Loving in the wake of loss

In the six years since Mike died, I’ve been in several relationships. None of them have really worked out, obviously. I used to think it was the natural bumping around that occurs when you’re out in the dating world all over again. I mean, it takes someone special to make you decide you want to spend the rest of your life with them. That doesn’t just happen every day. Yet, lately, I’ve wondered if maybe I’ve passed on opportunities that could have worked out quite well because I was too focused on the aching memory of the love I had with Mike–a love that was unique in its own way for a variety of reasons, a love that has grown a bit more romanticized as time has gone on.

I used to reject the notion that I’ve in any way revised my past and sainted Mike in my memory. Lately, with the introspective look I’ve taken of myself as I let go of the grief, I’ve started to realize that some of my memory has been altered to see the past in an all-too-perfect way. That’s not to say that my relationship with Mike was not what it was; we knew at the time that we were soul mates and had said so to more than a few people on several occasions. Friends of ours even noticed that our relationship was different–special, magical, a fairy tale. Still, it wasn’t perfect. Nothing is. And, sometimes, in the telling of it to others, I omit the reality in favor of the cherished vision I’ve elevated in my head. He wasn’t a saint. He wasn’t even a martyr. He was human and I loved him, and love in the absence of presence paints vivid colors over all the gray spots.

What we had was indeed spectacular in its own respects. I met him in May 1998. By July 1998, we were in love. In October 1998, he told me that someday he would like to call me “Mrs. F.” On Christmas Eve 1998, he proposed to me, just six months after we’d started dating. It was a whirlwind of a romance. I should have felt it was too soon (in fact, my own cousin, stated incredulously as he contemplated his own girlfriend of six months, “Wow. That’s fast. Are you sure?”). However, it felt right and I did not hesitate to say yes to him. This is something I could never have done had any of my post-marriage boyfriends proposed to me.

What was it about my relationship with Mike that made it so easy to commit so quickly? I’ve tried to figure this out over the last six years as I struggled to analyze how I could ever fall in love again with someone enough to want to marry him. Is it me who holds men to too rigid of a standard because I expect to feel the exact same thing I felt with a man of whom my memory is slowly fading? Or, are my expectations of a relationship still valid? Is what I had with Mike the only valid, true love that exists?

I was so young when I met Mike. Just twenty-three and fresh out of college, I was ready and determined to carve a life for myself that met all of my dream-filled expectations. To me, back then, anything was possible. Death was not even a reality to me; it was something that happened to old people. I can’t believe I ever thought like this, but youth makes you blind to many aspects of life’s realities.

I sometimes think because I was so young, I had the ability to believe in fairy tales and soul mates, and that is why it became what it was. I carried no baggage and I didn’t always see clearly the baggage Mike carried. It was easier to get swept off my feet because I believed I could be swept off my feet. I haven’t stopped believing in love at first sight, but age has made me skeptical of it. Especially since I’ve so easily fell without thinking only to wake up and realize the person I was with was so different from what I was and what I wanted to be.

Carefree. I was open to the possibilities of love whereas now my fear of loss closes me off. My fear of failure–of not selecting correctly–makes me more discriminating with my love. Why wasn’t I afraid of failure with Mike? What made me feel so confident that it would work? Was I just lucky? Could it merely have been the luck of the right person at the right time in my life? Is it possible some of my relationships since him were the right person at the wrong time?

In light of all the divorces in the world, I feel justified in discriminating to whom I give my love. The problem is, love is illogical. Love seems to require a level of impulsive fancifulness. The most romantic quality of my time with Mike was the thoughtlessness about it, the ease at which it came upon me. We didn’t know for certain if our love would withstand the test of time, but we both had faith that we would make it work.

I suppose everyone thinks like this at the beginning of a relationship. We couldn’t possibly predict how the future would change us and if these changes would later divide us. I’ve since wondered what would have happened to us when Mike, who wanted kids, finally faced my stubborn reluctance to actually have them. Would he have felt he married me under false pretenses when I continued to hesitate on having children after I turned thirty? Would this difference have broken us up? Children is not something I had a clear vision about when I was in my twenties. I didn’t know when I married him whether or not I’d ever want to have kids and it didn’t seem to be a deal breaker. Now that I’m older, I realize that relationships do break up over smaller differences. I was less discriminate when I met Mike. Nowadays, I try to date men who don’t want children.

So how do you balance the illogical impulsiveness of love with the required discrimination to select the right mate? What makes the right mate in the first place? I’ve got a list of things I look for in a mate, some things weighing more than others. Not even Mike had all of these qualities. The list helps me get rid of the weeds, but it becomes less helpful in my examination of the flowers. All the guys I’ve dated since Mike have fulfilled some qualities of my list, if not different ones than Mike fulfilled. Yet, for some reason or another, these relationships did not work out.

I feel like, sometimes, the answer comes down to me and my inability to let go of the vision of perfection I feel I had in my relationship with Mike. Somewhere along the line, despite all the warnings uttered from others and those I spoke only to myself, I managed to use Mike as the stick against which I measure all men. I know it’s wrong. But it’s really hard to not behave this way because what I had with him worked.

Does that mean nothing else would ever work? I don’t know the answer to that. I suppose there are a lot of different kinds of love and my mind should be open to the possibility that I could love someone a different way, under different circumstances, with different qualities, and that it could become just as meaningful of a relationship as I shared with Mike.

Mike’s shadow is a hard one for any man to live under. I know that despite my best efforts, all of the men I’ve dated have felt at one time or another that their relationship with me was darkened by his shadow. I used to think that only the man who could live under his shadow would be a successful mate and I wasn’t about to change the fact that his shadow followed me everywhere. My attitude was “love me and Mike, or don’t love me at all.” I wasn’t about to let go of my love for Mike for any other man; I expected every other man to live side-by-side with Mike. I thought that if a man loved me enough, he could do this for me. It’s occurred to me in the last couple of months that what I have been doing is extremely unfair. No one was ever asking me to forget Mike or to stop loving him. I just needed–still need–to move out of his shadow enough to allow for new, unimagined possibilities.

I may have gotten the whole love thing right once, but I still know nothing about love. I do believe it’s possible to find that one person with whom you can spend the rest of your life. I think realistically we have to accept that maintaining a relationship beyond the part that feels like a fairy tale is often very hard. I never really got to know about that hard part because, as everyone always points out to me, I was still a newlywed when Mike died. Even with the realities realized, I feel that the one thing that could continue to bind me to the same person for the rest of my life is the underlying love. If you never forget the things that drew you together–the attraction, the common interests, and that undefinable other ingredient we don’t understand–then you should be able to weather all storms. I’ve not lost all of my romantic ideals. I have faith enough to believe that it is possible. In the end, I want to find someone with whom I could still have fun with when I’m ninety-one.

