Comfort Food

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I’ve been in a bad mood lately and decided to take it out on my body. No, I’m not doing a punishing 10 mile run. I’m eating donuts – and candy and cookies and bread with butter and, well, CARBS.

The notion of comfort food is not new. When people feel bad, they often comfort themselves with soft and fluffy mashed potatoes or a moist and delicious chocolate cake. I favor breakfast danishes, donuts, and coffeecake. Whatever the choice of food, it is usually an unhealthy one.

I know I’m not supposed to use food to solve my emotional issues. Understanding that is from Psychology 101. Overeating can lead to obesity and terrible health problems. The big weight loss concerns such as Weight Watchers also use group counseling as part of their customers’ regimen.

Still, I’m bummed out about some ruined plans and stressed about my kid’s college applications. Today I woke up and saw two inches of snow on the ground, and it’s only a couple of days shy of Halloween. The forecast of rain and sleet mixed with snow for the next two days has done nothing to elevate my mood.

So I plan to stay inside and overindulge in some of my favorite comfort foods. Maybe I’ll even break into those bags of Halloween candy since I doubt I’ll have many trick-or-treaters coming by tomorrow night in the cold and snow.

In a few days, my mood will lift, and I’ll eat salad. For now, pass me another donut.

 

Senior Moment

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One of the more stressful times in the parenting of a high school senior is the college application process. This year Halloween promises to be frightening, not because of ghouls and goblins, but because early applications are due Nov. 1.

Last night I had a shouting match with my daughter over homework and college application issues. It ended with me swearing that I didn’t care what she did, I’d already gone to college, and then storming upstairs to my room to enjoy a pleasant trip into dystopian America with Margaret Atwood.

While senior year is proceeding in all its mixture of hope and dread, pride and fear, I myself am old enough to enjoy the senior citizen discount at my local movie theater. Is it cliche to say I’m too old for this sh*!?

Being an older parent is not all bad. Having had a fulfilling career as a high school English teacher, I was ready to take on full-time parenting when my oldest child was born. I’d like to think I had a smidgen more patience to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of raising young children.

At my age, I don’t have a dashing social life that includes lots of late nights out or trips to the Caribbean. So I’m there for my daughter and her needs: food, clean laundry, and the definitions of difficult words in her reading material. The problem is: familiarity breeds contempt – hers, not mine. For the last three and a half years, she has been like an only child, and she feels her parents breathing down her neck like a creepy stalker. She is 18, an age at which in earlier times people were marrying, raising kids, and generally being adults. So she has the urge to be independent without the wherewithal. It’s a bad combination.

I keep repeating a mantra that has gotten me through other stressful times in my life as a parent: “This too shall pass.” Take deep breaths and repeat.

I have no doubt that my lovely, talented, and intelligent daughter will find a great college to attend next year. While it may come down to the wire with application deadlines, she will cross that finish line with or without the worry lines sprouting on my face. So I will try to rein in the exasperation, the urge to control, the fretting about what ifs. I will attempt to enjoy these “senior moments” with more grace and wisdom.

At least I’ll give it the old college try!

Trump’s Naked Ambition

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When are the people surrounding Donald Trump going to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes? That was my thought when I saw a Washington Post story about the president ranting during a Cabinet meeting about the impeachment “witch hunt” and the “phony emoluments clause” in the Constitution that seeks to prevent His Orange-ness from profiting off of the presidency. Like deer caught in the headlights, these hapless dupes just sat there as Trump raved.

The silence of White House officials and Republicans on Capitol Hill serves only to embolden Trump. He has blatantly admitted to demanding a quid pro quo from the Ukrainian president in order to damage a political rival. Back at the onset of the Mueller investigation, he was quoted as saying, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” (If only!) In light of the recent revelations about his attempts to get Ukraine to help his political fortunes, does anyone actually doubt that Trump attempted to get Russia to help him back in 2016?

Mueller’s circumspect conclusions gave Trump the sense that he was untouchable. Despite Mueller’s refusal to acquit him of obstruction of justice charges, he claimed total vindication. Now that he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, it’s obvious that the man will do anything to further his own fortunes and self-aggrandizement.

