Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

Posts Tagged "Holidays"

Religionless Lent

Posted on Mar 14, 2011 in Featured, Thing 1, Thing 2 |

Religionless Lent

I knew when the kids asked about the meaning of Mardi Gras, that it was all over. Dang inquisitive little people are relentless on a mommy who doesn’t really want to talk about the murder of Christ while running carpool to ballet class. These conversations always happen in the car, and inevitably when I’m running late.

Where to start? Twelfth Night? The Three Kings? Magic? Dark magic Ann Rice-type stuff? Ash Wednesday? Sin? None quite appropriate for two smiley faced 7-year-olds. But again, my kids proved to me, as they always do, that they grasp the meaning of life so much more than I ever will.

I told them about Fat Tuesday and the meaning of the word Mardi Gras, I told them that the next day began a long, quiet time for Catholics who sacrifice something each year to remember Christ’s long, quite time in the desert away from family and friends. I told them when he came back that he was killed for the things he believed in. I told them, as to the best of my recollection from Catholic school,  that Easter was not about a bunny, but about Jesus rising from the dead. It’s hard to tell this story, because my own beliefs are more along the Spring Solstice than the death and rising of a man, but I tried to be objective. Yes, Fat Tuesday is a party, but it’s not just for party sake.

“I will give up ice cream for Lent,” my Thing 1 said frankly. “Me too. And guacamole,” my Thing 2 chimed in.

I explained that our family is not a family of religion, but of faith. I told them that this type of sacrifice was not necessary. They nodded at me in complete disagreement:

“I believe in the good of every religion. I believe in the good in every friend. I am going to do Lent with them, because if they are giving up something for what they believe in, they I should do it with them to make it easier.”

And so it was decided. My religionless little children, Christlike without knowing who Christ even is, decided our fate for the next 40 days.

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Mowing in the Target Trough

Posted on Jan 2, 2011 in Featured, Seasons |

Mowing in the Target Trough

“Valentine’s Day is coming!,” La Gringa said yesterday. “Shut the hell up”, I thought, as we were herded toward the Christmas blowout sale aisle with another three dozen bargain shoppers. If the post-holiday season wasn’t depressing enough, try perusing through the 75% off racks at Target with once-carefully thought-out gift options, now chucked on the ground, grinding under my shopping cart. The Target message was clear: the holidays are over sucker, move on the Valentine’s Day! MLK Day Commemorative Plates! SuperBowl Sunday Chip’n’Dip Bowls!

It suddenly hit me: Target is ruling my spending, my holidays and my calendar.

Now, like all good neighborhood residents, I try hard to shop locally, but Target is Target and we all eat from the same trough of discount deals, readily available everythings and decent selections. If you’ve got a lunch break, you go to Target, if you’ve got a bunch of errands, you go to Target, if you need uniforms, kids underwear, bananas, a birthday card and a new scale all at once, you go to Target (For the record, you don’t ever buy your wife a new wardrobe at Target for her birthday, trust me.). The problem is, Target is leading loyal customers into truly believing that it’s the benchmark for all things commerce. That’s where I draw the line.

There things to be mindful of when shopping at Target as a regular source of purchasing:

1. Emotion Marketing. Because Target says it’s time to start buying Easter baskets in February, doesn’t mean you should. Or that it should be on your mind, or in your current budget. It’s hard to resist, right? This year I saw Back to School clothes for sale at Target in June. By August when I went to buy the uniforms, they were sold out. You’re kidding me, right? I used to get my school uniforms the weekend before school started and supplies, the day after school started. Target has me thinking about — and buying — items on their marketing schedule, not mine.

