Monday, June 27, 2011

Seven Synonyms for Shame

My latest insight about why Virginia summers are so abhorrent to me:  they show up what a slattern I am.  We have, by far, the trashiest looking house in the immediate neighborhood.  In the winter, if your yard looks like hell, you can blame the season.  In the summer, there is no excuse.  Gardening is not my thing.  I have no talent for it, nor any desire to do it.  I've tried--oh, how I've tried--and have come to accept the fact that plants and I do not get along.  I don't even like being outside all that much.

This year in particular, I've been stymied by a lack of motivation so profound, just getting out of bed requires Herculean effort, let alone making the garden look presentable.  Every other spring, I have started out hopeful, weeding and digging and wasting money on plants that were mostly doomed to die. This year, I did nothing, absolutely nothing and the front yard in particular is a horrifying jungle of weeds, decorated with a beat-up fire pit.  At this point, I'm pretty much past caring what the rest of the neighborhood thinks.  I grew up in an immaculately maintained house, and believe me, this doesn't bring happiness or any sense of satisfaction.

I present the evidence of my descent into sluttishness.

Back Yard of Disgrace

The raised beds of reproach:
Raised Beds of Reproach
As I predicted, the "two week" back order for a new dryer motor has stretched into a month.

The side yard of sorrow:
Side yard of Sorry

Front Porch of Destruction
Note the Christmas lights that never got taken down and Sancho, the badly-behaved dog.

Front Yard of Despair

Fire Pit of Ill Repute

The Path of Degredation

Tuna Fish Can Ashtray of Ignominy

So there it is.  We have made tepid overtures toward a contractor to see if he can turn the appalling "fire pit" section of the front yard into an elegant bluestone patio, but this would require a retaining wall and steps and having two kids in college has put a serious dent in our home improvement budget.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Seen and Overheard around Charlottesville

On the downtown mall, man at outdoor restaurant table:  "I do sheepsheads with collards, sheepsheads with macaroni and cheese, sheepsheads with pork."
(I know a sheepshead is a fish, but up to this point, I thought it was a generic term for dead fish washed up on a beach.  I had no idea it is an actual species that people eat. )

A parent at the Walker Upper Elementary School graduation:  "I am SO hungover.  I do NOT want to be here."  (Me neither, honey.)

Cherry Ave, near the Salvation Army store:  two people walking down the street with a COUCH balanced on a SHOPPING CART.  They had not bought the couch, oh no, they were taking it to the S.A. to donate it.  It was pretty freaking hilarious, especially because they were IN the street rather than on the sidewalk, with the couch swaying wildly like a see-saw on an inadequate fulcrum.

At the Tea Bazaar:  " was nice that it was local. I mean, I could have just gone to the supermarket and bought some sort of 'meat product.' Now I can make something warm from the pelt and I'm going to make a wind chime out of the bones.  So it's win, win, lose, for the groundhog.  Now I can't wait to use my bow and arrow again."

At Whole Foods on a Friday evening:  four adults in their fifties on a field trip to the new store.  They were picking up pretentious foods and laughing at them and generally having more fun than I have ever seen anyone have in Whole Foods before, where the customers are usually remarkably sour-faced.  I wanted to be with these fun people, rather than dodging dirty looks as I shopped for the ingredients for a blue cheese cheesecake for a friend's party.  Later, I saw all four of them seated at the bar, whooping it up as only people who were born in the fifties can. It must be all the martinis and cigarettes they were exposed to in utero.

At the Tea Bazaar:  "We're going to Carltons and we'll be chasing little Christian boys around."
"So Carlton's is a gay bar?"

Garrett St. on a rainy afternoon:  A guy steps out of his car, fumbles frowningly with an umbrella, which, when he gets it fully opened, turns out to be a teeny-tiny child's umbrella colored a jaunty blue and yellow with Bob the Builder pictured on it.  It was barely big enough to cover his bald spot let alone his entire head.  He walked a short way, and gave up, closed the umbrella and just let himself get wet.

At the Tea Bazaar:  " a fight started and then they were taking out their guns."
"Drag queens with guns?"
"Yup."  (The Tea Bazaar, it turns out, is a rich source of overheardisms.)

At the Mudhouse:  " and your soft-centered, egotistical attitude...He's a terrible teacher...He thinks he's so great, but he's the worst teacher I've ever had...horrific...just, dare do you know it's Sunday?  Let me get a five-gallon bucket and...."  (This was all part of a non-stop, highly articulate rant from one graduate student to another that I could only hear snippets of because Mudhouse is so noisy.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ME on a diet

At the library, idly paging through a new diet book, the following paragraph caught my eye.

