Listen To Your Mother, Atlanta! (And Audition For Our Show!)

Just in case we thought I didn’t have enough to keep me busy this year, Listen To Your Mother season is in FULL SWING! My co-producer Jana and I are up to our elbows in planning, our date is set, (April 25! Mark your calendars!), and all we need now is a few good stories to share.

That’s where you, my fine Atlanta readers, come in.

We need YOU. And your stories. Your voice matters.

I believe in the power of storytelling. Stories are our history and sharing them with one another is how we bridge divides between race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and the debate of red vs. white wine. (Answer: Both. Of course.)

Listen To Your Mother is oral tradition in the 21st century with stories focused specifically on motherhood and its many facets. It’s funny and messy and it’s sad and amazing. Motherhood is life.

If you live in or around the Atlanta area and want to audition to share your story on our stage, we would love to have you.

Help us give motherhood a microphone in 2015.

Cancelling Christmas (And Other Dumb Stuff)

I started writing this post in my head yesterday after having half a box of Milk Duds for breakfast. I was two candy canes and a cup of chocolate syrup away from being Buddy the Elf’s newest friend when I saw a thing on Facebook that sent that sugar surging through my system.

The picture, shared by a radio station, was from someone’s Facebook post where she chastised other parents planning to give their children big ticket items from Santa because that might hurt the feelings of those children who did not get big ticket items from Santa. There’s some good will in there somewhere, I think, but that’s…illogical. I’ll get to it in a minute.

Pondering that picture sparked a few more things I think are dumb.

1. Cancelling Christmas Because Your Kids Aren’t Grateful

I listened to an entire radio segment on this one. If you have reached the point of cancelling Christmas because your kids aren’t grateful, grab the nearest newspaper, roll it up, and whack yourself on the head with it. You haven’t been teaching gratefulness throughout the year and now you’re taking out what is your frustration with yourself on your children.

I’m not saying they don’t deserve to learn a lesson here, but I’m saying that cancelling Christmas probably isn’t going to teach them said lesson.

Being grateful, spreading good will and kindness, helping others who are less fortunate, those are things we should be doing all year long. Whenever opportunities to do so present themselves, help. Have those conversations with your children about the many blessings in their life and show gratitude in your own actions all throughout the year.

Don’t wait until Christmas to teach being thankful for what you have because others don’t have the same things. It’s too late. The proverbial boat has sailed.

2. Chastising Other Parents Who “Lie To Their Children” 

While this is not true for every parent who disagrees with playing up the Santa myth, as there are plenty of y’all who are out there like “meh, just don’t want to do it,” and also those who are still unsure how it’ll all play out since their kids are pre-Santa age, there’s also a heaping dose of superiority that smacks out of some peoples’ mouths every time they utter the phrase “well, WE don’t BELIEVE in lying to OUR children” or any iterations thereof.

Show me a single parent who, when the first Christmas twinkles begin to appear, jumps for joy shouting “OH! HOORAY! IT’S TIME TO LIE TO THE CHILDREN!” Some parents just don’t see Santa as lying to their children. Some parents just want to celebrate the magic of Santa Claus with their kids because it’s fun or they have fond childhood memories of the things their parents did or it’s really just as simple as they do what they want.

You don’t “lie to your children.” Okay, well, good…for you! Because they are your children. And these children are my children and there is room enough in the world for all of our celebrations, mythical fat man and his flying reindeer or no.

Why is Santa Claus and what others do with him in their own homes such a big deal to so many people? When in the history of Santa Claus have we ever cared this much. (Newsflash: It’s all social media’s fault.)

3. Complaining About the Over-Commercialization of the Holiday

Y’all, it’s no secret that Christmas (and every other holiday, essential and non) has grown increasingly more and more commercial. Blame advertising. Blame marketing. Blame movies. Blame society. We are a consumer culture. That’s not changing any time soon. But it’s sort of pointless to do all of your complaining about this at Christmas. (If you’re the kind of rallies against this all year, I salute you.)

