Pass the pink stuff

Author: natalie  //  Category: Issues, National

Last week, my friend and fellow columnist Bert Marshall wrote a fine piece entitled “We are what we consume” where he played with the old saying “you are what you eat”. He pointed out that the statement correlates to much more than physical sustenance alone.  We consume through various channels; for better or for worse, that consumption determines who we are, and who we will become. While digesting Bert’s words, some pretty profound thoughts began eating at me.  

I’m suffering ever-increasing ambivalence when it comes to being a consumer. It’s hard to square my feelings given I’m one of capitalism’s biggest fans, but it has not escaped me that I spend my days in either of two ways: consuming (shopping), or managing the consumption (making lists for future shopping excursions while cleaning and organizing items already purchased). It’s a never-ending cycle. I’m weary from it. I even stand in line and pay hard-earned money to participate in such madness. The tail is wagging the dog, and this dog is nauseated.

I suppose it’s a little strange that I have such sentiments given that I came of age in the ‘80s with the tune of Madonna’s “Material Girl” telling me how life should be.  What a difference 20 years, jobs, car payments, a mortgage, three children and a dog make.  Funny, I feel almost blessed to have found out it was all a lie.  

Currently, a visit to any store reminds me that I should be preparing for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years…simultaneously. That daunting task must be performed with a happy spirit, stylish attire and seasonally appropriate home decor. I’m failing miserably on all fronts. It’s a personal matter for now, but I know all too well those failings become very public. Inquiring minds want to know. The sad truth is that I’m struggling too hard with the basics – clean socks/underwear and meals – to be excited over the holidays.  I get heartburn just thinking about them.

One of the basic tenets behind advertising is to create “need” for products. Once you’re convinced your life will be greatly improved by disposable toilet brushes with a retail price of $4.99 for a package of three refills and $9.99 for the “starter wand”, why you’ll never again be forced to own one that costs a fraction of the price and lasts for years.  It’s that very force that brought me to realize what we’ve all been sold:  “you are what you consume” …and if you consume nothing, you are nothing. It’s a sad state of affairs.

In the most literal sense, it is true that we must have nourishment to survive; we don’t, however, really need most of what we’ve been led to believe life wouldn’t be worth living without. I’m not sure when or how it happened, but I suppose a long stint of prosperity delivered this one. I can’t help but think it’s what also led to the economic issues we’re seeing today.  We’ve all got to have it all, and at what cost? Indigestion and an upset stomach.

While I don’t invite the issues that come along during economic downturns, I’m sort of looking forward to the possibility of simpler times. Times when it won’t seem so terribly uncouth not to be consumed by looking for the next bigger and better [insert your choice here].Times when the contents of a man’s character account for far more than the contents of his shopping cart.

There are only 60 shopping days left until you know when. Pass the pink stuff; I’ve got a lot of consuming to do.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

No bull-oney

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, It's all about me

I’ve been asked repeatedly how I come up with the subject matter for my column. This week, it’s necessary that I answer for all to read. Otherwise, you’ll surmise my elevator doesn’t quite reach the top as your eyes travel below.

First, my family provides enough material to keep several writers busy. However, being that I have a slew of my own embarrassing moments, I’m careful about what I make public. (Do remind me at some point though to tell the story about my mother, Linda Rowe, who decided that just because her daughter (me) was adept at roller-blading, she could do it, too. That story ends at the edge of my driveway…severe bruising and a bump on the head came just after the climax.) Anyway, I digress. The second avenue has me operating under the adage that “truth is stranger than fiction”. That’s where this week finds me.

Tuesday morning, my middle child had an appointment at Baytown’s orthodontic Taj Mahal. (Many of you know exactly where that’s located, and like me, probably feel you should have part-ownership.) While sitting in the waiting area with notebook and pen in hand, a Travel Channel show entitled “Bizarre Foods” caught my attention. I’ve pretty much sworn off television until the elections are over, but this was a nice diversion from the fare television has been serving up. I was intrigued.

The host, Andrew Zimmern, was on location in Spain enjoying and discussing with viewers a tradition the Spaniards refer to as Tapas. I found it interesting, and as promised the foods were bizarre.

My waiting companions included males and females of just about every age group.  Most of us were fiddling with something in our lap; some were even talking on cell phones. Then the show turned to a delicacy which honors the great legacy of bull-fighting in Spain.  So as not to offend, I’ll put this as delicately as possible. The host, along with world-renowned chefs, began discussing the preparation of, well, the parts that make a bull a bull.

I nearly lost it. I was sitting in the corner with a view of the entire room. People with their backs to the TV spun around to make sure their ears did not deceive them, as the proper anatomical terms were being used.  I don’t know what I got more a kick out of: watching the program, or the reactions of those around me.

The lady seated next to me was pretending to read a book. Her face was curled in disgust when I caught her peering over the top of her reading glasses. I was hoping to make eye contact with someone and at least garner a smirk. No one would look up. The men were squirming in their seats. 

Sliding into convulsions while trying to maintain some composure, I kept my shaking body quiet.  Ever needed to burst out laughing, but felt it would be entirely inappropriate because those around you were being mouse-quiet and apparently not amused?  I was in tears! And still, silence.  The comments of Zimmern while he dined were hysterical. Surely I was not the only one in the room “getting” the nature of his comments.

I was about to explode when my son came out to get me. That boy has a knack for rescuing me in my moments of greatest need. Of course he wanted to know what was so funny, and I told him. “BULL-oney. What were you really laughing about?” To which I replied, “Not a bull anymore!” tears streaming down my face. He STEERed me straight to the car…no bull!

