Archive for September, 2008

Dance Fever

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Last Saturday night, a friend invited us to join him at the monthly meeting of the Redwood Empire Swing Dance Club. The people who are members of the club go to the meeting to dance, but he assured us that we could attend as spectators. And that’s a good thing because up to now, our only experience with any kind of ballroom dancing has been sitting on the couch watching “Dancing with the Stars.” Going for the purpose of watching was definitely a plus; we could get a taste of what the dancing was all about and not have to leave the security of our chairs.

Our friend has been encouraging us to give West Coast Swing dancing a spin because he says it’s a great way to reduce stress and leave the problems of work behind for an hour or two. But we had resisted going even just to watch ““ we were either too tired, too busy, or pleaded that the two of us are too left-footed ““ but when we found out the dance was being held in town, we had no more excuses not to peel our noses from the grindstone and go.

I guess my last experience with a “social dance” was at sorority events in college. My recollection of what went on at those is a little hazy due to the combination of beer, smoke, and dimmed lights. So that was my expectation when we walked into the Veterans Memorial Building. But the atmosphere at the Swing Dance Club was just the opposite. The room was well lit (in the electrical sense”¦no alcohol is allowed) and there was a feeling of wholesomeness and energy.

The first thing I noticed was that unlike other dances I have ever been to, all the couples on the dance floor were actually dancing. No one was shuffling around draped on their partner or doing moves from a Pussy Cat Dolls video. The men and women were obviously working on the steps that make up the West Coast Swing which involves a lot of footwork and smooth turns; it was fun to watch the couples that were really in synch with one another. And while most everybody had on jeans, some of the women accentuated their moves by wearing blouses that billowed and flowed as they were spun by their partner.

As I started to actually focus in on who was dancing, I was surprised to see such a range of ages. There were teenagers to seniors out on the dance floor. It was really great to see that just being young doesn’t necessarily make you a better dancer; that’s something that certainly can’t be said about many styles of dance ““ think about hip-hop for a minute. But here, it was encouraging to see middle-age types like ourselves look every bit as smooth on the dance floor as many of the youngsters.

As we watched, our friend explained to us that it is expected that you would dance with many different partners during the night, even if you came with someone. That explained the tin of Altoids on every table. Dancing with different people is part of the social graciousness of it; if you’re asked to dance you always say yes. He also told us that some of the more experienced dancers actually take it upon themselves to be ambassadors with the beginner dancers. When a woman is asked to dance, the man takes her hand and leads her to the dance floor. This kind of chivalry almost sounds anachronistic”¦but really nice.

We felt like we had been introduced to a whole new culture and community that we never knew existed. Just because we’re sitting at home on a Saturday night doesn’t mean that everyone else is too.

A Heart Felt Time Together

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

A few weeks ago, my daughters and I were browsing in Knitterly, the local yarn store that is one of our favorite weekend outings, when the girls happened upon a book called Fuzzy Felted Friends. Perhaps because my kids grew up steeped in Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, they have developed an affinity for Japanese design. So when they saw the subtitle of the book, “Kyuuto! = Cute! Japanese Crafts,” they were on it like white on sushi rice.

One flip through the book confirmed the statement on the inside flap, that “Japan is the homeland of all things cute.” I don’t have to look farther than my daughters’ collections of teeny Japanese food, erasers, and stationery and their love of Harajuku and Todidoki designs to know that this must be the truth.

The book is filled with adorable little animals, most not bigger than about two inches, that are crafted through a process called needle felting. It’s done by using raw wool which resembles fat ropes of cotton candy and very sharp, barbed felting needles. You start with a wad of the wool and use the needles to poke and prod the wool until the fibers intertwine and start to take shape.

The absolute cutest projects in the book are the little dogs. This talented designer was able to capture the expressions and stance of each breed in miniature. The Labrador looks eager and the Jack Russell looks playful. And the felted wool gives them a certain fuzziness that totally charming.

So we had to give this craft a try, but we thought we’d start out simple, making what Valerie calls fuzzy balls. Yes, she knows it sounds questionable, but that’s part of the fun of saying it”¦after all, she’s 16. The little balls turn out like woolly marbles and they can be strung together like they have done in the window at Knitterly to make a soft version of a bead curtain. Valerie thought this would be an ideal accessory for her artsy-craftsy room.

We hadn’t really planned to get into it, but one night at about 8:00 when Valerie was tired of doing her homework and I was just plain tired, we flopped down on the floor in the hall. The great thing about making felt balls is that it takes very little preparation and even less skill, you just grab a hunk of wool, roll it into a fluffy ball, put it on a piece of foam to give the needle something to poke into besides your thigh, and start stabbing it. Just watch out for your fingers or else you end up giving yourself acupuncture.

Valerie and I were having fun spearing and stabbing the colored little balls when our wild orange cat, Nigel, showed up on the scene. Apparently, the wool seemed like multi-colored mice that he was determined to poach. Our felting project quickly turned into a game of keep-away from him. We were laughing hysterically watching his pupils get huge just before he was about to pounce, steal a ball, and streak down the hall with it clenched firmly in his mouth.

