A Super Special Halloween Special

I am a Halloween Scrooge. It was fun when my kids were little because Halloween was cute. I sewed all their costumes, took them to every community Halloween event and took a million photos. Somewhere along the line it got really old, probably because they got old and didn’t like cute costumes anymore.

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 I don’t like scary movies or bloody body parts and I really don’t get the whole zombie obsession that’s infected everyone lately. I don’t like having to put up decorations or find costumes or fight the crowds at WitchFests and Halloween carnivals. Corn mazes are cold and frustrating, pumpkin carving is slimy, messy and time consuming. And I only stay at the school Halloween parade long enough to see my kids. (Actually, let’s be honest here – I only stay long enough for them to see that I showed up.) I know it’s everyone’s favorite holiday, but I think of Halloween as the hair in my butternut squash soup – it ruins an otherwise perfectly lovely October.

But this week I went all in. I did lots of Halloween things and I was determined to have a good attitude about every activity. And it worked! I told myself I had to have fun and because I’m very obedient, I did have fun.

I usually hate making the trek to go out and search for pumpkins, opting for the quicker grocery store trip instead, but this week I took my younger boys to a pumpkin patch. It was a lovely sunny day and I went through a hay maze, on a tractor ride, got dirty and ripped a hole in my new shirt and I still had fun.

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I’ve hated haunted houses ever since I went once as a child. It seems so strange to pay money to have creeps jump out at me. But I went with some friends to a haunted forest at a local scout camp and walked through the woods at night without flashlights where there were scary deer everywhere and teenagers jumping out at us. And yet, I still had fun. (Really, besides the deer, the scariest part of the whole evening was this sink in the scout camp trading post.)

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I usually hate doing anything that makes me feel like a teenager again, but this week I went to a party where we were sent on a video scavenger hunt while wearing witch costumes. I had to do pranks in public, search through a graveyard and participate in a seed spitting contest with slimy seeds taken out of a fresh pumpkin. As crazy as it sounds, I really did have a lot of fun.

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Halloween costumes became less fun the year I dressed up as Miss Yvonne from Pee Wee’s Playhouse in junior high and nobody knew who I was supposed to be and the dress was too big and annoying. I usually don’t dress up at all any more, but this week I went to the trouble to put together couple’s costumes to wear to our family Halloween party and I had so much fun (mostly because my costume was super easy and my husband’s was so incredible.)

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And tonight I’m even going to carve my own pumpkin. Even though I hate the mess and I am not at all artistic or crafty and mine will probably be lamest jack-o-lantern on the porch, I’m sure I will have fun doing that too. And if I don’t, I can just drown my frustrations in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Because really, when it’s all said and done, isn’t that really what Halloween is all about?

 

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Opera for Dummies

The first time Phantom of the Opera came to Utah, I remember watching a news story where excited fans were praising and gushing. One woman said, “I’m just thrilled. I’ve never seen a real opera before.” Music snob that I was, I thought it was hilarious that she confused the Broadway musical for an actual opera. Of course, I was conveniently forgetting that I had never seen a real opera before either. It’s kind of pathetic that Pretty Woman and Little Women have watched more opera than I have.

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As a music major, I took many music history classes and I’m sure I answered correctly all the test questions about opera without ever actually watching one all the way through. Although I love listening to art songs, I have always had a bit of a bias against opera. Like most prejudices, mine wasn’t based on any actual knowledge or experience. It just wasn’t appealing to me.

The only full-length opera I’ve seen live is Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (based on the Henry James novel) at the Eastman School of Music in October 2000. It was 14 years ago, but I can still remember a particularly disturbing scene – not that it was graphic in any way, but there was just something about the combination of Britten’s music, James’ suspenseful story, and a particularly convincing portrayal of the pedophile/ghost Peter Quint that sucked me in and has stayed with me all these years. It was quite an overwhelming experience and afterwards whenever I visited the school and saw the student who had played Quint in the hallways I was still totally creeped out by him and found myself feeling extra protective of my son, which is probably a sign that he played his part well.

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I know there are many different styles of singing so it’s ignorant of me to lump all opera into one big “Not Interested” pile. And maybe that’s the problem – I am pretty ignorant when it comes to this area of music. Ignorant by choice. And unlike other genres of classical music, opera can’t really be sampled in bite-sized chunks. I’ve tried it, but there’s no way to fully understand an aria outside of the context of the bigger story, no way to really appreciate it without watching an opera in its entirety. I haven’t put in the effort and up until now that hasn’t really bothered me.