The flip side of having loved a man the way I loved Mike is that I know I want to have that sort of relationship with someone again. I can’t envision a life without love; though if it never happens to me again, I know I can still live a fulfilled life. So I’m not desperate to find someone. I just want to make sure I’m not so set in my expectations that I completely miss out or deny something that could work out wonderfully. I’m just trying to figure out how to tell the difference.

There is no easy way down

When you reach the top of your first run of the year, this (above) is not the sign you want to see. It serves as a metaphor for my return to skiing, and, maybe life in general. At the top of any great hill, the way down is seldom easy. The only thing you’re guaranteed is that it will be fast. Make sure you know where the brakes are!

I’ve only skied once a year since moving back from Colorado in 2004. Each time I went to a resort out here, I found myself frustrated and bored. The winter back, I went to Peek-N-Peak, two hours from Cleveland in New York. Pre-Colorado, this place could keep me happy for hours because it had enough variety of slopes and it wasn’t particularly hard — I could do some black diamond runs. I used to refer to it as “like Boston Mills but longer runs.”

On my first run of the day, I encountered the all-dreaded ice, which I hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing the entire time I lived in Colorado. I panicked; my confidence went out the window; I went back to the green runs and sulked. I pretty much stopped skiing after three hours and blew off the rest of my eight hour ticket. I tried to lie to myself and say that I’d outgrown skiing out east since being spoiled in Colorado.

The next year, I decided to go on a day trip to Holimont, a private resort near the coveted Holiday Valley, with an Akron area ski club. Unfortunately, this trip coincided with an ice storm and I spent most of the day taking runs down greens again, sulking about how much skiing out east sucks. I had learned to ski at Holimont when I was sixteen with a friend whose grandparents owned a condo there. I thought this trip would be a blast from the past. Instead, it just made me feel as though I’d come full circle from being a good skier to a completely inept one, like my beginning days.

Last year, I went to ladies’ night at Brandywine. I usually do not like to ski at Boston Mills or Brandywine due to the large number of young, inexperienced skiers who, instead of making turns down these short hills, chose to bullet straight down, out-of-control without worrying about who they may potentially mow down. Most of these skiers don’t know any of the rules I was taught in my Holimont days, such as watching out for the downhill skier when you are the uphill skier. Not to mention the fact that BM/BW typically costs $25 (this year, it’s up to $31, which is REALLY not worth the money).

However, ladies’ night offers the advantage of $10 tickets from 10pm until the 2am closing time. What’s ten dollars? I thought. So I went. And stunk, yet again. This time, I was furious with myself; I could no longer ski worth a crap on these pretty easy slopes (the black diamond runs there would likely be a tougher green or a blue anywhere out west). After just a few hours, my feet hurt in my boots. I came to the conclusion that my skis were too long and were, in fact, hindering my skiing (which I’d secretly suspected for years, even in Colorado). I needed new equipment, I concluded, if I was going to ever take up skiing again.

This past Christmas, I bought myself a new pair of parabolic skis–or “shaped skis” as they are now called and the guy at Buckeye Sports where I bought my bindings hastily corrected me. Additionally, I bought a new pair of boots. After trying skis and boots out at Buckeye, I went online and was able to purchase last year’s models–same specs and all–from a warehouse distributor in Seattle for less than it would have cost for to buy this year’s skis. I am frankly proud of my thriftiness and I would highly suggested the same method for purchasing skis to anyone else. Even if, as my co-worker suggests, it puts the local companies out of business. I know, I know–for shame on me, the girl who purposely boycotts Wal-Mart for this very reason. But sports equipment is all so overpriced (and I’m buying a lot of sports equipment). You should not have to pay $600 for two pieces of board that you strap to your feet. I simply refuse to pay that. I won’t even get into how much boots cost… If you’re a skier, you know.

So I was all set, equipment-wise, to hit the slopes. Then, I was just waiting for the snow. Luckily, it came in the last week. I obsessively checked the snow reports for both Seven Springs (in Pennsylvania) and Holiday Valley until I saw that all or most of their runs were open. Yesterday, Michael and I embarked on a day trip to Seven Springs. God bless this man, for he’d just spent a week in Vail, and he was willing to go skiing yet one more day with me. It turns out it was a good thing he went because I might have given up, once again, within the first couple hours.

My ski legs have gone too long unused and they forgot how they work. The first several hours consisted of me silently berating myself for snow-plowing down slopes I’d have never batted an eye at in Colorado. My nerve was lost. At the top of each slope, I looked down at the sharply slanted world below, intimidated. I tried and tried to tap into the aggression that normally permeates all of the athletic things I do. I just wasn’t feeling it. Of course, the more I berated myself, the worse I felt. I kept apologizing to Michael for so badly sucking. He was obviously a much better skier than me (and warmed up from four days of skiing in Vail). I began to feel bad about the weekend trip for Colorado (to ski) I booked last week.

As always happening when you’re trying to relearn something you used to do more frequently, I figured out how to ski again about an hour before we were going to quit. My sudden enthusiasm, however, bought us an extra half hour in which I could revel in my return to skiing. “Just one more run, ” I think I said to Michael more than once.

I definitely think the new skis helped. I was skiing on 180cm straight skis and when I’d get into a tough spot where I needed to snow-plow, I would end up crossing the tips, which inevitably causes you to fall if not corrected quickly. It also seems like it was harder to execute a good turn when I needed to, which often resulted in me lifting my uphill ski to complete turns. My new shaped skis are 154cm and a lot easier to maneuver. I still caught myself lifting my ski on some turns, but not nearly as much. I definitely did not cross the tips of my skis once. It seems to me that making turns is easier on shaped skis and that turning in less than ideal conditions (ie, on ice) is a lot easier. I’m still a bit rusty and new skis are not going to fix that, but I can say with confidence that they definitely made the experience of skiing much more pleasant for me.

The new boots worked nicely as well. They did not provide any additional warmth (I’m starting to think I had frostbite once from a blizzardy winter hike in Colorado so my feet are now more susceptible to cold). However, they were much more comfortable than my old boots, probably because they are micro-adjustable. And, best of all, they look more high-tech than my previous pair, like a pair of Moon boots or something an astronaut would wear.

Hopefully, this is the start of a good ski season for me. I probably need to ski at least one more time locally before my weekend in Colorado. I’d hate to get out there and have my three-hour learning curve hinder me in all those beautifully long and perfectly powdered runs. I want to get back to skiing black diamond slopes, like I used to in my Colorado days (never did a double-black, though). My friend, Scott, with whom I skied many-a-day back in college, used to make me growl loudly whenever it looked like my confidence and aggression were dwindling. I still think of that when I’m having a low day on the slopes, like yesterday. Sometimes it helps to conjure the inner beast. I think I’m going to need to work on this in the coming days.

