Friday, November 27, 2015

A Guide to 'the Holidays'

Recently I participated in a discussion on 'how not to go overboard on holiday indulgences.' Lots of 'tips' were bandied about, as well as differing opinions on how to regard these strange times in which we live. By 'strange' I mean we live in an age of unprecedented culinary abundance, and from late November through early January we are caught in a swoon of even more abundance. It can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least.
One of the littles when he was very little, building a gingerbread train
My little contribution to the discussion was to point out that 'the holidays' are actually not six weeks of non-stop party. There are actually relatively few 'holidays' within that time frame. I think we get into trouble (and by 'trouble' I mean having absolutely nothing that fits by January 7th) when we frolic about as if we were living in Charlie and Chocolate Factory for forty days. So, as a public service, I would like to recap what actually constitutes a 'holiday' this time of year in the good old U.S. of A.

Thanksgiving: fourth Thursday of November and YES!! Bingo! This is a holiday, people! Totally bona fide. A harvest festival. All about it. Eat, drink, and give thanks. We had a great feast yesterday. I didn't even need dinner last night. YUM!

Black Friday: NO. This is not a holiday. I know it's hard to believe it, since it is heralded with more fanfare than Thanksgiving, but it's true. It's a Madison Avenue manufactured event. It annoys me that it even has a name. I know you may feel like you deserve a treat because you did battle for that Darth Vader Pez dispenser and had to wait in line for an hour at Kohl's, but it's still not a holiday. You're probably hungry and tired, though, so just have leftovers from yesterday.

Cyber Monday: Lord, have mercy. This is even less of a holiday than Black Friday. And you don't deserve any treats because you didn't even have to walk around to do your shopping. You planted your bottom on a chair and pressed buttons. No treats. Sorry.

December 1st. Well, this is the first day of Advent. This is a beautiful time of reflection and thinking about Jesus being the reason for the season, etc. If it helps you to think about Jesus, then go ahead and have a square of chocolate everyday for the next twenty-four days. If it becomes a little too habit-forming, don't worry. Lent is right around the corner!

December 6th: This is the feast of St. Nicholas, aka 'Santa Claus.'If you grew up calling your grandfather 'Opa' then this is a big deal for you. Enjoy that orange in your shoe!

December 8th: Nope. No holiday. It's just Tuesday. Put down the cookie.

December 6th-14th: This is Hanukkah. I'm not Jewish so I'm not really clear on how much treats factor into Hanukkah, except for the gelt, which is chocolate shaped into coins with gold foil wrappers. Personally, I have never had chocolate coins that were worth eating. They are never made from good quality chocolate, so I'd give it a pass. I mean, if you're going to have treats, have the good stuff, right?

December 14th: I'm going to rant for a second:

THIS IS NOT THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS! OH MY GOOD GRIEF. Every year some marketer tries to sell us stuff--literally--for the twelve days preceding Christmas day. DON'T BUY IT. I mean, seriously--don't buy it.

Lord knows I love America as much as the next daughter of a veteran, but I really, really despise how American marketers will try to make a buying opportunity out of every cotton pickin' thing they can. In this case, it is SIMPLY WRONG. The Twelve Days of Christmas start on CHRISTMAS. They end on Twelfth Night--January 5th. I'll get to that later, but please, do not think that the 14th is a holiday because it ISN'T. It's just marketing. Grrr!

Moving on...

December 24th: Ding ding ding! Yes! Holiday fer shur!! Bottoms up!

December 25th: WHOA! HOLIDAY!!! Holy-day! Which is where the word 'holiday' comes from, you know. Eat, drink, be merry, etc.

December 26th: Boxing Day. If you're from a commonwealth nation, yay! Totally qualifies as a holiday. For the rest of us it means going out to buy wrapping paper at 50% off.

December 26th-January 1st: This is Kwanzaa. I actually didn't realize this was a multi-day event. I also didn't realize it was invented in 1966. Kind of makes me wonder, how many people actually grew up celebrating Kwanzaa? I don't know, is this is a holiday? If you are of African decent, please write and tell me what you eat. I thought Kwanzaa might have involved jumping over brooms, which sounds like a nice activity after all the eating at Christmas, but apparently that's just at weddings.

December 31st: New Year's Eve. Holiday. I'll be tucked in by 9.30 in my fuzzy blue robe, but if you're a fan, this definitely qualifies.

January 1st: New Year's Day. Win!! Enjoy a nice brunch rich in vitamin G.

January 5th: As previously mentioned, this is Twelfth Night. You can party it up. Definitely. Especially if you managed to find a yule log that actually burned for twelve days.

January 6th: The Feast of Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. This is a holiday, especially if you call your grandfather 'abuelo,' Spanish kids actually get their presents on January 6th. The Three Kings bring them. There is a traditional cake for Epiphany made in France called a 'galette des rois.' It's yummy flaky pastry with an almond paste filling. If you can find one, enjoy!

After that, the party's over. Yes, there are a lot of holidays in this brief period, but really--unless you're a Jewish Scandinavian Christian Spanish African, you're probably not hitting everything on this list. Then again, maybe you are? In which case, you are indeed an American! Just don't call December 14th the first day of Christmas, ok?

Friday, November 13, 2015

College is a SCAM

I haven't written in a long time, for various reasons. I'll spare you all my whining and instead treat you to the spicy rantings for which I am not famous.

