using, or owning a gun should require a license, and to get a license you should have to demonstrate that you know how to use a gun safely and you understand the laws.  Each gun should be registered with the state and that registration updated annually.  These policies would help to reduce illegal selling and borrowing of guns.  It’s also my opinion that we should have fewer guns in the United States and work away from the idea that we “need” guns so much, but those are cultural and psychological shifts, not changes in laws.

I’ve learned a lot about crime.  It’s made me feel safer.  Donald Trump wants to talk about a few carefully selected facts as if they prove that we’re in grave danger and only he can help us.  I hope that looking at facts about the bigger picture helps you to understand how twisted his views are.

It works for me!

Some Old and Some New: September Book Reviews

This month I read two books that were new to me and two I’d read before but didn’t remember well.

36 Children by Herbert Kohl

Mr. Kohl was a white, Jewish graduate of Harvard and Columbia who agreed to teach sixth grade in a public school in Harlem in 1962.  The school was only 29 blocks from his apartment, but it was in a different world.  His 36 students were all African-American or Hispanic.  He says, “It is one thing to be liberal and talk, another to face something and learn that you’re afraid.”  He faced it, but it took him a while to rearrange his approach.  His first breakthrough moment came when he asked the kids why they used the word psyches to insult each other: What did it mean?  “Like, crazy or something.”  Why?  Mr. Kohl showed them the word’s unusual spelling, explained that it is Greek, told the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and listed some words derived from those names.  The students became fascinated both with the concept of root words and with ancient myths, and these interests helped to guide the whole year.  Read more of this post

The City of Slim Shadies

On days like this, when the sky is so heavy with clouds that we never glimpse the sun, and the wind is cold and damp, and it seems like winter will never end . . . I think of Eminem.

I guess I don’t mean the rapper himself so much as the character he played in 8 Mile [plot synopsis], which I saw when it came out in 2002 mostly because I was so impressed with the rap “Lose Yourself” [lyrics].  It very strikingly captures a young man’s desperation to escape the life he’s always known by seizing a fleeting chance to express himself in a way that will be heard and magnified to bring his family a better future.  The film amazed me with its very consistent, insistent pull, bringing me right into Rabbit’s story that he was not only telling me but making me see and feel.  I left the theater and had to walk around in the cold drizzle for a long time letting him speak to me some more.

And I thought, I work for that guy.  I work for 1,517 guys, a lot of whom are a lot like that.

Disclaimer: This article is not in any way an official statement by the Pittsburgh Youth Study or any of its funding entities.  This is a statement of my personal opinions and feelings.  For information about the Pittsburgh Youth Study, see our many publications.

Now, most people would say that I “work for” the principal investigators of the study, or that I “work for” a psychiatric hospital that is part of a corporate health-care system, or that I “work for” a research study that is funded by federal grants.  Yes, those are the ways my work is organized and paid.  But who have I been working for in my 17 years of data management and analysis of a longitudinal study of Pittsburgh’s at-risk boys?  I’m working for them.  I’m doing what I can to help us as a society understand why some boys break laws and hurt people and often wind up dead at a young age, while others somehow find their way to a stable and responsible adult life. Read more of this post

My Father Taught Me How to Be a Working Mother

When I was born, my mother quit her paying job so she could be home with me.  She did not take another job until I was almost twelve years old.

I resumed working outside the home when each of my children was twelve weeks old.  After Nicholas was born, I went back part-time and later gradually increased my working hours until I was back to 40 hours a week when he was four years old.  After Lydia was born (when Nicholas was nine years old), I returned to my job full-time.  It isn’t easy!  Forty hours, plus commuting time, is a long time to be away from home even when you’re only taking care of yourself; when you have young children, it’s a time-management struggle as well as an emotional struggle over being apart from the kids so much.  My mother–who’s been a great role model to me for things like breastfeeding, intelligent discipline, and making healthy food–was not much help as I figured out how to balance parenthood with employment.  It’s my father whose example has really helped me understand what’s important and where to cut myself some slack.

