Thursday, March 28, 2013

Of Cupcakes & Cookies and Babies & Bathwater

I don't mean to brag, but I make a mean cupcake. And my cookies aren't half-bad either. I actually enjoy baking so I am sometimes pressed into service by family members in need of bake sale items for various organizations and causes.

Last fall, Baby Brother's Ex-Wife asked for donations for The Salvation Army bake sale. I've baked for them before, at BBEW's request, despite my uneasiness with some of the church's teachings and my deep reservations about the local organization's fiscal management. Because of these concerns, I had long since stopped dropping spare change in the Salvation Army's holiday red kettles.

Being the diligent overthinker that I am, I had sometimes wondered if donating my time and homemade buttercream frosting to an organization at odds with many of my own beliefs constituted a kind of hypocrisy--delicious hypocrisy, but hypocrisy, nonetheless.

I reasoned that I wasn't really supporting the church, I was supporting some of my nieces and a nephew, who have all been involved in and enjoyed church activities over the years. Besides, the voice in my head went on as I piped frosting swirls atop dozens of cupcakes, the Salvation Army is more than a church, it is a charitable organization--the local corps runs a food pantry and has an extensive program to provide food and gifts to needy families at the holidays, among many other things.

Surely those positives outweighed any perceived negatives. And, after all, it was just a couple of trays of cupcakes and a plate of cookies--my participation (or lack thereof) would not make a crucial financial difference.

A few weeks after my goodies had been delivered and sold, I was with a resident of the halfway house where I work when we walked past a Salvation Army red kettle bell ringer. The resident mentioned something he had recently read about the Salvation Army's vehement stance against same-sex marriage and about its discrimination against homosexuals who either sought aid or employment from the organization.

That a Christian faith-based organization would be against gay marriage came as no surprise--even the fact that they would prefer not to hire or promote gay men and women seemed to me obvious, if not necessarily acceptable. Believing as strongly as I do in the separation of church and state, I tend to embrace a broad definition of the words "religious freedom." Though it's a bit of a tangled mess in my mind, I could see how the church, being a religious entity, might be permitted an exemption from the fair hiring practices that apply to secular employers.

When it comes to denying aid or (as I discovered in my later reading) making that aid conditional upon a gay couple separating, we're in a whole other area--not only is that morally reprehensible, in my opinion, it's also downright un-Christian. Worse still, was the fact that The Salvation Army had not merely issued a statement against legalizing gay marriage, but was actively campaigning against legalization of gay marriage in the United States and around the world. Have I mentioned my passionate interest in the separation of church and state?

The concept of religious beliefs--Christian or otherwise--as legislation is terrifying to me and I feel it should be terrifying to people of faith as well. If your beliefs can be codified into laws so, too, can any other belief system. It continues to baffle me that most Christians who persist in pursuing religious-based legislation are the same ones who are so deeply appalled at the affects of religious-based governments in the Middle East, for example. The problem is not which religion controls the law, it's that any religion controls the law. Your right to practice your own religion comes from exactly the same place as my right not to practice any religion--to weaken one right is to weaken them both. The concept of separation of church and state, rather than being a threat to our nation is one of the key elements of its success, in my opinion.

I believe that legislation should exist to protect people and property from quantifiable harm--not to forward any particular group's moral teachings. In the case of gay marriage, perhaps you find homosexuality immoral or same-sex relationships icky or "unnatural," but being offended is not the same thing as being harmed. In the case of marriage inequality, it is clear that the measurable, quantifiable harm is being done to couples and individuals who are being denied financial and legal protections that other Americans enjoy.

So, back to those the immediate aftermath of leapfrogging around the internet reading article after article on the subject, I determined that I would not bake another morsel for the Salvation Army church. But, as my initial ire cooled a little, I kept thinking about the fact that, despite an abysmal record in the area of gay rights1, the Salvation Army does make a positive difference in the lives of many, many people. Does the good still outweigh the bad now that I know more about the organization's stance on homosexuality and human rights?

Obviously, no organization is perfect and whenever we give of ourselves or from our pocketbooks to a charity, we may be unknowingly supporting things we would never choose to support. I am curious, my bloggy friends, what sorts of research you do before donating to a given cause? What formula do you use to determine the worthiness of an organization that will benefit (however minimally) from your money or efforts? 