From the start of his presidency, Trump has financially profited from his office. All his weekend trips to Mar a Lago put money in his pocket at taxpayer expense. His hotel in Washington D.C. has hosted countless delegations doing business with the government. And it becomes clearer by the day that his foreign policy revolves around relationships that will personally benefit him: his support of Saudi Arabia despite the state-sanctioned killing of an American journalist, and more recently, his withdrawal of troops in Syria to appease Turkish president Recep Erdogan.

Voters should have known better than to elect a man who refused to reveal his tax returns during the election. There is one person at the center of Donald Trump’s mind: himself.

Tulsi Gabbard recently compared Hillary Clinton to the Wizard of Oz. But that comparison is much more apt for Trump, a man of flim flam and bombastic  rhetoric. The only difference is that with Trump, there is no curtain. His naked ambition, his narcissism, and his spite are on display for all to see.

It’s time for Republicans to take the veil from their eyes, unite with Democrats, and do something about this disastrously unfit president.

Not Falling for Halloween Decor

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My minimalist Halloween decor

I’ve made it clear in previous posts that I’m not a big fan of Halloween. When my kids were little, it always caused too much anxiety and excitement, sugar highs followed by colossal meltdowns.

Still, I always felt obligated to participate in the annual ritual of choosing costumes, returning costumes, choosing new costumes, buying hordes of candy, and sprucing up the house come October 1. Dutifully I’d haul up the large orange plastic boxes to the eager impatience of my children.

In our house, the sine qua non of holiday decor was the vinyl window cling. My kids had no end of fun situating these reusable stickers on our sliding glass doors and the front windows of the house. By the end of the season, the glass was covered by sticky fingerprints. I was incredibly cheap about holiday decorations, so our Halloween pumpkins, ghosts etc. didn’t exactly scream, classy. This was fortunate, though, because my children never met a decorative item that they couldn’t find a way to chip or break. We even had a headless Joseph as part of our Christmas manger scene for a while.

Nowadays, with my children grown, I’m much more understated about my Halloween decorations. It takes all of 15 minutes to put them up, and there are no complaints that my little faux trick-or-treaters standing sentinel at the front door are not scary enough. I am, however, in the minority around my neighborhood. People in my town really do it up big for Halloween: lights, inflatables, ghouls hanging from trees, you name it. One house in town is full on decorated for Dia de los Muertos, complete with two female mannequins standing in their front yard wearing festive dresses and Day of the Dead skeleton masks.

Some of the decorations my neighbors put up for Halloween are downright terrifying, and the homeowners even create their own sort of haunted house thrills on Halloween night as trick-or-treaters come by. For instance, my mild-mannered neighbor around the corner comes out from behind his house brandishing a fake chainsaw and chasing hapless candy seekers. this guy is so scary he almost caused my husband to call 911 one year when said hubby approached the house with our kids.

I love fall: the colorful leaves, the scent of woodsmoke, the taste of pumpkin treats, the crisp, cool days. But I can take or leave the Halloween hoopla. Soon it be will time to think about my favorite holiday: Christmas!

The Death of Shame

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Growing up Catholic in the Sixties, I was more than well acquainted with the concept of shame. “Shame on you!” was a common reprimand to children who stepped out of line. As I got older, I started to see the propensity to shame people as a negative thing. And it can be. Making people ashamed of their natural feelings and inclinations leads to a low sense of self-worth.

Nowadays, however, I think we’ve completely lost the sense of shame to the point where we can hurt and abuse others and still go about our normal lives without any sense of contriteness or trying to rectify the situation.

The #MeToo movement exposed the sexual predation, harassment and assault perpetrated by many men in the public sphere. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby to Matt Lauer, we were horrified to discover how many powerful men have used their position to prey on women (and in some instances men). The behavior of these men -ranging from sexual remarks to nudity to sexual assault – was rightly denounced, and the perpetrators seemed to pay a price. For a while.

Take the case of Charlie Rose. Not long after he was fired from CBS over allegations that he paraded around naked in front of female interns and made inappropriate sexual comments, a report came out that Rose had been shopping around a comeback show in which he interviewed men who, like himself, had been accused of sexual harassment and predation. In other words, he had the audacity to attempt to profit off of the very heinous behavior that made him temporarily slink away from the public eye. My initial thought was, Have you no shame?