Oddly enough, it was an insensitive comment my father made that led me to realize his value as a role model for me. Read more of this post

Our resilient ozone: When science spoke and we listened

The healing of our ozone layer is a great example of what Earthlings can do when we admit our mistakes and change course!

I'm not a hippie but...

In the 1980’s scientists discovered the devastating effect we were having on our ozone layer. By using various chemicals in manufacturing, and particularly in aerosols, we were inadvertently chipping away at our precious shield from the worst of the sun’s damaging radiation. Wasting no time, these savvy scientists educated us as to the importance of the ozone layer and warned us that its existence was threatened if we did not act.

Put aside for a minute the hilarious image of an 80’s scientist; yes, they existed. It wasn’t all crimped hair and leg warmers, some people were off being intelligent and learning things! Thank God for these serious souls too, because without them we likely would have happily continued to spray away our entire protective coating by now.

Fortunately, we didn’t continue living in ignorance. We were alerted to our unwittingly destructive behaviour and could therefore make the necessary changes in order to save our skins (literally).

And…

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Elsewhere on Earth

This photograph, which was in Sunday’s newspaper, is the image I’m keeping in my mind this Good Friday.

A Syrian Kurdish boy sits on a destroyed tank Friday in the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab. Photo by Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images.

That is a place on this very same planet where I am sitting comfortably in my office.  That is a boy who is growing up in the very same time as my son Nicholas, who is visiting me at work (it’s his spring break from school) and looking forward to a pizza lunch.  Odds are nobody’s going to shoot at us as we walk down the street, and there won’t be any rubble.  The trees here are preparing to open sweet new green leaves.

It is only by luck that we live here and not there.

What is it like to go out to play in that wasted landscape, to find an interesting big thing to climb on that happens to be a recently-disabled killing machine?  I am grateful that I don’t know, but I think sometimes I need to make myself think about it.  I need to think about this one boy, to will him strength and courage to be a better person than many around him.

Today I am thinking of this picture and of these words sung by Phil Collins:

This is the world we live in,
And these are the hands we’re given.
Use them, and let’s start trying
To make it a place worth living in.

The Power of Purple Is Real!!!

I am putting this post in a variety of categories because it’s kind of silly but I’m kind of serious, too.  I would like to believe that in this very complicated world, my actions truly do make a difference, even in unexpected metaphysical ways.

Purple is my favorite color.  At this point in my life, I feel like I finally own enough purple clothing.  On my fortieth birthday, which in various ways did not go very well, I was wearing an all-purple outfit when Daniel and I went out to lunch and he (very uncharacteristically) spilled an entire glass of ice water on me.  When we got home, I was able to change into another all-purple outfit.  That’s the way life should be!  I am happily on my way to being that old woman in the famous poem by Jenny Joseph.

Monday, I wore a purple sweater.  This was really just because I had finally gotten around to washing this particular sweater, so now it was available again, and at this point in the year I am kind of tired of most of my sweaters, but it had been at least two weeks since I’d worn this one.

Tuesday, I wore a purple and white striped knit top.  As I took it out of the drawer, I thought, “But I just wore purple yesterday!” like I might be enjoying myself too much or something, but then I remembered that my church was hosting the East End Lenten Series supper and service that night, and purple is the color for Lent because purple is the color of sadness in church tradition.  It works all backwards with me and is one of the reasons why I like Lent.

Tuesday morning’s e-newsletter, for employees of the gargantuan “health system” where I work, encouraged us to wear purple on Wednesday to support patient safety. Read more of this post

Oh, all right. But they didn’t Book my Face!

More than three years ago, I explained why I was boycotting Facebook.  Yesterday, I joined Facebook.  My intention was to join as The Earthling’s Handbook, but Facebook immediately responded, “You have to join with your real name!  I’m the only book allowed here!” so I joined with my own name but used The Earthling’s Handbook icon as my picture.  I did not give Facebook my face.