One of the crazy things going around the internet these days is an interview by journalist Neil Cavuto of a young woman who is agitating for this mysterious '1%' to fund college for all AND forgive student loans. This poor benighted soul believes she and her friends should be given a free ride. Honestly, the whole thing is painful to watch, because this poor girl (womyn?) comes across looking like a complete idiot. She should either, a.) not be in college at all or b.) spend a whole lot more time there to learn to develop a cogent argument.

I really feel quite sorry for her. Just like the poor fool at Yale, who is presumably reasonably smart because she got into Yale in the first place, but has absolutely no sense or emotional control. She screamed at one of her professors about Halloween costumes. Yes. Halloween costumes. I would love for her to go attend one of the groups at the little darlings' school that helps the littles determine what is a 'big problem' and what is a 'little problem.'

These events make me even more thankful that I am old enough to have done the vast majority of my young stupid stuff before the internet. These women's actions will live in perpetuity, just a click away. Lord help them!

Anyway, the point of this post is to share my deep thoughts about college. For the record, I went to college, but I'm here to say:

I think college for the masses is a scam.

Before everyone gets their knickers in a twist, I'm not suggesting college should only be for the economic elite. Certainly, there are plenty of people from working and middle class families who have gifts and motivation to pursue career fields that require college and maybe graduate degrees. And they should go! College should be more affordable so people of all walks of life, whose gift mix suits them to professions that require that type of training, are able to pursue it.

However, not everyone fits that criteria. In fact, most don't. Plenty of kids in America today are graduating from mediocre public high schools with mediocre grades and absolutely no clue what they want to do for a living. So what do they do? They borrow pots of cash and go to college.

Some go to college and spend time taking REMEDIAL classes. Yes, people. Remedial. They're staying at the dorm, partying and screwing around, taking basic math, reading and writing. Stuff they should have learned in high school, but didn't. I don't know why they didn't learn it in the FREE and COMPULSORY k-12 American system, but they didn't and now they are PAYING through-the-nose to learn it in college. This is insane. Why are they even being accepted into college if they can't do college work? Why are the colleges not saying, 'hey, God knows we need your cash, but you're really not quite up to snuff here, so why don't you brush up on a few things and come back next year? We'll hold a place for you!' It strikes me as totally insane. And wrong.

And it's not just America. I earned my master's degree at a British university. They loved non-EU students because they could charge us more. I met a sweet Korean guy who COULD NOT SPEAK ENGLISH. Seriously, I could hardly even have a conversation with him, his English was terrible. I managed to get out of him that the University had required him to complete a six-week English immersion program in Newcastle before he started, but he still couldn't hold a conversation with an easy-to-understand American (his words, not mine.) Let alone read 16th century texts on the British Reformation... I ran into him a few months later and things were 'very bad,' he said. The whole situation made me crazy. It was WRONG to take this guy's money. Wrong.

According to this article from Time magazine, part of the reason students are graduating (if they're graduating at all) with so much debt is because it's taking them longer than the traditional four years to finish. This is partly due to the remedial courses they need, and partly because THEY DON'T KNOW WHY THEY'RE THERE. They don't know what they want to study. They don't know what they want to be when they grow up. So they switch majors and need to take additional classes, or can't get into the ones they need.

I'm sorry, do students not get advisers anymore? When I was in college, I had an adviser who... you guessed it... ADVISED me. She told me what courses I needed and made sure I was on track. I had to get my course sheet signed by her. My college was pretty hands-off, but they still made me go through an adviser. Is this no longer required? Seriously, I'm asking.

We have to stop convincing people that they absolutely need college or they will live a life of misery. Yes, college graduates tend to earn more than non-graduates, but I'm betting if we teased out those statistics, we'd find the very super high earners and the minimum-wage earners probably skew the results. There are plenty of people who don't go to college and do just fine. Managers of restaurants, retail, plumbers, electricians and others who learn a valuable trade. They don't necessarily NEED college. If they want to go, great! But need? Maybe not.

We also have to get over this whole college-as-rite-of-passage thing. A friend of mine is Canadian. She's married to an American and she almost had a fit when her husband said he'd be happy to pay for room and board for their kids to go to a local school, so they could have 'the college experience.' My Canadian friend thought it absolute madness that they should pay thousands for their kids to basically drink, party and hook-up when they could live at home for free.

And sadly, I think that's what college boils down to for many. I'm not saying college shouldn't be an option for anyone who really wants to go and has the ABILITY to GET ACCEPTED, DO THE WORK, GRADUATE and GET A JOB. But we need to stop making it a requirement--be it an employment requirement or a social one--when it isn't really required.

I totally agree that the cost of college is insane. It just gets more insane by the year. Many of my friends are doing the college visit thing with their high school children. The stories I hear of the luxury and opulence at some of these places is unbelievable. I hear tell of 24-hour sushi bars in student centers, dorm rooms with private baths, student gyms with amenities rivaling any posh Manhattan sweat spot. The dorms are like hotels! It's crazy. And for what it's worth, the really good schools don't tend to do this stuff. They don't need to. Yale has enough screamers clawing at their doors, they don't need to fluff up their facilities.

So I think we need to ask our kids, do you really need to go to college? Is there a profession you really want to go into? What interests you? Do you even like school? Or are we just looking at college because that's what's expected? Are we willing to value work--ALL WORK that is good and honest and decent? If a high school kid really loves Snap Circuits and really wants to be an electrician rather than an electrical engineer, can't we be ok with that? Electricians can do very well. Believe me. We've had our house rewired. We know, you know?

Sigh... there's so much more I could say, but I need to empty the dishwasher, which is also good, honest work, by the way.