2. Selection and Variety. We need a new scale. Target has four kinds of scales. Good variety, right? If Target doesn’t have it, then it doesn’t exist, or costs too much or is too much of a pain to get in the car and go across town to the shop that specializes in such things. There are four types to choose from, just pick one, right? The same goes for toys, kids clothes and seasonal tsotchke. I couldn’t find a silver cardigan for my daughter at Target, so I just didn’t buy it. The developmental kids toys are the same everywhere and I should just pick one of them in the “developmental” toys aisle at Target — well, at least that’s my thinking. Yesterday I staged a rebellion: I’m going to (a) research scales  (b) determine what kinds of features I want (c) read the reviews. Then, I’ll go to Target and if they have it, great, I’ll stick it in my cart next to the deodorant and Intro to Yoga DVD, but if they don’t, I won’t be a slave to the Target machine, I will buy the scale I want to buy. Maybe. That is, er, f I have time and I don’t have to stop by Target anyway on my way to pick up my kid from ballet.

3. Setting the bar. I am often reminded when I question authority, process and procedures that most things are geared toward marketing toward, or communicating with, the lowest common denominator. Everything from public school to airport security screenings are designed for Bozo the Clown, so it’s no surprise that even my son calls out the low bar of marketing messaging. “What does ‘MORE SWEAT FOR LESS’ mean, Mommy?,” my 7-year-old asks. “It means you can pay less money for sweat pants,” I replied. “Why do I want to sweat more for less?”  he answered. Indeed son, why? For the love of all that is good: My kid is calling out the low level communication strategies. But you know what I did, huh? Huh? I turned around to see if they had the same sale for women’s sweat pants.

And so it goes. I love me my “Tar-jay”  I know that I’m part of a marketing machine and I expect the bar to be set low. I’m never disappointed nor impressed. I won’t be deterred from the big red circle and cheap popcorn at the front door. I won’t either be impressed by quality, selection or price. But here’s the kicker, see… I don’t have to like it, but it’s hard not to.

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Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye

Posted on Jan 1, 2011 in Holidays |

We watched as my mom released 10 balloons into the sky on New Year’s Eve singing at the top of our lungs, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, Hey, hey, hey Good-bye!” Under my breath I whispered to her, “See you later, sucky year.”

2010 was a crap year.

There is nothing like the shadow of a sick mom to put a haze over even the best of years — months and weeks clouded by hospital visits, medication and status reports. Then the second shoe dropped: La Gringa’s mom had lung cancer too. Both our moms down for the count. Shockingly, we’re the ones who were lucky this year. One street over, my friend Rita was holding it together for her husband and children, but before the year ended, she’d said goodbye to her husband, not to a slew of balloons. My dear friend and soul mate Elliot died this year too from brain cancer. In a screwed twist of fate, his brain was known well for being far beyond any of ours. My friend Jill’s mom died suddenly on her anniversary morning after beating cancer the previous year– how whacked is that? El Ano Horrible also brought on bitch-slaps to savings accounts everywhere, sending most of us into (gasp!) cutting our Anthropologie budgets to halt. The year also a bust of companies I loved, worked for and was loyal to — from layoffs to shut-downs, Silicon Valley seemed to be on a colossal roller coaster.

I literally could not wait to say goodbye to 2010. And this morning, the first morning of the next decade, I cannot wait for 2011 to get started, looking toward a year that is just simply better than the last.

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Fudging It

Posted on Dec 16, 2010 in Featured, Food, Holidays |

Fudging It

It’s quite possible that I could be disowned for this one, but my grandmother has long passed and I’m just daring enough to give you the best holiday gift I have can offer: my fudge recipe. My only tip: timing is everything Oh, and one more: don’t forget to lick the bowl. Here you go, the one and only non-hand printed version of our family’s favorite:

Garza Girl’s Fudge

4 1/2 cups white sugar

1 can evaporated milk

36 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped rough fine

1/2 # unsalted butter, cut in chunks

10 ounces good quality marshmallows

2 Tablespoons vanilla

2 cups rough chop walnuts

Bring sugar and milk to a soft ball stage (don’t mess with it while it’s working its magic). Remove from heat. Add butter, chocolate and marshmallows and rapidly incorporate fully. Add walnuts and finish with vanilla. Place in baking sheet and cool at room temperature until set (about two hours). Cut fudge into one-inch squares.