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But lately I’ve been feeling sheepish about my lack of opera knowledge. I decided the only way I would ever get around to watching any opera would be if I went to see one of the live performances the Metropolitain Opera broadcasts from New York to local movie theaters around the country. I’m sure it would be more ideal for me to support a live local performance, but at this point in my life, trying to arrange that into our schedule seems impossible. And if I’m not even sure how I feel about opera in the first place, I’d rather go for the convenient choice. Plus, if it’s the Metropolitain Opera it’s got to be good, right? So this week I ditched my family on a Saturday and spent four hours at the movie theater watching Mozart’s The Marriage of FigaroI knew I was in the right place when I saw the line of elderly people waiting for the doors of the theater to open at 11 a.m.

I realize I haven’t seen any other versions of this opera to compare, but I thought Ildar Abdrazakov and Marlis Petersen were refreshingly funny as Figaro and Susanna and Isabel Leonard played a beguiling Cherubino. This newest version of the opera is set in the 1930s, so some of the talk about the count’s “feudal rights” doesn’t exactly fit, but I liked the whole Downton Abbey/Upstairs Downstairs look to it, especially given the subject matter.

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So much was expressed through physical humor that I really don’t think I could have understood or appreciated it as much by just listening to it and reading along with the libretto. Since it’s a farce, the storyline is pretty silly but I couldn’t help getting swept up in the plot twists and in the humor and on-stage chemistry of the performers. It was clever and fun and a pleasure to watch.

 

Although I was already familiar with a lot of the music, I really didn’t have a complete understanding of the meaning and context until I watched the whole thing. And now that I’ve got the opera bug, I’m thinking I might just have to go see the rest of the season’s performances. I’ve still got a lot to learn, and it would get me out of policing the kids’ Saturday chores.

If you’d like to see The Marriage of Figaro, you can go see BYU’s production this week (it ends this Saturday). And I’m sure it will be good because the role of the countess will be played by Rebecca Pedersen who was the winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s competition in 2013, the second youngest winner in the history of the competition. Also, half the cast was in the movie theater with me Saturday and, no joke, they actually sang along in parts with the opening credits.

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You’re Invited…

This week I hosted a direct sales party in my home for the first time. I’ve never done it in the past because it combines two of my least favorite things: deep cleaning my house and asking my friends to do something they might not want to do.

I only host parties two or three times a year and every time I do the cleaning and prep fills me with rage. I start scrubbing one thing which makes me notice something else and pretty soon I realize that I must be very good at blocking out the sight of my children’s fingerprints because they are EVERYWHERE. If I could see my house on a regular basis the way I see it through potential guests’ eyes, I would be driven to madness. On the other hand, I shudder to think how disgusting things would look if I didn’t have parties as a reason to put on my nitpicky goggles once in a while.

I balked at the idea of hosting a sales party because I know what it’s like to be invited to one when I don’t have a specific budget category allocated for Guilt Money and I didn’t want to put anyone else in that position. I realize that the sales party is a viable business model for many companies and is an attractive option for stay-at-home moms so it won’t be going away anytime soon. And I also understand that for many women, an invitation to a sales party is a nice excuse to get out of the house and spend some girl time with friends. But I also know from my own experience that the merging of business and friendship can sometimes create awkward feelings of obligation and guilt which can lead to unwanted purchases of overpriced merchandise.

I decided to try hosting a party, partly so I’d stop being such a curmudgeon, partly to see what the fuss is about, but mostly so I’d have something to write about this week. When deciding which company to work with, I went straight to the obvious choice, the grandmother of all in-home direct sales parties: Tupperware.

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Tupperware parties began in the 1950’s and grew in popularity at a rapid pace. As Jon Kelly describes in BBC News Magazine:

“The famous Tupperware parties, at which the containers were sold, were prototype girls’ nights in, as much about getting to know one’s neighbours as they were about commerce… Briefly liberated from their domestic routine, guests would play games such as ‘Waist Measurement’ or ‘Write An Honest Advert To Sell Your Husband’ before being sold Wonder Bowls and Ketchup Funnels.”

And the Tupperware party is so much a part of the American experience that it even got its own episode of American Experience. It is as much a part of our collective memory of the 1950’s as Elvis Presley, Leave it to Beaver and Jello molds.

