10/22/2014

Truly Hideous Gifts #1

First off, I want to start by saying that any gift, expensive or cheap, beautiful or ugly, is a wonderful gift when the intentions of the giver are genuine and the item is given with truly heartfelt love. I have received many gifts over the years that made me cry with joy - unintelligible pictures drawn by students, a cassette from an old answering machine that my then 3 year old recorded  with his voice saying "I can't afford to give you anything, so I am giving you this tape of me saying 'I Love You' " .

But....you knew there was a 'but', didn't you? ....for some reason there exists in our culture a drive to give people gifts - any gift - especially around the holiday season. To give gifts to people who don't expect them or want them or know what to do with them when you give them. To give everyone a gift. Magazines, news / media, pinterest and other sources are full of "cheap gifts you can make" articles. My question is, why must you give everyone a gift ? Many people who provide you with service year round - the doorman, your hair-dresser, the dog-walker, favorite bartender, dentist, manicurist, the baby-sitter, the maid, the mailman, the garbageman - would all rather have a thank you note, a day off with pay, and /or cash or a gift card in the amount of a nice tip or any other amount you can afford. Family members and close friends love things that have special meaning, stuff that they collect/want, or items that suggest some aspect of your relationship or shared experiences.

What I don't understand are crappy "do it yourself" gifts that are useless and ugly- gifts that only exist for the sake of having some gift, any gift, to give. Why do people think gifts should be some crafty hideous useless thing you have made that serves no purpose and accomplishes nothing, except to take up space, collect dust, make the giver feel they have accomplished something by checking one more name off their list? You can really tell how you rate with folk by the sort of gift they give you (and I'm not talking about money or giftcards here- I'm talking about effort, or thoughtfulness put into the selection of gift) . I had a student once who's mom gave each teacher at the holidays a tin full of home-made cookies. That was delightful. I will always eat cookies (or if not, someone in my family will.) I'm really not a fan of the sort of things like "Snowman Poop" (pictured above) or the equally ubiquitous "Dog Food for People", that are supposedly a cleaver way to check someone off your gift list with a minimum of effort and expense: attach a gross paper label to a sandwich bag of marshmallows. Really? How about you just give me the bag of marshmallows without the label, which I find more offensive than cute or funny? How about just skip the marshmallows, and give that $2.00 divided by however many of these you made , let's say 50c worth, to charity, or someone else who likes marshmallows? This one goes into the category of "ugly, cheap, lazy, offensive, and worthless".
When I see slightly more artisanal efforts like this Christmas tree made of corks from wine bottles, all I can really think is : 1)You drank all those bottles of wine, and all I got were the corks? Give me a bottle of wine, and let's call it even. 2)Cute for 5 minutes, but where am I going to put it - store it - how will I keep the dust off of it, and .....you drank all that wine and didn't share? Why do I want your old corks? I'd rather have the wine. So this one goes in the category of "cute but irritating and useless".
I've acquired a bunch of these over the years ....I don't even know what to call them......wine bottle clothing ? People generally pop one on when they give you a gift of a bottle of wine or liquor. Whoever convinced people to do this in the first place was brilliant and is surely laughing all the way to the bank, because now everyone feels pressured to compete. "My wine bottle dress is prettier than yours". But what purpose do they serve? Instead of wrapping paper ? What do you do with them, afterwards - dress your cat? The cat isn't going to tolerate that. Yet you can't bring yourself to throw it away - it's so cute. Either someone spent real money on it, or someone spent a lot of time making it. The only real solution is to re-gift it. But if a gift is given that serves no real purpose other than to be re-gifted, is that really a gift? Just give me the wine . If you feel the need to dress it up, put a bow on it. Or not. Another candidate for the "useless and irritating" category. I'm trying to de-clutter, not add clutter, and I have a box of these at home - can't give them away fast enough.
Lots of folk put together clever or useful baskets, tins, boxes, or bags - collections of useful items, often with a theme. You can buy these or make them - fruit baskets, gourmet foods, as well as other specialty categories: New baby survival kit (gas drops, thermometer, pacifier, diapers, bath tub thermometer, nasal suction bulb, wash clothes, snuggies, booties, diapers, copy of Dr. Spock's baby book, etc.) . You just broke up with a jerk kit ( chocolate, wine, voodoo doll with pins, box of tissue). You just graduated from college kit (bottle of champagne, cigar, $20 bill, a copy of "The Graduate" DVD). But the basket pictured above appears to contain sweatpants, hot cocoa, house shoes, and other items I can't quite figure out - toilet paper? Snuggies? I guess it's supposed to be the "stay in and watch tv" kit....but does anyone really need a kit for that? Should we be encouraging this behavior, is it a treat? given the obesity epidemic? One re-occurring theme throughout many of this is the gift of hot coca in pre-mixed packets. I am not sure why. If I want hot cocoa, I will buy it. What if, culturally, the socially acceptable item to give everyone was mustard? Or sardines? You see how weird this is? If you are going to give someone mustard, you don't just go to the grocery store and buy plain yellow mustard; you give them artisanal, gourmet, imported mustard, in a variety of flavors. So why just buy a box of generic hot cocoa mix and hand that out? Why not ramen? Cup of soup? Taco seasoning? A can of soda?

It is extremely popular to make and hand out cute little jars decorated in holiday themes filled with cocoa ingredients. While I appreciate the effort that goes into making these things, just like the wine bottle dresses, these are pretty much useless. I don't like any of the ingredients, and if I did , I also don't like the idea of someone using their bare fingers to take cocoa and marshmallows out of the bag, and put these items into the little jars. I don't like the fact that the plastic hats and scarves will just find their way, ultimately, into a landfill. I try to re-gift things like this, but have a hard time finding anyone who will take them. Even my kids only want the first one or so....It gets to a point where there are just too many of these being given about and there is a glut in the marketplace. What starts as a crafty unique idea becomes unwanted, via overproduction. As a teacher, I get about 3-7 of these a year. Right now, there are a dozen old ones sitting in my pantry, gathering dust.

Really, the issue boils down to feeling a need to give someone you don't know at all a small token of esteem, during the holiday season. Many of us aging baby-boomers are on special diets and can't consume all the sugary sweets that get passed around. People feel cash is crass or that a handmade gift is more meaningful, but it depends on the gift. Handmade food - yes! Handmade ugly useless dust catchers, no thanks. My grandmother used to say each year, "I don't need any more lotions, potions, perfumes, soaps, bubble-baths, ointments, doo-dads, or knick-nacks." Yes, it made it difficult to shop for her. In my extended family, has everyone makes a list, and we just buy each other what is off everyone's list. Sounds cold, but you know what? Everyone is happy that way. If you have a special talent like knitting or crocheting, by all means, make something lovely and share it. My son's gf last year knitted him a muffler. How wonderful! I have had students in wood shop carve me pens, or twist metal bars into pot rack hooks, any number of odd but useful items. I love them ! If you are a looking to give something to someone you don't really know, such as your child's teacher, I'd give out a gift card to Starbucks, Walmart, Staples, Target or similar. The teacher can then buy someone for one's self (cup of coffee) or supplies for their class. Even $5 is not too little. I know you love to craft things, Ok then. Craft a pencil cup holder, a hot pad, knit a scarf, a classroom helper chart, make some beaded jewelry. Even a painted macaroni necklace. I will wear it.

10/10/2014

That Bible Verse You Quoted....I Don't Think it Means What You Think it Means

From the New International Bible

I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt ......and I am surrounded on all sides by people calling themselves a Christian of various stripes. Day and night, from old and young, at home and at work, everywhere I go I get told things by random people I come in contact with - people who are guests in my home, random people in line at the grocery store, people I meet at social events, in restaurants, at my job or my husband's work...... where I live, it is considered totally OK for these folk to share with me, spontaneously out of no where, and apropos of nothing, whatever their version of Christianity tells them to think or do about pretty much any topic that enters their head.

I regularly have students mis-quote the Bible in class discussions, make outrageously inaccurate comments, or not be able to understand simple Biblical allusions, symbols and motifs in literature . When asked where they got their ideas, they often say, "from my youth minister." When I ask them what Bible verse or which particular branch of the faith their idea comes from, they do not know. Many who claim to attend church regularly do not know any of the familiar tales children in western cultures are often told as bedtime stories, or that suggest the toys they have played with. If I ask my students if they study their own faith in Sunday school, CCD, catechism class, Hebrew school or some other structured learning situation, they tell me they don't participate in any of those. They get dropped off at "youth group" meetings so their parents can have some free babysitting.

I have been told about the "good news" repeatedly and asked about my own beliefs by my husband's secretary at work, soccer moms at sporting events, co-workers, a dentist, neighbors and friends. Christian muzak plays in the waiting rooms all over town. Co-workers, shops and businesses regularly feature religious art (never the "good" kind, either, say, Italian Renaissance reproductions from Michelangelo, Raphael, or Leonardo ...oh no....people around here just think those guys are teenage mutant ninja turtles) and sayings on the walls of their offices, classrooms, and shops. Inspirational posters, flyers, art, commercials and ads saturate the media. A co-worker once called me the devil and an "un-godly woman" because I did not attend HER church. A marriage therapist once told me that my problem was that I needed to follow the Christian rules for being a wife. I have been penalized at work for not belonging to one of the three power churches in town. Because I live on a main street, my home is subject to a continual parade of would-be proselytizers......frequently on Saturday mornings, large vans park out front, a dozen or more people spill out, then they start canvassing the neighborhood, ringing doorbells (upsetting the dogs, rousing my household from sleep or pulling folk, dripping, out of the shower) as they go. Sometimes I will have a door-bell ringer every 5 minutes, a dozen or more all morning, as they work their way back to the van. (I did put up a small sign that says " No salesmen, no missionaries" with a blessing in 5 different languages/faiths, but people still either think I am rude, or want to talk to me about the sign.)

The thing is, I have lived in other parts of the country and other parts of the world, and I know this is not "normal" behavior in other cultures. When I lived, taught and worked in the northeast, diversity in all forms was the norm, and people would get belligerent about protecting the rights of those who were different. I once taught school in Maryland, and we had Buddhist monks and Orthodox Jews from nearby temples come volunteer at our school, which was made up of students from a diverse array of faiths. No one tried to convince others of their beliefs, although they felt free to share them, and we celebrated 6 different festivals in December, including Kwanzaa.  

The other thing is, I was raised Presbyterian. I attended Sunday school where we studied the Bible - every August we'd start at Genesis, and every May we'd finish at Revelations. We'd parse each chapter and verse, read and discuss the various meanings and translations, the history of what happened, as well as the history of it being written down.  I did this for 18 years of my life, in gradually increasing complexity, year after year. As a young adult, I decided to become an Episcopalian, and went through the confirmation class for that branch of the faith (in addition to my childhood Presbyterian confirmation class.) In college, I was an ancient history major, specializing in near east religions. I read Latin, Biblical Greek and a little Hebrew, took classes in history, archaeology, anthropology, comparative religions, mythology, art history, philosophy, and studied it all in-depth. I traveled through the countries involved, and participated in archaeological digs in several of them. Read from the original texts, in the original languages. Guided by scholars as diverse as a Benedictine monk, a Coptic priest, and studied with American, Italian and Israeli professors. 

So I just don't "get it" when someone tries to tell me about their version of Christianity, without really ever having studied it, then wants to pass a judgement on someone who doesn't agree with what they think they know. I know this isn't just a problem peculiar to where I live - it is a problem worldwide, with people from many faiths. 

What does any of this have to do with the photo at the top? I was browsing pinterest the other day , and one of my feeds pinned this, so it was in my feed. Initially, I passed over it, then something in it caught my eye and I thought to myself, "hmmmm.....that really doesn't sound like what I remember of 1st Thessalonians." So I looked it up. The actual verse is underneath. And now I am even more curious : is this catchy pink meme someone's attempt to spin a meditation off the original verse, and say more about the topic? Or did the creator, and the millions who pinned it, think it was the actual verse that is listed? This is what happens when books disappear, when learning is not linked to a definite source that can not be changed. If the original source was removed or destroyed, no one would ever know how or that  it was changed. I'm not a believer in the inerrancy of the Bible, but I do believe one should know what one is talking about, if one is going to refer it. Many claim to have "the true version of...." but do they, really? The hubris at thinking your perspective is better than anyone else's astounds me. We have so many problems in the world today - people claiming a religious text as their source to justify abuse of people of differing faiths, beliefs, genders, orientations, practices is so perverse - but if you are going to do it, at least get the damn verse correct, people !

8/26/2014

Family History - Pt 3

 

8/25/2014

Family History - Pt 2





Letter to my children and grandchildren.....To understand my own life, and yours, you have to start with my parents and their parents......continued

I do know from the stories that Grammy told me that her childhood was sheltered and financially comfortable. She had toys, clothes, a stay-at-home mom, and her dad was financially well-off - Grammy Martha got anything she ever wanted. She often shared anecdotes about a personal family dress-maker and various other "help" (euphemism for Af-Am workers) cooks, maids, yard-workers, etc. Grammy's childhood home was a spacious, Southern style expanded wood bungalow, set up on high brick pillars off the ground and lined with deep porches, on a multi acre lot full of large oak trees. A former stable, converted into a garage, housed a maroon automobile. Behind the yard with its oak trees and well, was an orchard of pecan trees and vegetable garden, and behind that, was a pasture for cows and horses - in the middle of town. Inside, the house had high ceilings, punkas in every room, wood floors, and beautiful wallpaper and furniture made by Grandpa L.L. in his factory. Exotic objects d'art filled the house, as Ruby's brother was in the merchant marines, sailed all over the world, and brought her back little gifts - a porcelain censor from China, a moroccan lamp, a Navajo Bracelet, a French vase, fabric, and cosmetic box, a Japanese statue of a goose. The main bathroom had turquoise colored tile, toilet, tub, and sink, and 12 ft ceilings. I used to lie in that tub as a child and feel like a princess. Grammy's house was the first in SS to have a second bathroom, which was very bare-bones and oddly situated in a closeted porch area - it wasn't until I saw the movie "The Help" that I figured this out, bc no one ever talked about it. (Segregated bathroom for "the help." Suggests racism, yes, but you also have to look at it through the lens of the era. Ironically, by the time I came along, in the 1960's, everyone used this bathroom all the time bc it was off the kitchen and more convenient.)

Grammy told me stories of wanting (and getting) extravagant things (for that time and place ) and of her parents having to go to Dallas or other nearby towns to get them : a piano, orthodontia, prom dresses, fancy portraits, vacations to Mexico and France, expensive gold and gemstone jewelry; as well as stories of her house being the ones all the popular little girls in SS went to, to play with her, bc her mother Ruby would let them take off their Shirley Temple ensembles (starchy frilly dresses, patent leather shoes) , put on overalls and play in the dirt. I always wondered about these stories, bc I knew Grammy to be so introverted and shy, and to never socialize much as an adult except w immediate family, and wondered if Ruby invited these kids over so Martha would have someone to play with ? The picture this all suggests to me was of a spoiled young girl , an only child, who got everything she ever wanted. I know her father was generous with gifts to her and her friends, and until she died Martha would talk sadly how her father gave all her friends silver tea sets for wedding presents, but he died before she got married, and she never go to have one.

Martha went off to college at Baylor - an expensive private school. I think she majored in English. The norm in the 50's was for women to marry young - hence the story of all Grammys friends getting married before she did and getting the tea set gifts - and all I know is Grammy never ever in her life talked about boyfriends, dating anyone, anyone who she ever loved or who broke her heart, or men at all. I asked her specifically about her high school years - what was her life like, what were her activities, concerns, fears, likes, friends, hobbies, etc. The only stories she ever shared involved the rationing of food, sugar, gasoline and chocolate during WWII - all the kids in SS who went to some orthodontist in the next town had to carpool, so they got their appointments on the same day, combined ration tickets for gas in order to drive there - used Martha's parents' car. I think the rationing of foods in those years affected those kids deeply - Grammy and RF, if you notice, ate/eat sweets candy ice cream and baked goods constantly. It's like they can never get enough. When I asked Martha about what she and her friends did all the time, she told me a vague story about all her girlfriends in choir hanging out at some nearby creek, swimming and singing. That's it - that's all I ever got about her youth.

After Baylor, Grammy didn't get married , unlike all her friends, so she went to UT Austin to get a M.Ed and planned to be a teacher. I think she was worried about being "an old maid", how she was going to support herself if she never found a husband. While there, she met Papaw  "through some friends " and eventually they got married. No silver tea set - her father died around this time - maybe right before she and my dad got involved.