...the physiological biofeedback/signaling molecule that triggers the release of two of the most powerful fat-burning hormones: testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone).  The entire "hormonal soup" (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, with testosterone and HGH) is what drives the EPOC effect.   These hormones are the key to the ME Diet because their combined action is responsible for the caloric afterburn....and they ensure that the calories that are burned come from fat.  The key metabolic messengers that begin the EPOC effect...cause the body to switch to high-octane sugar usage...Only high-intensity exercise creates the hormonal burst...This is the reason sprinters have less fat and are more muscular than marathon runners.

It sounded like horse shit.  I couldn't wait to get started.  The book quoted above is The Metabolic Effect Diet by Jade and Keoni Teta who are brothers.  (I know!  I thought they were girls too!)  I began to follow their plan because I was failing at trying to lose weight without guidance.  But then the book was due back at the library and I couldn't renew it because someone had placed a hold on it.  I had lost a couple of pounds but was also backsliding.  The ME Diet, another variation of the low carb diet, has you determine your metabolic type and then allows you a certain number of bites of approved starches at each meal.  I, as a "mixed burner" am allowed 5-10 bites of starchy vegetable or whole grain per meal.  I soon found out that you can consume an entire piece of Mellow Mushroom pizza in ten bites.  The book includes an exercise plan, attractively (and deceptively) labeled "rest-based training."

I returned the book to the library and began to investigate the other diet books in the stacks.  I used to be thin, genuinely thin, but when I started nursing school my weight began to creep up and I gained more weight working as a nurse--despite literally running my legs off all day long--because of the atrocious eating habits that come with stress, self-loathing, working nights, and twelve hour shifts.  I'm  not overweight, by official standards, but I hate how I look in my clothes and I have gained a shocking twenty pounds over the last four years.

There are many diet books at the public library.  I soon became bewildered.  Did I want The Five Day Miracle Diet or the Three Hour Diet?  The rich women's diet or the French women's diet?    I decided to read them all and find one that made sense and then present my findings in a hilarious blog post!

YOU on a Diet:  The Owner's Manual for Waist Management (2006)  Michael F. Roiszen, MD and Mehmet C. Oz MD.

Concept:  Focus on your waist measurement rather than your weight.  According to this book, the ideal waist measurement for women is 32 inches and 35 inches for men.

The Diet:  Meal plans are standard old-school diet fare:  whole grain cereal or toast with peanut butter for breakfast, salads, soups, vegetarian burgers for lunch, and dinner dishes like "Asian Salmon with brown rice pilaf" or "Spicy Chili."  Snacks are raw vegetables, fruits, yogurt, cottage cheese.  A one-week plan is included but after that you are on your own as far as making food choices.  There are recipes for YOU drinks,  YOU dinners, and YOU get the idea.  Some of the recipes, such as the banana/pineapple smoothie seem too sugary.  The exercise plan is a mix of stretching, strength training and cardio.  The last chapters encourage the use of prescription weight loss drugs, anti-depressants, plastic surgery, liposuction, and gastric bypass.

Analysis:  This book is all over the place with incomprehensible cartoons, "factoid" sidebars, "YOU-eraka" moments, "myth busters," excessive wordiness, bad writing (at one point, the body is called the "corporeal vehicle") and 240 pages of preaching before you get to the actual diet.  It's curious that the cartoon figure they chose to represent YOU  is not human, but an elf, clad in footed tights, a jaunty cap and with obvious pointed ears.  The arbitrary ideal waist measurements are ridiculous.  The amount of weight I would have to GAIN to achieve a 32" waist would make me overweight.

Summary:  The diet book for schizophrenics, by schizophrenics.

Extra Lean (2010) by Mario Lopez

Concept:  Balanced intake of protein, carbs, and fat. Portion control.  Eat frequently throughout the day.

The Diet:  By page 41, we've already arrived at the diet, which includes a daily meal plan for seven full weeks.  The plan for day one, week one: breakfast-berry/yogurt smoothie, morning snack-10 almonds, lunch-spinach salad with grapes and grilled chicken, afternoon snack #1-banana, afternoon snack #2-6 whole wheat crackers and 1 string cheese, dinner-salmon, baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli, bedtime snack-air-popped popcorn.  Nothing very original here, but it's nice that you are given forty-nine days worth of meal plans.  Some people need that.  The food is nicely presented, with a full-color pages of photographs of Mario preparing the food which seems more appealing than most diet recipes. Each day is summed up with the total number of calories consumed (about 1200) and the breakdown of protein, carbs and fats. There is no outlined exercise plan.  I'd like to try some of the recipes, particularly the guacamole salad with chicken and the fish tacos with black bean salsa.

