Less News is Better News

Something terrible happened in our country last weekend. There's no way to rank the horrible stories that so often fill our news feeds, but this one made me feel bad personally. And I read about it a lot. 

When I had a moment to reflect, I thought about my news habit apart from the actual story. I was looking at headlines in the Apple news app, Twitter, and Facebook several times each day. I've often wondered if the constant exposure to the day's events and instant commentary from assorted sources does me any good. 

It's necessary to be informed, I've told myself. If nuclear war is coming, I should know in time to build a bunker, right? 

But it seems the more I know about what's going on, the more anxious, fearful, and sometimes irritable I become. There was a moment last Saturday when I was nearly shouting at the breakfast table. At who? And to what end? What purpose does this outrage serve?

"I'm going to stop looking at the news," I announced. "I'm serious this time, I'm done."
"I think that's a good idea," says my husband. He hasn't been able to watch TV news in years and will only read Auto Blog. 
"But how will I know what's going on in the world?" I asked. 
"You'll go out in it," was his response. 

He's right. I will. 

My main objection to our media outlets is the chasm between their reports and my observances and experiences of our country. I live right here in the red hot zone that elected our current president. Two of eight houses on my street displayed signs for the guy in their yards. And though I clearly differ politically from the majority of the people I interact with on any given day in my community, they are not bad, evil or even stupid people. They're friendly and loving. For the most part they take care of their responsibilities and are generally pleasant (except for when they're driving, people are really losing it behind the wheel for some reason). Some even go out of their way to help neighbors and strangers. 

The world is not dark. It's not on the verge of collapse. It's the same as it always has been. 

Up-to-the-second news feed updates paint a picture of a world that isn't fit for a reasonable person to live in. The stories have no balance. There's never any good news. There's no reminder that every weekend communities gather together in a variety of venues without violence or arguments. There's this constant bombardment of the crisis created by what "they" are doing. Perpetual conflict between us and "them." 

And we do need reminding, constantly, that there's only "we." There cannot be two sides in opposition. We all have to live together and we're not going to agree about anything. Each and every person on this planet is "they" and "them" to someone that thinks differently. The news should give that story a shot. 

Unfortunately, a positive narrative doesn't sell. It isn't going to trend on Twitter. I've had enough of the divisive rhetoric. I deleted my Apple news app and unfollowed New & Guts, Dan Rather, The New York Times, Bernie Sanders, et al on Facebook. I unfriended the one guy that just can't help but post the most disgusting political blather he can dig out of the Internet's seedy underbelly. I removed everything except for KDKA from my daily scroll.

This won't stop bad things from happening or suddenly cause my fellow Americans to join hands and sing songs of unity. It won't even keep the tumult out of my own home as KDKA piles on plenty. It will, however, allow me to focus on what's real and right in front of me: ordinary people doing the best they can. 

And a handful of jagoffs. 

But even the worst jagoff can't blot out the good that's all around us. That real world balance will stem the tide of hopelessness brought on by over consumption of media. At least, I'm pretty sure it will work for me. How about you? Do you ever think you pay too much attention to the news?

Hiking Hartwood with Adventure Dog

We walk our dogs every morning at one of the numerous county and township parks nearby. Ranging from quick one-mile treks around the two lakes at Deer Lakes Park to morning-long hikes at Hartwood Acres, we've covered a lot of ground this summer. Perhaps more mentally refreshing than physically taxing (this morning we clocked 1.5 miles in 34 minutes), it's a daily routine enjoyed by the whole family, especially our (nearly) senior-aged shih tzu, Leia.

At ten-years-old, Leia gets excited about treats and sleep. In that order. She enjoys a morning walk as a necessary precursor to her Rachel Ray Mini-Burger. Her walk is a familiar routine. It's a wooded trail that really gets her going. 

We take her to Hartwood Acres a few times a week. She sprints to the front of our pack to lead us over rocky ground, crossing streams, and climbing fallen logs. The forest is refreshing, cool and filled with little woodland creatures. Our main amusement though is our "adventure dog." She is able to cast off the tiredness of her age and conquer obstacles like a much more robust breed. A shih tzu wouldn't normally be considered the rugged, outdoorsy type. Our Leia has the heart of an explorer.

Leia, obviously anticipating food.

A wooded trail

The Hartwood Acres Mansion and garden

Stream Crossing

When faced with the choice between a bland uninteresting path or a boulder to climb, Leia will choose to scale an obstacle. Julia follows her, giggling and giving her constant praise for her agility and skill. It's on these hikes that I'm most aware of the richness of our life. There are miles of trails yet to discover and always an eager hiking partner ready to tackle the next boulder. There's just no better way to start the day.

The Style-Free Guide to Shopping

I love to shop. For groceries. Browsing rows of food in my favorite stores and the occasional trip to a new establishment pleases some very practical part of my brain. And I like to eat. I have no planned budget and the grocery store is one place where I'll gladly splurge on something that looks yummy.

To a lesser degree, I enjoy a trip to a greenhouse or plant nursery. That's more of a window shopping deal with the odd bargain plant purchase a rare happening.

