Poetic License

Standard

Unknown-1

My car’s Illinois license plate sticker just came up for renewal, and I was disappointed. It was not one of the automobiles slated to be replaced by the updated design being phased in in the State of Illinois. Our current license plate is decidedly bland: a plain white background with the words “Illinois” and “Land of Lincoln” scrolled above and below the license plate number. The new plates have an azure blue sky accompanied by an imaginary skyline that includes both the State Capitol building and Chicago skyscrapers, as well as half of Honest Abe’s visage.

I’ve read that the oldest license plates are being phased out first, so I will have to wait awhile to see the bright new plates on my car. I know the fact that I care this much about getting a new license plate falls under the category of “Get a life,” but I’ve always loved looking at car license plates.

As a child on family road trips, I would play the license plate game to pass the time. This highly complicated game consisted of trying to find license plates from states other than our own. Usually, we had to settle for sightings of Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin or some other nearby Midwestern state. Occasionally, though, we’d see an exotic Texas (Lone Star State) or Florida (Sunshine State) plate. In recent years, I actually saw an Alaska plate and learned that its license plate motto is “The Last Frontier.”

That’s the other thing I like about license plates. I like to learn the mottos or other captions that are used on them. Here are some that I’ve seen firsthand:

Indiana – Crossroads of America OR In God We Trust (Of course, in Mike Pence territory)
Michigan – Pure Michigan (Tell that to Flint residents)
Wisconsin – America’s Dairyland (Bragging Cheddarheads)
Minnesota – 10,000 Lakes (Apparently there are actually more than that in Minnesota!)
New York – The Empire State (Typical New York arrogance)
New Jersey – The Garden State (a bit or irony?)
North Carolina – First in Flight (Ohioans are ticked that NC claims the Wright Brothers)
Massachusetts – Spirit of America
New Hampshire – Live Free or Die (I’m scared of New Hampshirites!)

On a trip to Washington D.C. a few years ago, I did a double take when I saw what was written on their license plates. It actually says “Taxation Without Representation.”

So I will continue to play the license plate game in search of unusual specialty and out of state plates. I enjoy the game so much I’m thinking of getting a vanity license plate that says: LCNS LVR.

What’s on your license plate?

Advertisements

Dog Days

Standard

pug-beach-24161159

My college age son really wants a dog. The other day he was regaling me with photos on his phone of all his favorite breeds, most notably pugs. He told me about the pets of various friends and what he likes and doesn’t like about them. He even surprised me with the fact that dogs are actually allowed in his dorm room at school. But he also acknowledged that any dog he were to get would have to live with my husband and me for long stretches of time while he pursues his college and career goals.

As our nest empties, it’s tempting to think about adopting a shelter pet to keep us company. It would be great exercise to have to walk a dog every day. It would be nice to have the unconditional adoration of a pet who wants nothing more than to be petted and fed and loved (kind of like a husband!).

Our town is a dog paradise. Everywhere I go, I see dogs out with their owners on walks, at the park, or sticking their heads out of a car window to catch the breeze. Local businesses put water bowls outside their establishments or offer dog treats for the neighborhood hounds.

Yet I’m hesitant to take on the responsibility of caring for another creature in my life.   Dogs require constant tending, grooming, and attention to their healthcare needs. They cannot be left alone for long periods of time, and travel means finding a pet sitter or boarding situation for them. I don’t relish the idea of picking up a dog’s poop on a daily basis either. And some breeds bring unwanted odors to one’s home or massive amounts of hair that need to be removed from every surface.

Still, I can see the appeal of a cute little French bulldog or a rambunctious, loving Golden Retriever. I can acknowledge the comfort of a dog’s head on one’s lap on a cold or lonely night. Studies show that having a pet can be good for one’s health.

On the other hand, it’s easy to contemplate getting a pooch during the dog days of summer. Not so much fun to consider the frigid below zero days when that same dog will need to go outside every day regardless of the weather. I guess I’ll revisit the idea of getting a dog during the depths of winter when there’s snow on the ground and the temperatures plummet.

For now, I’ll enjoy these dog days sans dog.

First Day of School Fun

Standard

Caroline-EvosNYToday marked the first day of class for our neighborhood elementary school. It made me smile to drive by the school and see mothers and fathers walking their backpack-ladened progeny to the red brick building around the corner from my home.

I’ve always loved the first day of school. The new school supplies, new lunchbox, new shoes. The chance to see friends I’d missed over the long summer months. The colorfully decorated classrooms and hallways. Teachers at their freshest, brimming with energy and good will for their new crop of students.