Analysis:  This book is pretty basic and padded with information that shouldn't be a surprise to most dieters.  A little box lists "sources of dairy" as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.  We're told to avoid pop-tarts for breakfast.  Granola bars, many of which are loaded with sugar, are listed as an example of a healthy morning snack.  I'm not convinced that eating frequently (especially a bedtime snack!) is the path to weight loss.  You will need to add protein powder to the smoothies if they're going to keep you satisfied.

Summary:  Airheaded, but Mario Lopez is kind of hot.

The 3-Hour Diet: How Low-Carb Diets Make You Fat and Timing Makes You Thin (2005) by Jorge Cruise.

Concept: Eating something every three hours will make you thin.

The Diet:  Essentially, this diet takes a daily allowance of about 1500 calories and spreads it over three meals and three snacks.  You are supposed to eat breakfast within one hour of arising--let's say 07:00, then a snack at 10:00, lunch at 1:00pm, snack at 4:00, dinner at 7:00, with a fifty calorie evening treat. There are supposedly no forbidden foods, but clearly you will have to exercise some portion control for this diet to work.  A suggested treat is twelve M&M's.  I'm sure many of you dieters will agree with me that it's easier to eat no M&M's than it is to stop at twelve.  The "three hour plate" is supposed to contain a large serving of vegetables, smaller portions of protein and starch, and a small bit of fat.  Sound familiar?  The recipes are uninspired, particularly an appalling "mock danish" that is pineapple and cottage cheese, put on a piece of bread and broiled.

Analysis:  Cruise claims that if you go more than three hours without eating, your body decides you are starving and turns cannibal by burning your own lean muscle.  I call bullshit!  What a curiously American concept that three hours without food=starvation.  Tell that to someone who lives in Somalia. It's true that skipping meals is not healthy and will lead to over-eating, (although I have found that skipping dinner--and only dinner- can aid weight-loss) but don't try to tell me that eating three healthy meals a day and abstaining from snacks will make us fat.  I think we are snacking ourselves to death and I know from bitter experience that once you start to snack, it is hard to stop.  Better not to start at all.

Summary:  Get fat by eating something every three hours.

The 5-Day Miracle Diet (1996) by Adele Puhn

Concept: Crunch your way to thinness!

The Diet: Be "in good blood sugar" by eating specific foods at specific times at specific intervals.  The foods are standard diet fare:  whole grain, lean meat, vegetables, etc.  No recipes, just generic meal suggestions: "1 broiled lamb chop, steamed zucchini, mixed green salad."  A key part of this diet is eating two "hard chew" snacks between breakfast and lunch.  Crunch those carrots!  Attack them with your teeth!  She is fond of making "shocking" pronouncements:  What!!  You mean pasta, bagels, and bananas aren't great diet foods?  I do like her for maligning the banana, which is surely nature's most disgusting plant food.  Even watching someone else eat a banana makes me gag a little.  Potassium schmotassium.  You can get potassium from other foods.

Analysis:   Where to start?  The abysmal organization? The many cheesy anecdotes about "Don, an advertising executive" and a host of other characters?   The "science"?  Adele says, "In the Northeast, where the soil's selenium depletion is a known fact, cancer rates are quite high."  Her need to put her own name within the text, over and over:  ADELE PUHN'S STEP 1: EAT WITHIN ONE-HALF HOUR OF WAKING UP, ADELE PUHN'S STEP TWO (and 3,4,5)...PUHN-ATTUNED HEALTH MUSTS...THE ADELE PUHN TWO-STEP PROGRAM...ADELE EXCEL STEP 1 (and 2,3,4,5) ADELE PUHN'S FOUR RULES OF SELECTIVITY.  I suspect that Adele Puhn is not really a diet expert, but is, in fact, a real estate agent.

Summary:  The five-day WTF.

The Sonoma Diet: Trimmer waist, better health in just 10 days! ( 2005) by "Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., PhD."

Concept:  Californians are cooler than you.