Look at my purple skis! Aren’t they cute??

What is patriotism?

On the way into work the other morning, the jocks on a local radio show were again discussing a picture that came out earlier this year of Barack Obama during the National Anthem where he was shown with his hand not over his heart, but both hands respectfully clasped in front of him. Again, the issue arose of the so-called “lack of respect” he was showing while our country’s flag was being flown and the lyrics to our anthem were being sung. Beside him were two other candidates–both Democratic, I think–with their hands over their own hearts. This seemed to cause a media uproar a few months ago.

I have to say that I just don’t get what everyone’s so up in arms about. There are only a few times per year when I find myself in the a situation in which the National Anthem is being sung–usually when I’m at a sports event–and I can’t say that I’ve ever put my hand over my heart. I can’t say that any of my friends put their hands over their hearts either. I’m not even sure when was the last time I put my hand over my heart as a show of respect. Maybe at a Girl Scout flag ceremony years ago? Or was it in school at the beginning of the morning announcements when we said the Pledge of Allegiance? Since when has putting your hand over your heart been a requirement of respect during the singing of the National Anthem? I thought the point was to stand at attention and respectfully keep silent (if, like me and about 98% of the American population, you are not gifted with the ability to sing those high notes).

I am not even sure I know the words to the National Anthem. For the line that says “…through the perilous fight,” I’ve always sung (in my head), “through the perils of Mars.” And who doesn’t think, with a chuckle, that the opening lines are “Jose, can you see”? Singularly appropriate these days with all of the squabble over protecting our borders from illegal Mexican immigrants. (I’m bad, I know. I apologize for that really foul joke.)

I guess I’m not alone in my ignorance of the lyrics. According to wikipedia, a 2005 Harris interactive poll revealed that many Americans don’t know the lyrics or the history of the song. Is this American? How patriotic is it to not know the lyrics to your country’s own anthem?

All kidding aside, while I don’t put my hand over my heart, it’s not like I’m doing anything disrespectful during the National Anthem. I usually clasp my hands behind my back and stand at as much attention as I’m personally capable of (which, being antsy and generally in a mood of excitement, for me is personally a hard task). I pretty much figured that’s all my country has expected from me. What does putting my hand over my heart signify, anyway? Undying devotion? Please tell me when it is socially appropriate to place your hand over your heart in every day life… If you are saying “I love you” to your sweetie, is it appropriate then to punctuate the gesture with hand-over-heart flagellation?

I know I’m grossly exaggerating this point. I’m just trying to point out how ridiculous it is to quibble this small point. It’s not like Obama had his middle finger extended, pointing it at the flag. He didn’t roll his eyes or protest loudly at yet another rendition of the National Anthem (which I’ve done many times when some chick chooses to sing it in that annoying jazzy style where each syllable of each word is reverberated repeatedly as if someone were pounding on her lungs with a baseball bat). He didn’t stand on his chair and shout, “Down with the United States!” or “Heil Hitler!” His voice didn’t ring out with the blood-curdling shout of victory that spelled the fatal downfall of my 2004 Democratic favorite, Howard Dean. (Which I think Dean was unfairly razzed for, but that’s an argument long passed and history is unchangeable.) So why can’t the right-wing media spinsters just stop talking about this?

Patriotism has become such a hot debate over the last eight years. Prior to this time, my patriotism was never questioned. Nowadays it seems that if I blink the wrong way, some yokel is instantly in my face, claiming offense at my alleged unpatriotic behavior. When I excitedly told people of my first trip abroad to Germany in 2005, I heard quite a few snide remarks about how I wasn’t supporting the local economy. To my surprise, many people self-righteously declared to me, “I don’t feel the need to see things in other countries. There’s so much here in America to see.”

They acted as though they were offended that I’d want to go anywhere else simply because the U.S. is also a vast and beautiful place (which I won’t argue; it truly is). Their words suggested that I was somehow betraying America by spending my free time and hard-earned money not in America. Does being patriotic mean closing your mind to the world beyond the borders of the United States? I was unaware the whole universe centered on the United States.

Additionally, I feel restricted in my free speech rights because any time I chose to criticize the government, I’m accused of not being patriotic. The reason our forefathers came to the New World was to seek a place in which they could build a democracy that allowed people the right to criticize the government, the country’s leaders, and your next-door neighbor without fear of persecution because your views don’t match. A country that starts turning on its own people when they speak out against the injustice around them is called a dictatorship. There are countries in the world where people like Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken or any other talk show pundit would end up dead if they spoke against the politics of their country. It’s my patriotic duty as a citizen of a democracy to speak out when I feel my rights are being infringed upon, when I feel my president is making major mistakes that effect my life as a citizen of this country, when I see my representatives not representing the things I feel strongly about. Patriotism is having a voice, not the just act of performing symbolic gestures of allegiance. If you feel that patriotism is shutting people up with whom you don’t agree–taking away the rights granted to them in the First Amendment–then putting your hand over your heart during the Pledge or the singing of the National Anthem, I contend, is a gesture devoid of meaning. You mine as well stick your middle finger up at the flag because you don’t believe in the principles of freedom on which this country was founded.

I know it’s annoying and sometimes aggravating to listen to people whose opinions are so radically different than your own. I have a lot of trouble sitting still and biting my tongue when fundamentalist Christians or racists or chauvinistic men are trying to push their views on me. I generally do not play well with racists, bigots, fundamentalists, or chauvinists very much and I chose to spend my time with more open-minded individuals. Would I prefer that everyone think more like me? Probably–wouldn’t we all? However, I support the right that allows these people to speak their mind, even when I think they are abhorrently wrong in their views, because in this country everyone has a voice, not just the majority or the political party in power. It’s patriotic for you to appreciate this principle and love our country because we have the right to speak our minds here. Thank the founding fathers that you can criticize your leaders and wake up the next morning in your own bed with your head still firmly attached to your neck.

As for gestures of allegiance, I don’t put much stock in them myself. People go to church and perform many ritualistic gestures that are meant to symbolize love, peace, and respect for their fellow man; then, in the rat race of leaving the church parking lot, they cut each other off and utter swear words under their breath. You can flagellate and gesture and posture all you want in public, but if you don’t really understand the reason behind your ritual, then you’ve totally stripped the meaning from your actions.