For my part, I've decided the moral cost of donating to an organization which actively works to prevent equality for a segment of society is too high for me. I will respectfully decline the next time BBEW asks for donations for The Salvation Army bake sale and I will explain why. 

I will not, as First Niece2 suggested while she and Hubby and I were mulling all this over, make trays full of cupcakes with gay pride symbols such as rainbow flags for The Salvation Army to sell at their next bake sale. But I can't say I won't be tempted.

1. A.K.A. civil rights for people who happen to be gay.

2. Not one of the nieces involved in The Salvation Army church or activities.

[I welcome dissenting viewpoints regarding issues raised in this post, but please express those viewpoints respectfully so that I may respond respectfully as well. Hate and nastiness will not be tolerated. If you are interested in more information about The Salvation Army's record on this issue, this article is a good place to start.]

Monday, March 25, 2013

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Art of Fielding

The first review I read of Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding was in one of the men's magazines--Esquire or GQ--that I read every month. So positive was this review that it bordered on gushing. Despite this endorsement, I didn't scribble the title down in my To-Read notebook because The Art of Fielding is a book "about" baseball. And I? I am not a baseball fan. I am not a sports fan in general and I am not a baseball fan in particular. I am also not a fan of the genre of fiction (be it books, movies or short stories) that revolves around sports. Too many of these tend to devolve into the minutiae of the sports world itself rather than to be character-driven and too many others of these have plots that hinge on a single all-important game which our protagonist and his team can be counted upon to either win or lose, both outcomes resulting in a generally predictable set of consequences. Granted, the sports arena provides a convenient metaphor for all sorts of things--but because of its convenience, that metaphor has permeated not just fiction but our entire culture to some extent. Forgive the expression, but sports as a metaphor is played out.

So, I was a bit of a tough sell for a "baseball book." It did not go on my list with the first glowing review. Or the second. Or the fifth. But the book kept popping up again and again--it was on several "Best of the Year" lists for 2012 and, finally, it was a "Staff Pick" at the library. I could resist no longer.

The most important thing to know about this "baseball book" is that baseball functions primarily as a framework to bring this group of characters into one another's lives.  The characters are so well drawn and the plot and subplots so engrossing and the pacing so perfect that it would've been a shame to miss the book because of a little baseball.

Henry Skrimshander is a shortstop of almost supernatural abilities who has just finished high school with no plans to attend college when he is recruited to a small Wisconsin college team--the Westish Harpooners--by Westish sophomore and self-appointed baseball scout, Mike Schwartz. Henry's decision to join the Harpooners changes his life and the lives of those around him in unpredictable ways.

The Art of Fielding is a book about ambition and single-sightedness, about competition and sportsmanship, about loyalty and betrayal, about actions and their unintended consequences, about the price of perfection and the ultimate folly of pursuing it. And, yes, it is a book about baseball. Baseball is more than a game in this book--as, to many fans and players, I would imagine, it's more than a game in real life.

Masked Mom's Two-Word Review: Home run.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Trifecta of Bloggy Generosity

It's bloggy awards time again, faithful readers. Two weeks ago, I was honored to receive three bloggy awards from two bloggy friends. Sleepy Joe bestowed upon me both the Authentic Voice award and the Versatile Blogger award and Kathy Collier, a newcomer to these parts, granted me a Liebster Award. My thanks to Kathy and Sleepy Joe.

As anyone who's been around the blogiverse for any amount of time knows, these awards always come with certain rules and conditions. And as anyone who's been around this specific blog for any amount of time knows, I always end up bending some of those rules to the breaking point.

This time, I'm smooshing the awards together a bit. I'm answering Kathy's Liebster questions and plagiarizing an old list of my own questions to pass on to anyone who wants to play along. I'm providing my 7 random facts and 11 random facts concurrently for a total of 11 random facts, for those keeping track in the stands. And, as always, I'm not passing along to individual bloggers, since most of the bloggers in my immediate circle have likely already received these awards in recent weeks, but I would like to invite anyone interested in playing along--especially you lurkers out there--to hop over to Kathy's or Sleepy Joe's and grab the official rules. If you decide to play along, let us know in the comments so we can check out what you come up with.