The Diet:  Divided into three "waves."  In "wave one" fruit is banned.  You eat vegetables, lean meat, fat-free dairy, and whole grains, although you may not eat any grains at lunch and they comprise  20-25% of your other two meals.  Fruit is added to waves 2 and 3.  The diet claims you can "eat anything" but it looks like if you follow this plan, you are banned from sugar and white flour for the rest of your life.  I fully understand how detrimental sugar and refined carbs are to a diet, but sometimes you have to have a treat.  Fruit is sweet, fruit is nice, but it doesn't replace a moist slab of chocolate cake.  One thing I do like about this diet it its relaxed attitude toward snacks.  If you must snack, fine, but if you prefer to stick to three squares a day, that's OK too. This diet allows, practically encourages, nightly wine.  There are two paragraphs devoted to exercise:  as long as you follow the diet you'll get to your target weight whether you exercise or not but if you want to exercise, well, go ahead.

Analysis:  The smugness is irritating:  "There's such a thing as an...overweight individual in Sonoma."  Really?  Why isn't he banished to Nebraska?  On allowing yourself treats in wave 3:  "Don't force down a doughnut you don't really want.  But now you can be a good sport and try the birthday cake at a friend's don't have to be better than the rest of the world 365/24/7.  Just something close to that."  Imagine how grateful your friends will be that you are a "good sport" and choke down some of the dessert they prepared!  I know someone who claims that her yearly indulgence is a single Oreo.  If you want to restrict your treats to one cookie per year, that's your business, but if you tell people about it, they will make fun of you behind your back.

Summary: The Smugoma Diet.

Eat More, Weigh Less (1993) by Dean Ornish, M.D.

Concept:  You can eat a lot more food at each meal if you cut the fat content down to 10%.

The Diet: Vegetarian, extremely low-fat.  Fish, chicken, nuts, seeds--all foods we gobble today because they're healthy--are banned.  Dr. Ornish lectures sternly about how all oils are bad and not to believe any nonsense you hear that olive oil is healthy.  Nearly half the book is recipes.  There's a one-week meal plan that is heartbreaking to read.  Lunch and dinner are vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables.  I don't know how anyone could stick to this diet without going mad.

Analysis:  I know this book is old school and out of date but I included it because I suffered through the fat free craze.  Back in those days I was trying to make weight for crew and I lived on dry grape nuts and coffee with skim milk.  I was riding my bike 16 miles round trip to the rowing club and running and lifting weights, and doing calisthenics, not to mention rowing.  My periods stopped.   I was starving but on this all-carb, no-fat diet, I found it hard to keep my weight down. I probably put sugar in my coffee, but sugar is fat free, so it's OK, right?  Now we know better.  We know that the right fats are essential for health and that eating lots of bulk with no fat is not satisfying.  We know that fat free cookies and snacks--which this diet allows--add empty calories and sugar and make people just as fat as full fat versions of the same snacks do.

Summary:  You will never be happy again.

The Rice Diet Renewal (2010) by Kitty Gurkin Rosati

Concept:  1,000 calories a day plus one hour of daily exercise, wrapped in a thick package of psychobabble.

The Diet:  Avoid processed food, most meat and sodium.  Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  No snacks.  1,000 calories per day.  One day a week, you eat the "Basic" Rice diet which is 800 calories.

Analysis:  Who wouldn't lose weight on 1,000 calories and an hour of exercise a day?  Rosati constantly refers to her program as the "dieta" which makes me want to hit her.  There are many, many pages devoted to healing yourself through music, poetry, digging into your psyche and discovering the root cause of why you overeat.  This isn't just a diet!  You will learn to "heal your heart," "empower your mind," "connect with your spirit," and "consciously consume" to achieve "amazing, miraculous, and extraordinary healing."  A sample of her writing:

When we truly comprehend the research that shows that the heart's magnetic field is approximately five thousand times stronger than the field produced by the brain, we further appreciate the techniques that move head knowlege to our hearts.  As HeartMath practitioners' and many quantum physicists', neurophysiologists', and neuropsychologists' research now shows, when a thought becomes a feeling, it can shift our belief system and then allow our desired results to manifest.  One day I led a group of Ricers into a meditation as I played the song "I Believe I Can Fly."  Such commanding, echoing, and crescendoing words, with an equally compelling melody, can often inspire the most defeated of souls into opening up to their truth. (p.89)


Summary: Apparently,  this diet has nothing to do with eating rice. Also, where can I apply for one of those "neurophysiologist" jobs?

The Good Mood Diet (2007) by Susan Kleiner

Concept:  Fish oils are good for the brain so eating fish five times a week will cure depression.

