New Design! By Me! With an Assist from Jane Austen.

OK, so I have been desperate to get this new design up and running on this website. For some reason, I felt a big push to get it done today. I now have chills, because someone just reminded me that:

TODAY IS JANE AUSTEN’S BIRTHDAY.

In case you did not know, the title of this blog comes from a Jane Austen quote, from a novel she wrote while she was still a teenager. The fact that she had already mastered irony seems enough proof for me that she was a genius. In my favorite quote, she puts some really solid advice in a letter from one very silly friend to another. I’ve modernized the spelling, but left the odd punctuation and capitalization. (The novel is Love and Friendship, and you can read the whole thing online.)

“Beware of swoons Dear Laura…. A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is I dare say conducive to Health in its consequences—Run mad as often as you choose; but do not faint.”

Happy Birthday, Ms. Austen. Thank you for inspiring me, pretty much continuously, since I discovered your work. When I was twelve, I read Sense and Sensibility, and my life is forever the richer for loving you.

The new logo is, in part, an illustration/etching from one of the earliest illustrated editions of Austen’s work. I find them hilarious, actually. As a birthday treat, I will show you the image from which I took my lovely lady.

 

"He cut off a long lock of her hair."- Marianne and Wiloughby, Sense & Sensibility, by Hugh Thompson, for an edition published in the 19th century.

“He cut off a long lock of her hair.”- Marianne and Wiloughby, Sense & Sensibility, by Hugh Thompson, for an edition published in the 19th century.

Is she swooning? Fainting? Nope. Just leaning back to let her rakish love snip a lock of her hair. I cut him and the rest of the scene out using Photoshop. Now you’ve had a peek, and a chance to look around, what do you think of my work? I designed and then learned how to execute my design in a class taught by April Durham at Creative Girl Media. I’m really quite proud of myself.

Embrace Your Inner Grinch: Mental Health During The Holidays

This is the second post I’m doing about mental health and the holidays; the first was about caring for yourself in the face of a loved one’s mental illness. Today, it’s all about your mental health during the holidays. Everybody knows that you don’t need to have a mental illness for this time of year to mess with your head. And: apologies in advance for this being a Christian-centric perspective, but it applies to all people of all religions who spend time traveling, visiting, hosting, etc. So, for everyone, here’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself–

I say, “I’m not up for that.”

It’s not a new idea. I didn’t make it up. But I say it only when I mean it, and I insist on everyone respecting it. The key to this, however, is something many of the “learn to say no” blog posts I’ve read seem to skip over–how do you know when to say it?

The first step in this whole process, really, is to know your own limitations. You have to get all Zen about this, because it does no one any good for you to make a list of all the things you hate about yourself and beat yourself black and blue for being imperfect. Everyone has limitations. Own them. They are part of you, and your loved ones are supposed to love all of you, not just the happy, shiny parts. It’s ok to remind yourself that they still love you, even if they don’t like that you’re saying no. And especially when you don’t like that you’re saying no.

Think of it this way: if you can’t lift a heavy object, you’re not necessarily “in bad shape” – you’re simply not strong enough to lift it. Even Olympic weight lifters have to stop somewhere, or they risk injury. How much can you lift? I’ve gotten stronger, literally, since becoming a mom, because I started off with a roughly-seven-pound weight to carry around, and now I’m carrying an almost-twenty-two pound Tiny Man. I practiced with the smaller Tiny Man, and now I can carry the bigger version. It’s very considerate of him to grow that way, isn’t it? (Now, can someone tell me how to make him slow down? Please?) But I digress. Apply this to your mental and emotional well-being; what’s light as a feather and what is a big hunk of marble?

I love baking, but I have a really hard time shopping. A bunch of our friends and family are getting baked goods for Christmas, this year. Easy peasy. You can never have too many baked goods, and my plan involves festive recyclable/disposable containers. Recently, I expressed my limitations quite badly and hurt someone’s feelings. I didn’t think about holiday shopping, I just thought about how much I like doing anything, including shopping, with her (which makes her sort of magical, by the way). So, when she suggested a particular store, I blurted out that that store makes me anxious. Other things happened, my anxiety ratcheted up, I let her go by herself without clarifying that it was just that store, not her–it was a messy day. You know what we did to bond, later? We baked cookies! It worked out beautifully, in the end, because we talked about it. We knew that we were having healing/bonding time in the kitchen.