Why not?  Everyone else is doing it! Read more of this post

Squirrel Appreciation Day

It's Squirrel Appreciation Day!It’s a real holiday!  It’s today, January 21st.  Keep an eye out for squirrels as you go about your day, and appreciate their resourcefulness, climbing ability, and cuteness.  (Photos are from http://squirrelworld.lincatz.com , a site for squirrel appreciators.)

I live in a solidly urban area of a major city, but even so, the neighborhood where I live is a major squirrel habitat.  Even on the busy street of high-rise buildings where I work, I typically see at least one squirrel along my four-block walk from the bus stop to my office.  A squirrel can live happily in an area so small you wouldn’t even know it was a forest, like a seven-foot-wide strip of lawn with a couple of trees. Read more…

The Common Cold and the Common Cup: Does Communion spread germs?

I’m an Episcopalian.  In almost every service at our church, we receive Communion this way: The priest tears a morsel off of a round, flat bread and places it in the palm of your hand, and you eat it.  The chalice-bearer holds the silver cup of wine as you sip from it, then wipes the rim of the chalice with the purificator, which is just a fancy name for a cloth napkin.  There are two chalices, and in our typical service maybe 30 people drink from each one.

Why would I share a drink with 30 other people?  Isn’t that just asking for trouble?

Honestly, I’ve never worried about it much, for three reasons: Read more…

One Brave Girl

This article from The New York Times was reprinted in my local newspaper.  In Afghanistan, a mullah who raped a 10-year-old girl in the mosque was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Most Americans would agree that anybody who rapes a child is a horrific criminal for whom 20 years is a light sentence, would be especially disgusted by such behavior from a religious leader, and would rally around the girl as an innocent victim.

This girl’s family considered murdering her to protect the family honor.  This girl has been raised in a culture in which that is traditional.

But when the mullah spoke in his own defense and claimed she had seduced him, the girl stopped sobbing and pulled aside her veil enough to speak directly to him. “Hey liar, hey liar,” she said. “God hate you, you are dirt, you are dirt, you are a vampire.”

Can you imagine the courage that took?

I used to be a Girl Scout leader.  When one of my girls was ten, her dad took her to an all-ages concert in a bar, where, she said, “a man, or maybe like a really old teenager, like in college” leaned over her saying she was pretty and asking for her phone number.  She did not know what to do.  Her father grabbed the guy by the collar and said, “Hey, leave my daughter alone!  She’s only TEN! YEARS! OLD!  Idiot.”  That is the kind of treatment men who hit on preteen girls deserve, and men who rape preteen girls…  Dirt.  Vampires.  It breaks my heart that this girl had to speak up for herself, but I am so very glad that she did.

This girl’s courage, and the courage of all those who are helping to bring the rapist to justice, will help to make Afghanistan a safer place for girls and women, who have been treated so badly for so long. That’s something that is working in our world. Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to read about many other things that are working.

The Internet of 20 Years Ago

I just happened upon this article from Wired magazine, which is undated but appears to be from right around 1994–the era when the World Wide Web existed but many major corporations still had no clue about what this Internet thing was, and when most people who did use the Internet still knew what a “shell prompt” was.

If you were already online then, you’ll enjoy this blast of nostalgia for that golden age before the Eternal September and the spam tsunami.

If you weren’t online yet at that point, you may be interested in this glimpse of how things used to be.

I was going to share this link on my Pinterest page where I post assorted interesting stuff–but it’s not pinnable because there are no images on the page.  Ah, those were the days!

Why we didn’t have a Gender Reveal Party

This post is not meant to criticize parents who make different decisions, just to explain our point of view.

“Do you know what you’re having?”  I am in my last month of pregnancy, and oh, how tired I am of that strangely-phrased question!  I just smile and say, “It’s a baby!”  Of course that doesn’t stop the interrogation, because what people want to know is whether it’s a boy or a girl.  The more reasonable way to ask this question, in my opinion, is, “Did you find out the sex?”