The Diet:  You choose between a 1600, 1800 or 2200 calorie-a-day plans.  Use the "good mood template" to consume the correct balance of carbs, fat, and protein. Fish five times a week--canned fish OK.  Two weeks worth of meal plans that are exactly like all the meal plans in all the other diet books. Includes list of "feel good" foods like unsweetened cocoa powder, flaxseed, turkey.

Analysis:  I like fish, but not enough to eat it five times a week.  Canned tuna is one of my diet staples, but you get tired of it fast.  Canned salmon is gross and if you bring a can of sardines to your work lunch room, everybody says, "EWWW! What is that?"  Quality fresh fish is prohibitively expensive.  I am not convinced.

Summary:  Can't I just take cod liver oil?

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure (2005) by Mireille Guiliano

Concept:  Vive la France!

The Diet: Enjoy food and gradually learn to eat less at each meal.  Begin by keeping a three week food diary.  Do  a weekend leek broth fast, then three months of "recasting" in which you gradually eat less by studying your food diary and learning where you can cut back.  Do not snack.

Analysis:  Making gradual changes to your diet is probably more effective than following a restrictive plan although it won't produce the quick weight-loss results that most people want.  The emphasis is clearly on portion control and Guiliano reasons that the first three bites of any dish are the most satisfying, so eat just a bit and move on.  This sounds good, but it is easier said than done. Then again, why are Europeans thinner than Americans?  When we lived in Rome--OK, it was only for two weeks but we did rent a house and try to live like Italians--I lost weight.  I lost weight despite popping out for a gelato every afternoon, consuming pounds of nutella, eating bread, pasta, pizza, and sweetened espresso--there is no Splenda in Italy.  Was it because we didn't have a car and walked everywhere?  I walk many places now, and when we were in Rome, I didn't do any of my usual workouts like running or lifting weights.  Was it because I had to carry home every bite we ate?  I wasn't about to waste space in my grocery bags with bulky bags of chips, although they don't really have chips in Italy anyway.  Was it because the variety of food was less?  Oh, the menus and farmers markets, cheese shops and bakeries were loaded with tantalizing items, but the supermarket had much less food than an American one, and mostly sold basic ingredients with which to cook and not very much prepared food, snacks, or junk food.

Summary:  Baby steps, baby.

How the Rich Get Thin (2006) by Jana Klauer, M.D.

Concept:  Slim down with calcium.

The Diet: There's a 3-day "jump start" with a very low calorie plan, followed by two phases: the "Get it done" phase and the unnamed "phase two."  It's a standard, "shun the bread, eat low-fat protein" diet, with lots of yogurt and other low-fat dairy added.  Apparently there was a study that showed that dieters who consumed more calcium lost more weight.

Analysis:  The book starts with an irritating section about the "Park Avenue Mind-Set."  This is defined as having long work-hours, hectic schedules, social obligations, travel, and personal commitments.  Because we regular people can't relate to any of that at all.  It's all just ditch digging and Dorito scarfing among the masses!  I admit, I'm tempted to try out her calcium theory.

Summary:  The rich get thin the same way everybody else gets thin.

Conclusion:  Every single diet book says the same things, that "other diets" fail, that their particular diet isn't really a diet at all, but a lifestyle.  You won't be dieting, you'll be "making healthy choices" and the weight will fall off "effortlessly."  This is BULLSHIT.

 Since I started writing this post, weeks ago, I also read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata, a science writer for the New York Times.  It's an interesting book, if somewhat depressing.  She follows people participating in a University of Pennsylvania study that put some people on a low calorie diet and others on a low carb diet to see which was the most effective.  (Neither.  Both groups lost weight at first and gained it back.)  Kolata questions whether there is actually an obesity epidemic at all, points out that the ideal physique for women was far heavier in the past than it is now, and gives compelling evidence that everybody has a set weight range--say about 20 pounds--which they can maintain without effort.  Experiments in which thin people were put on very high-calorie diets, in order to achieve obesity, failed. Yes, the participants gained weight, but as soon as the study ended, they all lost it again and maintained their former thin weights without effort.

And it seems like for me, no matter how much I eat, I stay at the weight I'm at now.  On the other hand, my metabolism has reset itself a couple of times.  Back when I was constantly pregnant--I was literally pregnant or breastfeeding without a single break for 12 years--I lived at a higher range.  When I weaned Seamus, I lost about ten pounds without effort, and kept it off.