A bad picture of what Gabe's looked like when
I was a kid. I found this photo on Yelp.
Then, at the bottom of my list is what you might just call "shopping." I've never had the time or desire for the typical mall-type shopping for clothes. Frankly, I hate it. My sense of fashion froze in 1998. I want low rise pants and flannel shirts. I have no use for anything that isn't comfortable. Cold shoulder shirt? You can keep that. I'd appreciate if all of my body parts could be heated and cooled at the same level, thanks.

Fortunately, there are very few people in my life that try to fight against my lack of style and aversion to fashion consumerism. My husband and daughter understand and appreciate my theory that the mall is basically a museum. You go there on a rainy day and walk around. You can look at the nice things and marvel at their varying levels of expense, but you're not there to buy anything. When you're ready to buy something, you go to Gabes.

Photo from http://www.thebloominghydrangea.com/preview-of-gabes-gabriel-brothers/
A modern day Gabe's checkout counter.

My relationship with Gabe's (originally known as Gabriel Brothers) goes back to early childhood. The store, on the corner of West Chestnut and Beau in Washington, PA, was grungy and lit with the harshest florescents back in the early eighties. Price tags were held in place with straight pins. If you weren't careful, you could injure yourself and bleed on the merchandise.

To go "Gabing"  in the 80s was an adventure in the slightly irregular. Pants with different length legs, zipper failures, and things that were just plain weird were in ample supply. My sister once bought a leather bomber jacket for my dad as a Christmas present. He really liked it until the day he wore it over a white shirt that was soon turned pink by the jacket's less than color fast liner. Dad wasn't too keen on Gabe's after that. Whole, normal clothes were hidden among the racks and with patience and a little luck, acceptable outfits could be found. The effort was rewarded at the cash register where my entire school year wardrobe would ring up for less than $100.

Gabe's was frowned upon in the social hierarchy at my school. Everything I wore was from Gabe's with the exception of hand-me-downs. One day, my friend and I enjoyed a pomegranate from my lunch by popping the seeds and squirting the bright red juice everywhere. My friend eagerly participated in our game until some of the juice got on her shirt. Then she was mad.

"It's okay," I said. "I got some one my shirt too." I pointed down at my blue hypercolor sweatshirt that turned pink when I was hot.
"It's not the same, Joey," she spat. "This is a REAL shirt. Your shirt is from GABES."
Her shirt was from Benetton. I'd never crossed the threshold of that store and I remember thinking, "a shirt is a shirt."

I'll admit, the experience hurt my feelings a little. It was in the fourth grade. Not that I remember.

Gabe's quality improved over time. By high school, I was buying real Levis and L.E.I. jeans. Due to some licensing agreement, Gabe's would cut the tags off any name brand clothes they sold. I wore wide belts to cover the slashed label remnants on my waistband.

Shopping Gabe's is a completely different experience these days. They ditched the straight pins at some point in the 90s. The Washington, PA store moved to Route 19 and eventually received a makeover. It looks similar to a TJ Maxx or Marshall's, but the prices are still the lowest around. They even leave the tags on all the clothes, though sometimes there's a black marker slash over some of the name brand labels. Gabe's now operates 61 stores in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Last weekend, I took Julia to buy pants. At the present moment she is as adverse to clothes shopping as I am. We needed the one stop, easy Gabe's experience. We spent about an hour. She found seven pairs of pants and two shirts. The total cost was $112.

She found things that fit well and were comfortable. She bought one flannel shirt. It's unlikely her chosen store will bring her any criticism. I've yet to run into anyone in our area that even knows about Gabe's. We have one about a half hour away. They're really missing out.

National Sneak a Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day

Most gardeners are inundated with zucchini by August. I managed to avoid this difficulty by killing my two potted zucchini plants after harvesting only four fruits. Fortunately, my parents are successful horticulturists. They gifted me a giant basket of zucchini. Even that was more than I could use. My favorite zucchini recipe uses just about one normal sized squash.

So after the death of my own garden, I still got to deal with my own extra zucchini challenge. Faced with squash based meals morning, noon, and night, Julia and I decided to once again participate in a little known holiday:

National Sneak a Zucchini *Into* Your Neighbor's Porch Day (#SneakSomeZucchiniIntoYourNeighborsPorchDay )

Celebrated on August 8th, (I really think it reads better if you're sneaking a zucchini "onto" your neighbor's porch, but who am I to question a hashtag?) the special day was apparently created by an actor called Thomas Roy. Tom and his wife are credited with creating over 80 "special days" on Wikipedia.

Great work if you can get it. This wiki page lists my very own birthday as "Crackers over Keyboards Day." And to think I never knew.

Strategies vary for the actual zucchini sneaking. Miller Lite seems to advocate drinking beer and depositing large squashes throughout the neighborhood in the dark of night. There's interweb evidence that it's some sort of contest to see who can sneak the biggest zuke.

Two hula dancer zucchinis

In my neighborhood, we're the only people that have ever heard of this. We make the rules. They are as follows:

1. The zucchini must be dressed or decorated to look very silly.
2. It is placed on a neighbor's porch within two weeks of August 8th based on a.) when I remember and b.) when we have actual zucchini.
3. All zucchini antics occur in broad daylight. There's very little in this world that will get me out in the middle of the night.

This year, a clown and another hula dancer. Obviously, zucchinis really look
great in a grass skirt.

Just two zucchinis posing on a porch. Nothing to see here.

There's still time to get in on the fun. How will you dress your zucchini? Or are you more of a Miller Lite type participant?