This doesn’t seem like much of an event ““ sitting on the floor with my daughter doing a craft but it was one of those moments in time that stay with you. More than once in the days that followed, Valerie has said to me, “Wasn’t that so much fun that was when we made fuzzy balls and Nigel was such a bad cat and ran away with them?” Though I have no way of knowing this for sure, I think she’ll remember that evening for the rest of her life. Those times can’t be planned, they just happen. And when they do, it’s something to hold onto.

Birthday Wishes Granted

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I had a great birthday this past weekend. It wasn’t because I of the lavish gifts I received or an expensive night out on the town. It was great because I got exactly what I wanted, which was to be remembered by my friends and family. And that gave my spirit an incredible boost.

Does a person ever outgrow their desire to feel special or honored? I don’t think so. After all, isn’t this what Mother’s Day is about? It is about taking time to say, “You’re important to me and what you do and who you are matters.”

However, while this is the message of Mother’s Day, the celebration of it always feels somewhat forced. Designating the second Sunday in May as the day to honor mothers seems like a creation of the greeting card industry. Going out for Mother’s Day brunch? As a mother, I’d appreciate it more if someone in the house just took it upon themselves to empty the dishwasher or start a load of laundry.

But when my birthday comes around in September, I crave having some fuss made over the day. And this year, I ended the day feeling very satisfied.

Steve set the tone by asking me early in the month what I wanted for my birthday. After a little bit of thought, I told him I wanted to pick out a new purse. I’m sure I would have replaced my slightly ratty purse in the next couple of months even if I hadn’t gotten a new one as a birthday present, but because he knows that celebrating my birthday is important to me, he made a point of letting me know the date was highlighted on his calendar and that it would not pass by unnoticed.

And my daughters gave me handmade cards. I love getting them but not because they have spent hours laboring over them. I enjoy them because they are spontaneous expressions of themselves. Valerie draws silly cat caricatures and Jennifer writes sentiments with puns about aging.

In the past, my 20-year-old son, Ethan, was very willing to take me at my word that celebrating Mother’s Day wasn’t really important to me, but for the first time, he shopped and picked out the ideal birthday gift for his worry-prone mom. I didn’t miss the irony of the calming candles and “Relax and De-stress” CD that he gave me; he’s hoping that will get me off his case about those essays for the college applications ““ but I loved it.

After a day of shopping with my daughters ““ also one of my favorite things to do ““ I came home to several phone messages letting me know that my friends and family were thinking about me on my birthday. All five of us ate dinner together. That Costco Chicken Parmigiana was darn good. And any meal that I don’t have to cook or clean up after feels like a celebration.

What more could I want? A couple of more years like this and I might actually start looking forward to birthdays.

Sarah Palin: At Least She’ll Have Help

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

When I was thinking about what I was going to write about this week, I initially thought about writing about Sarah Palin’s nomination but decided not to because I felt that the internet needs one more blog about her about as much as my sofa needs more cat hair. But if my blog is really just an expression of issues or situations that have been on my mind during the past week, get out the lint roller because like most everyone else in the country, her nomination has stirred me up.
Specifically, the issue about her nomination that has posed a dilemma for me is the fact that she is the mother of a five-month-old baby. When I first saw the photos of the Palins lined up for the photo ops, I saw a young girl holding a baby. What was Sarah Palin’s relationship to the baby? Was he her grandchild? It wasn’t until I got farther into the article that I found out that the baby was Sarah Palin’s youngest son.

My first thought was “How can she possibly be a mother to an infant and run for the vice presidency?” Or put another way, “If the Republicans win, will her youngest child know who his mother is? Because during the four years that she is in office, she certainly won’t have time to be a mother.”

As I’ve thought about this and talked it over with Steve, that may actually not be true. The job of vice-president is actually less demanding than that of governor. The VP is president of the Senate but has no executive responsibilities. How the vice-president functions is really dependent on how the president wants to define his/her duties.

Maybe Ms. Palin sees being the VP as an opportunity to have more flexibility in being a mom so that she can spend more time with her family without the day-to-day responsibility of running a state. Maybe she’s thinking, “The next two months until the election are going to be hell, but if I can just get into office, things will slow down.”

And does the fact that she is not going to be a full-time mother necessarily mean that she can’t still be a loving and bonded mother? Does not working equate to being a good mother? This is one that I have struggled with. I’ve had to come to the conclusion that just because a woman is home with the kids doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s a more loving mom than a mother who works.

It’s obvious that Sarah Palin believes that she can handle the responsibilities of office and be a good mom to a young child. If she didn’t, she would have resigned from her governorship when Trig was born.

I also have to recognize that it’s not me being asked to run for vice president while being a wife and mother of five. Sarah Palin didn’t just leap from the PTA to where she is now. She’s been in training since she was elected to public office in 1992. And she may just be one of those blessed people who has the capacity to manage an amazing amount of responsibilities. Compared to the tight smile of many politicians, she just doesn’t look stressed by the job.

Plus, if the McCain/Palin ticket wins, she’ll have more resources for help than any other working woman in the country; I’ll bet there’s a lot of working moms who would like to trade places with her if she becomes vice president. Because unlike most of them, after a day in the West Wing, she’s not going to go home and start doing laundry and cleaning bathrooms.