First, Kathy's questions. I've only recently "met" Kathy. As you'll probably be able to tell from her line of questioning, Kathy's a writer. Follow the link on her blog to check out her YA paranormal romance, The Veil.

1. What would your perfect world look like? Everyone would have enough of the things they truly need and the wisdom to realize enough is enough.

2. How many hours a day do you spend writing? Right now, I spend less than an hour a day. How much time do I spend thinking about writing? Berating myself for not writing more? Wondering whether I'm not writing because life is so complicated or if life feels  so complicated because I'm not writing more? Right around 24 hours a day, I'd imagine.

3. What inspired you to write? I've been writing for almost as long as I can remember--since second or third grade at the latest--so it was less an inspiration from outside myself than a compulsion from within myself, I think.

4. Who do you have to critique or edit your work? Mostly myself, with back up from Google and internet sources for grammar, factual research, etc. Occasionally, when I am undecided between two turns of phrase or struggling with a structural issue, I'll ask advice from Hubby or Daughter-Only. I do often wish I belonged to a regular writer's group--not just for the advice, but for the accountability. Having a First Reader (or Readers) waiting every other Thursday for new pages might be just the nudge I need.

5. Do you have a Muse? Not a Muse in the traditional sense, but a few mascots and props--a favorite pen, a Squidward doll, and, of course, my beloved Thinging Cap.

6. What time do you write, day or night? I think I write better during the day, but between children and full-time employment, it has been a very long time since I've had any kind of writing routine at all. I have been incrementally trying to improve that situation over the last year or so, with some small success.

7. Describe your work area. It's a pretty standard issue small home office area--a cheap desktop computer on a cheap computer desk, the shelves and drawers of which are crammed full with writing guides, files with old work, etc. I do have the luxury of a ledge-style bookshelf that runs around two walls of the room. I need a ladder to fetch books down, but they make great company right where they are.

That's the official work area, but I have to admit that a lot of the real "work" of writing gets done the old-fashioned way with pen and paper on a lap desk in the living room or at a table in a quiet corner of the library or spread out on a blanket at the town park.

8. Who is/are your favorite author(s)? Way too many to name, which seems like a cop-out, I know, but to begin listing individual names would be to reveal far more about the depth of my reading addiction than I am prepared to share here.

9. What have you written so far (published or unpublished, poetry, etc)? Except for some appropriately adolescent poetry and a few angsty teenage short stories I wrote in high school and a few greeting card ideas I sold in my twenties, I have written only non-fiction--primarily essays and opinion pieces. I have about 20 publication credits, mostly in small magazines and newsletters. My "biggest" credits were in Woman's Day, The Writer and The Buffalo News. And, of course, I have been blogging for almost eight years--many of those posts don't count as "real" writing in my eyes, but a couple of them do.

10. What's your favorite color? My stock answer is purple, or shades thereof. But it really depends on the context, I think. I feel very strongly that certain colors are more appropriate for certain things than others. And I also feel very strongly that teal should simply not exist at all.

11. What's your favorite kind of pizza? With the exception of anchovies (the edibility of which is completely open to debate), the more toppings the better--mushrooms, peppers, onions are necessities--everything else is a bonus.

And, now, eleven random facts that I'm reasonably certain I have not revealed on the blog before...

1. For a period of time in the fourth grade, I chewed the ends of my hair. I don't remember now why I started or how I ever stopped.

2. "I can do better" is the thought that keeps me awake at night and the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.

3. I rarely leave the house without a book or magazine and every time I do, I regret it.

4. I am currently involved in a passionate love affair with spinach. We've been meeting a couple of times a week and I still can't get enough. There's seemingly no end to the things that spinach can make better.

5. After months of abstinence, I've recently had a relapse. Not only have I spent an absurd amount of time on the site these past few weeks, I've graduated to contacting county court clerks to request copies of records that aren't available online. I may be too far gone this time to ever come back.

