The Greatest Thing

We eat white bread in my house. I feel a little bad about that. Shouldn’t we eat some kind of whole grain or darker bread? I grew up on Roman Meal.

Being “white bread” is an insult. It’s meant to imply being an unquestioning consumer, someone who takes what they are given and does not have their own personality or culture.

It’s true that most grocery store have a massive selection of several types of mass produced white bread. American bread is a very specific product. Germany, France, Africa and Russia have a very different understanding of bread.

I remember when my friend from Russia was looking through by cupboard and found the Poulsbo bread. She argued with me, very sincerely, that it was cake. And Poulsbo had whole sunflower seeds in it!

In the 19th century, most American households consumed bread made in the home. It was the woman’s job to take the bread from dough, through rising and kneading and baking and then to the table.

At that time, food safety was still a big issue. Food got transported around, and you bought at your own risk.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair described a horrific environment where animals were slaughtered and butchered to be sold as meat. They described sick and infected animals being slaughtered in one scene, and even described how one of the workers fell into the sausage machine and no one stopped production.

I’m pretty sure it was exaggerated, but after it was published in 1906 people were horrified. And that is how the Food and Drug Administration was born.

At this point in our lives, we feel confident that the grocery store will provide us edible food. We all eat a lot of it! But at the turn of the 20th century, that was not the case. When people saw dark bread, not only were they afraid of insects being part of the food (EWWW!) but there was the issue of mold.

A particularly nasty kind of mold on rye bread could kill you.

So. White bread became a symbol of health and purity.

Look! It’s white. You can see for yourself if it’s pure.

It was a big deal when wrapped bread was presented to the buying public. The loaves that previously were only trusted if they were made in your own home? Well, you could trust these loaves of bread. They are pure white, and no one has even TOUCHED them. See? They are wrapped and sanitary.

Wait for it…

THEN in 1928 they invented sliced bread. And boy was that great! Sliced bread still stands as a waterline for great achievements.

What could be better than pure white, wrapped and SLICED bread?

Women were freed from the tedious chore of making bread. Their families could eat and be healthy.

People could live their lives. And right then in history, their lives were all about the Great Depression and then World War 2.

With all that excitement, the fantastic achievement of pure white wholesome food lost its power. They had become part of the landscape.

And the landscape was changing. Counterculture was a thing. They beatniks and their disciples the Hippies despised white bread.

If you had any kind of personality, if you were woke at all you wouldn’t eat that plastic mass-produced Wonder Bread. Make your own! Use whole wheat!

Then then new movement was for more natural foods, and Silent Spring made everyone aware of pesticides.

So, the pure while food movement was superseded by a new green and brown food movement.

But the societal awareness and resulting government oversight of food safety and handling is what led us to be able to confidently demand new types of food.

My friend recently drank a Naked Juice from a convenience store and got food poisoning. Poor thing, but how ironic!

I can laugh about it because I don’t have to worry about her dying from this. In America, we have created a marketplace for food that is safe and secure. People die very seldom from food they buy

That might be a better invention than sliced bread.

New Year New Story

It’s been a crazy couple of years.

New year’s day is approaching and it makes me look back. Last year at this time I was signing the 5th job offer in 2 and a half years. 6 jobs in 3 years were far more than I had planned for.

Which meant that I had gone into a lot of new work places and had to figure out the lay of the land. And all of them were new kinds of jobs I’d never done before.

The first of the five was especially tough. I remember after the few months sitting in a meeting (nearly identical to a dozen previous meetings) and being terrified that I didn’t know what I was doing.

I was pretty sure that I would fail publicly and spectacularly.

Heart pounding, empty minded terrified.

So in those meetings, when the same words and arguments were being said, I was on fire. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t see a way to the job done. And I didn’t see a way to get support from my boss.

Since nothing was happening in the meeting, I flipped my notebook to the back page and started making new notes:

I approve of myself. I deeply and completely love myself.

This was the antidote to the terror.

A slow antidote to be sure. But I was convinced that everyone at my new job thought I was a failure. I was totally ready to agree with them.

Even before they said it.

That sense of failure was like an eclipse over productive thought. How could I possibly get any thoughtful work done with this terror taking up all the brain cycles?

So even stuff that I knew I could do, I couldn’t seem to get started on because I was so overwhelmed.

Until I found that antidote. Loosen the python and declare that no matter what happened I had my own back. I didn’t believe it at first, that I approved of myself. I filled paged with that sentence before it sank in a bit.

What amazed me was that once I loosened the stranglehold that this terror had on me, I could do my job better. I could think again, and had a better chance of succeeding.
There is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t until I changed the script that I could start a different story.

The script before had been that I was an imposter and a failure. The new script was that I was a worthwhile human being. It was a step up from failure, not a big jump but one that I could believe in.

And changing the story let the sun in. Once I found something more positive to say to myself, I could see where I could make some progress.

Like I said, it’s been a crazy last few years. And as I look forward to what’s ahead, I am remembering what I learned then. Choosing my story is a really good thing to remember.

I want to pick a good one.

The stories cats carry

Last year, after the last pageant practice, Veronica and I set off in search of a cat.

I had been wanting a cat for a few years. My previous cat had been dead for more than 5 years, and I knew it was time. I didn’t have a job, and that scared me.

When I didn’t have a job, should I really take on the new responsibility of a new pet?

And yet, maybe that was the best time. Veronica was SURE we should get a cat.

So we set off. We looked at and petted kitties, but Veronica had a spec: “I want an orange kitty.”

What about this cuddly calico?

Mmmm….. no. Isn’t there an orange kitty?

We found the last orange kitty in the surrounding area, a tiny starved kitten with a meow that would fill an auditorium.

Simon was the last of his brothers to get adopted. He was born in a shelter. And his little bones were so prominent, I learned more about the skeletal structure of a cat than I’d ever realized before.

He came to us with bite wounds that opened and bled for several months.

But he LOVED us. We fed him regularly, and he wanted to be next to us all the time. When I wake up in the morning, and I go to the bathroom first thing, this little orange cat would trot up and leap onto my lap while I’m on the toilet. He could not bear to be separated. He would lean into the pettings and scratchings.

Until he turned his teeth on me.

I could imagine him thinking “I love you! I love you!” until he suddenly thought, “I could kill you!”

He is after all a cat equipped with sharp teeth and claws.

And this cat had an affectionate and appreciative heart.

He would flip very unexpectedly from enthusiastic affection to bites that would leave teeth marks on our arms and hands.

If I wanted to anthropomorphize him, I would assume that his tough beginning with mean brothers (I assume it was his brothers, maybe it was his mom) who bit him when he was a helpless kitten.

He was traumatized, and learned some terrible habits of what love meant and what he needed to do to protect himself.

Then again, do cats have that same understanding as we do of psychological norms?

Undoubtedly not.

My invented narrative of why my cat behaves this way could be utterly nonsensical to him.

Pets are often the carriers of invented narratives from their people. We like to interpret their body language and likes and dislikes from our own perspectives.

Simon the Christmas cat has been given an invented story.

And often times friends and family who we meet around Christmas time get narratives assigned to them too. I will try to make a story to understand behavior that seems foreign to me.

But I could be entirely wrong. No doubt I am wrong in some percentage of my assumptions.

I would like to make room for these other friends and relations the way I make room for my kitty’s foibles. With love, and making room for what he lets me know he needs.

I like that strategy for promoting peace on earth.

Talk about Shame

There was a song on the radio from a couple years ago:

Can we pretend that the airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now

Veronica and I had decided to go to dinner just her and me. Daddy wasn’t feeling great, and I was happy to be with her.

She’s getting a lot better at carrying her end of the conversation.

We are a conversational family.

Last month, Chris read to me from the news that it was the 100-year anniversary of communism.