Because it’s been around for so long and because there are still many loyal customers, I decided to have my sister-in-law hook me up with her Tupperware dealer, Tricia Dunstan (I don’t know what her exact title is, but I’ll call her a dealer because I think my sister-in-law might be an addict). Tricia made the planning process really easy for me, which is good because I’m lazy and I was a little apprehensive about inviting my friends.

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On the day of the party, I was overscheduled and feeling stressed out. I was seriously annoyed about a time-wasting doctor’s appointment and was scrambling to get my floors mopped and vacuumed in time. My husband had a work conflict and my oldest two had a school conflict, so my 10-year-old was left to help me with the last minute cleaning and the babysitting during the party. I was starting to regret the decision to host this thing and was secretly wishing I could just take a four hour nap instead.

But then the party got rolling, my friends came (many of them were recovering from equally crazy days), and my mood changed. Tricia was very professional in her demonstration and she also made us dinner, which was good because I had forgotten to feed my children. In spite of the fact (or probably because of the fact) we didn’t measure anyone’s waist or play any other silly games, it was a lot of fun. There’s something about being with other women (and chocolate) that can be healing, and I’m such a hermit that I sometimes don’t recognize the value of spending time with friends once in a while. I hope they enjoyed themselves and I really hope they didn’t feel pressure to buy stuff.

I was having so much fun, I forgot to take any pictures at the party, but trust me – it was JUST like this:

After everyone left, Tricia tabulated the totals and figured out my host credit, which was then doubled because we chose an auspicious time in the Tupperware calendar to schedule the party. I was shocked to learn that I got to choose $170 worth of free merchandise and could get half off two additional items. No wonder people host sales parties – the payoff was definitely worth my time and effort.

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But then I had guilt. Guilt because I was really only doing this for a blog post. Guilt because I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured into buying something. And guilt because I didn’t think I deserved all the new stuff I was getting. I’m pretty sure I would be a terrible salesperson. I’m very excited to try out my new Power Chef and mandoline and I hope everyone else is excited about their orders. And I did try to assuage my own guilt by going to my friend’s Norwex party the next day. And thus the wheels of suburbia go round and round.

As we were wrapping up the party, Tricia said, “You have good friends,” and I have to agree with her. I really do have good friends. Maybe I could even talk them into doing the Tupperware Party Dance with me some time:

 

 

A Vein Attempt

I was in my 30’s before it dawned on me that whatever punk kid told me I could get lead poisoning if I was stabbed by a pencil was lying. Lest you think I’m a total idiot, it’s not that I lived constantly with the fear of pencil injuries. It’s just that someone put that idea into my head when I was a child, I packed it away in the back of my mind, and then I never had occasion to revisit it. When I remembered that tidbit as an adult, of course I knew it was ridiculous but it was still embarrassing that it took so long.

Twenty years ago, I got an eye infection and went to the doctor who told me it was from my contact lenses. He said I should never wear contacts again. So I didn’t. Then three years ago, I thought I might give them a try and guess what? I’ve been just fine. No infections, no residual damage from the previous infection. Maybe I should’ve gotten a second opinion.

When I was seventeen, I tried to give blood at the school blood drive. After a while, the phlebotomist told me I’d been sitting there twice as long as everyone else and had only filled half of a bag. She said I should never try to give blood again. So I didn’t. But in the last few years I’ve wondered if maybe she was wrong. Why was I just taking her word for it?

Every time there’s a blood drive, I feel like a useless human being. Some people get to say, “I wish I could, but I just don’t weigh enough,” or “If only I didn’t spend all those years living in Europe, I could give blood.” #humblebrag I’m sure they’re just as frustrated that they can’t give blood, but at least they have valid excuses. Mine is that I have a lazy circulatory system? That even my blood flow is humdrum? Not acceptable. I decided to give it another shot. (Oh, look, a pun!)

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Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve tried many new things I swore I’d never do and it’s been entertaining and educational for me. But even more satisfying are the times I’ve done something I always meant to get around to trying but hadn’t because it involved getting past the first step in the process.

Am I the only one who does this? I put something off because it seems too complicated but once I start Step 1, it’s easy to follow through and finish. Usually Step 1 is much more simple than I think and I often end up wondering why I procrastinated in the first place. My post on our week without cars pushed us to do a few things we always meant to get around to doing and now my husband does the bike/bus thing at least three times a week. It was something he always wanted to try but just needed to get past the initial hurdle.

