Eat Up!

Huzzah! Today is National Chocolate Day, my favorite holiday second only to Christmas. I’m kidding. I hadn’t heard of National Chocolate Day until today, but I’m willing to immerse myself fully in the spirit of the holiday._3_

Think about all the ways that chocolate makes things better:

Raisins? Yes, they’re good for you and your digestive system. However, coat them in chocolate and they’re far more palatable.

Ice cream? Yeah, yeah, we know. But with chocolate sauce on it? So much more yummy.

Cookies are fun, but chocolate chip cookies are delectable.

file000517399336A croissant? Sure, it’s buttery goodness. But a chocolate croissant is even better.

A variety of mole (mo-lay) sauces include chocolate, proving that even a meal can use chocolate’s help.

And somewhere a genius decided that pairing fermented grapes with chocolate leads to a more fragrant and decadent vino.

Of course, chocolate stands on its own virtue. As a child in England, I would look forward to my visits to the local sweet shop where I could choose from the many delicious English chocolate bars: Aero (with bubbles), After Eight (minty), Bounty (coconut), Club, Crunchie (honeycomb toffee), the original Kit Kat, Lion Bar (wafers and crisped cereal), Maltesers, Milky Bar (which was white chocolate), Penguin (biscuit), the original Twix, Yorkie (chunky), and any kind of Cadbury (Buttons, Bournville Dark, Dairy Milk, Double Decker, Flake, and Wispa). I couldn’t choose, really. It was too hard. They’re all sooo good! I also indulged in other European chocolate delights, such as Kinder and Lindor/Lindt. (By the way, did you know Kinder Eggs are banned in the USA? Yep, you know, supposed choking hazard.)

Unfortunately, I’ve not found American chocolates to be on par with European ones. Hersheys is pretty much only good for making S’mores. I do enjoy an occasional Three Musketeers, Dove, and York Peppermint Pattie, but that’s about it. American chocolate tends to include nuts (especially peanuts and almonds), and that leaves me and lots of other people unable to consume them. In fact, many of the top-selling brands, such as Reese’s, Butter Finger, and Snickers, all have nuts, along with Almond Joy, Baby Ruth, Mr. Goodbar, O Henry! and PayDay. Maybe Americans love nuts more than chocolate?

Along with chocolates, I also love books, so what better combination? Books about this confectionary delight include Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and perennial children’s favorite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. They’ve all been adapted into great movies, too. Another fun chocolate-themed movie is Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymous), a sweet story about Angélique, who is a top chocolatier unable to cope with the pressure and recognition. She eventually finds a way to create chocolates peacefully and finds love in the process.

Chocolates, books, and love: what a perfect trio! Happy National Chocolate Day to all, and enjoy. I know I will.

Where Are Women’s Voices?

I came across this HuffPost article by Rebecca Adams about the representation of women in commercials, both on screen and on voiceovers. Actually, the article is really about the lack of women, and how women’s voices are silenced in commercials.

I’ve thought about this topic before when I saw the 2010 commercial for Carnival Cruises. The commercial is clearly from a teen girl’s perspective, yet the voice is a grown man’s. Why?

Obviously, I don’t know the answer. Maybe the execs didn’t think a teen female voice is compelling. Maybe they thought parents wouldn’t be encouraged to buy cruise tickets based on their daughter’s view. Or, maybe they didn’t even give the gender of the voice a second thought. Perhaps it was a given that a man’s voice would represent Carnival Cruises despite the image of a young female.

Once you start looking for gender bias in commercials (or anywhere, really), it’s easy to find. Who’s the last female spokesperson for a car commercial, especially for a luxury car, that you can name? Anyone? But we have Jon Hamm for Mercedes-Benz, John Slattery and Matthew McConaughey for Lincoln, John Cusack for Chevrolet, Liev Schreiber for Infiniti, Kevin Spacey for Honda, Donald Sutherland for Volvo, Jeff Bridges for Hyundai, Steven Barr for Toyota, and Dennis Leary for Ford.

The women? Well, there’s Patricia Clarkson for BMW. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson for Lincoln, but only in conjunction with Matthew McConaughey.

Do car and ad execs think that women don’t purchase cars? Apparently not. They do think that women are good for selling cars and car products, if the women are “sexy” or “helpless.” Here’s Carbuzz’s “5 Sexist Car Commericals” post.

So, what can women and their male allies do to confront gender bias in commercials? Write, email, tweet, and post about it. Companies don’t like controversy or issues that will impact their bottom line. Make your voices heard! And you have the choice that if a company isn’t representing you, you don’t have to buy its product.

The Sounds of Laundry (with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)

I wrote this four years ago, but as piles of laundry await, here is its debut on The Writable Life.

Sung to the tune of “The Sound of Silence” and with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel:

Hello laundry, my old friend.
I’ve come to wash you once again
because a hamper quickly filling
left its stink while I was sleeping.
And the loads that multiplied in my hamper still remain
despite the sounds of laundry.