Right now, compared to how I was when I started writing this, I am feeling fairly unmotivated.  Diets seem silly and ineffective.  The books seduce you with their early promise, but real life interrupts.  If I ever discover the magic secret to weight loss, I will share it here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We'll always have the Bicycle Dress.

Anthropologie, we need to talk.  I think we've been seeing too much of each other. It's not you, it's me.   You've been great, really.  I remember my very first Anthropologie catalog.  I thought, "Who would ever dress like this?" but by the time the second catalog came I began to see the possibilities.  Every day, getting dressed would be like putting on a costume.  Who could I be?  A painter in Paris in 1928?  A recent graduate of a buttoned-up secretarial school?  A 1950's movie star?  A Palm Beach socialite circa 1963?

We've had some good times and I will always remember some of the outfits we created.

Woman Having a Nervous Breakdown blouse

This is what I wear on my yacht pants

"Your ass looks hot in that skirt" skirt

Not afraid of birthdays blouse

Drinking and Driving dress

Slouching Through Rome clogs

Middle School Graduation Motherfuckers dress

Getting the Side-Eye at the BBQ dress

The Bicycle Dress.  My god, the Bicycle Dress!
I wore it to the Charlottesville Dogwood Festival, where it is comme il faut to be toothless and display one's muffin top with pride.  I ran into friends.  They very kindly did not raise their eyebrows at my outrageous attire.  Perhaps they were distracted by the carnie with an abdominal mass the size of a Toyota Prius.  We discussed his health care options.  "I'm sure he's getting it checked out," my friend said.  "I hear they have an amazing health plan."

I've been seeing a lot of J. Crew lately.  It's where I bought my job interview suit, my dozens of identical navy blue and black tee shirts, my chinos, my cardigan for over-airconditioned summer restaurants.  J. Crew clothes may lack imagination, but they'll never have the other ladies thinking, "who does she think she is?"

Anthropologie, I hope we can be friends.  I'd like to visit you from time to time, like if I'm every invited to a garden party.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Moving on from moving up.

I was not drunk at Seamus' moving up ceremony.  I went so far as to consider drinking a glass of wine, but who wants to drink wine, alone, at 9:00am?  The only time I drink wine in the morning is at funerals.  I thought about buying some champagne and making mimosas, but again, the thought of me struggling with a champagne bottle, alone in my kitchen, seemed beyond pathetic.  And they didn't have any champagne at the new Whole Foods.

So my last moving-up ceremony is over and done.  We will certainly skip the 8th grade version of it, which is what I did with Grace, but I felt that 6th grade is too young for cynicism.  The ceremony itself was similar to the others, although they curtailed the speeches.  The usual suspects were present:

  • Obligatory parent dressed like a pimp.
  • This year's out-of-control mom who screamed, "Yeah, honey!  Work that stage. WORK THAT STAGE!" Even the peanut gallery where we were sitting was appalled.  The woman behind us said, "That was embarrassing," although she yelled lustily enough for her own child.
  • The middle school principal's speech.  He bellowed at the audience: "ARE YOU GONNA READ A BOOK?"  After getting a loud enough "yes" response, he turned to the parents:  "HEY PARENTS, ARE YOU GONNA READ A BOOK? YOU GONNA READ A BOOK, PARENTS?"  (How did I get here?  My poor mother is turning in her grave at the environment in which I have placed her grandchildren.)
  • The Rotary club gifts--free thesauruses (thesauri??) for all the kids.  With four kids in my house, all of whom also got thesauri at 4th grade graduation, I can hardly find space on my book shelves, we have so many of them. The Rotary club representative betrayed the fact that he thought he was at a fifth grade graduation.  
  • The instructional coordinator scolding the "students" for  screaming during the presentation of certificates, when it was obvious that it was the parents doing the screaming.
  • The crowds of people standing in the very area that I got kicked out of last time--and no fucking asshole to make them sit down.
  • The very second the last certificate had been handed out, every single person in the balcony section where we were sitting got up to leave.  The principal was still saying, "Thank you for your support..." and by the time she got to, "...please allow the children to exit first," at least 80% of the audience was already standing in the aisles.