This time around, my answer to that question is a bit more complicated than it was in my first pregnancy, when we did not know our baby was a boy until he was born.  My policy is still the same: If I am having testing for medical reasons that also happens to reveal the sex of the baby, then I want to know what it says.  I don’t like the idea of hospital personnel knowing when I don’t.  But I would not have a test primarily so that we can know the sex before birth.  In my first pregnancy, the only medically indicated ultrasound was too early to tell the sex.  I did not have any further testing because there was no reason to think anything was wrong.  This time, because I’m 40 and therefore at higher risk of some birth defects, I decided to have a 20-week ultrasound and non-invasive genetic testing.  So we know the sex, but we’re keeping it a secret from most people.  Some people like the suspense, and others are badgering us, hoping to get us to slip up. :eyesroll

Why not find out, and why not tell everyone when we know? Read more…

Saving Money on Sports Fan Gear

We aren’t sports fans in our family.  Exercise is good, but we’re not much interested in playing sports and even less interested in watching sports.

But we live in Pittsburgh, a city with three professional sports teams that are a major focus of the local culture.  We can’t help noticing when one of the teams is doing well: We see people wearing black and gold even more often than normal, all the city buses have some slogan like “Beat ’em Bucs!” flashing across their foreheads in between route announcements, and we know when a game has been won because we hear people hollering, “Woo!!” as they drive down the main street behind our house.  Sometimes even we feel caught up in rooting for the home team–after all, it’s in our best interest for our fellow citizens to be happy instead of dejected.

When our son Nicholas was four years old, the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl.  Attending preschool that fall and winter, he could not help noticing that all the other kids had Steelers shirts and the teachers were constantly talking about Steelers.  This was not the first time he’d asked for a Steelers shirt, or a Penguins shirt, or a Pirates shirt–these garments are popular even among the youngest children and typically are pretty sharp-looking compared to standard little kids’ clothes–but this was the point at which Daniel and I began to think it might really make sense to get him one.  We believe that resisting peer pressure is a valuable skill and have modeled questioning what “everybody” does, but we also remember the feeling of wanting to fit in with our classmates.  While we aren’t really into sports, we don’t think they’re a terrible evil to be avoided on principle.

The trouble is that official licensed sports team logo gear is expensive.  We didn’t want to pay $20 for a tiny shirt our kid would outgrow in a year!  But the cheap knock-off gear is not only less attractive and poorly made, it’s technically illegal.  Luckily, we learned two handy ways around this dilemma:

  1. When the team is winning successive rounds of championships, the merchandise commemorating the previous win will go on sale.  Nicholas didn’t mind at all that his first Steelers shirt said something about divisional champs.  We picked it up for $6 in the supermarket the week after the Steelers’ next victory.
  2. Kids outgrow their team shirts, and these tend to be sturdy garments that are re-sold in good condition.  There’s nothing illegal about this, as the team received the licensing fee at the first purchase.  We’ve picked up half a dozen Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates shirts for $2 or $3 at Goodwill or yard sales.

It works for me!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday and Thrifty Thursday for more money-saving ideas!

A Real Man

A Real Man does not mind carrying the groceries in a canvas tote bag with colorful tulips printed on it.

A Real Man knows how to cook a meal, wash the dishes, do the laundry, mop a floor, and sew on a button.  He considers these basic survival skills that everyone should know by the age of 18, at latest.

A Real Man will hug a friend who is upset and wants to be hugged, even if that friend is another man.

A Real Man appreciates being offered a choice of pink or orange highlighter marker, instead of getting offended that you didn’t just hand him the orange one.

A Real Man does not run away screaming whenever menstruation or childbirth is mentioned.