I know that it’s not easy for a lot of us to say “I don’t like to do ___,” especially when it’s something festive and others are excited. Maybe it seems like everybody but you just loves the mall at Christmas. But stop and think for a moment. There are others that dislike crowds. You know that there are. There’s no reason to be mean to yourself because you are one of them, any more than anyone else needs to be mean to herself because she just adores places with lots of hustle and bustle. There’s also no way for others to know that going shopping will no be fun for you, unless you tell them. So you have to have a talk with yourself, first.

One of my favorite people in the whole wide world is a relative who has a very hard time during the holidays, because a lot of very scary memories from her very scary past come back to haunt her. If she doesn’t call me, I get nervous about her well-being. If she writes me a few sentences in an email to say, “I’m having a hard time, but I don’t want to talk to anyone and I love you,” then I know that she’s not good, but she’ll be ok, and it’s nice to be told that she loves me. I write back that I always love to talk to her, but that it’s perfectly fine for her to be a turtle in a shell, and I am always here when she wants to talk, again. It works so well!

The last piece of advice I have to give about this is a tough one: listen to your heart, the part of you that has no words. You may not have words for what your limitations are. You may not be able to say “I don’t like that store, but please, let’s bake cookies when you get back.” But you can say “I don’t feel up to that. I love you!” If asked why, it’s ok to say you don’t know why. Lately, my husband has started saying, “I don’t understand, but I don’t have to.” It’s not the best feeling in the world when I say that I need to be alone, and he doesn’t understand. This usually happens when I don’t know why I feel such a strong need to be alone. I usually try to give a reason, but it doesn’t always ring true, even to me. It’s the best I have. He knows that. He’s super awesome, and I haven’t come across many people who can say “I don’t understand, but I don’t have to.” Most people want to understand. I want to understand! I want to explain! If you do, too, but you can’t, then you feel frustrated. So, you feel frustrated. It won’t be the end of the world.

Why not feel frustrated while doing the thing that “everyone else” is doing that you really hate doing? Good question! Because: you matter, and you will not feel increasingly anxious/frustrated/whatever ickiness. When “everyone else” gets back from that thing that you hate, or when you get back from your trip out of the house to avoid that thing that you hate, you’ll be ready to enjoy the things that you do actually like. Seeing you smile and enjoy yourself is a pretty good distraction from wondering why you can’t just participate in that other part. The truth is, you probably CAN. But you don’t have to. That’s ok. I promise. Even my niece and nephew have understood, at very young ages, when I have said that I’m not feeling so good and need a rest. When I come back, they are ready to play, and so am I!

The reason to do the hard work of recognizing and embracing your limitations, even if the best you can do is say “I don’t like that,” without rhyme or reason, is that it frees up a ton of energy for you to enjoy the rest of your time with family and friends. Be a grinch for an hour, so that you can be jolly for the rest of the day! Or maybe you have to be a grinch for a day. But do whatever it takes to free up that energy you need to show the people you love and enjoy just how much you enjoy them and love them. Sometimes, I need to be a Grinch, but now that I own that, I can also sometimes join hands and sing with all of Whoville.

grinchcollage

Thanks to the How the Grinch Stole Christmas film for these stills, and thanks to PicMonkey for that stock image of the gift.