I decided to tackle the first step of my blood donation do-over by calling the Red Cross to ask about my specific problem and to see if it was possible for me to be a donor. It took me less than five minutes to look up the number, complete the phone call and then schedule an appointment online. Less than five minutes! That’s a pretty easy first step.

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Then I went to the donation center after drinking five times the recommended amount of water (16 oz. for every time the guy on the phone repeated his advice to drink lots of water). I wasn’t sure whether I’d be turned away right away or if I’d be stuck there for hours while they waited for me to drain slowly. When I got there, I read the information packet, answered the questions, squeezed the squishy ball, filled the bag with my blood in record time (well, my personal record, anyway), ate my snack, and was done in less than an hour. Not difficult. Why did I wait so long to do this?

And since I was on a getting-things-done kick, my husband and I spent the next two hours replacing bad tires on one car, getting an oil change in another, and replacing some kitchen stuff that’s been bugging us for months. We counted it as our date for the week. And then we bought these creepy birds for Halloween decorations. I’m not sure why – I’d blame it on delirium from blood loss, but what excuse does my husband have?

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It Seems We’ve Talked Like This Before

You know when you’ve heard people talk about something so many times that you assume you’ve experienced it yourself? Well, until I read this very funny blog post a few weeks ago, I assumed that at some point in my life, I must have watched the movie version of the popular Mormon play Saturday’s Warrior. But when I saw the GIFs in the blog post, I realized that none of the scenes looked familiar. I couldn’t believe I had lived in Utah for thirty-one years and had never actually watched Saturday’s Warrior. That’s like living in Anaheim and never visiting Disneyland. How could I consider myself a Utahn? A Mormon? Thank goodness for Youtube so I could finally watch it and see what I’ve been missing.

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I had a deprived childhood because not only had I never seen Saturday’s Warrior, but I also didn’t watch Johnny Lingo, another sacred cow (see what I did there?), until last year. All we had at our house as far as Mormon films go were the movie equivalents of generic, non-sugar cereals (which was also all we had at our house): Mr. Krueger’s ChristmasThe Phone Call, and Cipher in the Snow. Cipher in the Snow was my favorite because for some reason when I was a child I really enjoyed being sad. I also loved to sing “Maybe You Laughed” from Janeen Brady’s Songs for a Mormon Child because it made me cry to think about making fun of people who are “different looking” or who “act strange” and it was always a thrill when we got to hear Scott Strong, a member of our congregation, play his guitar and sing his popular “I’ll Build You a Rainbow” because it’s such a sad song. (Spoiler alert: THE MOM DIES!) Listening to it gave me another excuse to cry and I just loved to cry. If I had seen Saturday’s Warrior when I was young, it would have been right up my alley. Crying, singing and flowy interpretive dancing were pretty much my favorite things to do and that’s what Saturday’s Warrior is all about.

Well, actually that’s not what it’s about, but I don’t want to go into a whole synopsis. This article gives a pretty thorough summary and it turns out that Part II of the blog post that originally inspired me to watch the movie just came out this morning (there are no coincidences-we must have planned this in the pre-existence), so head over there for more specific details and a good laugh.

I also don’t want to delve too deeply into the doctrinal issues other than to say that I disagree with so much of the film’s premise that I hardly recognize it as coming from the same religion I believe in. The Wikipedia article explains: “Saturday’s Warrior is notable for being a popular source of unsanctioned doctrine not taught by the LDS Church – such as pre-existence-founded romantic relationships reaching fruition during mortality, and families being together before they come to the earth.” Many of these popular ideas stuck and were often preached in Sunday school classes as if they had scriptural origin. So while it’s easy to laugh at the cheesiness of Saturday’s Warrior, it’s also important to remember how widespread its influence was in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

That said, I’d like to report my initial impressions watching this as an adult for the very first time. I was prepared for it to be cheesy because it’s a low-budget Mormon movie of a stage production and everything made in the ‘80s is never as good to watch as we think it will be. (I don’t even want to try to watch Remington Steele again after experiencing how disappointing it was to revisit MacGyver, The Greatest American Hero and Quantum Leap.) But when I saw the big promises of “Hearts Softened. Priorities Reoriented. Children welcomed,” in the title sequence, I knew it would be so worth it. I had to give it my best effort.

