Tag Archives: culture

The Snow Train – Surviving March in Michigan

snow trainLast month, The Weather Channel posted a video of a freight train speeding across a snow-drenched Canadian tundra.  I clicked on the link because I thought my nine-year-old son might like it.  Turns out, I was just as mesmerized as we watched a three-stories-high snow cloud barrel through the wilderness like a white sandstorm.  Moments later, a sleek red and white locomotive emerged long enough to decimate a six-foot snowdrift, sending white sprays high.  The beast-machine careened by, leveling the camera man with a giant snow breaker as it carried on its way.

This winter has been rough.  I know, last winter was rough, too, with the Polar Vortex and all, but somehow this one seems both longer and harsher.  We were buried in record-breaking snow.  Sub-zero temperatures seem to be the new normal.  My car doors froze shut.  My front door froze shut.  We are quickly burning through the firewood we so carefully stacked, assuming it would get us through at least 2016.

We Michiganders are tough.  We shovel and salt and don our thickest, bulkiest outerwear and we press on.  We chuckle when Atlanta shuts down for two days at the mere threat of snow.  We dust off our flip-flops in anticipation of that first 45-degree day.  Still, all but the cold-hardiest of us is beat down come March.

I’ll admit it.  I’m there.  The same white fluff that dazzled me pre-Christmas now looks almost sinister.  The days hang gray and the sun, when it bothers to shine, blinds me.  The snow itself is a crusty shell that scrapes up the kids (though that never seems to faze them), and the salt residue clings to every surface.  In fact, I just looked out the window.  It snowed.  Again.  Drat.

So, how do we hope to survive more of this as we face another March, the longest month of the year?  We do what we always do, because we Michiganders are like that sleek red freight train.  We’ll pull on our red hats and decimate snowdrifts with our mighty shovels and we’ll keep pressing on whatever March dares to bring.

Sure, Michigan winters are a proverbial force to be reckoned with – but so are we.

Bring it on, March.

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Constants of Christmastime

ChristmasHi everyone.  It’s been a long time.  Too long.  Thought I’d share the piece below, which I wrote for a small local paper a few weeks back.  Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving, and a blessed holiday season…

* * *

They did it.  That radio station, which shall remain nameless, flipped the switch and flooded my minivan with Christmas music.  My son’s ninja costume is still sprawled across his bed.  There’s nary a turkey in sight, and yet everywhere I go I hear jingle bells.

The hustle-and-bustle ramps up, and the premature jolly runs the risk of wearing out its fur-trimmed welcome long before Christmas morning.  That’s the way of things now, isn’t it?  The stores are open on Thanksgiving this year so we can duke it out for the “it” toy.  Because nothing says gratefulness like an elbow-check to the kidney. 

Still, each of us is eventually and inevitably enchanted by the only holiday that still holds magic.  That got me thinking.  What is it about Christmas that continues to cast its reindeer-dust spell?  For all the commercialism we’re plagued with, for the must-have toys and the ever-changing technology that demands to be updated, how is it that that undeniable, unspecified merriness…that je ne sais quoi (pardon my French) never fails to take hold?

I think it’s because, no matter what excess we tack onto the holidays, it’s the Christmastime constants that hold us fast.

It’s the memories.  It’s the sharp pine scent or the rich taste of eggnog that whisks us back and, in that moment, it’s as if we’re reliving every Christmas all at once.  The flash of tinsel or the sound of sleigh bells brings on a heart-swell, and for a breath we’re certain Santa is still creeping down the chimney.

It’s the children.  For us grown-folk, it’s a time of stress and checklists and gift receipts.  But when we watch little ones’ wide-eyed wonder as we recite T’was the Nite Before Christmas, or retell that age-old story of the Star and the Wise Men and the manger, the birth of a single, fate-changing child…we can’t help but feel it, too. 

It’s the spirit of outward focus.  We give.  We pause for a visit with the neighbor and we realize it’s been far too long.  For a time, we forget ourselves, and it feels heavenly.  Why?  Here’s what I think.  When some big-time skeptics tried to trick Jesus into choosing the most important of the ten commandments, He had this to say:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind…the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I’ve often wondered, even if you’re a non-Christian, how can you argue with that second part?  If we all got just this one thing right, if we all shunned our respective selfishness gene, imagine how different the world would be. 

It’s the silence.  If you haven’t noticed it before, pay attention this season.  There’s always a silence.  The first snowfall.  The hush that follows the last bow on the last wrapped present.  The moments of shimmering twilight on Christmas Eve, or the quiet of Christmas morning.  It’s a soul-soothing silence of quiet reflection, when you feel all the good in the world, both real and potential.

These things are Christmastime constants.  Never changing, they will always be integral to a life well-lived.  No matter what the media or the government or the Joneses cast our way, we strengthen ourselves with these timeless truths, and our hearts are anchored through the years by the things that matter most.

