The Science of Dog Biscuits

My kid eats dog biscuits. I don’t encourage this. I’ve given up.

“It’s the only meat I eat, Mom, it’s good for me.” I can’t control it. He gets out of bed or sneaks around when I’m not looking, stealing them from the cookie jar like they were chocolate chip cookies.

The dog sighs. She doesn’t challenge him. She knows she’s going to snag the roast off the table anyway the moment I turn my head. I’m fighting on two fronts. I suppose Milk-Bones are healthy for boys if they’re good for dogs. Declan tells me they are.

dog biscuit

Look carefully. You are seeing a dog biscuit fragment sailing high above Kung Fu Panda.

Two things my boy loves–dog biscuits and science. On Thanksgiving, he managed to integrate the two. His goal was to determine the size a dog biscuit would have to be in order to float on a mylar balloon. My job was to tie and secure the slipknots around the biscuit, cheer if it flew and look disappointed if it did not.

First, we tried a full Milk-Bone, which securely anchored the balloon to the ground. Declan’s face scrunched, finger to his cheek.

“I guess it’s too big,” he said.

“Not necessarily too big, Buddy,” I hinted, “Too heavy.”

“I gotta fix it.” He broke the Milk-Bone in half. I started to tie the knot. He switched the halves, giving me the small piece. He knew it would weigh less. I put the slipknot around the smaller piece. Meanwhile, he ate the bigger one.

The balloon sank to the ground. Even the smaller part of the biscuit was too heavy.

“Can’t we just use pencils or crayons or something? I can weigh them on my bread scale. This is disgusting.” I try to be a good Mom.

“Nope.” His word was final. He took a bite off of the small biscuit piece and handed the remaining fragment to me. I tied the string around the slime. It sunk to the ground. But bounced once on the way up. 

“Look, we almost did it!” Science. It’s exciting when science goes right.

He looked at the biscuit. He poked it a bit. The biscuit very much wanted to soar free like the bird it once may have been. I’m not sure what “meat byproduct” actually means. It all tastes like chicken, I’m told.

He picked up the piece, nibbled a bit off of each end, held it back, examined it, and nodded his approval. Not only did he intuitively recognize the relationship between size and weight, he knew about balance, too. The string had to be centered.

He had also figured out a bit about efficiency by simply biting off the ends instead of untying and retying the string around the biscuit. Efficiency is big in science these days. It makes money in business, too, I’m told. Entrepreneurs read and write books about it, must be important.

He released the string and biscuit. It flew. It flew around the living room. The dog considered reclaiming it, but she was in her post “I begged for turkey” slumber. Every dog knows half a turkey is better than a Milk-Bone.

photo 1One Milk-Bone gone, several principles of science learned. Today, he is measuring things and making comparisons. He usually writes these things in his field journal, a spiral notebook filled with pictures of animals, dinos, and bugs. It’s the holiday weekend. He’s taking it easy.

But if I ask him about school, he says, “Boring.” Already. Despite his fantastic teacher who is the definition of awesome. So maybe it’s not about school but about the methods of inquiry and intrinsic learning. He wants to learn about dinos and write them in a field journal. And measure things. And learn about photo 2balance points, gravity’s relationship with dog biscuits. And entrepreneurship–because I had to pay a lollipop, again, to secure the rights to these photos.

I think school could be fun. Kids have the ability to knock things out of the park. We just have to let them.

Then someone has to let us do just that.


Screw Ups Are OK: Translate It into French (or Lie Like a Politician)

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 7.02.50 AMI made Thanksgiving dinner. Some of it, anyway. My mom made the desserts, except for the awesome gluten-free cookies contributed by my cousin, who dies if she eats certain ingredients. We try not to kill people on Thanksgiving. Then they can’t overshop for Christmas and the economy will be ruined.