Why? Because for some families, Christmas is the only time they really buy gifts for their kids. Don’t make them feel bad about that in your efforts to do what you deem to be good.

Some families buy gifts for their kids throughout the year, and they aren’t called gifts. They’re called “I want this”-es. Kid sees a toy, wants it, parent says “okay.” (I think probably these children and families would overlap with the families from #1 in a Venn diagram.)

Other families say “not right now” or “we’ll save up for it.” And they do. Then Christmas morning rolls around and all the things they’ve been saving up for appear under the tree, from Santa or not from Santa–no judging–and others look at that sort of haul and click their tongues in disgust and go “Ugh. Consumerist culture is SO. GREEDY.” (To which I go, “ugh, two lumps of coal for you.”)

Which brings me back to the original meme:

4. Telling Other Parents They’re Doing Celebrating Wrong

That’s what struck me about the image I saw on Facebook yesterday. It said, essentially, if you give your kid a big present from Santa instead of from yourself, another kid who didn’t get a big gift from Santa, or didn’t get a gift from Santa at all, will internalize that and wonder what’s so wrong with them that Santa didn’t stop there. Or that Santa isn’t an equal opportunity gift giver and it’s not fair and society will crumble.

I have to call bullshit on that one. They WILL do that (probably) if YOU are talking about it.

I get the sentiment. I do. But how about we teach our kids not to be bragging braggers instead of telling other people not to give their kids big presents. Or small presents. Or whatever.

If you’re teaching thankfulness and gratefulness and kindness and any other -nesses except jerkiness, cool your shorts. You’re doing your job and your kid is going to be fine. You have no idea what those other parents might have done to afford that present, how long they saved, whether it was purchased with a bonus or by a grandparent, and frankly, it’s not your business.

Stop caring so much what other people think and your kids will follow suit, which is really the bottom line in all of this.

Do what works for your family. Stop passing judgment on others. Take some of the time you spend judging the choices of other people and go sing some carols at a hospital or bake a cake for the neighbor or curl up on the couch and what It’s a Wonderful Life for the 400th time.

Peace on Earth, guys.

Now can someone pass me a candy cane? My sugar-to-blood ratio is getting out of whack.

Start to Stop Smoking Cessation at CVS

My dad would have been 49 this month. When his birthday rolled around, I thought about how there are days when I really wish he were here to see the kids, to be a familiar presence. To call me “kiddo” one more time.

He died of a massive heart attack in August 2013. We’ve been without him for almost a year and a half now, and while it gets easier, when I think about the circumstances surrounding his death, I can’t help but get a little angry and a lot sad.

His heart attack was caused by a perfect storm of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being overweight. But my dad was aso a smoker. A heavy smoker. A cigarette every 12 minutes smoker.

We nagged and pleaded and nagged some more for him to stop. We coughed incessantly and obnoxiously whenever he lit up. We complained about the smell. But he was addicted. He would never have admitted that, but he was.

He tried to stop at least a handful of times, cold turkey, with medication, just cutting back on how many. He started smoking outside and we thought maybe the freezing cold January air would make him quit. It didn’t. Nothing did.

When he had his heart attack, one of the possible scenarios was for him to be placed on the transplant list where he would await a donor heart. While that would not have worked because his heart was too damaged by the heart attack, he wouldn’t have been allowed on the list anyway, and the number one reason why was because he was a lifelong smoker.

Because of his smoking addiction, he wouldn’t have been eligible for placement on the transplant list had he been strong enough to make it that far. He would have had to live with a portable bypass machine and be smoke free for an entire calendar year before being placed on the list, and then he would have had to wait for a heart. Chances are good he wouldn’t have made it that long, but that wait wouldn’t have been so daunting if he hadn’t been a smoker.

There aren’t a lot of health care related companies who are in the business of helping people stop smoking, but CVS is one of those companies. In 2014, CVS stopped selling tobacco and all tobacco-related products in ALL of its stores. Then it launched Minute Clinic smoking cessation programs in each of its stores.