Little by little, however, these men will weasel their way back into the world of entertainment because we live in a world without shame. Not long ago, I read a story about an appearance by comedian Louis C.K. at a Chicago nightclub. (“No apologies, no notes at Louis C.K. show,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 21, 2019) C.K. had been exposed (pun intended) for his propensity to masturbate in front of female colleagues behind the scenes of his standup shows.  During his Chicago show, C.K. alluded to the allegations against him by proclaiming that everyone had a “thing” that would be embarrassing if others found out about it – as if his behavior was a harmless peccadillo and not a case of harassment. He painted himself as a victim, alluding to the fact that he used to sell out giant venues and was now playing to a small crowd. No shame indeed.

I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that famous men seem to have no sense of culpability for their own actions. After all, our current president bragged on video about grabbing women “by the pussy.” If ever there were a poster child for a world without shame, it’s Donald Trump.

Our society seems to have a high tolerance for the misbehavior of men, especially white men. For example, despite allegations of rape against Brett Kavanaugh, he was confirmed to the highest court in the land. Victims are consistently doubted and put on trial as if they were the perpetrators of harm. Even when we choose to believe the allegations, we seem to have a need to forgive and forget, thus allowing predators to get away with their actions and survive, if not thrive.

And that’s a shame.

 

Socialist or National Socialist?

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Hey, Republicans! I’ll make you a deal. I’ll stop calling Trump a Nazi if you stop calling Democrats socialists.

As the Trump presidency deteriorates further and further, I’ve noticed a tinge of desperation in Republican attempts to portray Democratic legislators, and especially the Democratic candidates for president, as Venezuela-style socialists who are bent on destroying our great democracy. Hogwash!

Since when is trying to rein in runaway prescription drug prices a socialist policy? Trump himself has attacked Big Pharma and promised to get drug prices in line. But when Democrat Nancy Pelosi pushes for legislation to do just that, she’s painted as a socialist. And why is Elizabeth Warren condemned for insisting upon holding banks and other financial institutions accountable for irresponsible and predatory business practices? The laxity of regulations on these institutions helped bring about the Great Recession, after all.

Wanting to insure that all Americans have access to affordable health care should be a bipartisan goal. Addressing the enormous inflation in tuition at colleges and universities should be a common goal as well. Insisting that the richest Americans pay their fair share in taxes is common sense. Yet all of these ambitions – which, by the way, have widespread appeal across party lines – are deemed marks of a slippery slope toward Big Government controlling our lives. It’s a lazy narrative, and Republicans need to stop.

After all, what are the gigantic farm subsidies Trump granted to maintain rural support for his candidacy but a form of socialism? What about all the tax breaks and subsidies to giant corporations to keep them doing business in the U.S.? Republicans decry welfare to poor individuals, but they say nothing against the rampant corporate welfare that occurs in this country.

The other day I was reading a book set in Poland during World War II. In a chilling scene,  SS officers ruthlessly separate children from their families to be sent off to concentration camps. It reminded me of the immigration policy of a certain current president. But I won’t call Trump a Nazi, despite his love of dictators and predilection toward authoritarianism.

So let’s can it with the comparisons to Hugo Chavez and the boogeyman word “socialist.” Let Democrats and Republicans debate national policy ideas on their merits, and allow the American electorate to decide what they want for their future without resorting to scare tactics and ad hominem attacks.

What’s in a Naming Right?

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Chicagoans have been up in arms about the announcement that the 86-year-old Museum of Science and Industry will henceforth be called the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry. Billionaire Ken Griffin secured that feather for his already plumage-filled cap by donating $125 million to the institution.

I have to admit that my first reaction was to be appalled and to comment, “What an egomaniac!” about Griffin. The founder of hedge fund Citadel already has his name on numerous professorships and other endowments that he has made to various institutions across Chicagoland. Does he really need to see his name plastered on one of Chicago’s venerable cultural landmarks?

But who am I kidding? Naming rights often, if not always, go to their most generous donors.

People get upset about name changes such as the Sears Tower to the Willis Tower or the John Hancock Center to simply 875 North Michigan Avenue. But Sears and John Hancock were both corporate sponsors themselves. Once ownership of the building changed, so did the name. Even our beloved Wrigley Field was named for the chewing gum magnate.