Some of us are not real gesture-type of people. I chose to show my respect for something silently. Performing rituals always makes me a little uncomfortable; it demands a seriousness that my mind just doesn’t come to easily. I have always felt there’s nothing I cling to so seriously that I can’t laugh at myself about it every once in awhile. I’m prone to giggling in church and silently mocking commencement speeches or my school’s Alma mater because the high-breasted stuffiness of certain rituals just doesn’t befit my view of life. So when asked to rise for the National Anthem, the best I can do to maintain the sacredness of the ritual is to stand at attention with my hands behind my back. If I’m wearing a baseball cap (which is rarely, as I’m not a hat-type person either), I remove it. I smile slightly when we come to the line I replace with the words, “…perils of Mars.”

Every once in awhile, I use this time to contemplate the flag and its many stars representing the fifty states that comprise our great union. I try to remember the wars that were fought to gain the independence I love and respect as well as the great Civil War which put an end to the tyranny of slavery. However, being a humanitarian, I can’t help but think also of the things our country does wrong every day in the larger world–the people we tromp on in our self-righteous quest to impose our will on every one else, the countries whose genocides we have the power to possibly stop but don’t because there are no economic interests, the other democratic countries with whom we often refuse to work with because we’re too conceited about our power to think we should “lower” ourselves to work with them. I can’t help but feel like I’m a cell on the big bully in the international playground. Having been a victim of bullies in grade school, I can’t help but feel bad for and ashamed of our behavior in the international playground.

You can love something, but still see its flaws. When you realize see flaws within yourself, you can work to correct them. My concern for the flaws of the country don’t make me unpatriotic; on the contrary, my desire to work on the flaws and improve them make me the very definition of patriotic. I think our country has the potential for an enlightened greatness. I envision a country that truly works globally (i.e., with other democratic countries) to put an end to war, strife, genocide, racial inequality, and religious persecution. It’s our job, as a wealthy nation, to not bully other countries, but provide aid and assist new democracies, not through war, but through diplomatic processes. We can work together to help slow down global warming (or “climate change,” as is the new buzz term). We’ve got to stop letting our differences divide us. In the end, we’re all human and we all suffer the same fate. As my favorite radio psychologist says, “None of us is getting out of here alive.” Let’s make this the best place for all to live, allowing for freedom of expression, religion, and opinion–globally and not just in the United States of America.

I uphold the ideals of our founding fathers. That’s patriotism to me. I don’t need to show it through empty, symbolic gestures of allegiance. I know where my heart lies. And, to be honest, I would not abandon my country because I believe in the idealism on which it was founded and I want to work to make it more stable reality.

If you are the type of person hung up on gestures–if these gestures do indeed make you feel patroitic–then I would simply ask that you understand why you are making these gestures and what these gestures represent to you. Go re-read the Constitution, word for word, and really absorb what each of those words mean. Then, take what you have learned and follow it up with meaningful action.

Canceling credit cards

I have about five VISA cards. Yes, I know. It’s a sickness. I love getting free stuff from those points programs they run. I don’t carry a balance on any of my credit cards–I always pay everything off at the end of the month–so I’ve got control over my consumerism. Lately, though, a bunch of my credit cards have all become swallowed by Chase. Not to mention the fact that Chase just bought out my mortgage from my original company. I’m a little nervous about Chase knowing my spending habits along with how much I owe on my mortgage. One bank shouldn’t have so much power over me. So I decided that I’m going to get rid of some of my Chase-backed credit cards. What does one girl need with five VISA cards anyway? (I don’t even use them all at once.)

Evidently, closing a credit card is becoming even harder to do. It used to be they’d just ask you why you were closing it and comment depressingly that they are sorry to lose your business. Maybe they’d try to get you to reconsider, but a firm “No thanks” usually smacked them down. Not anymore.

I thought I’d share the dialog that ensued as I tried to close my Chase Priority Club (Holiday Inn) card. I do not exaggerate, this is literally how it went down.

CHASE REP: Hello, my name is [insert name]. To whom am I
MG states name as it appears on the card.
CHASE REP: How can we help you today ma’am? [Please shoot me, he called me “ma’am.”]
MG: I’d like to close this credit card.
CHASE REP: We’re so sorry to hear that. [Who is this amorphous “we”? Are they all connected in one great group mind, like the Borg??] Can you tell me why you want to close this account today?
MG: I just have too many credit cards right now and I want to to pare it down a bit.
CHASE REP: Is there any way we can change your mind about closing your Priority Club credit card with us?
MG: No, I need to get rid of a few credit cards.
CHASE REP: We have a great balance transfer rate right now, for a limited time, where you can get 5% on all transferred balances from other cards.
MG: I don’t have any balances to transfer.
CHASE REP: Well, perhaps you would like another reward points program? Is this Priority Club rewards not useful to you?
MG: No, it is not useful to me at this time. It is the least useful credit card points program I have. That’s why I’m choosing to get rid of it. [Okay, my mistake.]
CHASE REP: Well, we have other rewards programs. Perhaps an airline rewards would be more useful to you?
MG: No, not at this time, thanks. I have about four other credit cards with Chase so you are not losing my business.
CHASE REP: We could upgrade you to a shopping points program or a gas points program…?
MG: No, that’s okay. I want to close this credit card now.
CHASE REP: Is there any rewards points program we could offer you today so that you don’t close this credit card? We can upgrade your card to any program you desire. Tell us what would be useful; we undoubtedly can find a rewards program for you that will fit your needs.
MG, smoke coming out of her ears, but too polite to start screaming at anyone. She really wants to say, “I would like a program where I can cancel my frakking credit card by using a touch tone phone instead of talking to a representative who is trying to earn himself a sweet commission to get me to continue using a credit card I don’t need. This is why you guys keep raising my credit limit; you think I am going to be enticed to go on a twenty-five thousand dollar spending spree [Yes, I had a credit card with that limit once.] one day after years of only buying what I could actually afford to spend. But I’ve got you guys beat. I’ll never do that. And you hate me for it. You want to trap me into your web of consumerism so that I’m paying your monthly fees instead of milking freebies from your stupid rewards points programs.”
Instead, MG replies: NO. There’s NOTHING you can offer me. I want to close this card now.
CHASE REP, very sad and clearly exasperated: Okay, I’ve put the request through to close the account. Please tear up the card immediately. Account closures will post at the next business day. Any amounts remaining on the card will be billed to you in a final statement. [Exaggerated pause.] Is there anything else I can do for you this evening?
MG: NO! Thanks.
CHASE REP: Then have a good evening. [Somehow, I feel he wasn’t that sincere with his goodbye.]

I swear, it’s easier taking candy from a child and listening to him/her scream at me for the next hour… They are really pushing hard these days for you to hang on to your credit card. I sure as heck hope my American Express card doesn’t give me this much grief when I call to cancel it. I’m kind of pissed at Amex because I’ve had an Optima card with them since 1999 and have racked in over twenty-three thousand points, which I thought I’d be able to transfer easily to my Frontier Airlines or Continental frequent flier card. Those card carriers with the yearly fee can easily do this and it only costs 15,000 points for a round trip ticket on Frontier. So, last Saturday, I was trying to book a trip to Denver for skiing at the end of February and, it turns out, because my card is an Optima (ie, I don’t pay a yearly fee), they won’t transfer points to a frequent flier card, the bastards.