(Did you know that CVS has vowed to have a Minute Clinic within 10 miles of every residence? That’s pretty fantastic, right?)

The Start to Stop smoking cessation program includes individualized counseling, ongoing coaching to help quitters quit,  and nicotine-replacement when applicable. (There’s also a weight loss counseling program, which sounds pretty great, too.)

Per the Centers for Disease Control, smokers who seek help in trying to quit are two to three times more likely to succeed than those who go it alone, as my dad always did. In just 24 hours after quitting, a person’s risk of heart attack starts to diminish, and in 1 year the risk of heart disease becomes half that of a smoker.

I wish my dad had made different choices while he were living, but since he didn’t, all I can do now is spread the story of his life and how we would probably have him here today if he had taken his health more seriously. Companies like CVS are helping to do that.

They’re helping people make changes for life.

This post was written as part of a CVS campaign to promote their Start to Stop smoking cessaion program and #HealthYourself initiatives. My story is my own and if sharing it helps one person quit smoking for good, I’m more than willing to tell it.

Spinach Pesto (Healthy! Delicious! Easy!)

Guys, I haven’t had my own kitchen in 3 months, and while not cooking every night seems like a dream, I really, really miss it. Right now, I’m busy planning our next kitchen, so while I’m doing that, I’m also planning recipes I’ll be making in said new kitchen. (I’ve somehow gained 13 pounds with all the not cooking I’ve been doing…)

Monday night, I whipped up some (healthy! delicious! easy!) spinach pesto and ate so much I probably gained another 2 pounds. (But then I got my hair cut and lost 5, so….win?)

Spinach Pesto

Doesn’t that look so pretty and green and amazing? It was seriously one of the brightest and most lovely dishes I’ve ever made, and it was so easy! It was also FAST! Dinner was ready in under 30 minutes, which makes this a great meal for families who are crunched for time in the evenings.

I’m estimating amounts for all of these ingredients except the spinach. I used 3 pounds and it made a LOT of pesto (and I poured it ALL on the pasta instead of putting some in a jar and sticking it in the fridge for future use). Use the following list as a guideline, but adjust how much of each you add based on your own preferences. But don’t skimp on the garlic. Or the cheese.

You’ll need:

  • 2-3 pounds baby spinach
  • 1/4 chopped fresh basil
  • 5 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (and then some) shaved parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk or cream
  • 5-6 T olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • Pasta of your choice

Soften your garlic in 2 T of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then throw in the basil. Enjoy the aroma! Add in the spinach, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, and drizzle it with another 2 T olive oil. Gently toss it a bit to mix the spinach, salt/pepper, and oil. Cover it and let it wilt, stirring once or twice.

Once it’s wilted, add cheese, milk or cream (use 1% or 2% for lighter pesto, heavy cream for richer pesto), and spinach to a blender or food processor. Blend. I added another 2 T of olive oil while blending and then used reserved pasta water, just a ladel-full, to thin the pesto just a bit, not so that it pours like water, but so it would actually pour. I’m not even sure if that makes sense but I hope it does.

Drain your pasta and pour the spinach pesto over it, tossing the pasta to coat/mix with the sauce. Top with more shaved parmesan cheese.

I used capellini because that’s what we had in the pantry, but Dan said he would’ve preferred a penne or other heartier pasta. Fetuccine would be an excellent option. I also sauteed some chicken to go with the pasta, but if you want a meatless meal, this can do the trick. This would be great served with a big, leafy salad. (Spring mix, blue cheese crumbles, Craisins, candied walnuts, champagne vinaigrette. You’re welcome.)

This is not a meal I could make weekly since I’m the pasta fan in the family, but I could definitely throw it into the monthly rotation and play around with the add-ins for variety. Chicken, shrimp, zucchini chunks, maybe sundried tomatoes, all would work nicely.

Voila! Dinner is served!