6. The other night at work, I was rushing around like a multi-tasking madwoman panicking a little as my to-do list continued to grow despite my checking items off at a furious pace when I noticed that my thumb felt a little weird--warm and tingly. I didn't remember doing anything to it, but over the course of the next few hours, a deep wrap-around bruise appeared just above my top thumb knuckle, even turning my nail bed a disturbing purply blue. Somehow, without my even noticing, I managed to slam my thumb in something.* I was too busy to take care of myself, too busy to notice or recall a moment in which I did myself bodily harm. There's a metaphor in there somewhere. But I can't spare the time to figure it out.

7. Speaking of metaphors. Best passage I read all week: "After the accident I wasn't swimming, but I wasn't drowning either. Treading water, maybe? Holding my breath and going under, coming back up when I had to. Metaphors fall apart. They always do." ~~Joel Peckham, "Swimming" in The Sun, February 2013.

8. I was five when Baby Brother (who turns 39 today, by the way) was born. For about a week or so after he came home from the hospital, I was utterly convinced he was an elaborate inflatable doll. The scab on his umbilical stump covered the air valve; I was terrified someone would bump it and air would hiss out of him until he was completely deflated.

9. Sometimes I think I should get out more; sometimes I think it's better for everyone that I don't.

10. While trying to log into Facebook on my cell phone, I entered my password incorrectly and received the message: "Facebook is unable to authenticate you." I'm thinking of getting that printed on T-shirts and handing them out to everyone I know.

11. My need to park perfectly has gotten completely out of control--as has my outrage at people whose substandard parking skills make parking perfectly more difficult for me. C'mon, people! Those tidy white and yellow lines are not meant to be merely decorative!

And now, my questions for anyone reading who wishes to play along. If you post your answers, please be sure to let us know in the comments.

1. If time travel were possible, where would you go first? The past? The future? A specific time?

2. If you could claim any existing literary work as your own, what would it be?

3. You come upon a group of extraterrestrials disembarking from their ship in a deserted field. What is your first thought? First action?

4. I once read that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. Which scent most strongly brings back childhood for you?

5. If you could rewrite the ending of a favorite book or movie, which one would it be and why?

6. Speaking of childhood, what food or foods make you wrinkle up your nose even now that you're a grown-up?

7. Who is the friend who's been in your life the longest? How did he or she come into your life?

8. Who has been your greatest teacher (inside the classroom or out)?

9. Do you have or have you ever had a nickname? Love it? Hate it?

10. What would the teaser on the back of your autobiography be?

11. Though you've no doubt been warned, do you nevertheless judge books by their covers?

*Injuring myself without noticing is anything but a rare occurrence. I am frequently covered in angry-looking bruises of all shapes and sizes that I have no memory of getting. At dinner one night at the halfway house, one of the clients looked at the four or five visible bruises on my arms and asked if I was being abused at home. I thanked him for his concern and assured him that the only one abusing me is me.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Seventeenth In A Potentially Infinite Series


Need I say more?

On the off chance that I do need to say more, let me allow the ever-eloquent Elayne Boosler to speak on my behalf in this video recorded back in the olden days when Peeps were only available at Easter time and only in pink & yellow. Though Ms. Boosler and I part ways on the "properly aged" vs. fresh-from-the-package Peeps question, we share the same conflicted passion for Peeps.

Regarding the year-round availability of Peeps: though I do dearly love Peeps and have been known to eat myself into a Peeps-induced coma from time to time, I mostly do not consume the off-season versions (except for a slip now and then, which I generally regret--see: Christmas tree peeps incident). Apparently, Peeps Fever and Spring Fever coincide for reasons no doubt related to interplanetary alignments and hormonal fluctuations.

One last Peeps-related note: while positioning the Peeps for today's photo shoot, I noticed something I'd never noticed before--the "best by" date on the end of the Peeps boxes. I'm not sure whether I was more heartened or disturbed to discover that every box of Peeps I purchased had a "best by" date at least a year away and one of them was "best by" December 2014

Finally, I came to the conclusion* that it didn't really matter what I thought about the ridiculously long shelf life of Peeps, since none of them will be on my shelf 'til the end of this week, let alone the end of next year. 

*Said conclusion may or may not have been reached under the influence of 3/4 of a package of blue Peeps bunnies. Heh.