Fortunately, I managed to get around this by booking my trip through Amex’s travel planner and using the “pay with points” option. However, it turns out when you’re an Optima user, it costs 30 thousand points for a round trip ticket on Frontier. I was able to apply all my points for a rebate against the trip; ultimately, I only ended up paying $56 for the ticket. Still, I had to pay when I actually would have had the ticket for free (with bogus processing fees, of course) and I would have had about 5,000 points left to buy a magazine subscription or something. Needless to say, I decided I’m no longer happy with my Amex Optima card and I’m going to cancel it after the next statement. Treat me crappy and you go! (Who really wins with these points programs anyway? Seems they always find a way to screw you anyhow.)

Now, I only have to get rid of one more of my Chase credit cards. I think one credit card with the Evil Empire of Chase is good enough. It’s going to hurt, though, because either my Borders card or my Amazon.com card has got to go. I’ll probably keep my Borders credit card since it gives me better returns in $5 gift certificates. I think I should opt for a gas card of some kind. I can’t believe how much I’ve been paying in gas lately. I filled up last Thursday and I’m already near empty again. I have an Acura RSX that gets 35 mpg with a 13.5 gallon tank. A fill-up is costing me between $30 and $39 these days.

A local grocery store, Giant Eagle, gives you rebates in gas at their special gas station (GetGo) which accumulate based on your purchases. They also sell gift certificates so people play the system by buying gift certificates to the stores at which they need to actually shop (ie, The Home Depot) before going there. I’m not too good at remembering to do this–it seems like too much of a hassle and planning in your shopping. Unfortunately, the money rebates also have an expiration, so you have to use them up even if you have only accumulated $0.10/gallon. The best I’ve managed to get, which was during Christmas time when I was buying gift certificates, was $0.50/gallon. Unfortunately, it was during a high gas price moment when I used it (since the rebeat was also close to expiring), so I still ended up paying $2.50/gallon.

Anyway, I obviously can’t buy enough Giant Eagle groceries or gift certificates to get enough points for GetGo to cover my gas expenditures. Driving 35 miles each way to work (from Stow to Mayfield Heights) is really not helping. I miss the days of my 15 mile/half-hour drive to Twinsburg… If it were summer, I could ride my hybrid to the stores and stuff locally. I hate spending money on gas.

It’s raining babies… hallelujah?

An epidemic is stirring in the thirty-something crowd in which I have socialized my entire life: babies. One of these alien creatures are set to burst forth chaotically (and with much pain) into the world from five of my girlfriends and/or family members. Amidst all the baby shower invitations, I struggle to understand this human urge to procreate. I have not had this urge since I was too young and too stupid to understand what being a parent was all about, back in the days when my younger cousins clung to me like I was some sort of sweet goddess of fun and play-time. I used to love the attention and I adored my younger cousins. Everyone thought I’d grow up to have a bunch of kids. I used to say I wanted eight, just like Grandma H (I idolized my grandma a bit and wanted to do things she had done).

But then I became a teenager and the reality of what parenthood entailed hit me full-force. Pregnancy meant unfulfilled desires and dreams, a sudden end to freedom and childhood. Since that time, I’ve feared pregnancy like the plague. While I am sure this is the right message for a teenager to have had, I clung to it tightly even when I was married. I didn’t even really feel the urge to procreate with the man I’ve loved above all others.

I’ve recently discovered that I identify with Miranda on Sex and the City. She’s the tomboy lawyer who pretty much hates everything cute–babies, weddings, stereotypical femininity. Maybe my views are not as strong as hers, but often while watching this show in re-run, I feel like, “Wow! I’m so there!” In exaggerating her toughness a bit, the writers of this show seemed to imply to its largely female audience that it’s okay to be uncomfortable by all of the traditional female gender roles.

Unfortunately, she too had a baby. On accident from a one-night stand with her ex (for shame! this is my nightmare!). She was going to have an abortion, but when she was getting prepped for the procedure, she decided she couldn’t go through with it. Which I suppose implies that even tough girls have a maternal instinct (though I’ve tried to reject any implication that I have one for years). I guess I can’t blame the writers for this move entirely. Though I’ve said for years that I would get an abortion if I ever got pregnant, I’m not sure how easy it would be for me go through with it if I actually got pregnant. I guess that’s why I’m so pedantic about taking my birth control pill. I don’t want to ever have to make the choice.

Pregnancy for me has always been a gripping fear. Even when I was married. Yeah, we talked about having kids, which I suppose is just something you do when you’re part of a couple. I know my husband wanted to have kids, but the thought always made bile rise at the back of my throat. He would have liked to have started right away; I bought myself some time by saying that I was not even going to think about kids until I was thirty. I wanted to live out the rest of my twenties child-free because in my mind the twenties were supposed to be carefree and fun. Of course, in my case, the latter half of my twenties turned out to be a trip through depression and grief, so they weren’t nearly as fun as I imagined they’d be.

The day I turned thirty, I remembered this deal I’d made with Mike. I guess I thought I’d feel a lot older at thirty than I did. I still didn’t feel this biological “urge” to have children. Some point out I might have felt differently if Mike had lived and we had those four years of marriage together. I don’t know, though. Even when Mike and I talked speculatively about children, I always felt a little bit of panic. I’m glad now that we didn’t have any kids because it would have been excruciatingly hard to have raised them–even one child–after his death. Most days, I could barely keep myself alive.

The only convincing thing for me about having kids with him was that Mike wanted to be a stay-at-home dad, allowing me to continue working as the “bread-winner” of the family. I knew I just didn’t want to be bothered with the day-to-day care and insanity of motherhood. I also have this fear of having to rely completely on the financial support of someone else. I don’t want to give up financial independence, as it provides something for my husband to hang over my head. All too often, I’ve heard couples with kids arguing where the husband shouted, “I’m the one bringing in the money!”

Reliance is not easy for me. I’ve learned that only I can rely on myself always. That’s the mantra that pulls me through some of the toughest struggles in my life, especially when I feel friends have abandoned me or are unable to help. Actually, this is probably the truest statement of life. You can’t expect anyone to rescue you or save you–you have to heal yourself and support yourself.