Why I’m Talking About Racism

I’ve never been one to go on a mass unfriending spree on Facebook, clearing out my timeline of the thoughts and opinions of those with whom I disagree and sanitizing the place so that it looks just like me. That’s not how the world works and I prefer Facebook to look more like the world and less like what one might imagine a communal society would be. Different people sharing different ideas is one way we all grow.

But last week, for the first time ever, I wanted to. I really, really wanted to.

As the Internet erupted in the wake of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown in August, I watched as everyone divided into groups and prepared for battle, myself included, and I wondered why we couldn’t all understand that the world would be a much better place if we could find some place to meet in the middle and move forward, together. But I just don’t think that can happen. The separation between groups is too great.

There are those who say racism exists and those who say it’s a thing of the past, and I’m not talking about institutional racism which is another beast entirely. There is delusion and division and derision, insult hurling, and statements that start with “I’m not a racist, but….”

(Hey, so, chances are if you say “I’m not a racist, but…” the next thing that comes out of your mouth is probably going to be racist.)

Those who want to fight against racism have to get in the trenches and dig in for the fight, which is where I find myself as 2014 draws to a close. It’s not a place I imagined finding myself because growing up I was taught that racism was a thing overcome in the 60s. We were all taught that.

Right now we’re finding out that was pretty much a big lie and it’s hard to admit that what we thought was true is actually quite false.

We thought racism ended when “separate but equal” was shot down by Brown v BOE. That the Civil Rights leaders marched racism right out of our country, arm in arm, singing “We Shall Overcome” like 20th century Pied Pipers. We’ve watched Dr. King “I Have a Dream” speech, read it, studied it. I taught it (and his Letter From Birmingham Jail, which is definitely recommended reading). In school we zeroed in on the peaceful protests and sit-ins and rarely were the stories of the more violent protestors being written about in anything other than derogatory and frightening lights.

As the riots raged in Ferguson and protests popped up across the country, I wondered what the world had been like during the Civil Rights Movement. Mama remembered Rosa Parks respectfully making her point. By the time she started studying history in school, protests and riots had been written out in favor of the examples of passive resistance, but there were riots. There was violence. There was anger so bottled up it had nowhere to go but out. And as history shows, a great deal of that violence was perpetrated by white people stoning black children who dared try to go to school or have lunch at the counter instead of the back of the store.

History books are written by white men. Anyone who’s paying attention can see revisionist history hard at work with just a quick glance around social media these days as anyone who brings up the real, actual racism alive and well in our country is accused of “playing the race card.”

Here’s a thought: When thousands of people stand up and say “Racism is alive and well and it’s killing our people” they’re probably not lying. That many people uniting their voices under a shared and terrifying experience aren’t wrong. The one or two people you know who say “nah, that’s not true” probably aren’t correct. How is that so hard to see and understand?

I can only think that people who can’t understand it are incapable or, worse, unwilling, and I can’t understand that.

Understanding racism as a white person, challenging it, means challenging pretty much our entire existence. It means confronting the way we were raised and the tiny prejudices which were slipped into our consciousness without our knowledge. It means asking what someone means when they quote that scripture about being “unequally yoked” or pointing out the fact that it’s unnecessary to qualify a person’s identity with his or her race.

“So and so at the corner store…he’s Black…was telling me…”

Little things like this, non-violent but pervasive beliefs some of us don’t even realize are part of the reason why racism persists. So long as we don’t challenge ourselves to do better–to BE better–it will continue to infect the future, and I’m not okay with that. I care about racism because I care about our collective futures.

I want to believe in the possibility of a world where my fellow mothers and I share the same worries when our kids leave the house and not one wherein my black friends have to worry about whether or not they’ve done enough to teach their sons The Code. I believe in that world where people are judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Right now, this world isn’t that world. But it can be.

No one can take the high road in the fight against racism, not really, and that’s because there is no higher road to be taken. Taking the high road is akin to turning the other cheek which is ignoring the issue, and this is an issue which demands to be confronted head on and not buried like some skeleton in our nation’s closet.

Besides, that closet’s getting kind of crowded, don’t you think?

Where I live. What I live for.