“Yes, I read that! There was an essay in the Wall Street journal, dating the start from the Russian Revolution. Did you see it attributed 65 million deaths to communism?”

“What’s Communism?”


Good Question, Veronica.

At this point in history, my daughter can live almost 9 years and not know the answer to that question.

“Remember how I talked about how people need a place to work so they can feed their families and have enough money to buy Christmas presents?”

She nods.

“Well, factories were built to make things and the people come work in the factories and make some money. But the people who built and owned the factories made a lot more money.

The people who worked in the factories started to think that wasn’t fair. And they came up with this idea that they should just take the factory and keep making things inside the factory but they would share all the money that used to go to the people that owned the factory.

Only it didn’t work out they way they hoped.”

She’s looking at me, full of questions.

“We are going to read Animal Farm together.”

Chris wasn’t sure that was a good idea. But Veronica loved it, getting very invested in all the animal characters. As soon as we finished, she wanted to read it again.

That was a month ago. This night I was listening to the radio and that song from my past came on.

Can we pretend that the airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now

Veronica wants to know about my life. I want her to know who I am, and that means not treating her like a child.

“Veronica, this song reminds me of a time when I was really sad. It was from a few years ago.”

“What happened, Mommy?”

“It was because I was having a lot of trouble at work.” How do I explain what work politics are like?

“This guy at work who was in charge, even though he wasn’t my boss, had lied to my boss about me. He said that I didn’t tell him where I was going or what I was doing.

So my boss called me and told me that I was being bad.

I was so mad, because it wasn’t true, and I knew I had been telling people where I was going.

So I went outside, and walked around. I was furious, and I didn’t want to lose my temper. One of the people I worked with come out, and asked ‘What’s wrong?’

I told him that I didn’t want to talk about it, but he said he was my friend. He said I could trust him. So I told him what happened, and I didn’t want to be around that guy who had lied because I might punch him in the face.

Well, that friend went upstairs and told the guy what I said.

It wasn’t until the next day, that I realized I had proof that I had been telling people. I wrote a big email to my boss saying that I had been telling people and that this guy had lied, and I didn’t want to talk to him alone again, I would someone to help protect me.”

My daughter’s eyes were very big.

“So at the end of the day I got a call saying I was dangerous and I wasn’t allowed to come to work anymore.”


“Yes. They had to have someone come investigate.”

How do you explain HR to an 8 year old?”

“Kind of like the principal at school. That people said they would find out what really happened and decide if I was allowed to come back to work. She took two weeks to decide, and then when I came back, she said that she had asked everyone and they all agreed that I was the problem and I could only come back to work if I did certain things, and was worthy of returning.”

“Imagine, Veronica. If the principal told you that all the people in your class didn’t like you and agreed that you were the problem.”

Her eyes were turning red. “Did you speak to these people? I mean, how could you talk to them after that?”

This kid.

“Well, I tried to speak to them as little as possible, you can bet.  It hurt my feelings so much that all of them had decided behind my back and without telling me that they thought I was a problem.

But I did everything that lady said I had to do, and I wasn’t about to let them kick me out.”

She gave a fist pump.

“That’s what this song makes me think about. I was very sad. I cried every day, and when I heard this song, it answered the hurt in my heart. I really wanted a wish.

But guess what? That lady? It turned out SHE lied. I was so hurt and scared for 2 years, that I didn’t realize it. Then I started to carefully ask my coworkers: did this woman ever talk to you?

They all said no.

So she lied.”

Jaw open. “How could that be?”

“Remember Napoleon and Squealer? People who want power will lie.”

Big sigh.

“Yep. People will use lies and shame to make you afraid and do what they want.  Say things like ‘you promised.’ and make you feel like you have to believe them. But they are not trustworthy if they use shame.”

Fear and Shame are probably more active in children’s lives than in adults. For me, as a parent, I choose to present who I am to my daughter and let her know that she is not alone in these types of circumstances.

Thank you Orwell, for giving me a beautiful allegory to explain how people lie and manipulate.