Sex and the Child NFL Fan: An Open Letter

To The NFL:

Yesterday, I went to a Jets game with my husband, to celebrate his birthday; it was the first time either of us had ever been to a regular-season game. As the mother of a one-year-old who already has more than his fair share of Jets gear, I was really impressed at all the ways that you found to get kids involved. This GenJets program you’ve come up with seems pretty great, especially because your “kids only” autograph area encourages parents to take their kids to see the athletes practice. I’m not sure how well the NFL’s well-publicized “Play60” effort is going, in terms of actually increasing physical activity among your youngest fans, but it’s just common sense that kids who see a pro football team practice will think “WOW! How can I do THAT?” It’s really neat that the kids whose parents are season ticket holders get the chance to run out of the tunnel and help welcome the players on the field, and I loved seeing this same group learn how to be “Kid Reporters” by interviewing players. It’s also awesome that kids whose families do not have seasons tickets are welcome to join a “Just for Kids conference call with players and coaches.” I’ve picked out those “member benefits” to highlight, because they show children, rather than simply offer lip service, what it’s like to play a sport this demanding. Oh, and I like the reporter thing, because I’d really rather my kid want to interview people than risk brain injury by playing a sport with such a high rate of head injuries, but that’s a story for another day.

Today, I’d like to talk to you about the unadvertised messages you are selling and modeling to the NFL’s youngest fans by showcasing the Jets Flight Crew cheerleaders in a way that focuses attention on women as sex objects. It is not necessary for cheerleaders to be sex objects; I have been educated about this by a professional cheerleading coach and former cheer captain, who explained the athletic elements I wasn’t seeing. The women I saw on the field today can dance. They are talented, and they are entertaining! They sparkle and shine from all the way up in the last rows, where we were sitting, and they seem to be having a great time. But the way you showcase these women on the huge screens in your stadiums, in your merchandise and online treats them as sex objects, rather than talented dancers who help energize the crowd and provide entertainment.

To be perfectly frank, I didn’t even notice that you were doing this until the eleven-year-old boy who was sitting next to me returned from the concession stands while the camera feed you put on the big screens panned across a row of women in poses that could only have been intended to scream “SEX.” My discomfort made me squirm, literally, when adult men seated in front of me cheered and jeered at those women onscreen, while sitting next to other young boys. I thought the festive costumes were cute, as a matter of fact, until I saw just where their hemlines ended, and just how specifically that fuzzy trim around the bottom had been designed, to the inch, to give viewers a peek at the spandex beneath those “skirts.” I’ll provide an example, for readers who haven’t already conjured up a good image of the kind of thing I’m talking about:

This photo is from the official Jets website, specifically, from the photo gallery devoted to the Flight Crew from a December, 2012, game.

This photo is from the official Jets website, specifically, from the photo gallery devoted to the Flight Crew from a December, 2012, game.

I’m not saying that this surprises me. It doesn’t. I know that your audience is largely comprised of adult men, and that sex sells. But it surprise me that children were confronted with images like this one in your actual stadiums, during your games, and even during programs specifically designed for children. My husband made a comment about the Jets Flight Crew Calendar on his return from the concession stands with hot chocolate for us, and only when my new young friend’s appearance made me uncomfortable with the images onscreen did it occur to me that this same young boy had probably noticed that calendar, too. I am absolutely certain that adult men could enjoy the talents of these beautiful women without poses like this one and costumes meant to show off the crotch. There are children watching. Always. On TV and in your stadiums. Take some responsibility for what you are selling those kids. If you want to claim that you can convince them to “Play60” and get them active and that your players are role modeling for them, then you need to model respect for all the athletes on your field, not just the ones with helmets.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the “jumpsuit” costume my husband mentioned, one that covers a bit more skin; it’s not the skin I object to, but rather, the poses you highlight. Your Flight Crew can be as covered up as I am, on any given Sunday, and still cater to our society’s basest instincts about women and sex.

jets flight crew jumpsuit

Really, Choreographer? REALLY? (Again–from the official Jets Flight Crew photo gallery, December, 2011.

I wanted to end there, until I saw the way you showcased the boys and girls in your GenJets club, separately and, of course, perfectly aligned with every stereotype about what we value in men and women. I was just trying to find official images and good links for this blog post. I wasn’t looking to destroy my hopes about your club for kids. I wasn’t looking for a reason to think this would be anything other than fun for my own child. And then, I saw this little array of photos and links:

Where are the girls in that photo of young fans? Why are the only girls on this page signing up for your cheerleading camp? Why not show girls admiring Super Bowl trophies, too? I saw young girls at the game today! Why aren't those fans represented, here?