And now for something completely different.  A BRAND NEW BIGGER AND BETTER Whole Foods opened here in Charlottesville, to much fanfare.  Yesterday was the grand opening, and like an idiot, I thought I'd check it out.  We couldn't even get into the parking lot.  We couldn't even get into the driveway that leads to the parking lot.  We couldn't even get into the lane that turns into the driveway that leads to the parking lot.  Indeed, traffic was slowed down the 250 bypass as far as Dairy Rd. I gave up, but returned later, about 7:30 pm when it was still crowded, but at least I could find a parking space.  I can't give a good review of the store yet, it was all so overwhelming.  Things were arranged differently and I couldn't find some of what I needed and it was too crowded to back track and hunt.  I'm not sure I like how much of the meat is behind a counter and you have to get in line and ask the butcher for it.  This type of set up never seems to work in Virginia, with people all milling about, no one knowing whose turn is next.  I did like the huge bin of discounted frozen fish and the local produce display in front of the store.  And the bar.  Is it an actual bar, or is it just for tasting?  I  poked among the wine, looking futilely for Champagne. I'm sure there's a lot that I missed.  One thing:  the parking lot is better than the one at the old Whole Foods and much easier to get out of--if you're paying attention to the signs.  

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

In Which I get Kicked Out of a Public School Ceremony

 Seamus will be "moving up" tomorrow from the upper elementary to the middle school, with accompanying pompous ceremony. I have already attended three of these moving up days, and that is three more than anyone should have to.

Three years ago when Grace moved up to middle school, I wrote a piece describing her ceremony but didn't publish it here.  Thinking of what I am about to endure again, I dug it up, and here it is.

2008:  Grace "graduated" from the upper elementary school, which holds a moving up ceremony that is beyond painful to sit through.  Since hers would be my third moving up ceremony I was purposely late, to avoid the speeches, and thus made things worse. For one thing, I couldn't find a seat.  A man directed me to the balcony, where he claimed there were seats, and there were, only they were all in the middle of the rows, and each row was packed with very large people.  I could not see a single seat that would not require me to force my body through a narrow gauntlet of flesh and auditorium chairs in order to get to it.  Additionally, all the people sitting in the end seats were giving me hostile looks that said, "I ain't moving for YOU."  

Discouraged, I returned to the large, deep, wing between balcony sections and stood there unobtrusively, but the man didn't like that and told me I HAD to take a seat.  I tried to explain that I can not squeeze myself past a long line of large, hostile people, but he thought I was being irrational, and it came down to sitting or being kicked out of the auditorium so I gathered my dignity, exited, and arranged myself on a large poufy ottoman in the vestibule, where I could still hear what was going on.  

The speeches were just starting.  What had they been doing for the last half hour?  The chairman of the school board spoke first.  He gets props for being brief and relevant.  Next came the superintendent of schools.  She gave a very long speech, the theme of which was overcoming adversity and always doing your best.  To illustrate her point, she told a story about a "little girl she once knew."  This little girl was a very good little girl who always did what she was told and always tried hard to be good.  Then one day the unthinkable happened:  the little girl forgot her book when she had specifically been told to always bring her book to school!   The superintendent spoke for a very long time about the little girl's thoughts and feelings and the reactions of every single adult even tangentially connected to the little girl.  Finally, the big reveal:  I was that little girl.  

More speeches followed--the principal of the upper elementary, the principal of the middle school.  He concluded his speech by bellowing "ARE YOU A CHAMPION?"  to which the kids were supposed to respond, "YES!"  He did this as many times as it took for an enthusiastic response, which was a great many.  The music teacher sang a song. She wrote it herself.  Something about catching moonbeams and wishing upon stars.   

Next came the awards. This school is the only upper elementary for the entire city of Charlottesville, so the student body runs the full gamut of the socioeconomic scale and the emphasis at these ceremonies is always on encouraging the kids who don't have many advantages.  Hence the platitude-laden speeches and the painful earnestness of the music teacher's song.  Each award was presented by a different group--and each representative of each group gave a speech. Naturally. The guy from the Rotary Club spoke for ten full minutes.   

This whole time, the vestibule, where I relaxed on my pouffe, was busy with people walking in and out, chattering, snacking, talking on their phones, pushing strollers with crying babies, and popping out for a quick cigarette.  I decided that this might be a good time to steal one of their seats, and I did, in the far upper reaches of the balcony on the extreme right side of the auditorium.  It was, at least, an aisle seat.  

At last, the big moment:  the presentation of certificates.  Parents are asked to hold their applause until each class has received their certificates, so that all names could be clearly heard, but the audience is always rowdy at the upper elementary graduation.  As each name was called, the audience erupted in whistles and hoots. "That's my baby, right there. THAT'S MY BABY!" screamed one woman as her daughter walked across the stage.  I would have been amused, but my mood was soured by my confrontation with the Seating Authority. It would have been NICE to have heard Grace's name called.  Oh well, she'll probably get married some day and I can hear it then.  Some children did not get screams and hoots.  These were the children whose parents know how to behave in public.  