The first day of school is so full of promise. If you’d had a rough time or a tough teacher the year before, here was a chance to start anew. After a long summer that was starting to get boring, there were both old friends and new classmates to play with on the school playground.

For moms, the first day of school marks the first day of freedom. There’s time to get things done, even the chance to grab a cup of coffee with a friend or take a long walk in the still-warm weather. While sending a child off to kindergarten can be traumatic, most moms relish the first day of school as it restores a little quiet to their rough and tumble lives at home.

A short while ago, I once again drove past our neighborhood school. It was alive with kids at recess, running across the grass, bouncing balls on the blacktop, climbing the jungle gym, swinging on the swing set with happy abandon. I recalled all the times in the not too distant past when my own children played with their friends on those same school grounds. That red brick building housed their early years of education and formed the foundation for their future successes.

I don’t really miss having a young child in grammar school, one who walks home for lunch in the middle of the day and brings home glittery art projects. But it’s nice to see and hear a new crop of kids enlivening the place that has been quiet and closed up for a few months.

The first day of school is fun for everyone, even those of us miles away from our own salad days. It’s a reminder that our youth are growing and learning and stretching themselves. And, if their efforts on the swing set are any indication, the sky’s the limit!

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Standard

Unknown-1

The European continent is in the midst of an unprecedented outbreak of measles – unprecedented, at least, since a vaccine was developed to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella in the 1960s. Thirty-seven people have lost their lives due to complications of this very serious disease. Why? Because people refuse to believe accepted scientific fact on the safety of the MMR vaccine.

Ignorance is killing us.

Possibly the biggest threat to future civilizations is the warming of the Earth due to greenhouse gas emissions. The ice melt at the North and South poles, rising sea levels, catastrophic weather events such as deadly hurricanes, and record-breaking heat waves in places like Canada and Scandinavia are all harbingers of doom. But they’re harbingers many people are willfully ignoring.

My cousin is visiting from the Pacific Northwest. She has a nagging cough from the smoke that is hovering over Washington State due to wildfires raging in British Columbia. My cousin told me that as her small plane “puddle-jumped” from her hometown to Seattle, she was unable to see any of the landscape below because the smoke was so thick.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is rolling back emissions standards for automobiles, deregulating the EPA, and encouraging a resurgence of dirty coal production. This is the 21st Century equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Once again, there is consensus that man-made global warming is a reality and that it may already be too late to save parts of the world from devastating floods, droughts, and famine. But for economic and political reasons, our government leaders are refusing to act. And they have persuaded many otherwise intelligent people that climate change is “fake news.”

And don’t look for future generations to be smarter about scientific facts. It’s well-known that the state board of education in Texas has an outsized influence on what school textbooks are selected across the country for use in our schools. In recent years, board members have objected to the theory of evolution being taught as fact, with one board member even declaring, “Evolution is hooey.” (Gail Collins, “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us,” The New York Review of Books, June 21, 2012)

Science used to be the one pure subject that we could count on not being tampered with by political or ideological concerns. But in our politically charged atmosphere and with so much information (and misinformation) at our fingertips, even our scientific knowledge is being called into question constantly.

I guess the number one skill we should be concentrating on in educating future generations is critical thinking.  Only dispassionate and thoughtful inquiry will lead us to truth and away from ignorance.

 

Fab New “Queer Eye”

Standard

Unknown

When the reality series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy debuted in 2003, I immediately fell in love with the self-named “Fab Five,” five gay men with different areas of expertise whose job each episode was to do a makeover on a straight man. I loved experiencing the free-spirited attitudes and funny repartee of Carson, Ted, Kyan, Thom, and Jai each week as they took men from clueless to chic.

So I was a little skeptical about whether I could embrace a whole new Fab Five in the Queer Eye reboot that premiered earlier this year. After four episodes, I’m happy to say that I find the new quintet as endearing, funny, and sweet as the original five. So far, the new Fab Five have been focusing their efforts on sprucing up the “redneck” contingent in Georgia. To see them prancing around the environs of Nascar and antique car fans has been amusing and surprisingly touching.

While the original Queer Eye aired during a period when gays on TV were still a rarity, the show did not explicitly address homophobia or gay rights. The Fab Five’s “gayness” was an unspoken subtext to the Cinderella stories that unfolded each episode.

