Friday, January 28, 2011

Attending a party shouldn’t cost you $25.

Some people think I’m a cheapskate or a freeloader. They may be right. And this post may severely inhibit my social engagements in the future, but I’m going to have the courage to weather your disapproval. I hate sales parties. Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, whatever it might be that you are pimping…if you want to get together and visit, let’s do it; if you want me to spend a minimum of $25 on something I don’t need, so you can rake in $150 worth of freebees, I’d rather not.  That's not a party, it's a fundraiser.

I developed my aversion when we were first married. We didn’t have the disposable income to drop 18 bucks on a lipstick or buy a $20 potato peeler, but I felt obligated, whenever someone invited me to a party, to try and come. And once I was there, it never felt like a choice. You eat a few bites of cheese dip, listen to the sales spiel, and then around comes the order form. If, like me, you have perused the entire catalog in search of any token item you might be able to afford, let alone find use for, you watch your fellow guests like a hawk, waiting to see if any of them passes on the forms without filling one out. Over and over again, they take the order form and make a purchase. It always came down to me. Either I was going to choke up the money and make a purchase, or I was going to be the only person in the room who failed the host. And there’s never anything in the catalog for less than $20.

On top of the overpriced junk I either brought into our home or had to find a recipient, for whom it would actually be a suitable gift, most such parties were followed by three more invitations to the same darn party. For the salespeople, it is a giant pyramid scheme. By the time you go to a few parties and overpay for an item at each one, you develop the strongest urge to victimize all your friends again, by hosting your own party. If you’ve had to pay $25 for a lousy carrot cake mix, you are at least going to throw out a bowl of your own Chex-Mix and see if you can scrounge up enough sales for some free moisturizer. I’ve been tempted…very very tempted…but I’ve never given in. I have never thrown a single one of these beastly parties. I don’t own any real Tupperware that wasn’t handed down by my mother-in-law after our wedding, and I will never hoist anyone to the Pink Cadillac sales level.

Life got busier and I eventually had a conflict that prevented my attendance at one of these shindigs. It felt so good to say no, to get off the hook and spend my next $25 on something I actually wanted. I said no more and more often. Occasionally, someone does invite me to one where the goods actually seem interesting enough to risk attending, but my favorite invitation is the one that includes, “I’m going to have some snacks and wine, and I really just wanted an excuse to have some friends over, so come say Hi, even if you don’t want to buy anything.”

I go one step further when I invite people to my house. The invitation usually reads something like, “We’ll have snacks and wine. Let’s get together.” No strings attached.

They invited me four times, but each time I refused to go. Nehemiah 6:4

Friday, January 21, 2011

I collect Barbies

Between Women’s Studies courses and life experience, I knew by my mid-twenties that things needed to change in our world. While men can be wonderful leaders and a lot of fun to banter with, women have taken a backseat for far too long. I had to stifle my disgust when we went to my seminary orientation and the male students kept brushing past me to shake my husband’s hand and welcome him into ministry. One man, when my husband corrected him without much warmth, stumbled over his own words as he proclaimed, “I, of course, fully support women in ministry!” Of course, he knew and supported the theological position of our seminary, but immediately upon meeting a new couple, his imbedded beliefs surfaced and he brushed the woman aside to greet the man.

Those imbedded beliefs are what I hoped to battle in the next generation. I was not going to socialize my children along gender lines. We prepared for our babies by buying neutral sleepers, yellow and green. We decorated the nursery with Bat symbols and action figures. When the girls got older, we balanced their ballet and tea parties with basketball and camping.

We couldn’t believe it when Barbie came into the picture. Not Barbie! I’ve heard that if she were a real woman, she’d be missing two ribs and several organs. She lives for fashion and big hair. Barbie? Really? They wanted Barbies? There is no denying it, though, my daughters love Barbies. My older girl dresses them up, replays scenes from her favorite shows and movies, and has them stage rescues in concert with the 12” Star Wars figures. My younger girl can spend two hours with a naked Barbie and her puppy, coming up with a million lines of dialog. Barbies completely spark their imaginations and aspirations. Veterinarian Barbie, all the Wizard of Oz Barbies, Super Hero Barbies, Barbie cars, Barbie pets, homemade Barbie gowns for weddings and Nobel Prize banquets.