My husband used to make me try to do trust falls with him. They do these exercises at summer camps sometimes to promote teamwork. In a trust fall, you cross your arms in front of yourself (so that you can’t use them to grab at things) and you lean back until you reach the point where you lose control over your balance and gravity takes over. Your partner, standing behind you, is supposed to be there to catch you. The point of the exercise is that you trust your partner enough that you are able to let yourself fall, risking potential injury, without attempting to right yourself. I was never able to do it. Not even with Mike. Which also explains why I was never able to rappel with him. I couldn’t even trust my life to him when he was on belay. I don’t believe in, nor do I have the ability to, put my life in someone else’s hands. They can’t possibly love me and cherish my life as I do.

I guess that makes me a control freak, which also makes for bad parenting. I know too well of the tendencies within me that want to make everyone do everything my way. The biggest problem I had growing up as someone else’s child was dealing with this same sort of control being–or I felt it was–exerted on me. I always tried to, albeit secretly, find ways to buck the system just to buck the system (ie, why I began smoking). I want to think that if I had kids I would take a very freeing philosophy with them. I would allow my child develop into what he/she wanted to be and I wouldn’t apply strict rules. It’s just a lot of work to raise a child. I also don’t think I could ever tell a child not to do something I’ve done. I’d feel like a hypocrite. I hate people who say one thing but do another. I would hate myself for doing these things. I just don’t know how realistic it is for me to actually raise a child in the “freeing” philosophy I imagine or to not occasionally be a hypocrite.

I’m also convinced that the sure way to kill a really great marriage is to have kids. After you have kids, the romance is gone–the spontaneity, the ability to travel at whim, the care for one another, the great sex. It seems like your entire world gets centered around the kids and their doings, and you ultimately lose your attention to your spouse. I can’t think of anything as more unromantic than a soccer mom, carting all her kids to soccer games in her matching sweat-pant outfit, screaming on the sidelines like a lunatic for her little Johnny or Julie whom she thinks is the best kid on the whole team even though there are fifteen other equally as competent kids. If I woke up and found myself in that life, I’d want to die. Something of it reminds me too much of those days when I was a kid on the soccer fields, dreaming of a life outside of Brunswick, kicking down the walls and getting out. I would feel trapped.

Along the same lines, I remember this one day I was driving the Best Friend and her kids somewhere. We had to stop to return a video at a store just down the street from her house. Her kids were in the back seat–quite young, probably 2 and 3 years old–and they were both crying at the top of their lungs. She ran into the store to return the video, leaving me alone for just a minute with these howling banshees. It was the longest minute of my life. Now, mind you, I love her kids. I’ve always prided myself in my relationship with them, even though at some point in my life I was extremely upset that she was having kids because our relationship with each other would forever change. I forced myself to act excited about both their births, even though a little piece of me was mourning that our childhood together was over. However, that day in the car, as I sat there watching rain pelt my windshield and the window wipers’ losing battle to swipe it all away, I prayed that the birth control pill would never fail me. I thought, Life can’t be any worse than this moment.

I feel like a horrible person for these thoughts. I know a lot of people really enjoy parenthood. I do enjoy being around kids on some level (though, eventually, I get bored with them because I seem to enjoy adult conversation more). I think I feel a huge disconnect with them that I didn’t have when I was a kid, all those years ago, arranging my little cousins into groups that performed Christmas plays in front of the aunts, uncles, and Grandma H. Somewhere along the path of my life, I forgot how to be with kids, how to speak their language, how to understand them. Probably when I actually stopped being a kid myself.

It’s okay, though. I don’t really care about the disconnect so much. It only seems to come up when people point out to me that they’re surprised that I don’t want kids because they remember all too well how I was with the little cousins. I think you can’t really judge how I was with little cousins; after all, they always say you don’t love any kids like you love your own. Maybe simply because I was related to the kids it was easier to like them, and easier for me to lead them. As it turns out, I was horrible with other people’s kids. I failed miserably in my first real field experience as an Elementary Education major in college. I think that experience was the last nail in the coffin that sealed my fate forever with my opinion of children. I learned that not all kids just naturally like me or are inclined to follow me, as was implied by the relatives’ excited chattering about my so-called talents with kids.

It’s not just my bad experiences as a would-be teacher that make me not want to have any children, nor is it all about my fears of being a controlling mother. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked at my life and I’ve enjoyed the freedoms I have. I like that I can go anywhere I want to go, whenever I want to go, at moment’s notice. I like thinking big thoughts and reading books and having time to blog like this. I like that I can get up in the morning and lazily read or watch TV before doing anything else without having to attend to the needs of dependent beings (other than my cats). I enjoy volunteering, using my talents to help other people and other organizations I care about. I feel no strong urge to procreate. I feel that if I never had kids, at the end of my life, I’d feel just as fulfilled as those who did decide to have kids. We all have our own paths to fulfillment. While those who have kids can’t understand how I would feel just as fulfilled, I don’t understand how those who have kids can feel fulfilled with what to me feels like a death sentence. (And I’m not saying that kids are a death sentence to everyone; I’m saying they would be for me.)

I have to admit that it makes me a little sad as I watch each one of my friends chose the family life, but only for the selfish reasons stated above, which have more to do with me than it does to them. I would always expect my friends to do whatever it is that makes them happy. When I see them happy, I am happy. Without trying too sound too much like a martyr, I have chosen the path that fewer people take and it is a lonelier one. I just want people to know that I’m happy with the way I am, with the path I have chosen. I am sure, eventually, I will be able to find a group of people to hang out with who have chosen similar paths, or whose children are grown.

I know everything is not as bad as I think. I know my friends will still find time to hang out with me amidst their chaotic family lives. Nothing will be the same anymore, and as you know, I fear change. I always make it through all right. It’s just hard to remember that as you are standing at the top of the roller coaster’s hill, looking down at the dropping track below–the hill always looks steeper and scarier from the top.

I aspire to be a cool aunt. Right now, my ten year-old godson seems to think I’m cool: he’s been telling me that he’s from the “other” side of Mars (is he the Mars Godson?). My best friend’s kids always seem excited to see me, even though I always think they’ll forget who I am now that they live in Florida. So I must have some influence on children. I like having an ancillary role. I don’t have to place any discipline or worry about how to raise them into good people or pay for their college education. I feel maybe I can be somewhat of an influence on their lives, if only as someone interesting who occasionally takes them out somewhere fun. I don’t know. That’s all I aspire to be–someone’s cool aunt. Even if it is a child to whom I’m not an aunt by blood (such as Best Friend’s kids). Cool Aunt Mars Girl. I like that.

In for another high-mileage cycling season!