The new Queer Eye seems to be aiming more overtly for acceptance and understanding between people whose cultures are vastly different from each other. In the first episode, for instance, Bobby confronts the stereotype of gay couples having one masculine and one feminine member. And in episode four, African-American Karamo has a meeting of hearts and minds with a white Atlanta area police officer.

I realize that reality TV is not all that real. For instance, I doubt Karamo being pulled over by a police officer (who turns out to be a friend of the makeover recipient) was a real surprise. And no doubt some of the conversations had between Fab Five members and their subjects are prepared in advance. But there are some honestly touching moments in Queer Eye, as five gay men lovingly coax a straight guy out of his comfort zone and give him a new lease on life.

The success of Queer Eye is not just the opportunity to see that gay and straight people have a lot in common. It’s also a celebration of those aspects of gay culture that bring color and dimension to the world. Just as blacks shouldn’t have to tone down or assimilate in order to find acceptance, people in the LGBTQ community should also be accepted and embraced on their own terms. I’m glad to say that Queer Eye is a delightful step in that direction.

Divided We Fall

Standard

Aretha L. Franklin, President George W. BushThe news that Aretha Franklin died this week created an outpouring of tribute on social media. Everyone posted articles, photos, videos of performances – all honoring the Queen of Soul. It was heartening to me to see, for one brief moment, a meeting of hearts and minds on a subject.

In our divided country, you can’t even talk about the weather without potentially getting into a fraught argument over climate change. Everything from the Robert Mueller investigation of Russian collusion to the prospect of NFL players taking to their knees in protest this fall is cause for anger and vitriol.

It’s not that thoughtful people can’t disagree on a subject. With a two party political system, free speech, and a free press, it’s inevitable that individuals will have differences and the urge to express those differences. What’s new about the current state of discourse is that one needn’t confront someone face to face. With social media, we can sling insults at each other from a safe distance.

A case in point is Donald Trump’s use of Twitter. The president usually tweets in the wee hours of the morning, a time when most people’s discernment and judgment are not at their highest. These pronouncements are often filled with vitriol, as Trump attacks anyone he perceives as an enemy. And even though said “enemy” can take to Twitter to send a counterpunch, there is something not quite real in the exchange. If Trump were forced to confront these people face to face, I doubt whether he would act in such a hateful and spiteful manner.

This is true for all of us, and it is making America an inhospitable place. “Comments” sections on social media are minefields we should approach on tenterhooks. Feelings get hurt, friends get “blocked,” and our images of people we’ve known and liked, or even loved, are tainted.

The divisiveness prevalent in today’s society should worry us. It feels as if the very social fabric that makes up civilization is being irreparably torn. And once it is in tatters, it may be impossible to put back together.

The Little Things

Standard

healthy-family-dinner-keeps-the-weight-offThe little things in life are the big things. That’s what age and wisdom have taught me as I meander into my sixties.

The other night, I lingered with my husband and two of my children over the remnants of a steak dinner, a homecoming dinner of sorts for my college-age son, who had just returned from a summer internship across the country. Our conversation would never make it as scintillating movie scene dialogue. But just being there with my family sharing a meal at the kitchen table constitutes one of the great joys of my life.

So too with my morning cup of coffee, enjoyed on my front porch in the morning while the summer air is still comfortable and not muggy. I’m able to sit out there in my pajamas, concealed from the street by bushes and trees. Today I read the paper and completed the Tuesday crossword (another little thing that gives me outsized pleasure) outside before going in to start my day of errands and chores.

A walk through the neighborhood, a good book, a glass of wine. A kiss, a hug, the warmth of my husband’s hand in mine. Sharing a laugh with my sister or a good friend. Watching a great movie or television series. Listening to a Chopin nocturne. Even the peaceful and methodical act of folding clean laundry. All these little things add up in a life.

My daughter and I have taken to playing card games lately. As summer wanes and the schedules of school and sports loom ahead, we are having fun whiling away the time with such games as gin rummy and crazy eights. To my daughter’s dismay, I am seriously kicking her ass at gin rummy. Sometimes the old lady seasoned veteran holds all the cards (pun intended).

It’s wonderful occasionally to plan a huge celebration or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. An evening of live music or theater, a trip downtown to see the fireworks, dinner at that gourmet restaurant you’ve read about: these are all fine diversions to spice up our everyday lives. But for me, the accumulation of small pleasures day by day is what makes me truly content. I hope to amass memories of thousands more little things in the course of my life.

They really are the big things.