I think it’s just a sense of comfort and nostalgia that makes people unhappy with the name change of a famous landmark. Here in Chicago, I thought there would be riots when Macy’s bought Marshall Field’s and had the audacity to change its branding. But in time people get used to the changes. As Chicago Tribune columnist Christoper Borelli pointed out in a recent op ed piece, our grandchildren will probably think nothing of the new name for the Museum of Science and Industry. (“It could be worse — The Yeezy-Kardashian Museum of Science and Industry,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 4, 2019) They’ll most likely start calling it “the Griffin” or even “the Griff,” Borelli suggests.

So I won’t begrudge Ken Griffin his monument to himself. I just hope some rich donor doesn’t help remodel a famous church and rename it the Donald J. Trump Holy Name Cathedral!

 

 

 

Sharing DNA Does Not a Family Make

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web_ready_gathering_final_kondrichLately I’ve been seeing stories about people seeking out others whose mothers were impregnated with sperm from the same donor – ostensibly looking for “siblings” they didn’t know they had. There’s even a new TV series called Almost Family, the premise of which is that a young woman discovers that her father, a renowned fertility doctor, used his own genetic material to impregnate many of his patients. This news sends her reeling and in search of biological half-sisters and other half-siblings running around unbeknownst to her.

I object to the idea that sharing DNA makes someone a part of one’s family. Aside from medical considerations such as the need for matching bone marrow or a kidney, there is no real family connection between people conceived in the sterile confines of a medical facility with sperm from the same donor. And the implication that somehow “blood is thicker than water” is a slap in the face to adoptive families such as my own.

I have three biological children conceived, luckily for me, the old-fashioned way. I loved the early bonding I was able to have with them, loved being able to nurse them and know them from even before they were born. I recognize the emotional pull of wanting to have one’s own biological children. And I truly understand why couples go through the rigors, expenses, and discomforts of fertility treatments.

But I also have a daughter adopted from China when she was eleven months old. I missed her very earliest days and the ability to breastfeed her. We had a short adjustment period during which we had to get to know each other, and she had to learn to trust us as her new mom and dad, brothers and sister. Yet today, my closeness with her, my sense of her as my own child is indistinguishable from my feelings for my other three children.

A family is made from shared love and experiences, from late nights comforting a colicky or sick child, from laughs shared at the dinner table, even from fights and defiance and setting boundaries. Families are made, not born, and a tenuous biological connection is fairly inconsequential.

I’m not dismissing the urge for adopted children to wonder about or search for their biological parents. Wondering why they were given away, wanting to know something about the mother, say, who carried them in her womb for nine months is perfectly normal.

But thinking that somehow you’re connected to someone because the same anonymous donor contributed his DNA to both of you? That reduces the idea of family to something mechanistic, impersonal, and ultimately meaningless.

In this day and age, families come to be in so many different ways. It’s unconditional love that makes a family, not the biological origins of one’s birth.

Sweater Weather

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The other day I bought a scented lotion called “Sweater Weather.” The description on the bottle promised notes of “Sun Crisp Apples, Autumn Leaves, Orchard Woods.” The weather has turned appropriately autumn-like, and I’m sitting in my warm kitchen, my feet encased in cozy socks.

Yesterday I was a shade underdressed as I went about my errands in temps that never broke above 60. I thought about the sweaters in my closet that have lain dormant, waiting for the turn of the seasons. At this time of year, my laundry basket is a hodgepodge of shorts, tank tops, leggings, jeans and long-sleeved tops. It’s the transitional period when the weather never knows what it wants to do.

I found a meme on Facebook that I love: “The weather just went from 90 to 55 like it saw a state trooper.” That perfectly expresses life in the Midwest. One moment in flip flops, the next in snow boots.

At home, I’ve embraced the change of season by making pumpkin bread and my first pot of chili for the season. I’ve stocked the fridge with apples and apple cider. I’ve started snacking on mellow creme pumpkins, those cloyingly sweet candies that no one I know besides myself loves.

Around town, the Halloween decorations are coming out. The tips of leaves are starting to match them in their oranges and deep reds. There are days when thick gray clouds loom overhead, yet never does a drop of rain fall. That is so typical of autumn here. In contrast, there are sparkling, sunny days that belie the chill in the air.

I love this time of year. Love wrapping myself in warm clothes and shuffling through the fallen leaves, smelling their burnt scent. Love resting a blanket on my legs while plowing through the stack of books I’ve gotten from the library. Love an extra cup of coffee to ward off the chill in the air.

Sweater weather.