Well, folks, I did it. I signed up for TOSRV (Tour of the Scioto River Valley). I don’t know if I am going to hate myself for this, or thank the heavens that I participated in the grandest, most fun ride of my lifetime. I’ve never done back-to-back centuries like this before. Each year, I do 100 miles for the first day of the MS 150, but I’ve never done the second day. I probably could have this year. I remember getting to the end of the 70 miles on the second day, thinking, “I’m not tired enough.” I was tired. But not enough, you see. I’m used to the days where the 75-mile first day killed me and I never completed the second. Now, 60-75 miles is just enough for a good day’s ride; 100 is usually still grueling. So, last year, I kicked myself for not doing the 100-mile route the second day. It was evidently too easy for me to complete the ride with just the 70-mile route the second day.

Now, before you think I’m a lunatic, I’d like to point out that the Northwest Ohio MS 150 is completely and utterly FLAT. The only obstacle to great speed and success is the wind. And the wind is certainly nothing to take casually. Without trees to obstruct its course, the wind can be quite a challenge, not to mention a blow to your ego. But because my legs are not dealing with hills, it’s a lot easier to moderate my pain enough over 100 miles. I will point out that though I only did the 50-mile route both days, the Roscoe Ramble was quite a challenge for me–almost moreso than the 100-miles of Handcock Horizontal and the first day of the MS 150.

They tell me that TOSRV is pretty flat, though not quite as flat as Toledo. There are some hills at the end, but my ABC buddies tell me that if I can handle the hills I’ve been taking in the Valley, I’ll be fine. From what I gather from the word-of-mouth of past participants, my two top challenges will be:

1) Out of shape, lack of conditioning. TOSRV takes place in May, which is the very edge of the beginning of Ohio’s cycling season. I have two months to try to get the recommended 400 miles in under my belt, plus at least one 75-mile ride near the day of the event, to get myself in the proper shape for the ride. Now, at the peak of summer last year, I was easily completing 500-mile months. But this is Ohio. The first day I rode in 2007 was March 21st (the day before my birthday, as I keep telling you). Then another cold spell came through because, according to my attendance records, I ended up at the gym a few times in April. My riding in April was sporadic. I may have had about 200 miles by the time TOSRV rolled around last year (it was the weekend before I went to Italy).

2) The weather. This, as you may have guessed, is a toss up in Ohio. Last year, it was GORGEOUS — in the sixties and sunny all weekend. Most of the cyclists I know say that was the best weather that they had in years for this ride. I hear it was windy at times, but I think that’s pretty much a bet for spring in Ohio. When you aren’t by a river or a lake in Ohio, it seems the tree population is sparse.

One of the qualities TOSRV is most known for is the crappy weather. One of the people I talked to told me that he wouldn’t consider me as a proper completer of TOSRV if the weather was great the first year I did it. If the conditions are going to be less than ideal, then I’ll take cold over rain. I really hate rain. (My saying this, of course, is going to cause this to be the rainiest TOSRV ever, I just feel it!)

Well, I hope it turns out to be a good use of $47 (registration fee) for me. I hope by doing this, I earn my “bad-ass” badget and the right to ride amongst the toughest of all the cycling nuts in Ohio. If not, I’m blaming it all on Michael (multiple-year completer of TOSRV). He is the one who deviously put the bug in my ear about this ride and kept talking about it until I slowly stopped denying that I would ever want to do it and started to accept the idea as my own, as though he’d never told me about the ride in the first place. Now I’m the one saying to him, “Hey, you’re doing TOSRV, right?”

So. If it’s 30 degrees and snowing (which is also possible in Ohio) and I’m pedaling my frozen butt off at mile 83 of the first day, in pain and wet, you can bet I’ll be cursing Michael out in my head.

Though, I did buy a jersey. So maybe I can just wear it and say I did it.

PS: My rider number (which I assume is my bib number) is 168. I’m told it is a status symbol of how early I signed up for the ride. I’m a little depressed that I didn’t make it into the top ten. I’d been checking all day yesterday for the online registration to become available. It was only at the very end of the day–between work and a meeting I had from 7-9pm–that the registration opened up. Keeping in mind that I don’t know exactly what time the registration became available, in just the first few hours, 167 people managed to register already for the ride. I feel a lot less guilty about my hourly check of the website throughout the day; apparently, there are people even geekier (or just as geeky) me.

More bitching about new name of Indians’ ballpark

Marketing people suck. I’d like to get my hands on the publicity genius who thought that this was a great new symbol for Progressive Park–or “Regressive Park” as Diane has been calling it. C’mon… surely you could have made a cooler symbol…? This looks so cheesy and half-assed. I’m a technical writer; I know the importance of making graphics presentable, not an eyesore. Bleh. They spent whatever million dollars to buy the name for the stadium, the least they could have done is spent a little extra cash on signage that doesn’t look like a marketing major’s midnight miracle. At least the old logo for the Jake was in the red, white, and dark blue color of the Indians.

What’s with the silver colored bats? In the major leagues, you use wooden bats. These look aluminum. I suppose it’s supposed to inspire a sense of flashy, futuristic newness to us. Look how small the Indians logo is at the bottom. It says to me, “Hey, this is PROGRESSIVE PARK. We’re a big auto insurance company in Cleveland [which recently laid off several people]. Oh, yeah, and that major league team–the Cleveland Indians, I think they are called–also play here.”

Why don’t the buy the naming rights for the team? We can call them the Progressive Indians. Or the Cleveland Progressives. Or how about the Progressive Insurance Agents?

How many insurance ads are we going to be forced to hear during the game? What are they going to do with the Farmers Insurance foul ball post? So many unanswered questions…

I found this picture on the Indians’ website… Some corporate Progressive dork thought it would be cute to have an Indians’ shirt made with PROGRESSIVE across the back (oh, hell, maybe they should put an ad right on all the uniforms). The thing that ticks me off about this photo is that they used my dear Casey Blake’s number! Oh, no, Mr. Progressive Man, you don’t go soiling my Casey Blake’s number with your Progressive advertisement, even for a “cute” photo op. That’s just wrong. You’ve incurred the wrath of Blake’s Babes. Some one’s going to pay.

Progressive Big Wig and Indians’ President Paul Dolan
disgrace my Casey Blake’s number.

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Mars Girl and Sarah in the Space Needle (Seattle)
circa Sept. 2006

Today is my pen pal Sarah’s birthday. And when I say pen pal, I literally mean the pen. In the days when Sarah and I began corresponding–at the tumultuous age of 12–owning a computer was still a luxury and the only thing I knew about the nebulous concept of a community online board was what I saw in the movie War Games (Joshua: Shall we play a game?). All I had for typing was a word processor (remember those things, anyone?). We had one abiding passion: John Lennon and the Beatles. We addressed each other with handles, which was the pen-palling fad of the day. I was Sexy Sadie; she, Paperback Writer.