I was skeptical of the cookies, which had an unnatural roundness to them as if they were pulling toward the center avoiding gluten with every core of their being. They were amazing, though. I apologized and ate two. I’m getting the recipe.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 7.20.26 AMI was responsible for creating all the side dishes. Rusty cooked the turkey on the beloved Big Green Egg. I mocked it at first but fell in love in the end. Taking on turkey duty meant he had one big thing to do and I had about fifty thousand little ones. Turkey duty carries more weight than side dishes, because dead bird, not turnips, is always the central focus of Thanksgiving. That gives him more pressure, being the headline act and all. I was supporting actress, running around having restaurant flashbacks. I never cooked in a restaurant, just brought the plates to the right people and smiled. I watched a lot of cooking and learned. Close enough.

It’s always good to save the screwups for a big holiday meal. First I overcooked the yams. No problem. When I mess things up, I translate them into French and tell everyone I meant it. “Yams Trop Cuit.” (trop cuit: overcooked). Sounds pretty fancy to me. I’d have put toasted blanched almond crumbles on top to finish off the ruse, but my sister’s allergic to almonds. If my cousin gets to live till the end of the meal, my sister should too. It’s only fair.

Next, I neglected to put water in the green bean steamer while I was talking on the phone to my rabbit-serving brother. Since one of the main ingredients in steaming is, in fact, steam, which requires water, that’s an omission. I made a just-in-time save, as was happening in so many football games I wasn’t watching because I was in the kitchen. I decided to let the beans retain their natural state after picking out the few ones black ones from the bottom that sacrificed themselves so that others could live. Taking a left turn from the casserole route, I served “Smoked Green Beans.” Delicious.

I usually roast Brussels sprouts on my grandmother’s antique, perfectly-seasoned cast iron–the kind generations feud over in the South when the matriarch dies. I live in the North. When my grandmother passed, everyone thought they were junk. Not me. My cousin took them and shared. In return, I burned the Brussels sprouts, then finished them off by leaving them in an oven I forgot to turn down. Taste, great. Eyeball appeal, zero. We named them “Cajun Blackened Sprouts.”  I had three servings. Sounded like the makings of a $20/plate appetizer to me.

Screwups happen. They’re okay as long as I cover them up like a politician, bouncing back with confidence and feeling, indicting my diners as if it is they who don’t understand the true depths of my culinary genius. I practiced that stare studying staff in high-end establishments who give me The Look when I try to order vegetarian.

Confidence is the name of the game in the kitchen. And the more I think about it, not a bad strategy for life, either.

[images: Atomic Housewife and Sarah is a great friend and genius whose art always makes me laugh. Sometimes I have to be careful what I say around her because comics will appear in short order. I love that the best. Check out her blog here, and have her make something for you. She does that. Affordably, I might add.]


What Do Vegetarian (Freaks) Eat for Thanksgiving?

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 9.23.05 PMIt’s the number one question I get. Never mind that I never eat dead animals, but, “What do you eat for Thanksgiving?” Being a vegetarian that one day is nearly sacrilege. I’ll break it gently–I eat the same types of things that I eat every other day of the year.

“How do you not eat turkey?” 

Simple. The pilgrims didn’t center their meal around Butterball, either. Sure, they might have had wild turkey on the table–they were tough to catch and not yet genetically modified for tenderness and extra white meat–but they were more likely to have other fowl, such as duck, goose, and pheasant. They also had five deer. There was no pumpkin pie (sugar was for rich people and the Wampanoags failed to use their corn to produce corn syrup) so they subbed in an amazing prune tart with rosemary for dessert. Sounds like a paleo cookbook.

They ate shellfish, notably muscles and lobster. Lobster was considered poor man’s food, not something you’d get for someone you wanted to impress. I wouldn’t be impressed by lobster. Something about the poor creature staring at me before it died–even if I ate meat you wouldn’t get points with me for that. It’s my Dad’s doing. I was five. He got two lobsters. We played with them and raced them. I was very happy. I thought he got them for me as pets. And then…

Needless to say I never ate lobster again. So, if I were a Pilgrim, I wouldn’t have enjoyed lobster. Even if Squanto did the executions.

