Better Red(head) than Dead

VanGoghSelfPortrait1889-90OrsayAA webOne day my mother came home from the interior decorating shop where she worked, very upset about a young man who had come into the store with his mother.

“You wouldn’t believe what his T-shirt said!” my mom cried. “‘Better Dead Than Red!’”

I asked her what it meant.

“He’s making fun of redheads, of course!” she lamented, her curly, fiery hair aflutter. “Why would anyone wear such a thing?”

It was the early eighties, in the thick of the Cold War, but I had yet to learn about Communism. It didn’t occur to me for another decade or so that the shirt that would pierce her to the core was merely calling for the demise of Soviets. But that memory has always defined my mother and her abiding personal connection with her hair, something the rest of the family would never fully understand.

I didn’t inherit the red but passed it on to my middle daughter, whose hair stops people cold in grocery aisles and brings elderly Irishmen to tears. We have fielded questions about her hair since she emerged with the carrotty fuzz nine years ago. Almost without exception, it’s the first topic of discussion when she meets someone new. It’s made for some pleasant talk but also some awkward situations, such as when she is praised as rare and beautiful just inches from her brown-haired siblings.

Not long ago I asked my daughter what she thought about her hair, and she said, “I like it. In the sun, it’s shiny, and underwater it looks all coppery. But talking to everyone about it gets annoying.” [Read more...]

Bar Rescue, the Wedding at Cana, and Me

Bar Rescue Spike TVGuest post by Lisa Ampleman

I hardly ever go to bars, and when I do, I tend not to drink. I don’t like the taste of beer and even a drink or two can give me insomnia.

So why am I addicted to the reality show Bar Rescue?

I’m not the intended audience for the show on Spike TV, a network that “knows what guys like,” as their website says. The advertisements feature starlets suggestively eating Hardees burgers and men satisfied with their aerodynamic razors.

Still, I’m mesmerized by each formulaic episode. Attempting to account for this, I reflect on my past. Until my early twenties, I didn’t eat well or exercise or even know how to share my emotions with others.

I had no one to coach me, but, determined to change, I found books on healthy living and put into place my own systems. Knowing that new habits form more easily in times of change, I took advantage of the upheaval of moving into an apartment and starting a teaching job.

New daily life, new person, I told myself. [Read more...]

The Machinery of Cowardice Fails the Children of Rotherham

policeMy children once heard someone address me as “Doctor,” and so they asked me if I am the kind of doctor who helps people. I told them no, I have a PhD. I told them I’d studied why smart people do dumb things in groups. It interested me at the time, but when I see the headlines coming out of Rotherham, England—hundreds of children systematically raped and otherwise brutalized while authorities did nothing—I think the problem isn’t smart people collectively behaving like fools, but decent people becoming cowards.

The details of this tragedy are varied enough to whet any axe: the ethnicity and religion of the perpetrators; their targeting of impoverished children; fear by authorities that cracking down would lead to accusations of racism; the notion among police officers witnessing gang rapes that the victims—some of them as young as eleven—were willing participants; the concurrent persecution by child welfare authorities, even as they ignored these crimes, of foster care families whose political activities were deemed unsavory. The entire story sparks rage and it invites despair.

I am always curious about the decision processes of authorities in the midst of such atrocities. How can an infrastructure of ostensible protection become so dysfunctional that it overlooks mass rapes of children for a dozen years? [Read more...]

My Garden, the Book of Joel, and God’s Plagues

il_340x270.624628888_ss6oFirst came the vine borers. These are moths. The females lay their eggs inside the stalks of squash plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae start to eat. They eat so greedily, the larvae can easily kill the entire plant.

I learned that you must split the vines open where you see gunk building up on the outside of the vine. Then you stick in your finger until you feel a grub and pull the little wriggler right out.

After the vine borers came the cucumber beetles, of the family Chrysomelidae. We had two types: spotted and striped. With cucumber beetles, it is not the beetle so much as the bacteria they carry with them. Bacterial wilt makes all the plants in your garden look so very yellow and sad.

The kale was being ravaged by two kinds of caterpillars. One sort was lime-green in color; the other a striped, fast-growing, slightly fuzzy little sucker that replicated at a rate faster than my wife and I could keep up with or understand. The fuzzy crawlers seemed to generate spontaneously. [Read more...]

An American Girl’s Tale

American-girlDave Ramsey, the millionaire evangelical Christian money coach who’s famous for telling his clients they “can’t afford it” and hectoring them to pay their bills in cash, would have thought I had lost my mind.

And, indeed, it is true that I was aflame with that particularly American form of madness which manifests itself as Having to Shop. The day before I had faced some obstacles peculiar to the American professional workplace, nothing that was all that punishing but was disorienting and exhausting enough—work-life balance, blah blah blah—that the only appropriate remedy was to spend money. I took my five-year-old daughter to the American Girl store in Tyson’s Corner Mall.

This was a matter of some urgency: The dolls Marie-Grace and Cécile had “been retired,” and I was in a race to get at least one of them.

Let us pause now to consider the phenomenon of American Girl dolls in general, premium-priced, but not especially fragile or rare dolls that were once noted for their exceptionally and historically detailed accessories. The line of dolls with accompanying books launched way back at the end of the 1980s, long after my own doll years in the more modest era of the patchwork-clad Holly Hobbie. [Read more...]


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