So let’s start with SW’s version of heaven. According to the film, everyone in heaven waiting to come to earth either has perms with claw bangs or mullets, and they all wear brightly colored unitards or tunics. They pass their time by dancing, singing and scheming to find each other on the other side. And of course, there’s lots of good-natured joshing around. I’m not sure the significance of the gold wristband each person wears on one arm, though. At first I thought they were wearing watches, which didn’t make any sense. But then I figured out they were just wristbands, which didn’t make any sense.

Also, apparently in heaven, everyone has a very pronounced Utah accent. In fact, in the song “Sailing On” it seems that the writers planned for the Utah accent ahead of time with the line, “And children set sail without knowing too well.” Now you might read that and think, “Hey, sail and well don’t rhyme,” but in Utah they do rhyme, so it totally works!

I appreciate that the movie helps me to recognize Baddies. Because of SW, I’ve learned to avoid people who lounge around in vacant lots in revealing bare midriffs. Baddies wear biker shorts (and don’t even have the decency to cover up with a fanny pack), they swear, hang all over the nearest person and stroke each other’s hair, and they are extremely concerned with politics of the day, specifically overpopulation of the planet. Jimmy eventually saw the Baddies for the “Fair Weather” friends they were, but only after painful experience. I hope we can all learn from his cautionary tale so we don’t repeat his mistakes.

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The music reminds me so much of my childhood – not because I recognize the songs, but because I was exposed to a heavy dose of the Carpenters and Anne Murray, whose influence is most noticeable in “The Circle of Our Love” and “Paper Dream”. Then there’s the song the missionaries sing, “Humble Way.” I wonder, when they wrote the lyrics, “We are not the ordinary, Fearlessly extraodinary, Workin’ righteous Hari Kari, In our Humble Way,” did they know what Hari Kari means?

The only song I recognized as I watched this was “Line Upon Line” because I heard so many people perform during worship services back in the day. I know some complain about the LDS church’s relative strictness with regards to music allowed for use in worship, but it’s songs like “Line Upon Line” that make me so grateful for that strictness.

There were some inconsistencies in the movie. Like, if Jimmy is supposed to be such a rebel, how would his parents ever be able to talk him into joining in the family musical act on television? No twenty-something guy I know would don a Jimmy Durante nose and spread his jazz hands to sing “Daddy’s Nose” in public unless he was either incredibly devoted to his family or being paid a lot of money. Also, how can there be entire families, promised soul mates and even mission companions organized in the spirit world if there are also lines like “Come along now, if you miss this slot, the next one’s in Siberia.” and “If you want to be preaching to something besides marsupials in Madagascar, you had better get over there”?

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And when Jimmy finds out his parents are expecting another baby, he gets angry and moves out, breaking his pre-earth promise to baby sister Emily that he wouldn’t let his parents forget to have her. Then we see Emily in heaven crying, “Why didn’t he keep his promise?” I don’t understand. Did his outburst somehow reverse or halt the gestation process? Mrs. Flinders was already three months along, so how did his promise get broken? And then when Jimmy returns to his family, Emily says, “He kept his promise!” I don’t really get what he had to do with the whole process. I know he’s there at her birth, but I’m pretty sure that was the totality of his involvement.

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Speaking of the birth scene – I’ve seen some pretty unrealistic on-screen births , but this one had to be the worst. She gave birth on the couch in a blackout in under 15 seconds! I know it’s her eighth child, but still. Another implausible scene was when Julie and Todd met for the “first time” at the airport and immediately held hands, kissed, and then he picked her up and twirled her around. It’s already been established that Julie tends to fall in love easily, but even for her this seems a little fast.

Watching this did make me grateful that my missionary didn’t make me sign a pledge of fidelity and that my soulmate didn’t tell me, “If you’re the strangest looking girl on earth, I’d still love you.” (At least, I don’t think he did.) It was also reassuring to watch because I always thought I had such bad hair in the ‘80s, even worse than anyone else’s, but watching this makes me feel so much better. Apparently everyone had hair as bad as mine, especially Shelly. Poor Shelly.

But most of all, watching Saturday’s Warrior made me grateful to have been sent to loving parents who were wise enough to know what was best for me. We must have made a sacred pact that when we came to earth they wouldn’t make me watch Saturday’s Warrior.