The principal concluded the ceremony by asking parents to remain in their seats until the students had left.  This was downright funny because parents were actively leaving as she made her request and continued to exit the auditorium, and there was an impossibly confusing melee outside--a nightmare for teachers who had to get their kids onto buses and take them back to school.  

I had been invited to go out to lunch with five of Grace's friends and their mothers.  We were all seated at two outdoor tables in the cool shade on Charlottesville's downtown mall, the girls at one table, looking charming in their best dresses, and the mothers at another.  None of us knew each other very well, and one mother, unfolding her napkin and placing it daintily in her lap, said crisply, "That was a nice ceremony."  It was an invitation, not an observation. Would we make a delicious feast of the tedious speeches and the parents' outrageous behavior, like sharks at a feeding frenzy, or would we pretend to take the mother's statement at face value?  After the briefest of pauses, the balance of the conversation almost palpably vibrating, the rest of us agreed that it had been very nice and the conversation turned to summer camps and vacation plans.

When I wrote that, I was pissed off about the man who kicked me out of the auditorium, the superintendent's cluelessness about topics that urban sixth graders can relate to along with her condescending kindergarten-level tone, public schools in general and Charlottesville City Public Schools in particular.  This was the terrible year that I'd had to remove Ian from Charlottesville High School because--sorry if I sound smug--he was too smart for public school. Here was a kid who wanted to learn.  What he didn't want to do was sit on a square of paper on the floor of the English classroom and doodle his feelings (an actual assignment) or be a guinea pig to educational fads, but the rigid public school system could not accommodate him.

What I didn't know when I wrote the piece about Grace's moving up ceremony was that two days later, one of those graduating sixth-graders would be murdered in his own home , further underscoring how completely out of touch the superintendent, with her ridiculous speech, was with her student population.

Seamus will move up tomorrow.  This will be my last moving up ceremony. I have already learned that arriving late is not a good tactic.  What about being punctual, but a teensy bit drunk?  It's tempting.

Friday, June 03, 2011



In the bulk section of Whole Foods, I was filling a bag with hazelnuts, a woman next to me was getting almonds.
Woman:  We'd better buy a lot.  They're probably not going to restock these bins.
Me (alarmed):  Why?  Is there some kind of nut emergency?
Woman (looking at me like I must be very strange): No.  Because they're opening the new store next week.

But of course.


You will think this is appalling but Brigid has opted not to participate in her high school graduation tomorrow.  I was a little concerned.  Was she sure? Didn't she want to walk across the stage and get her diploma?  Yes and no.  She says she hated Charlottesville High School, feels no sentimental attachment to it whatsoever and has no desire to participate in the ceremony she has been forced to sit through (and play for) the last three years as a member of the orchestra.  OK then. I have no great love for public school graduation ceremonies (see upcoming post about the Upper Elementary moving up ceremony) and was never accepted by many of the parents of Brigid's classmates--those hyper-competative PTO moms always seem to hate me.  I'm not at all disappointed that I won't have to mingle with them.    Brigid's absence may be noted, but the C'ville nastytongues can wag away.  I will STILL have to get caught up in the traffic nightmare surrounding the graduation because now Grace, as an orchestra member, must play for the ceremony.  Warning to Charlottesvillians:  avoid the area around JPJ Saturday morning--graduation starts at 9:00 and probably ends between 11:00 and 12:00.


One of my patients pooped on my watch.  I was wearing my watch at the time, which means he also pooped on me, highlighting the woeful inadequacy of the protective gloves we wear.  During the clean up of this patient, for which my assistant never showed up to help, I couldn't even reach the trash can and I had to toss my watch, with its cute white leather band,  into the dirty bedpan where it sat, forlorn.  My arm, I scrubbed with the array of disinfectants available to me.  The watch-pooping incident was only the first (albeit the most traumatic) in a string of horrible things that happened to me that night.  When the shift was finally over, I had to stay late for a staff meeting and then had to finish giving a couple of meds to a patient who did not want to be bothered and did not finally leave for the day until 8:49am--I'd arrived at 6:30 the night before.  That's over fourteen hours.  At home I was literally hysterical from exhaustion and sobbed and went into angry laundry-folding mode.  I kept saying, "A patient POOPED ON MY WATCH," but no one in my family seemed as impressed with this awfulness as I was.

Think about your bad days at work.  Can you top losing your watch to poop?