Flower Porn

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The thoughts in my head seem to veer easily from the ridiculous to the sublime. While last week found me musing shallowly about my figure in a bathing suit, today I am pondering the wonders of nature. Maybe my current location on the Gulf Coast of Florida is helping turn my mind to growing things. Aside from the balmy Florida breezes, there is color! The lush green of grass and palm trees, the riot of colorful flowers peeking out from verdant bushes. The flowers especially caught my eye as I walked off my pancake breakfast this morning under a hazy sky.

Have you ever really looked at a flower? It is like a coquettish maiden cloaking her beauty until she feels ready to open herself up to her lover. Take the demure rose with her petals closed around her like a cloche cap. But when she opens up, watch out. She exposes her folds of passionate red or the blushing pink of a bride on her wedding day. The happy day lily goes undercover at night, folding her silky robe around herself. I particularly love the huge hibiscus flowers in vibrant colors of red, pink, and yellow. Back home, I must wait until late summer to enjoy their blossoms, but in warm weather climes, they can be found amid their bright green leaves on roadside shrubs or tucked behind the ear of a Hawaiian woman performing her native dance, the hula.

The hibiscus is not shy. Its wide petals open to the long stamen and pistil, aggressively thrusting themselves outward to be pollinated. Flowers contain both male and female sex organs, needing only the roving legs and soft underbellies of bees and other pollinators to be fertilized. Kinky, right?

Flowers have all kinds of ways to attract the attention of these pollen-transferring insects. Their colors, their smells, the sweet nectar hiding deep inside their nectaries. Is it any wonder that flowers speak the language of love?

There are so many extravagantly beautiful things in nature – the sky at dawn, a mountain peak, a rainbow, a peacock with feathers unfurled. And flowers in all their variety add color, beauty and sensuality to our world.

It’s no wonder the adage tell us to stop and smell them.

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Say Yes to the Dress(kini)

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Say Yes to the Dress(kini)

As spring break looms, hundreds of women are most likely rifling through their closets and drawers looking for last year’s swimsuit. If they are anything like me, they are hoping moths have eaten huge holes in it so that they have an excuse not to wear it at all. Let’s face it. For women, few every day experiences match the anxiety of trying on a swimsuit.

First of all, the sizing of swimsuits is so different from that of our regular clothes. So a woman who normally wears a size 8 is forced to try on swimsuits in double digit sizes. This is not good for the self-esteem. We women prefer designer clothes that are marked 00 or 2 instead of the size 10 it would actually be.

Another problem with trying on swimwear at this time of year is our ghostly pallor. I recently overheard a woman in a store dressing room lament, “Ughh, I can’t try on these suits until I get a spray tan.” All that extra flesh exposed after a winter of cozy turtlenecks and long pants is downright jarring to us as we look in the mirror.

And speaking of mirrors, why do they put “fat mirrors” in women’s dressing rooms? Wouldn’t they sell a lot more clothing if they put in slimming mirrors with flattering low lighting? Instead, we look like we’re posing for our mugshots at the local police station. If looks could kill.

When I was young, I was only too happy to parade around in a bikini. Actually, I loved swimsuits back in those pre-baby days. Like the character Gidget in the old beach movies, I longed to have a different suit for every day of the week. Now I dread buying even one suit to wear for when I jump into the hot tub as fast as possible after removing my coverup.

But recently I discovered a new (to me) invention in swimwear – the dresskini. The dresskini is a minidress-length top that goes over a pair of bikini bottoms the public need never see. It nicely camouflages muffin tops and bulging thighs, as well as winter pale torsos. In a dresskini I can feel comfortable walking on the beach or stirring from my poolside chair to get a drink. And the backside? Well, let’s just say this is a fashion trend I can get behind.

Papa Don’t Preach

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When Pope Francis responded, “Who am I to judge?” in response to a reporter’s question about gay clergy in the Catholic Church, I had to scrape my jaw off the floor. Prior to this statement, the new pontiff had already ushered in a breath of fresh air to the Church when he called for a return to focusing on issues of social justice, such as caring for the poor. Rather than chastise nuns for spending too much time helping the poor instead of speaking out about abortion like his predecessor Benedict XVI, Pope Francis declared that the Church’s focus on issues such as abortion and gay marriage should shift.