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 9.31.34 PMToday, Thanksgiving has plenty of options for vegetarians. We have a world of ingredients that don’t include dead things, and since I can cook a ton of stuff from scratch, the sky’s the limit. I was thinking of a curry, but that’s not allowed. Last year I was told, “You will not make whatever smells like that near my turkey again.” I thought it smelled awesome. I figured Ethiopian food might get the same reaction. So, this year, I’m going Dominican.

You might say, “But there’s no Spanish food that’s vegetarian!” You’d be right. One year, I had one single Dominican student (ever) who was a vegetarian, and he had a host of dishes that were recreated without dead things. Tasty. He taught me some. So, I’m making something I can’t really translate correctly that’s supposed to have pork in it. I substituted chick peas. Fair trade.

For dessert, I’m wondering if I can feign historical accuracy by bringing back the prune tart without anyone noticing. Not really sure…

In case you are wondering, I will eat on Thanksgiving. Probably better than people sucking down wings in front of a football game. If you want some vegetarian food, I can save you a sampler plate–some of which I even grew myself, and none of which was killed by me. That makes it a tasty, good karma Thanksgiving, where the turkeys who taunt me in my road get to live just a little bit longer, and I like my food just fine.

[image: and The Happy Raw Kitchen

Gardening is Like Gambling: Cut Your Losses

brussel sproutsI pulled out the last of the Brussels sprouts without brussels. I’d been watching them, waiting. I asked the farmer when I saw them getting cabbage worms.

“Should I spray?” I didn’t want to spray. I wanted to be organic. Spraying would make me no better than the chemical companies I was trying to avoid.

“Listen, if you see worms, it’s too late. You have to do it ahead of time. We don’t want to spray, but if we didn’t you’d be hungry.”

Proactive. Not reactive. It’s a philosophy that works well in life, not just on Brassica. Epic fail in failing to thinking ahead and being too holier than thou to spray.

Still, the things grew and grew. Bean stalks perhaps? I left them. No brussels appeared.

“Google, when should these brussel?” I searched.  Nobody told me what to do when my Brussels sprouts didn’t brussel. There was no support group, no help. I asked my friend the garden guru.

“Pull them out,” she said. I obeyed. It was a sad moment. I’d invested a lot of time, space, and love into these barren stalks.

Pulling them out wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do. There wasn’t one sprout I could eat as a consolation prize. If you haven’t seen Brussels sprout plants, they’re huge. Quite an investment in garden space. It’s probably why I let them go so long.

When investing in something that’s going sour, the temptation is to let it go another day to see what happens. It’s no different from being a gambling addict…everyone’s always hanging on to win the jackpot…the casino knows most people will play one more game tomorrow. I was playing with Brussels sprouts, but the endorphins are the same. Spinning the roulette wheel one more time. I came up short and the table cleared. No return forthcoming.

I ripped up the Brussels sprouts and took out the browning cornstalks for good measure. They’d produced two-inch twisted baby corn, then met their maker. I bundled them up and converted them into a “decoration,” next to a pot of unbloomed mums. They looked sad. The mums turned completely away, protesting, refusing to open until deformed corn was removed.

corn“Those are the sorriest excuses for corn stalks I’ve ever seen,” said my husband. “They look dumb. Mums are nice, though.” The stalks bowed over, sad and ashamed. They knew I’d given them an awful lot of space and they didn’t deliver.  I’d waited “just one more day” for them,  too.  One more spin of the roulette wheel. Nothing

Lesson learned. Sometimes things don’t produce. Things that don’t produce have to go.

The moral of my stories is generally the opposite. I discuss education. I talk about student success…flowers blossoming in their own time… Not today. Sometimes it’s best to realize things aren’t going to come to fruition. A policy won’t change, a student won’t be interested in graduation despite my very best efforts, or a collaboration won’t work out.

At some point, it’s time to change direction. Waiting for things that won’t happen is not useful. I could have done something far more productive with garden resources. Nature doesn’t force a bloom. Nature also corrects for things that don’t work out. It’s not a bad thing–everything ends up doing what it’s supposed to in its own time. But that doesn’t mean I should sit around and wait.

I pulled the eggplant with no blossoms, and took out the dried beans.

“Even Jesus wiped out a fig tree that didn’t bear fruit,” I thought.