Well into the explosion of Barbie dolls and accessories, my husband and I noticed that the Barbies that proved the most interesting were usually also the most expensive; and that did not factor into the way they were used and abused by the kids. The girls would ask for a $40 Glinda Barbie for Christmas, and then have her beautiful outfit dismantled by MLK Day, buried deep in the Barbie bin for all eternity – and making Glinda basically the same as any of her naked cohorts – crazy red curls as her only distinction. So, I decided that from now on, the really cool Barbies are going to be “mine.” If we are going to purchase Dorothy Gale, I am going to control how much time she spends in the Barbie house and whether Skipper is allowed to try on her Ruby Slippers.

Somehow, the Barbie thing turned into a lot of fun. Turns out, I don’t share them after all. They’re all MIB (mint in the box). I can find about one cool Barbie a year marked 75% off at Target, keeping our investment down to less than $10 a year. And just modeling my respect for the collection has influenced the girls to use a little more care and caution on their own “special” Barbies. My younger daughter, after months of unrequited lust, put up the $40 out of her own Christmas money to get the “vintage” 1985 Peaches and Cream Barbie. Peaches, amazingly, still has her clothes on, has her ruffled stole wrapped around her, and goes back into her box whenever my girl cleans her room. I’m not holding my breath that she won’t eventually dissolve into Barbie-bin nakedness, but it’ll feel like a success if she makes it to Valentine's.

Maybe I’m a sellout – but as long I can overhear my daughters' Barbies pursuing higher education, becoming President, and telling Luke Skywalker, “That’s OK, you wait here, I’ll rescue the hostage” – I think I’ll be able to live with myself and enjoy my rockin’ Barbies.

I gave you the finest clothes and the most expensive robes, as well as sandals made from the best leather. I gave you bracelets, a necklace, a ring for your nose, some earrings, and a beautiful crown. Your jewelry was gold and silver, and your clothes were made of only the finest material and embroidered linen. Your bread was baked from fine flour, and you ate honey and olive oil. You were as beautiful as a queen. Ezekiel 16:10-13

Friday, January 14, 2011

I miss my sister.

Maybe it’s my resistance to the hard reality that I can’t travel for at least the next six months, but, despite the possibility of being groped by a TSA at the airport, or that I wouldn’t be able to walk after the long car ride, I’m feeling an incredible desire to be together with my sister right now.
Proof of the variety one gene pool can offer.

We’re used to not being together. Growing up, I guess we probably looked forward to it. Sharing a room with her for the first 15 years of my life, our personalities clashed like oil and water. I went to bed early; she stayed up late. I made sure my socks got into the laundry; she stole my clean socks. We could easily have become the kind of siblings who live worlds apart and only see each other at funerals and weddings. As time and geography would have it, we haven’t lived in the same state since she was 15 and I was 18, except for a few short term occasions when we were able to coordinate summer jobs or such. On those occasions, there were always moments that reminded us how incredibly different we are. And there were always moments that bound us together in ways time and space could never sever.

Despite the challenges of our personalities and distance, my sister and I found each other while we were teenagers. We discovered the sweetest family treasure – sisterhood. That one person you can go clothes shopping with, who won’t shy away from acknowledging your figure flaws and helping you mask them. The one you can trade skin care tips with, because you both have the same weird sensitivities. The one who knows how you’ve hurt and what you’ve overcome to become who you are and won’t be offended when you’re frank about the things that really sucked along the way.

My sister is renting her first house, and although I did get to drive through the neighborhood with her last spring, I’ve never gotten to see her place. I don’t know what kitchen gadgets she’s missing or get to help find the perfect curtains. She’s in her first teaching position, about to graduate from grad school, and I haven’t gotten to sneak in a lunch with her or see her classroom, or meet her students. I’m even a stranger to her dog.

By the same token, I could have really used her help to find flattering maternity clothes (if such a thing exists). My older daughter was a brave friend, and gave decent advice for a nine year old, but it’s not the same as having my sister there. I’m going to arrange a nursery, think of a name, and eat a lot of chocolate in the next couple months, and I can’t help wishing my sister was around to be a part of it. I’m feeling especially girlie right now, and she’d be the one to help me through it.