A Real Man responds to his four-year-old child’s request for purple sparkly shoes by asking, “Do they have grippy soles for rock climbing?”–whether the child is a boy or a girl. Read more…

My Favorite Love Song

I’m not very romantic. A lot of the gooey sentiments expressed around Valentine’s Day send me into fits of critical thinking. I’m kind of like this. But I am in love with Daniel, and have been for almost 20 years, and sometimes get kind of sentimental about it.

In particular, I can get all choked up thinking about the years when I truly believed it was unlikely that I would ever find someone I really loved and liked and felt really well matched with, who would feel the same way about me–because I thought I was too weird, too smart, too interested in unpopular things and not good enough at feigning interest in popular things, too unfashionable, too tall, too radical, too shy, too strange in my perception of romantic relationships, too nervous, too obsessed with words so that a long list repeatedly using a word like “too” would start to make that word seem so ridiculous that I’d feel uncertain it really existed. My first many crushes on boys convinced me that anybody I thought was wonderful would consider me somewhere between horribly repulsive and unworthy of notice.

Despite all that, I wistfully enjoyed listening to this song, composed by Linda Ronstadt and Wendy Waldman, performed by Lucy Simon on In Harmony, the 1980 album of wonderful songs for children performed by popular singers of the era. I loved the whole album (except for “The Sailor and the Mermaid”–gack, romance and terrible singing!) and played it a zillion times and memorized all the songs, but it’s this one that came to mind when I finally did find someone really compatible and fall in love.

I Have a Song

I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you.
I have a song. I think it’s a song about somebody who
Can see a cloud go drifting by, feel the very same as I.
Oh, I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you,
That’s about you.

I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too.
I have a dream, a wonderful dream about somebody who
I think would really like to know the part of me I’m scared to show.
Oh, I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too,
That maybe you have too.

I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
I have a hope, a wonderful hope about somebody who
Believes in love, believes in me, believes in how good life can be.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I share with you.

See? It’s not about how I’m obsessed with you and you’re everything to me and I’d die without you and I’d kill for you and I’m nothing without you and all that overblown freakishness. This song is about how we appreciate the same things, enjoy being together, want to know each other deeply and be okay with that. It’s a song about my fondest dream and hope, that someone special will love the true me, and how I’m a little frightened even to talk about that, but I hope maybe you’ll understand and feel the same and we can share our lives together.

It’s not that it’s the greatest song. It’s very ’70s-sounding, with instrumental music that starts off so saggy that it makes me want to roll my eyes a little. But it’s earnest and singable, and it says exactly what I want. To me, finding the man for whom my heart had this song is the most romantic thing imaginable, and all I really want for Valentine’s Day is to listen to it (or even just think it) while held in his arms.

My brother had the same doubts I did about ever finding a compatible partner, and then he didn’t have my experience of choosing an ultra-geeky college with a skewed gender ratio where it was surprisingly easy to surround myself with compatible people, fall in love repeatedly, and find a wonderful life-partner before I turned 21. My brother had a harder time, well into adulthood. But then he found somebody wonderful! We went to their wedding a few years ago. I’m not into weddings. But when the music that accompanied my brother down the aisle was “I Have a Song”, I almost collapsed into a sobbing sentimental heap. Because he had that song, that dream, that hope, and now finally he had someone to share that song! Wow.

So that’s what I think is romantic. This is the love song that works for me!

A Positive Experience at the Post Office

The United States Postal Service has had a rough time in recent years. “Snail mail” just seems so slow, now that we can do a lot of things online.  FedEx and UPS have made their services more convenient to use, so a lot of people no longer choose the post office as their method of sending a package.  As the USPS struggles, it’s had to raise stamp prices frequently and cut staffing at some locations so that customers wait in line longer.  Even I have complained about the post office vending machine and its horrible fake “stamps”.  The Christmas season is an especially busy time for the post office, and we grouchy citizens tend to focus on the tedious standing-in-line and the worries about whether our gifts will arrive in time for Christmas, instead of marveling at the number of cards and packages that arrive promptly in perfect condition despite icy roads and runways.

But this week, I had a great experience with the post office!

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