In his first week as pope, Francis declared, “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor.” (James Carroll, The New Yorker) The new pope’s style is in keeping with his message. He has toned down the pomp of the office, wears simple white garb and traded the papal Mercedes for a Ford Focus. He goes out among the people and meets them on their level. And he practices the Gospel message of serving the marginalized members of society. Last year on Holy Thursday, he celebrated Mass at a correctional institution and got down on hands and knees to wash the feet of the inmates.

Despite this more compassionate tone, the Holy Father insists that he is not out to change doctrine. Those of us wanting to see women ordained priests, for example, should probably not get our hopes up. Yet Pope Francis made this iconoclastic statement:

“I would not speak about ‘absolute’ truths, even for believers. . . . Truth is a relationship. As such, each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one’s own circumstances, culture, and situation in life.” (Carroll)

Non-Catholics might not find this statement remarkable. But for Pope Francis’s flock, this statement signifies an openness that has not been present in the papacy for decades.

Don’t get me wrong. No one, including even the Bishop of Rome, is perfect. Some Argentinians have criticized his lack of action during the so-called “dirty wars” when hundreds of people disappeared in ruthless government crackdowns. And many people are unhappy with the low profile he has given to eliminating the child sexual abuse that has plagued the Church and claimed thousands of victims worldwide. However, just this week Pope Francis appointed an Irish woman named Marie Collins, who was herself abused by a priest as a child, to an advisory panel designed to “fight the clerical sexual abuse of minors that has haunted it for over two decades.” (Chicago Tribune, Sunday, March 23, 2014)

Unlike his predecessor Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is viewed as a man of the people. He has even graced the cover of Time Magazine as Man of the Year. Even the Vatican press secretary, Federico Lombardi, is singing a happier tune these days. Referring to his job before the new pope took office, he said, “The people thought I always had a negative message for them. I am very happy that, with Francis, the situation has changed. . .  “Now I am at the service of a message . . . of love and mercy.” (Carroll)

 

 

Beware the Idols of March

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“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

My entire family has come down with a dread disease. Symptoms include sleeplessness, anxiety and violent outbursts. Luckily the illness will run its course and be gone by early April. What is this strange affliction that affects behavior and makes even me skim the pages of the sports section in the newspaper? It’s March Madness, that annual season during which reasonable people gorge themselves on junk food and basketball.

I was blissfully unaware of the syndrome until I got married. Sure, I knew my husband was an avid Michigan State Spartans fan. We had even gone out to Pasadena in January of 1988, the year we were married, to see the Spartans defeat the USC Trojans. But football is different. There is only one game a week. And although in football there’s a certain amount of fever associated with the annual round of bowl games, there is just not the magnitude of 68 teams vying for a championship title.

In March I find myself seeking to escape the omnipresent television sounds of squeaking shoes on basketball courts and fans roaring – not to mention the annoying commentary by Dick Vitale, or Dickie V., as my husband affectionately refers to him. I swear the noises haunt my sleep. This year my daughter insisted we have a family basketball pool. So we all filled out our brackets despite the fact that my picks were about as educated as a chimp’s. Now I curse myself for checking on the latest game statistics.  But heck, I stand to win 40 bucks!

Even our spring break plans revolve around the tournament and our hopes that our team will make it to the Final Four. But it’s hard to begrudge my husband this obsession. Other than following college sports, he has no time-consuming hobbies such as golf or bowling. He doesn’t drink or smoke. And when I see my kids sprawled on the couch with him watching a game, I appreciate the family bonding that can take place when we have a team to root for.

I also enjoy reading stories about some of the prominent players each year. Jabari Parker, a kid from Chicago, is realizing his dream of playing at Duke under the legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski. According to a Sports Illustrated article, (Yes, I’ve even developed an interest in sports literature!) Parker and Coach K. have developed a special bond, and mentoring the freshman has helped the coach regain his focus after the tragic loss of his brother this season.

An MSU Spartan senior named Adreian Payne has befriended a young fan who is currently fighting cancer. Recently she helped him cut down the net after the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament. Payne is a 6 foot 10 inch tall man who could have left college to play in the NBA. Instead he will be the first member of his family to graduate from college.

These heartwarming stories, as well as the exciting upsets, such as Dayton’s defeat of Ohio State, are what make March Madness so crazy and yet so much fun. I can’t pretend that I will catch all the games, but I will be happy to order the pizza, cede control of the TV remote, and welcome the madness.