Where are the girls in that photo of young fans? Why are the only girls on this page signing up for your cheerleading camp? Why not show girls admiring Super Bowl trophies, too? I saw young girls at the game today! Why aren’t those fans represented, here?

For the love! Just show a little girl enjoying a game! Put ONE girl in just ONE of your general calls to join your club! I checked. There aren’t any images of girls in those general ads. There were girls in the Kids Tunnel today! Where are their pictures? I think Jets Flight Crew cheer camp sounds like it would be a lot of fun for girls who like cheerleading, so I’m obviously not asking you to take down that image. I just want to see young female fans enjoying the game the way I do–from the stands. It’s normal! SELL THAT, TOO. Sell fandom to young girls as well as young boys. Stop feeding stereotypes. And while we’re at it–stop putting costumes on women that you can’t get away with putting on little girls. If those costumes were ok, at all, you’d have the shorter females in this photo wearing matching outfits. But they are covered up, and we both know that’s because you’d get flak for putting girls in anything this ridiculous:

Enough. Said.

Enough. Said.

Adults know beautiful and sexy when we see it. You don’t need to shove it down our throats in a way that also sells our young children a particularly offensive brand of “sexy,” and a tired set of stereotypes about women. Everyone really can have all the fun, without the part that made me blush to see a child watching. Even a tablespoon of subtlety would help me believe that you care at all about the physical or mental well-being of your youngest fans; at this point, I’m pretty much convinced that you care only about selling the brand to the next generation.

Sincerely,

A Disappointed Mother and Fan-By-Marriage

The Holiday Playlist of the Musician’s Daughter

My dad is a self-proclaimed snob about music, which means that I was exposed to some really great music and educated really well about that music. It also means that I didn’t hear a contemporary pop song unless my sister played on. The radio was NOT an option in our car. So this is my holiday playlist, and there’s a story for each song. Disclaimer: these are all affiliate links from Amazon, because that was the easiest way to get the pictures and link you to clips of the songs without thinking about copyright issues.


Classy: George Winston, “The Holly & The Ivy,” December

My sister’s name is Holli, with an i. When I was little, people used to sing “The Holly and the Annie” instead of the “Ivy” and I would get mad. First: the movie Annie terrified me, because of the part where they almost KILL the child while she’s climbing that tower thing. I did not want to be called Annie. Second: The lyrics go like this, “The holly and the ivy, when they are both full-grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly wears the crown.” She was already the older sister. Now, they were telling me that, even when I was big, too, she would get the crown? Not. Cool.

Then, I grew up, and I grew a sense of humor. I also sang this song in choir and still know all the verses. The words are really awesome, explain the symbolism of the holly plant and why it’s associate with Christmas, and it totally bridges the pagan and the Christian imagery that got thrown into Christmas. George Winston is an incredible piano player, so this is the instrumental version. I prefer to sing the words myself. :)


Classic, for singing: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

My dad used to play this on the piano, and sing it. He’s an awesome musician. He was so good at the saxophone, that he got to be in the Army Band instead of going to Vietnam, during the war. (Military bands are incredible. Amazing. Really freaking talented.) He could play every instrument, and he was in a band with all six of his brothers for most of his 20s. We also listened to this song, often, but I can’t remember whose version. I want to guess Natalie Cole sang it. But here’s a version I listening to:


Classic, for listening: “The Christmas Song,” Nat “King” Cole and Natalie Cole, The Magic of Christmas

There was one dad and two daughters in our family (and a mom, who was often excluded from musical activities, which I now find obnoxious–that’s another story) so I liked the duet. This song is great. These singers are amazing. The London Symphony Orchestra is playing the music behind them. Get it.


Pop: “All I Want For Christmas,” Mariah or that little girl from Love Actually (her name is Olivia Olson)

Mariah made it famous, and she’s behind the story of why this song is on my short list for the holidays. My dad is actually a Mariah Carey fan, in the sense that he thinks she’s an amazing singer, and I was allowed to have her CDs. All. Of. Them. I inherited the collection my sister started during high school and built from there. I love classic Mariah. I love Mariah + JayZ. I love Mariah. My friend Jessica and I used to listen to her CDs on our headphones (DISCMAN!) and skate around the ice rink by her house singing outloud. It was epic.