Unlike the many pen pals I had at that time (over twenty, believe it or not), my relationship with Sarah has withstood the test of time. Her letters were always my favorite. As geeks on the fringe throughout our school years, I think we shared a common bond and we were able to cope with the difficulties of being unpopular by pouring our hearts out on paper. It was safe because we never saw each other face-to-face. It was like writing in a diary, but knowing that someone else was reading who couldn’t use the information against you. We always seemed to have a lot to talk about–our letters were often twenty hand-written pages long!

In middle school, I wrote Sarah the following poem which was named simply after her. (Please remember that I was in like eighth grade when I wrote this!)

Every day I wait for the mail,
Hoping for a letter from my pal,
And if it arrives, I’m filled with delight,
But if it doesn’t, I’m sad and blight.

She’s interesting, kind, and sweet,
The type of person one would love to meet.
Her letters are long and very deep
Her insights are much like mine. [<–hey, where did the rhyme go?]

And in conclusion I’d like to say
That a letter from my pal brightens my day.

In fact, throughout the years, her letters have brightened my day. Even in this age of e-mail, Sarah and I have continued to communicate the “old fashioned” way because we relish the personal experience of having a physical letter to touch and feel. We do communicate by e-mail, but usually just for quick messages. In fact, you may have seen her comments posted on this blog, for she’s one of my regular readers.

Twenty years is a long time for people to maintain a relationship of any kind. Somehow we’ve done it, through marriages, divorce, widowhood, and one slight tiff. In all these years, we’ve never run out of things to talk about. Even though we’ve changed a lot, it still seems we have a lot of common interests — books, movies, skiing, our tree-hugging liberal tendencies.

In 2007, Sarah and her husband Shawn became the proud parents to a son they named Max. Though I know “nothing about raising no babies,” I’m excited reading about Sarah’s enthusiasm for her new life. It’s wonderful that we can now share the diversity of each other’s experiences, appreciating in each other the things that make us unique individuals. I think that both of us have leveled off from our many turbulent years and are finally finding a comfort within our own skins.

Sarah, Paperback Writer, I count you as one of my good friends and I’m so glad that I found your name in that friendship book so many years ago. Happy Birthday! Our idol, John Lennon, sang that life begins at 40; for you, I hope it begins that way at 33 (oops — hope you aren’t offended that I blasted your age to the world! =). So, here’s to the next twenty years which will probably be a lot different than the first twenty…

Corporate America rears its ugly advertising head on another defenseless public arena

Today I had to drag my tired ass grudgingly out of bed for work only to hear the news on my radio alarm clock announce that Progressive insurance has bought the naming rights to Jacobs Field, the ballpark of the Cleveland Indians. We Clevelanders knew for months that the contract for the naming rights was up and that it would not be renewed, but we had hoped that the company acquiring the rights would be kind and keep the Jacobs Field name out of a sense of tradition. We’ve recently had to readjust our lingo when the home of our basketball team, the Cavs, changed from Gund Arena to QuickenLoans Arena. In this day and age, it’s disgusting that every public venue has to come with an advertisement for some local company.

Diane said it best when she e-mailed the following to Progressive (and then proceeded to e-mail the same comment to me):

I just wanted to say that, as a life-long Clevelander and Cleveland Indians fan that I am DISGUSTED by the fact that Progressive has purchased the naming rights of Jacobs Field and is changing the name to “Progressive Field.” The name Jacobs Field honored a family that did a lot not just for baseball in Cleveland but also for the town in general, and the name of the ballpark was a fitting, sentimental tribute to this fact. Baseball has always been the metaphor for American life. Given the recent steroid scandals, I guess that it’s only fitting to corrupt the spirit of the sport even more by turning our ballpark that has evoked so many emotions – good and bad – from a cherished memorial to a Cleveland family into nothing more than a giant advertisement for your company. If Progressive had done something such as kept the name to “Jacobs Field at Progressive Park,” that would have been more in keeping with the spirit of baseball and Cleveland in general. But I guess that’s just not the corporate way.

I can’t say it any better than that. It’s the new capitalist American method of advertisement. And I’m getting tired of it. I’m pretty sure that in the future everything’s going to come with an advertisement attached. Here’s some samples of what’s to come:

This presidential election brought to you by DIEBOLD.

Welcome to the 2012 Depends Iowa caucus.

Christmas Mass brought to you by Yankee Candle. When you’re buying candles for your Advent wreath, be sure you use YANKEE CANDLES for a fresh scent to your religious experience.

This Passion Play brought to you by Home Depot. When the Romans crucify thieves or the Messiah, they always buy their lumber at Home Depot.

Every flush of this public toilet brought to you by Tidy Bowl.

The University of Goodyear at Akron.

The New Church of Rockwell Automation

Perhaps I should name my house The Emhoff Floorcovering Abode since my dad spends so much time over there working on it. That way he can ring in some more business, not just help his daughter out.

Pulllease. This smacks of the commercialism accoladed (and warned about) in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

I think I will be adding Progressive insurance to my boycott list…

Ode on a Christmas Tree

I’m really getting soft in my old age. First, I discovered about five years ago that fishing is no longer a pleasure because I feel bad about killing the fish. Now, after taking down my Christmas tree, I feel a pang of sadness and guilt about throwing out my living Christmas Tree. It’s not my fault, I try to assure myself, had I not brought it home, it would have still died. But, looking at it standing sadly with its branches again tucked upwards in the cold beside my garbage coral outside, the guilt still grips my heart. Poor tree.

It was such a glorious tree. We picked the perfect one with those long, pretty needles. For four weeks, it graced my living room with shiny brightness as the LED lights sparkled and the ornaments reflected the glow. It brought the Spirit of Christmas into my house, quickening my pulse whenever the lights were on (I had the lights set to a timer). It looked best with the presents I was giving my loved ones sitting beneath it. Though, next year, when watering the tree, I must remember to be careful the water doesn’t spill out the side of the stand, for I ruined Jeff and Diane’s gifts–both books–this way (but was fortunately able to replace them thanks to amazon.com).

I wanted to keep it up all year, but, alas, I knew that it must come down. I keep thinking that I need to be completely ecological and instead of throwing the tree away, I should chop it up for fire wood for use in my fire pit. I haven’t had a fire out back all year, though, since my house has been under extensive remodel and I therefore have not wanted to have any parties. Unfortunately, too, I have an overabundance of fire wood left over from the pine trees removed from my front yard and the old baseboards my dad removed during the remodeling.

I can’t let the poor tree be sent to clutter a landfill. That’s no thanks for the holiday cheer it brought me. Maybe I should plant it somewhere. I suspect that it’s already too dead for that.

I’m getting so soft and weak in my old age, I say. To feel the pain of a dying tree. Hhrumph.

Thank you, little Christmas tree, humbling my home with your brilliant beauty… May you rest in peace.