The sprouts and corn are gone. Finally. Should’ve done that months ago. I could have been eating a great fall crop of broccoli or lettuce right about rather than waiting for stuff that I sensed would never come to pass.

Could this be a life lesson? Something useful for the classroom, too?

Maybe I should let students make their own path without judgment or not go crazy at work trying to solve all the problems of the universe. Who knows. Today, I’m just ripping out the veggies.

I’ll let skilled philosophers figure out the rest.

Attention Non-Christian Friends: You’re Getting a Card, Too!

I never make it through my Christmas card list.  Every year I try, every year I fail.  If I start too early, I feel like a department store putting Santa out before Halloween.  The news in the cards becomes outdated. Then I don’t want to send them. If I start too late, they never make it to the mailbox.

I’m old-fashioned about the idea of a Christmas card–they remind me of a time when people used actual correspondence and had certain levels of etiquette about such things. I wax nostalgic about a tangible piece of mail that does not contain a bill or coupons for products I don’t use. I still get junk mail dating back to the time when we thought it was a very funny practical joke to sign each other up for mailing lists just to be obnoxious. I bet the rainforest thought that was pretty obnoxious. Someone signed me up under the name “Jon Shankenheimer.”  He gets a lot of college offers at my address.

Anyway, every year, I sit down with Card Number 1, and write an amazing letter, then put it in a pile.  For reasons unknown to me, I can’t mail Card #1 until all the cards are done and since they are never done, they never get mailed. Sometime around the Fourth of July I find the stack and toss it. Or I’ll pick one or two finished cards from the pile and mail them like the winning entry of the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes to people who truly get the essence of my mind.  They can enjoy my card in time for the summer solstice. Two days later, that person will call me because they can’t read my writing anyway. So much for Dickensian calligraphy.

On a good year, I can make it to the D’s in my address book. Some years I try to be fair and start at the Z’s and go backwards thinking of the kids who never got to be line leader due to the cruelty of alphabetization. In such years, I can almost always make it to the Y’s or even W or V, but not much further.  M and N are always left out.

This year, I have a very different strategy, which I will begin this week. I’m going to do my cards in order of religion, starting with all the non-Christians first. This, I think, makes the most sense, because I want everyone to feel included in the holiday season, taking part in “American Christmas,” which was created by Macy and enjoyed by us all. Consumerism transcends religion, after all, because if the holidays were really about God, we’d forgo the Black Friday sales and spend more time serving our fellow man. So, why not include non-Christians and secular Americans in the fun, too?

The order of operations for cards:

I’m starting with all my Jewish and Hindu friends.  Why? Well, because Jews have been oppressed for thousands of years, and so they always get my respect and admiration. They deserve a card, even if it has Jesus or Santa on it. Hindus come in close second because they get to be born again, so if I don’t finish, I always get a second chance with them.

Buddhists will be third–not because I love them less, and it’s true, they also get a second crack at life which helps me better deal with my procrastination, but they also spend such a great deal of time getting rid of desire for material things. I fear a Christmas card might just be clutter.  Still, I think my Buddhist friends will appreciate the sentiment behind the cards, even if it messes with their inner zen.

Muslims come next. They have lots of cool holidays so they may not need ours, but since most of their holidays require superhuman feats of sacrifice, like 40 days of fasting and prayer while watching other people eat, they are on my most-respected list. That’s hard-core prayer and contemplation. They definitely get a card. Maybe two.

I have a few Jehovah’s witnesses on the list. They’re a tough group, because a Christmas card would actually offend them. They don’t technically celebrate the holiday, though, because they feel such commercialism aggrandizes people above God (true), and we don’t even know when the historical Jesus was born–it was most likely in spring, astronomers tell us–so why have a party to give ourselves presents during the time of the winter solstace-based Roman-conquest holiday of Festivus?  It doesn’t make sense to them.  And as such, they do not get cards commemorating holidays of Roman conquest, presents, trees given to us by German pagans and awesome yule log cakes made by French bakers.  But I found a loophole.  You can give a Jehovah’s present a gift out of friendship and appreciation, if it does not lift the individual above the Lord.  So, this is the spirit of my cards.  “Hey, you’re a great friend.”