Merry Christmas

 

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Waiting to breathe

As I write, I’m toggling between this page and a live news feed of law enforcement officials as they surround a home that allegedly holds the second Boston bomber.  Vests and Hum-vees and helmets and guns line the streets on what would have otherwise been a gentle spring day.  There are reports of more explosions.

No more explosions.

Our world has shifted, unlocking frightening questions for which no easy answers exist.  Along with the rest of our nation, I won’t breathe again until they get him, this human who holds no regard for human life.  And then…

And then we must move on and remember that there is still so much good in the world, and that we can work together to replace darkness with light.

The family, not Hollywood, is responsible for fostering healthy body-image in girls

self imageStories about eating disorders and poor self-esteem continue to rear their ugly content in my news feed, and I started thinking about this country’s poor body-image epidemic – especially as it relates to our girls.

My daughter is only four, but I see how this issue seeps its way into most young women’s self-esteem, and I see that my husband and I will need to be on our respective games when it comes to helping our daughter maintain a positive body image.  

We tend to blame Hollywood and the media, and I’ll agree that both are powerful.  We get incensed and demand that they tame their visual and written messages in favor of a “more realistic” idea of women and beauty.  

But here’s the thing:  it’s all about economics.  As long as the majority of Americans continue to tune in, to buy the movie tickets, to listen to the crap low-quality-sometimes-misogynistic lyrics, very little will change.  Until enough people have had enough and are willing to use their choice as their voice, the media has no reason to alter its ways.  But it’s wrong!  That may be but, unless we negatively affect the proverbial bottom line, I can’t see things changing.

So, what do we have left?  What can we do?  The problem is enormous.  Fortunately, if we’re careful and vigilant, the solution is about the size of a family.

I’m not gonna lie, this particular topic scares the daylights out of me.  Even in preschool, there are little fashionistas and hovering, hair-spray wielding mothers.  And don’t get me started about Honey Boo Boo.  The cards are stacked against our girls and how they see themselves but, if families rally around them, if we teach them to believe the truth about themselves – that they are fearfully and wonderfully made – they’ll make it through.  

How?  Yeah, I haven’t exactly figured all that out yet – but the family of a young lady named Whitney Kropp might be on to something.  I also took to Google and found some practical advice at the Mayo Clinic.  

The gist of the Mayo Clinic article is that we must stay close, stay connected.  Our girls need us to model healthy behavior, healthy self perception.  They need us to be there to comfort and counsel them when the world makes them feel ugly and small.  

Lord, I hope I get it right.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have we become too self-reliant?

 

We weren't meant to live in silos

An acquaintance asked me whether we (American society) have lost the “village mentality” with regard to family life and raising children.  He went on to assert that, in some countries, three or even four generations still live under one roof, and did I think our culture could benefit from that?

Whoa there, guy.  A girl needs a minute to process.  Thinking in terms of a whole society reconfiguring itself, that concept is a bit too big for this average June.  As for my own family…can I envision myself cohabiting with my parents or my in-laws, not for emergency or short-term reasons, but for, like, ever?  Now, that would take some getting used to – for all parties involved. 

But then I started daydreaming about big breakfasts and shared responsibilities and my children forever chatting with and learning from their grandparents, and the solidarity and built-in support network that I’d imagine would exist within such an arrangement…  Again, it would take some serious getting used to, but I do see benefits.

In contrast, the next day a father asked whether I thought parents should involve their own parents in childrearing decisions.  Evidently, someone had suggested to him that he ask his own parents’ advice on an issue he was having with his children, and he was appalled.  He emphatically told me that he, no one else, knows what’s best for his kids and the mere suggestion that he seek advice outside his own brain infuriated him.            

Ouch. 

So, on one hand, I’ve got generations moving in together and, on the other, I’ve got parent-in-a-silo.  Of course, this culture is largely too far removed from generational cohabiting (or whatever it’s called) and, though there may be benefits, barring another Great Depression or other national crisis I don’t see things heading back in that direction.  I do believe, however, that we’ve swung too far the other way.  Many of us don’t ask for help or counsel for a variety of reasons.  Time constraints, distance, fear of appearing weak, or perhaps we’re simply too busy to realize another perspective might be helpful.

In the olden days, it was viewed as wise to seek the advice of a trusted elder.  Has that line of thinking largely gone the way of the do-do?  I think to a large degree it has, and the effects can be seen in the daily headlines.  We rely too heavily on self.  Eventually, self becomes stretched too thin, and a stretched-too-thin self’s no good to anyone. 

We’re not meant to exist in a silo, to figure things out and go it alone.  There are the ones who have gone before us, full of stories and wisdom gleaned from a lifetime of successes and failures, and so many of them are willing and eager to pass it on to those of us still finding our way. 

What do you think?  Have we become too self-reliant?    

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net