My dad remarried in 2003, right before I went to college, and moved in with her, so I spent that Christmas at their house. When he got out of the car to get our Christmas tree at the farm (real farm–part of it grew trees–rural Minnesota, people) my stepmother popped in Mariah’s Christmas album, and we rocked out to “All I Want for Christmas.” She told me a really cute story about her, love in her young life, before I met her, and singing this song. When it was over, she put in my dad’s music again, and we giggled hysterically. Evidently, he’s not a fan of her pop Christmas albums. The car, when he was not in it, was where she enjoyed them. That was a fun day.

I went to see Love Actually with my college BFFs, so that version makes me feel so cozy. I have a pretty great memory of my friend Ellen singing this song along with the soundtrack at the top of her lungs with a pretend microphone in her hand, in the hallway of our dorm. That was fun, too.


Christmas Movie song: “White Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby in the film White Christmas

Holiday Inn doesn’t cut it, folks. White Christmas has Rosemary Clooney, and she’s just a better a singer than that Holiday Inn actress, who is totally forgettable. Also: I didn’t see Holiday Inn until I was 16. I watched White Christmas every year, because we mysteriously owned a VHS copy. This is mysterious, because neither of my parents actually likes this movie. But I found it and watched it over and over. I’m the kind of person who listens to a song on repeat–the same song–for an hour, because I just happen to love it at that moment. I’m also the kind of person who watched White Christmas, reached the end, turned off the VCR, discovered that it was on TV, and watched it from the middle to the end, again. Right away. I like almost every version of this song I’ve ever heard–it’s a great song. But Bing is my love. And when I found out that no one else in my family shared my passion for the film, that kind of just made my tradition better. It was mine and only mine. Now, where did I put that DVD…


Non-Christmas Holiday song: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” preferably when Ella Fitzgerald is singing

I discovered this song as an adult, when Nathan and I were already together. We moved in together on New Year’s Day, so I used to sing this song to him. We got our keys before the holiday, so we knew that we’d be spending New Years Eve drinking sparkling cider and eating Chinese on the floor of our new place. This song makes me all mushy inside. I have a version Diana Krall recorded, too, and it’s great. Get to know this one. You can sing it after December 25th, after all!


And it's playing iN THEATERS this year! Woohoo!

And it’s playing iN THEATERS this year! Woohoo!

HerStories: the Book, the Launch Day, the Dream

Ever since I read about how Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women (I’m guessing I was eight or nine), I have known that one day, I would be a published author. It may be on page 212 of a (FANTASTIC) collection of essays by many other authors, but Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March gets HER first story published in a magazine (or is it a newspaper?). I’m doing much better, if we account for the company I’m keeping, here. Seriously–these women are amazing. I’ve been on the verge of happy tears since I got my copy of the book, today. Look at her. She’s beautiful!

In person, she’s all shiny and gorgeous. And my NAME is in there! It’s in the table of contents of a REAL BOOK. Library of congress, people! It’s on the page my essay is in. Page 212. Happy Launch Day to everyone, especially my wonderful fellow contributors and MOST especially to Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. The HerStories Project is so important. It’s no accident that I feel like Jo March and a strong link to Louisa May Alcott, LM Montgomery and Jane Austen, my first favorite female authors. Without books about female friendship, I would never have loved reading so much, nor would I have aspired to write. Did I mention that I FEEL LIKE JO MARCH? Because that is an awesome feeling. All the people in your life need this book, dear readers.

 

If you are still reading this, I will tell you that IF you cannot afford $10 on a book, even a super special awesome book that probably has super special super powers, today, Launch Day, you may download it for free in Kindle format. But please only do that if you must. We’ve all worked really hard on this, and it would be pretty great if the women who worked hardest, Jessica and Stephanie, actually earn a dollar or two. This is self-published, and it’s a beautiful a book as any in my collection, so that is what I call impressive.