Dancing Queens

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My preteen daughter’s favorite television show is Lifetime Channel’s “Dance Moms.” I know; I should be so proud! Last night’s episode featured drag queens teaching the girls their craft. So while there’s always a fair amount of drama on the reality show, the swaggering queens brought the drama to a whole new level.

Later my daughter asked me, “Mom, were those men dressed as women?”

“Yes they were,” I replied.

“Why?”

Good question.

I can’t pretend to know much about the world of men who dress in drag. I assume they are mostly gay men who prefer being seen as women. But I’ll bet it’s more complex than that. Interestingly, men dressing in drag has been a staple of entertainment for decades. From screwball comedies such as “Some Like It Hot” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” to musicals like “South Pacific,” “Victor Victoria,” and “Hairspray,” cross dressing has mostly been played for laughs. Even the great actor Tom Hanks got his start in “Bosom Buddies,” a sitcom in which two guys pretend to be girls in order to have a room in the all-girls dorm.

But it hasn’t been until recently that transgender identity was taken seriously and with a sympathetic viewpoint. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for portraying a real transgender youth named Brandon Teena, and just this year Jared Leto’s turn as Rayon, the HIV-positive trans woman in “Dallas Buyers Club,” won him an Oscar as well. And it’s no surprise that the TV series “Glee” has featured a transgender character in recent years. Do these serious portrayals signal a growing acceptance of people with different gender identities?

I must admit I was surprised to see a prime time, albeit cable, TV show featuring drag queens working with children. But I’m glad we did. My daughter and I had a conversation about gender identity as a result, and I hope she will grow up with a greater sense of openness to the people she encounters in her life.

Lucky

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On St. Patrick’s Day, it seems traditional to wish people “the luck of the Irish.” If you know anything about Irish history, this phrase seems peculiar. What’s lucky about thousands of years of famine, war, occupation and sectarian violence after all? In fact, according to Edward T. O’Donnell, associate professor of History at Holy Cross College and author of 1,000 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish History, the term actually refers to the plethora of Irish miners in the United States who struck gold during the Gold Rush. The implication was that since they were Irish, luck rather than skill was the reason for their success.

On St. Patrick’s Day, however, I do feel lucky. It’s fun to actually be Irish on a day when everyone wants to be. Most people know that the celebratory nature of St. Patrick’s Day is an American invention. In Ireland one might wear a shamrock to morning mass today. The rivers won’t be dyed green, and drunken carousing won’t be the order of the day. Let’s face it. In Ireland, one never needs a holiday as an excuse to visit a pub.

But on this day, I have numerous reasons other than my Irish heritage for feeling lucky. I have a wonderful family, and we are all in reasonably good health. I have food on the table and a roof over my head – and then some. I have a gigantic Irish-Italian hybrid of an extended family. Our family parties are the stuff of legend. All of it is an unearned gift that one might call “luck.”

On St. Patrick’s Day, I wish all my readers, friends and family an Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

And the rains fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the palm of His hand

The Power of Silence

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My son and I drove to school this morning in total silence. The sun was rising, and we were both too tired to speak. “Thanks for the ride,” he said as he hopped out of the car. “Have a good day,” I replied. As I pulled away from the high school and admired the soft pink and gold of the dawning day, I felt a sense of peace and realized how powerful silence can be.

Silence can certainly be used as a potent weapon. When a loved one gives me the silent treatment after an argument, I feel abandoned and rejected. My kids have expressed similar feelings when I have refused to respond to whining or a tantrum. In social situations, silence can intimidate. Some of my husband’s colleagues have a tendency during conversation simply to stare at a person and not speak. I have found myself nervously filling the void with inane chatter, feeling like a babbling idiot. One of them once admitted that he consciously uses silence in business situations and said it can be effective when negotiating with the other side.

The real power of silence for me is in the ability to quiet my mind and hear the still, small voice inside of me. In modern society, we are constantly bombarded with sound. The alarm clock wakes us up, we turn on the TV, we blast the radio. We listen to our iPods or iPhones while exercising. Phones ring, babies cry, dogs bark, voices chatter. It’s nice to dwell in silence for a while and plan, solve a problem or just dream.

When I take my daughter to school, we talk practically nonstop until I drop her off at the school door. By this time, I have had my coffee, so I enjoy our conversations and learning what is going on in her head. I wish her a good day too and head home – in silence.