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Gas Station Stalking and Other Random Acts of Kindness

Posted on Dec 9, 2010 in Featured, Giving, Motherboard |

Gas Station Stalking and Other Random Acts of Kindness

We sat quietly in the corner of the parking lot — inconspicuous as we could be, staking out the Rotten Robbie gas station. We watched people come and go, and waited patiently to pounce. Who was the next target of the day going to be? We wanted unsuspecting citizens — unaware of our stealth plan.

Inside the car, the four of us whispered, sitting low in our seats and diverting our eyes from suspecting passersby. How we’d pull-off the job was thoroughly discussed. And then, our opportunity arrived: a white Ford Explorer, driven by a 50-something woman. As we gave the O-K sign, I crouched down low and ran from our car into the gas station and shoved $20 into the attendant’s hand:

“HER!,” I whispered, “We want to pay for her gas! Now! Pump 4! Go! Go!”

I put my cap down and walked unsuspectingly back to our car, quietly closed the door and started the car. Next it was time for LaGringa’s part of the job. The woman walked into the station to pay for her gas and we peeled out of the parking lot, whipping an illegal u-turn and zooming up to the woman’s car. La Gringa jumped out and put our calling card on her car door. Then we took off, finding shelter, parked stealthily across the street and waited.

The woman came out of the gas station looking around in both directions — she was clearly suspicious of our actions. She walked carefully to her car and picked up the card on her door looked at both sides of it before reading what it said:

You received this act as part of Yahoo!’s effort to spread joy around the world. We hope this inspires you to make the ripple grow by doing something good for someone else. That’s how good grows. Share it at

Our car exploded with excitement. We pulled-off the job! Slowly, we creeped our not-so-stealthy red SUV out of the parking lot in cheers.

Back at the lair, we surveyed our booty: we secretly had hit three gas stations paying fo gas for unsuspecting citizens, bought bagels for two senior citizens who’d just gone for a run, and given out Lottery tickets to strangers on the street throughout San Jose. We were high on the thrill of secret giving. The feeling of giving a random act of kindness was not only contagious, but addictive. We piled in the getaway car and headed south, casing out our next target.

As part of my role with the Yahoo! Motherboard, I was given $100 in cash to pass-on random acts of kindness during the holiday season. You can learn more at: How Good Grows, Start a ripple of kindness with one simple act.
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24 Days, 0 Tweets

Posted on Dec 9, 2010 in Family, Friends, Rants and Raves, Featured |

24 Days, 0 Tweets

Last December, I took a vow of radio silence from Twitter for 17 days, and although I did find some peace in being untied to my iPhone, I also found that I missed online engagement more than I’d expected. This year, I’m upping the ante, and going Twitter and Facebook-free for 24 days to try and understand more about how social media tools truly impact the life of someone who works in the business itself.

Neither of my top clients —  the paying nor the offspring variety — are doing anything on Twitter or Facebook over the next three weeks. So why should I? What can I learn from the online community that I shouldn’t be learning from the people and magic and family that surrounds the holidays in my own home? And what is it about my world that is so important and exciting that I need to disengage from it to broadcast to the world? I’m guessing, not much.

My motivation last year was a $100 credit to Anthropologie from La Gringa if I was able to keep the vow. I don’t have a carrot yet this year. I better think about that.

Now there are logistics to keeping me completely off of Facebook and Twitter for over three weeks. I don’t have self-restraint, so I’m going to have to remove all temptation. Here is how I plan to do it:

1. Remove all social media monitoring tools from my desktop (this is no small task).

2. Remove Tweetdeck and Twitterlator Pro from my iPhone.

3. Go to and set my preferences to not receive any alerts to my mobile device (that’s cheating!)

4. Go to Facebook and set my email alerts to none.

5. Remove FB app from my iPhone.

6. Leave a post/tweet of the day I will be returning (this is mostly for work stuff)

What do you think? Think you could do it? I challenge you to try.

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