I’ve got great friends and an awesome husband here in Iowa. But they’re not my sister. Why must Colorado be so far away?

Love each other as brothers and sisters. Romans 12:10a

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Pretended to Love Winter.

When we got married, we had a five year plan. It wasn’t detailed or specific, but in five years, we planned to live somewhere warm. Both of us being from the Midwest, we felt we’d endured our share of chapping and shivering, and it was time to bail. As we settled into married life, however, the smaller scale amenities of Central Iowa ensnared us. Ten minute commutes, solid job opportunities, affordable homes, and good schools trumped Old Man Winter and before we knew it, we couldn’t even consider the possibility of giving everything up to chase the sun. Even now, several record-breaking winters later, when we have the opportunity to vacation in beautiful places, it only takes driving by a dilapidated school to remind us why we stayed in the Midwest.

Even though a warmer climate was not in our future, someday our children are going to face the same choice. Although I hope that the warmth of our love will be enough to tether our girls, I am not one to leave these things to chance. If I really want to have grandkids around to visit me in the nursing home, I need to build strong winter memories in my kids while they are young and impressionable.

Footies are essential to winter joy.
 I set out to convince my daughters that I love winter. The first step is to invest in proper winter gear. If you’re going to live in Iowa, you need snow boots & pants, a warm parka, preferably with a fur trimmed hood, and, if you get cold easily like me, a nice set of mittens. Don’t go fashionable and opt for leather gloves and a trim pea coat, or you will hate your life. Footie PJs to sleep in doesn’t hurt, either. Then you must outfit your offspring similarly. If you buy them crummy mittens, they will leave you for L.A. someday. Remember that.

I learned in teacher training that memories are built by repetition more than duration. You don’t have to spend hours out in the cold; you just need to spend a little bit of time, regularly, for your kids to believe you played outside all winter long. When my younger daughter was small, I’d get home from work and bundle us up to walk up to the school. I’d pull her up there in the sled, load my older daughter on behind her, and drag them home. Even on the coldest days, they thought it was a hoot and I stayed warm from the exertion. Hot chocolate and vanilla wafers afterward didn’t hurt either! If there’s a Saturday with a few inches of snow on the ground and at least 15-20 degrees above zero, we’ll drop everything and brave the snow, making angels, getting buried, building forts, whatever. We discovered one winter that you get the park all to yourself, and you literally fly out of the tube slide, if you head up there on a snowy winter day. Thank goodness for bundling, or I’d have broken my tail bone. At least once a winter, we try to hit a pond or outdoor ice rink. Gliding around on the ice makes us feel like part of a Christmas Special.

Enjoying our awesome snow fort last year.

While some of these activities might be a good time, I do them in service to my kids. If they love winter, they’ll never leave us. For them to love winter, they need to believe I love winter. One afternoon our neighbor came out on her deck while we were sledding down the side hill in our backyard and said with a laughing smirk, “Wow, Emily, you must really love winter; you’re outside all the time.” I smirked back, thinking, “Ha! If I’ve fooled her, hopefully I’m fooling my kids!”

There are many occasions that I’ve heard people suggest one should “fake it ‘til you make it.” Apparently loving winter is one of those things for me. Heading into the third trimester of pregnancy, and having been told to back off from strenuous activities, I have the perfect excuse, this winter, to take a break from faking it. My snow pants won’t zip, so I can’t do the snowball fights and angels. No skating, no skiing, no sledding. Perhaps my greatest winter joy – I can’t even push the snow blower this year. I even have to wait for my husband to clear the deck for the dog to go out. I should be loving this. This is the best winter ever. Instead, it is driving me crazy. The kids are out there playing and I can’t go with them. I can’t get the sled out and break a path for them down the hill. I feel like a hobbit, hibernating in a hole. There’s a fantastic winter going on out there, and I can only watch through the window.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, maybe it’s hormones. But I have to suspect, that maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the line, I quit faking it; it became real. I started enjoying winter. After all, it doesn’t last forever. The pear trees are already budding and in just a couple short months, the crocuses will be poking through. I’ll always love summer best, but, it turns out, I’m a bit of a winter girl, too.  I had no idea.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ Job 37:5-6