© 2008 Natalie Whatley


October surprise:Acorns taste like chicken

Author: natalie  //  Category: Issues, Life with children

Here it is October in Texas. It doesn’t get much better in my book. The cooler days tempered with the perfect amount of sunshine cause most of us to find an excuse to be outside. Just for you, I’m toiling away indoors. Please don’t feel guilty. I’m sitting by an open window enjoying a most pleasant breeze along with the sights and sounds of the many birds and squirrels sharing my piece of real estate.  Lucky animals. They care not of last week’s presidential non-debate, upcoming elections, the Wall Street bail-out, or the impending political “October surprise” we keep hearing pundits warn is coming.  That’s the life.

I’ve heard some say we’re in a financial crisis at least equivalent to the Great Depression. So, I’m not much in the mood to do any fall decorating which includes adorning my flowerbeds with mums, pumpkins and other items that will find their way to the trash immediately following Thanksgiving. I may need the money required for such frivolity to feed my family. And, at some point I may be forced to forage with my little furry friends.  I have a survival advantage in that I’m watching where they’re burying the acorns, and I’m bigger. (Mental note: research acorn recipes when this week’s writing complete.)

Thank goodness my children are beyond the point of wanting highly-marketed, cheaply-made, but still very expensive Halloween costumes.  I learned years ago what the real October surprise is for new parents: the price tag for dolling up little cherubs so that they can mingle with all the other little cherubs at fall social events.  The joke is on you, Mom and Dad. The pricey costume will spend the evening draped over your arm because it’s too itchy, too hot, scratchy, hurts, broke, ripped, etc.  

 After getting over the crafting and sewing inabilities that kept me from being chosen for the “my-child-has-the-best-costume -ever” competition team, I learned that kids can be pretty darn frugal and creative when left to their own costuming devices. The sickest parental participants are those gifted enough to make great-looking costumes. They don’t mind telling everyone within ear-shot, “Oh, I just threw it together over a weekend with some scraps left over from the curtains I fashioned out of garage-sale bed sheets.”  There’s a special place for people like that. No, not THERE…the psychiatric ward. It’s too bad hot glue guns would probably not be allowed in the padded rooms. That’s a shame. Pardon me for not being more sympathetic.

Speaking of guns, how many of you recall dressing up for Halloween and going to school alongside GI Joe, a mobster, or a cowboy complete with a toy replica of the appropriate firearm?  It really did happen back in the day, right here in Baytown. I have the 1983 Gentry Mustang yearbook, complete with incriminating photos to prove it. Times have changed. Show up at school like that now, and you’ll not see the light of day ever again.

In these trying times, we must all do our part to keep the economy afloat. Please purchase large quantities of cavity-inducing confectionary delights. You’ve got a few weeks to stock up. It’s necessary that we load the little darlings down with goodies, and then make sure they consume it all sparingly. If we are indeed about to see Depression-era-like times, today’s children, and myself for that matter, are not going to know what hit them.  In that kind of world, I bet acorns taste like chicken.  

© 2008 Natalie Whatley


Liftoff minus the goat

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

Given the stress levels recently endured by the good people of this region, I laughed out loud when I came across “One minute to calm: 20 ways to beat stress in 60 seconds or less” by Denise Schipani.  I suppose there are people who can chill out in a matter of seconds.  I’m not one of them – been told a time (or maybe two) that I’m high-strung.  As life is put back together post Ike, my version would read more like “One minute to launch: 20 ways to get fired up over nothing and lift off in 60 seconds or less”.  The countdown is reaching its final moments.

It was almost effortless just after the passing of the storm to be calm and patient with those around me. While reflecting on that thought, I realized what was different:  I was literally unplugged (no electricity) from the world. My immediate surroundings provided the only sensory input available to me.  Now that we’re plugged in again and the pace of returning to normal (not that I really have a firm grasp on exactly what that is) has increased, I’m finding myself in a rather testy state. Small annoyances are acting as heated rocket fuel on the brink of ignition.

Out of desperation, and for the sake of those around me, I’m going to explore some of what Ms. Schipani suggested. However, upon further examination it becomes clear that sixty seconds of anything isn’t likely to bring back my usually sunny disposition. If I could stand to watch television for any length of time, I’m sure a pharmaceutical cure would advertise itself, but then I’d have a host of new complaints in the form of its side-effects. Oh well, I’ve got nothing to lose save a bad attitude.  I’ll share a few of my favorites.

Laughter is the best medicine. One sure way to achieve it, according to Schipani, is to put marshmallow Peeps (you know, the candy we used to see only around Easter, but are now mass-marketed for every known, and some unknown holidays) in the microwave and watch them puff up. At first glance, I was not amused. Then I recalled seeing an ad for personalized M&M candies. Did you know you can now not only have a tiny message printed on them, but also a photo?  I figure if the Peeps can be fashioned to resemble those causing my blood-pressure to rise, that method would absolutely be therapeutic.

The article also advises indulging in some dark chocolate as it contains a calming compound and mild stimulant. Then, I should “belly-breathe” – focus all my attention and irritating thoughts to my belly. First of all, there isn’t enough chocolate readily available in the United States to calm my frayed nerves. Secondly, if I ate all I could stand, and then had to concentrate on the area of new and profound girth I gained while trying to lose frustration via chocolate, I’d be doubly stressed. Those simply will not work.

Someone I consider a great friend gave some sage advice this week in regards to just one of the annoyances vying to send me into orbit: be patient.  It’s something I’m not very good at, but oddly enough it applies to every single thing getting my proverbial goat these days.  The agitators can have the goat; I prefer travelling with much better company.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley