Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Baby Bullies

As I was clicking through the profile picture album of a Facebook friend of mine, baby picture after baby picture after baby picture, looking for an actual photo of the person themselves instead of their baby, I was reminded of my many encounters with what I like to call: baby bullies.  Babies babies babies....

I guess if someone is a rude person to begin with, that will always equate to what makes a rude parent as well.  Not every parent is or has to be a baby bully.

A baby bully is a person who uses their children and the fact that they are parents as an excuse/weapon against other non-children-wielding people.  Someone who takes the "family perks" a little too far.  It's frustrating enough that people with children get tax breaks, discounts, special parking zones, line cutting privileges among many other benefits in life, but do they really have to be obnoxious along with that as well?  I could really do without another runover toe or scratched heel from someone's stroller that they decided to slam into my backside in a hurry.  And the "baby on board" car signs - yea, please feel free to ram into my car otherwise, since there's no baby on board here!  In addition, maybe bringing your little one to a fancy dinner at a five-star restaurant isn't the best idea either...he or she will end up crying and ruining other people's ambiance that they're paying top dollar for at some point.  Am I being rude?  I apologize, but it's true to how I feel.  Maybe I'll become more empathetic after I have a child, but as for now, I'm speaking on behalf of all the single people out there who haven't decided to have kids and are tired of being treated like second class citizens!

Historically, I have had rough goings with baby bullies in the past, because it is something that really ignites me like no other, the fact that some people with children expect the rest of the world to bow down and lay a gold-plated brick path beneath their feet to support their decision to have babies.  Why should someone else's decision to breed negatively affect my existence?? I mean, I can empathize with crying babies or  uncontrollable tantrums and whatnot - I'm talking about more advanced levels of baby bullying.  The person who decides to park their stroller in the middle of a busy throughway in Peets while they obliviously chat on their cell phone, stirring sugar into their coffee as the kid is running wild.  I am in support of having a family and raising children. BUT, there has got to be a line, and parents should apply the same pre-baby rules and etiquette of society to post-baby life as well.

In an attempt to be diplomatic, I do think it's unfair to say that most people become this way after having their babies, because most people who are behaving rudely and obnoxiously were already pissing people off way before that kid came into existence in the first place.  I think it is important, however, to remember that after you have a child your manners, attitude and appearance shouldn't necessarily have to take a plunge either.  I recognize that it's hard being a parent and nerves can run shaky after a long, stressful day with the kiddies.  I guess I'm just trying to be a voice for the non-parents out there, to remind you to please, keep it courteous.  Theres no reason to take up an entire row of seating at the airport with your hoard of strollers, diaper bags, carriers, ect.  I can see how easy it is to get lost in kiddieland.  But remember...there's a real world out there too.


I had to throw the classic "Angry Baby" picture in 
[Angry Baby]

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paw Paw: Another Town Left to Rot

Right in the middle of my high school experience growing up in San Francisco, I was hastily uprooted from the state of California and transported to a small town in Southwest Michigan titled Paw Paw.  The time I spent in this town was the peak of my youth's turmoil in numerous ways.  The terms in which I had been sent to Michigan were rocky to begin with, and my mindset entering this new place was nervous, frustrated, confused, unsure and saddened all together.  I wanted to be with my friends, the people I left behind in San Francisco.  But, there was nothing that I could do about it at the time, and I knew that I had to buck up and prepare myself for the next two years of finishing high school living in this new, strange and geographically secluded place.  My first initial feeling moving to Paw Paw was that of isolation.  The town is located about thirty minutes outside of a larger town/city called Kalamazoo.  Yes, there is a town that exists called Kalamazoo.  Somehow I had found myself thirty minutes AWAY from a town that nobody where I came from had ever heard of.  I was an outsider in every way -  personality, appearance, experience, expectations, way of life.  I might as well had come from another country.

The point I'm trying to make is that I came into Paw Paw as an ignorant, untainted individual who had no idea of what the town was like, what the people were like, what the people did and what I had in store.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  I had no idea that what lay ahead - the things I'd see.  They were unlike anything I'd ever seen before - I had come from an upper middle class family and lived in the heart of San Francisco my whole life- a true city girl.  I had no idea that I had just stepped into the middle of a full blown, out of control meth epidemic at the age of 16.  I want to forewarn anyone about to read this piece: what lays ahead might offend you.  And, please keep in mind that there are exceptions, not every single family or person I met was like what I am about to describe.  But, I'm not going to keep my silence on this generally ignored subject any more.

I hadn't ever met anyone who had used meth - let alone people who use meth, sell meth, MAKE meth.  I expected life in the middle of nowhere to be excruciatingly boring and uneventful, but what I got were visions and experiences that will haunt me forever.  I learned first hand that meth is the single most despicable, family-ruining, health-destroying, insanity-inducing, life-ending substance known to human kind.  I learned first hand that meth, in a matter of months, has the capability of turning an otherwise good person into a half-dead corpse that will stay awake for weeks - yes, weeks - at at time.  These were large numbers of teenagers - kids 16, 17 - that all of a sudden looked like ailing elders in their late stages of life with scabs all over their faces.  Meth: the new mind altering substance of choice that seemed to have replaced the original "gateway" drug (marijuana) and drinking alcohol. I learned for the first time what a staph infection is.  I learned that if you shoot/inject meth with a syringe into the wrong body parts, that pockets of staph-infected puss fill those parts of your body and develop infection until one can be seen by a doctor to have them lanced and treated with antibiotics.  I learned that a person's teeth are delicate bits of porcelain-like material, and will rot away after only a handful of months using this substance.  I learned that an alarmingly high number of my high school peers were using meth with their family.  Including their parents.  I learned that meth also commonly goes along with hoarding - and that pets are often the innocent souls that are left to die when their owners go on their latest meth binge.  I learned all of this from first-hand experience watching this drug eat away at the lives and souls of an entire community.  I feel lucky to have witnessed it the way that I did - as a newcomer with an unpolluted mind who had no experience with rural life or with meth.  This allowed me realize and watch what was going on with the upper hand and as a bystander: people who had been exposed to this slowly and steadily for so long that they became victim to the demon without even realizing it.  Slowly and slowly, it got closer to home and more of a common occurrence.  Before they knew it, their cousin was on meth.  Then, their sister.  Then, their best friend, then themselves.  Because I was so suddenly exposed, I was lucky enough to watch what was happening as an outsider and therefore realize the weight of the situation and just how unbelievably out of control things had become.  How had it gotten to this point?  How had this not been spotlighted in the media?  How had so many good families allowed their children to die?  To slowly kill themselves?  To allow themselves to become wrapped up in it with their children?  The questions were endless.  And, it seems I still don't have answers after all these years.  I do know that to this day, the problem is still as prevalent as it was throughout the two years I lived there from early 2002-late 2003.  People are still dying, still abusing, still being abused. 

I'm so thankful I never got into meth use throughout my time in Michigan, and I accredit that to the multitude of types of people, diversity and array of experiences I was exposed to at such a young age growing up in San Francisco.  My parents protected me, but they did not shelter me.  I had to learn lessons the hard way - and I definitely messed up a few times.  Before Michigan, I had been around under aged drinking, smoking marijuana, other various drug usage and slight violence that entailed drunken high school kids beating each other up at keg parties.  But, what I saw was mostly recreational - out at parties, on an occasional basis.  This was nowhere near a way of life - the way meth is used in southwest Michigan.  Violence involved with meth equals bodies being set aflame when meth labs explode and crazed individuals going on killing sprees.  This was a far cry from the things I'd seen in California.  The problem was so severe while I was there, that authorities actually sent in an undercover federal agent into our high school my senior year disguised as a female student who transferred in from another county to investigate the meth situation.  We came to learn this after her six month stint, when she successfully gained enough evidence against a group of kids in my class who were involved with meth distribution  to prosecute them.  This memory is one of the only bright spots against the war on meth I can recall throughout my time there.  Otherwise, the police spent most of their time busting kids for smoking pot and underaged drinking.

There is one idea that consumes my mind, even still after seven years since leaving southwest Michigan.  The idea that those were people who truly started out good, and had gone bad. People who had settled in such an isolated location in the first place as an effort to seclude their lives and their children from the potential of exposing their families to violence and drug use.  How ironic - the people that originally had good intentions of preserving the safety of their families have now become the epicenter of the worst kind of lifestyle imaginable.  I do know that I saw a lot of parents choose to remain ignorant to what their kids were doing, believing that their kids couldn't possibly be getting into too much trouble.  The fact of the matter is that it only takes a few weeks to go from a first time meth experimenter into a full blown addict.  Are the parents victims?  Or are they the perpetrators?  Who's fault is it?  How have so many lives been lost to this?  How did this happen?  I have spent countless hours pondering this, and I have never come up with an answer.  It is almost as if the meth epidemic is *too* crucial to have just happened on its own - this had to be intentional.  It has gotten so severe, the thought that it just sort of evolved this way on its own is mind blowing.  However, sadly that seems to be the case - this is a problem that slowly crept up on society, without anyone really taking notice or giving it enough thought, and while everyone had their backs turned, had suddenly exploded out of control.  

This isn't just an issue in rural southwest Michigan, this is also very prevalent in many rural areas in America.  I'm left with many questions: is city life now a safer bet than rural life?  Does rural life even have the capability of being as safe as it once was?  While city life provides more access to trouble and an array of trouble to get into, does it also provide more ways and opportunities to escape or avoid it altogether?  One of the main themes throughout my stay in Michigan was that of desperation.  Many people I met, feeling lost, hopeless and desperate.  Many people resentful that they've been stuck in a small town their entire lives with seemingly no way out.  I believe that this is a huge contributor to the reasoning behind why people open themselves up to meth in the first place - because it's a way to escape.  After my time there, it is my opinion that many people feel threatened by the idea of leaving the one place they've known their whole lives to venture out on their own - were they really strong enough to survive in the outside world?  So living in a small town has now become a burden instead of a privilege, and has left people ill-prepared for life outside this tiny bubble.  So, they take a vacation.  A vacation with a piece of foil and a lighter.  This was the outlet without actually having to leave. Meanwhile, the parents with good intentions of protecting their children maybe have protected them a little too much.  Maybe protection has become sheltering - and has left these individuals with many less opportunities than if they were to have grown up in a more urban area.  It's a new phenomenon - small town rural American life actually being more of a threat than city life, and parents are incredibly ill-prepared and unaware of this.  It's time that parents wake up and deal with the weight of this issue - your children are completely vulnerable to this.  

Without meth I believe small towns would be much safer than cities, but we need to face reality - meth is now an everyday staple in rural life, and as long as it's around, your children are not free of harm.  I think a great amount of parents do have good intentions and in an ideal world would like to keep their children away from bad influences, myself included, but if I had a choice to raise my child in either an inner city or a rural town, I would hands down, instantly choose the inner city.  Rural area parents need to be just as - if not more- cautious, aware and hip to the fact that their kids might as well be living in the middle of a crack-infested inner city ghetto.  From my experiences there, its was evident to me that many parents were simply cavalier and overly confident about what their kids are up to - whereas if they were living in that metaphorical ghetto - they would parent in a completely different way.  And this is when it goes back to the population being snuck up on- many people did not see this coming.  It has blindsided the entire community, and parents are left defenseless after their children become completely enchanted with the drug and it's too late.   I'm not sure what action to take against this evil phenomenon, but I know that it's still raping and ravaging Paw Paw.  In the last two months alone, I've heard of two people I used to know when I lived there who have died as a result of being involved with meth.  It's time this silent epidemic is realized.

There is one thing I'd like to say to anyone who feels desperate living in a small town: the only thing stopping you from your success and your growth is yourself.  I felt like a lot of the people I knew in Michigan wanted to leave, but were too scared, felt hopeless and like prisoners. You may feel like it's impossible to escape your situation, but if you have the aspiration to leave make the risk and do it.  It will be hard at first, but it will be incredibly worthwhile.  With honest motivation and determination there is no way you will fail, and you will only improve your life.  You don't have to live the existence that you feel like you are trapped in.  You owe it to yourself and to your future to provide yourself with better opportunities and a better way of life.  You're not alone.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Haute Holidays

 ['09 Holiday decor at Miette Patisserie]

I don't keep it a secret that the Holidays are my favorite time of the year.  These days, I feel it is more common to hear from people that they dread the holiday season and cannot wait until it's over, so much so that I even find it cliche..."oh, of course the holidays are such a drag for you, poor thing." The holiday's are coming, so why not at least attempt to enjoy the season a little bit?  I think anyone who says they truly don't like any aspect of the holidays should try to at least appreciate the family and friends aspect of this time of year.  For me, there are SO many benefits: dressing in cozy warm clothes, fireplaces, the skiing season, nice dinners, holiday-inspired drinks...the buzzing holiday feel all over the city with lights and decorations, all the shopping and gift giving, the decorating, the food...I love it. 

1.  Decorating your household for Christmas seems like a pain in the butt, but I think it makes coming home so much more rewarding.  At the very least, do a "winter cleaning", and rearrange/organize your house in preparation for guests, or just to make it a little nicer for yourself.  I'm due for a good cleaning at home, and right after that is when I'll be busting out the decorations to make my home a little homier.  Maybe it'll even inspire you to host a little holiday shindig too!

2.  When decorating, I think it's key to stick to a theme.  You want to stay away from the mish mash of every type of holiday decoration out there all thrown together - tacky.  It will end up annoying you and discouraging you from decorating again in the future.  I like to choose one household color theme for each year - last year my tree was silver and blue.  This year, I may stick with red and white, or maybe gold and green.  Also, I always go with white Christmas lights only.  I think it looks much more neat, tasteful and aesthetic to the eye.  However, if you have kids, it can be fun to play with colored lights, but keep the other holiday decor tamed down to balance it out.  In my opinion, if you are going to make the effort to get a tree and decorate it, stick with only a real tree.  I have yet to see a fake tree that doesn't look really fake.  Another tip: consider going for a tabletop 3-foot tree.  It is just as festive as a human-sized tree with much less of a pain in the ass.  My favorite type of tree is Douglas Fir - it sheds the least and looks the best, but it doesn't pack as much of a smell as some other varieties unfortunately.  And lastly, the earliest to put up a Christmas tree is the day after Thanksgiving, and the last day until it needs to be thrown out is within one week after New Years Eve.  (I wish I could give some tips on Jewish decorating traditions..I'll have to consult with one of my Jewish friends for advice.)

3.  Start thinking about your gift giving now.  There's nothing that discourages me more from buying gifts for people than being rushed and indecisive at the last minute.  I'm already slowly looking around and taking note of what to get my friends and family this year.  Once you get the gift giving bug, it begins to run on its own momentum and excitement.  There's no feeling comparable to doing something nice for someone or giving them a well thought out gift.

4.  Holiday fashion can be really fun to play with.  My favorite winter wardrobe picks include: velvet, jewel tones, lace, fur (faux or real depending on your preference), black and brown together during the daytime, scarves (of course), and last but not least, winter white.  The old saying that you shouldn't wear white after labor day is baloney and completely outdated.  White is one of the freshest, chic-est colors you can wear no matter your size.  When done right, white won't add pounds, and it will leave you fresh faced and glowing.  Also, if done right, you can still wear your open toed heels if you wear them with tights (not nude).  My favorite go-to for the holiday season are black tights in every variety, and I like pairing them with everything from dresses, to shorts, to skirts.

5.  Don't forget to tip well around the holiday season.  Keep in mind that service industry workers commonly do not have holidays off like most of society, and are usually working on those days.  Show your appreciation by expressing kindness, gratitude and a nice tip is always a perk as well.

6.  To prepare for holiday traveling, read my Tips on Traveling in Style blog to ensure your easygoing yet fabulous flying experience.  Also, organization is key: locate that passport and travel documentation now and put it in a safe spot.

7.  If you're thinking of throwing a holiday party, start planning now.  Also, I highly recommend making it a pot luck unless you're prepared to pay at least $500 for food and bev alone.  I've thrown one for the past 4 years, and while it can be a little stressful to plan, it has always been worth it.  I'd recommend having one if your house is large enough to hold 30-50 people.  And when attending holiday parties, always RSVP to the event, ask permission to bring guests, show up generally on time, bring a small gift for the host, consider bringing your camera and taking pictures (since the host is usually too busy to do it themselves) and it's always nice to offer to help with anything while you're there.

8.  It can be easy to pack on weight over the holidays.  Save the splurging for holiday parties or on the actual holidays themselves, not all season when you're constantly surrounded by goodies on a daily basis.  Also, I've heard of people who go sober for the month of January to de-tox from all the boozing.  I've always wanted to do this, and I think it can be a great way to drop some added lbs from the November and December months.

9.  Stay away from wearing any kind of bells or flashing light jewelry.

It's officially the holidays, so even if you're a "holiday hater", try and embrace the season.  It will make it easier on you and everyone else.  You'll be surprise how fun it can be!  Cheers!


Tis the season for champs!
[Free people bandeau, Rare Opulence ballgown skirt]

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ask Viva

Can you define the line between saying something funny and being offensive?  

This is often an issue when the two people communicating here are of different genders.  Men and women think very differently, and it is common for one person to become upset over something said, when the other person simply didn't meant it in an offensive way.  I think the two keys here are: be empathetic, and when in doubt, withhold. When speaking with the potential victim of the offensive comment, think about what kind of a person he/she is, and what they've been through in their lives.  Considering this will give you an edge and some needed know-how throughout the conversation. If they grew up in the Midwest, a "fly-over states" joke isn't going to go that well. If you find yourself unfamiliar with what this person has been through and their history, chances are you just don't know them well enough to be making risky and inappropriate jokes.

In addition, when dealing specifically with women, I'd advise to always be a little more sensitive than you would be usually until you get a good grasp of who she is.  Most women are very sensitive, especially with men, and will take offense.  If there is any kind of romantic connection, have the foresight to realize the repercussion of how your comment is going to come across.  I will say that from my own personal experience, whenever I become offended by something, after the dust has settled I usually look back in retrospect and feel that I was being overly sensitive.  Being empathetic indeed goes both ways - for the person feeling offended as well.  If you find yourself getting defensive or feeling hurt, stop for a minute and think of where the other person may be coming from, what they are like, their sense of humor.  Often times, we are being oversensitive for no good reason.  There are times where people are just plain rude and need to be put in check too, though.  However, I think it's safe to say that if we were all a little more empathetic about where each other is coming from, it would be beneficial for everyone involved.  Most of the time, people are being thoughtless, rather than malicious, and I believe it's important to remember that.

So you've offended someone.  Now what?  It's going to happen; it's impossible to live a conflict-free existence.  Theres hope: in almost all circumstances, having the right attitude after the offending comment has the power to successfully smooth things over and put you back in the happy zone.  There are always things that can be said and done to make people feel better.  It happens often in the media - a celebrity says something offensive that is taken the wrong way, they vehemently apologize, and people calm down and forgive.  However, when not handled the right way, the effects can be lasting- take Chris Brown for example.  He didn't issue a public apology - let alone even address the incident - until well after, and in my opinion the backlash was worse than it had to be.  A good example of a blunder that was well made up for was Dog the Bounty Hunter and the "N word" scandal.  That was taken out of context, and while everyone freaked out at first, after he immediately publicly apologized, the incident quickly died down and his show was signed for another season.  Apologizing after the offending comment, and in a genuine way (because people will only become more angry if it is sarcastic or not genuine) will usually bring it down from a 10 to a 6.  

To sum it up: use your head beforehand.  Be empathetic, and if you mess up, be genuine about your apology and learn from your mistake.  You'd be surprised how even the worst gaffes can be recovered from.

Now good luck, a-hole!  (Just kidding!) ;-)


Sending flowers never hurts, either :-)
[Gaslamp district, San Diego, CA]