Then, if I make it that far, I’ll tackle the list of cards to my Christian and secular friends.  They’ll be really busy shopping and wrapping, so they won’t have time to read the cards right away anyway.  But if I don’t get that far, as usual, I’ll consider stealing a screen shot of an Ansel Adams photo and posting a card on Facebook.  It’ll be that or mailing out the summer solstice cards once again.  I still have three weeks–I’m doing the best I can. We’ll see how it goes.

Avert Disaster: Organize for the Holidays!

Thanksgiving snuck up on me. It was a busy year–buying and selling a house, doing the staging, showing, and construction leading up to the sale/purchase, moving, dealing with the “finer points of education reform,” writing, creating, blogging, supporting my husband in expanding our business and converting the adult kickboxing portion to the franchise (coming to a city near you). All on top of trying to run my end of the household simultaneously.

They say that women can have it all. That’s not true. There are only 24 hours in a day and choices must be made with values prioritized. I try to be creative about time management–never easy for me. I’ve settled for getting up at 4AM to be productive when there are no possible distractions around. The East Coast is asleep, the West Coast just went to bed, and the only people awake are on the other side of the globe, and they’re usually at work. This is the best system for me in organizing and reining in my ADHD and keeping things in check before they take on a life of their own.

Thanksgiving clearly got away from me.  Last weekend, it occurred to me that I should procure a turkey. Sometimes I forget about this step, being a vegetarian and all. There have been years where I either forgot the turkey until a couple of days before Thanksgiving, or if I purchased it in advance (which I usually remember to do after being slapped in the face with a dozen sale fliers advising me that dead turkey season is upon us) I invariably forget to take it out of the freezer.

For those of you who cook, you know this is why the Butterball Hotline was invented–to deal with simpletons like me.  Because you simply cannot thaw out a million pound carcass overnight. I’ve done lots of shady things. I’ve put it in warm water (bacteria can kill you). I’ve left it on the counter overnight (another version of bacterial Russian Roulette). I’ve even hired a group of kids to breathe on the turkey. Even then, it takes a long time to thaw. I’ve been lucky.

Holiday planning is important. 

Holidays are tough for many people. Even though I have been especially blessed this year, the holidays will cause stress if not well planned.

Nearly forgetting about Thanksgiving caused a scramble.  But in the end, I got to bring together a branch of family that doesn’t often get together. I got to hike in the woods with Declan. Both are important.

For Christmas and New Years, though, I need to step up the pace and plan. I must shop. I must bake and cook to ensure everyone gets their favorites. I must prep and send boxes, bags, baskets, and gifts, so they GET there by the right dates, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, or the Russian New Year.

Incidentally, that’s why I like my Buddhist and Hindu friends the best–first of all, December 25th is irrelevant, so I can totally be late if I want, and they have a lot of lives to begin with, so my lack of attention to the calendar means nothing. Maybe they’ll need my gift more in the next life anyway. My Jewish friends come in close second, because if I plan to get something there by Day One of Hanukkah, I have seven days to screw up and still be on time. The Russians are a close third since they hail from a country where they had to change their holiday from Christmas to New Year’s to avoid persecution. They’re very forgiving. It’s just the Christians that keep me on task.

And there are a lot of them. So I must be prepared.

I need a strategy. I need a list.

Then, I must reduce that list–we have too much crap in this world anyway. Best not to get carried away. And while “three carbon credits have just been purchased in your honor” isn’t really an ideal gift for kids, I can pull it off for my environmentalist sister. Parents always say they don’t want anything but quality time. That’s worth a try. And my husband wants a tow hitch now that we live in the sticks. I’m not really sure how to steal his Jeep for two days without him noticing, though. I guess I could draft a fake police report and tell him I saw two farmers in the driveway with a slim jim–I couldn’t fight them off because of their guard cow.  But that would cause him stress. And the holidays are about reducing stress.

Here’s my strategy: 

1. Buy less–create joy with experiences and quality time, both of which are far more valuable commodities these days.

2. Handwrite cards–reconnect with people and enjoy the lost art of hand-written correspondence. I’ll need discipline as well as a touch of forgiveness from friends because my handwriting is truly awful.

3. Create a calendar and checklist–making sure I get everything out on time. The post office trip has always been my worst enemy.

4. Reduce the list by 50%–make the favorite candies, fudges, cookies, and breads. The canning is done. Sometimes I go overboard, so, this year, I’m making a few key favorites, and that’s that.

5. Relax.  No perfect tablescape is worth losing the time to enjoy the holiday, unless you are Martha Stewart. But Martha has interns and I do not. So, this year, since I’m getting a late start, I’m going to schedule in all the things I absolutely must do and cross off the ones I do not. End of story.

Considering that planning and organization is a part-time job itself, no wonder so many people say they dread the holidays. That’s sad. I love the holidays–the music, the wonder, the tradition, the joy.  Best to keep it that way.  Planning and preparation will help me do just that!


I’ve organized a lot of my material on Learnist boards. I created some of these to get my own mind in gear, but I hope you find them useful. Here are a few resources:

Organizing for the Holidays: This was my attempt to avoid procrastinating.

Going Green: Waste-Free Holidays: I truly believe in this, but I’m struggling to get over the tradition of wrapping paper. Maybe I’ll evolve.

Frugal Holidays: There have been years where frugal was the only option. Those years  have been a gift. They have created my happiest memories.

Gift Baskets Galore: This board is by blogger and Mom Colleen Sullivan. I love it because gift baskets make me think about the recipient for longer–they show love.

Holiday Food Gifts: This board is by Lauren Atkins Budde. I have always done “gifts in a jar,” canned foods, and homemade candies. I’m glad Lauren put this together.

Why We Can Never Be Martha Stewart: You might wonder if I’m serious about this board, but the truth is I hold nothing but the highest reverence for Martha, who shows women that independence and domesticity can reside in the same sphere. I think I’ll write an entire post about her soon.



Black-listing Friday: Getting Back to What Matters

Christmas appeared early this year in our local stores–about three weeks before the Fourth of July, I think. It’s not that I don’t love the site of a freshly-decorated fake tree with a pine-smelling air freshener trying to convince me it’s real–I do, don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff.  I love mistletoe and wilted cranberries alternating with stale popcorn strung in strands wrapped around light poles.  I love walking down Fifth Avenue looking at the outrageous perfection of window displays planned months in advance and revealed for the season. I love knowing that the largest tree in the world has been hunted down, exterminated, and will be waiting for me in Rockefeller plaza if I get a chance to get down to see it, which I used to try to do annually but haven’t done for some time.

I love all the trimmings of the American Consumer Christmas that was created in tandem by Coca Cola’s plump carbonation-consuming Santa and marketing genius W.H. Macy–the first great entrepreneur to give St. Nick an emolument for sitting in his department store training kids to want stuff on the occasion of the birth of someone else. And then to be ballsy enough to have a parade in honor of that desire. That’s America! And who doesn’t love the movies–the Bing, the Jimmy Stewart, the “Christmas Story” 24-hour marathon. Because I can watch it twelve times. It’s a cult classic.

I don’t mind the secular side of Christmas, or the leftover relics of other holidays so intelligently disguised by the Holy Roman Empire–I love the German Christmas tree, the Yule Log, and the fact that the mistletoe was actually a fertility ritual. I’m even willing to forgive the fact that in the year 350 the Roman Catholic Pope Julius I picked the date of Christmas to coincide with everyone else’s holidays irregardless of the historical birth of Jesus, just to make it easier and more convenient for other religions to convert and still keep their celebrations in tact.

I want to share this holiday spirit with everyone–religious, secular, Christian, non Christian–it’s the season of awesome carols (also a pre-Christian tradition, I might add, but I’ll steal a good song like Vanilla Ice lifting Freddie Mercury when it presents itself). It’s the season of million-calorie egg nog.  It’s the season to give cards, token gifts, and smiles–even to the people we don’t like. They all seem a little nicer to me. And that’s a good thing…


Black Friday.

This is a tradition I just can’t wrap my head around.  I didn’t mind so much when it was the stores opening a bit early to publicize a few doorbuster sales.  But then it got vicious. Stores opening earlier. Stores staying open all night. People fighting over the last Whatever’s Hot That Season and selling it on Ebay for ten times the cost. Almost all of the “seven deadly sins” wrapped up in a – bow for the news coverage to see. One person reported to me that he had to go to Black Friday training to be permitted to work the all-nighter, because stores taught techniques in loss-aversion and crowd control.

Let me get this right–we have to train employees in law enforcement so they can deal with thieving, pushing crowds the day after Thanksgiving–the holiday of gratitude? Workers need to learn how to mediate disputes between people fighting over consumer goods at rock-bottom prices made in countries that are underpaying poorly treated workers? In honor of love and spirituality?

I pause to think.

One year, I did take part in Black Friday–I didn’t set my clock. I’m naturally awake at Dumb O’Clock in the morning.  The reason I decided to venture out was because I lived in the city near the store. We were really struggling that year–we were building a business–the entrepreneurial spirit is never quite as glamorous as one thinks–the Great Recession hit hard, and there was so much uncertainty in the air. I was flat broke and my step-daughter’s holiday list was on the table. I went out to one store, and got the simple things–as many as I could so that I’d have something to wrap under the tree. Things made in countries by underpaid workers made available to me at rock bottom prices.

I started thinking of a time before Black Friday existed. I was somewhere around eight years old.  My father was out of work during that generation’s Great Recession, but there wouldn’t have been box stores offering huge sales at that time, and if there were, my mom would have had to make choices between things like food or presents.  Somehow, there were presents. The gift I remember most was a radio. I now know this came from a tag sale, and it was broken.  It only got one channel–the Spanish station. I think my mother was upset, but I loved the Spanish station–I still love it today.  Por eso, hablo espanol bastante bien, claro. 

Because the things we truly love cannot be measured by money, sales, or consumerism.

As a child, that Christmas was just like any other Christmas–family, community, and fun. Community was much closer in those days. Friends stepped in and helped. They were there in person because computers did not exist. When there was no food, food appeared, when there was no money, it magically grew in the Christmas cactus. When someone was sick, people came and took the kids and gave parents the break they needed.

This is the essence of the holidays and Christmas seasons I remember. My friends Karen, LIsa, and Cheryl–how we used to make Christmas crafts together. All my parents’ friends and their circles of guitars. The traditions at the church and the houses of the people with whom I grew up. As we got older we sang in the choirs. As we got older still, the last people awake and still coherent enough to read the words on the page had to go back to the late Mass to sight sing Latin a capella…I miss that. And you can bet this holiday season, I’ll throw on the sacred music, even if I don’t always land in church in person.

Black Friday–taking employees away from their families and communities–is the opposite of this feeling of warmth I remember.  Although I caved to Black Friday that one year due to the year of fear and uncertainty for my family and for many Americans–I will not be doing it again.

This year, Thanksgiving will be small and peaceful. I suspect my extended family will show up for cheesecake, egg nog, and the list of pies they requested. The day after Thanksgiving, I plan to fence off my garden–I just moved, and I want it to be ready for the spring.  I want to take the weekend to reach out and thank the people to whom I’m grateful–friends new and old, new colleagues, family members I don’t see enough.  I want to make actual phone calls rather than sending texts and emails–I want to hear voices on the other end; just a small attempt to stop the rat race for a little bit.

And if I venture out into the commercial arena, it will be to my local businesses, which have pulled out all the stops better than the stores on Fifth Avenue ever could. I’ll meet the shopkeepers in my new town, and buy some gifts from them–because Small Business Saturday, I think, should not be a holiday, it should be a way of life.  It should be a way of shaking hands and building back the community that the rat race seems to have stolen from us.

I’m guilty of joining the rat race, too. Of seeing how much I can get done in order to defy the physics of time. This holiday season, I want to prepare, connect, build relationships, and enjoy.  Black Friday seems the perfect time to do just that.