LaundryFor many hours I toiled alone,
GE machines of steel atop stone.
‘Neath the glare of florescent light,
I put collars in “hot” and “whites.”
When my eyes were caught by the flash of a Dreft sign
that poured inside,
and made the sounds of laundry.

And in the florescent light I saw ten thousand parents, maybe more.
Parents sorting without blinking.
Parents washing while multi-tasking.
Parents folding clothes that children always tear,
and no one dares disturb the sounds of laundry.

“Parents” said I, “You already know
laundry like disease grows.
Hear my curses that I might teach you.
Take my detergent that I might reach you.”
But my words like empty bottles fell,
and echoed in the hampers of laundry.

And the parents slaved and slaved
before the piles of laundry their kids made.
And the Dreft flashed out its warning,
in the bubbles that it was forming.
And the bubbles said, “The cries of the parents
are written on their bedroom walls
and in tears that fall.”
And was lost in the sounds of laundry.

My Couch, as Enchanting as a Spell

If you’re like most people, you think of your couch as a comfy, restful place on which you can wile away a few hours and then get on with your life.

That’s what I used to think. That is, until I realized my new couch is an anathema, a trap to suck me into a sense of oblivion and wastefulness.

Let me back up. When my husband and I first got married, we removed my lumpy college futon, complete with its forest green cover, and replaced it with a hip blue couch from a fashionable Berkeley furniture store. Sure, it cost a lot, but we were starting our married life, and what’s $700 when you’re in love?

Old Blue

Not Old Blue, but close

Old Blue served us well. It was narrow enough to fit through our Victorian building’s narrow staircase and doors. This was no small feat in an era of over-sized couch ends and wide berths. Its sleekness looked great in our cozy living room, and we hosted many parties where two people could sit on its hip, yet practical, cushions. Its arm rests were flat and not ideal for resting a tired head, but were perfect for balancing drinks. Who cared that it was difficult to clean and its back was too short for my husband’s 6′ 6″ build? It looked good, and bonus!, it had a pull-out bed where our frequent out-of-town friends would crash.

Old Blue served us faithfully, and weathered two moves, two kids, two cats, and lots of couch time. But 12 years on, Old Blue’s cushions were pilled, stained, and scratched. Its once-full middle sagged and made a disconcerting “boing” when someone sat on it. Our kids complained that it wasn’t comfy or fun. Even the cat had stopped curling on it. It was time to bid Old Blue adieu. 

In looking for our replacement, I, in my naïveté, dreamed of a couch where I could, at the end of a busy day, lay down my weary head on a full, cushiony arm rest and luxuriate in its welcoming presence.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

Here’s our current couch, New Brown.

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New Brown. Look away!!!

It looks unassuming, doesn’t it? Neutral color. Sensible IKEA price. Easy-clean fabric. Fits three adults comfortably. Wide enough to support long legs. Back rest that can manage my husband’s tall frame. Arm rests that are wide, but not obnoxiously so. The kids like it. The cat has given her seal of approval. Practical, affordable, manageable.

Don’t trust it! Look away, look away now!!!!

New Brown is not your ordinary, run of the store, couch. It is bewitching. From the moment the delivery/assembly guys left, New Brown has been casting an irresistible spell of “come hither” that beckons me, even though I know I have a list of 15 errands that I need to finish. Like a Disney witch disguised as a harmless peasant, this couch hides its evil power to lure the innocent (namely, me) and send them into a vortex of relaxation from which they will not emerge.

Once seated, I’m trapped. I cannot remove my buttocks because New Brown has charmed me. It has drawn me in and captured me. I can lie my entire length comfortably on the couch, sink into its pillowed bosom, and drift in to a peaceful sleep. I delight in its body contouring, and its spacious width, enough for me to turn. Like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, I am in an enchanted slumber.

But this enchantment is transforming me. Kids want to share the couch? No, they are relegated to the sturdy red chairs. “Go sit there. There’s no room here. Mommy needs her space.” Work to do? New Brown sings its siren song and entices me to stay enraptured in its cushiony warmth. Nothing gets done. It’s time to retire to the bedroom? I can’t escape the well-padded arm rests that prop up my head at just-the-right angle. Resistance is useless. 

New Brown has transformed me into a couch potato, and, Disney help me, it’s a spell that I can’t break.

Disclaimer: Yes, this is a wonderfully comfortable IKEA couch. However, I paid for the couch and IKEA hasn’t solicited any endorsement or given any compensation for this post. Just so you know.

Why April 24 Matters

NOTICE: This post contains subject matter of a sensitive nature and graphic images.

Twitter is blowing up with the hashtags #TurkeyFailed and #ArmenianGenocide. Why? April 24 is the official date of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide, and 2014 marks the 99th anniversary of those atrocities.

On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government actively began plans to massacre Armenians. Over the course of a few years, they murdered 1.5 million Armenians in the first act of genocide in the 20th century. Whole villages were rounded up and executed. Men and women were raped and tortured in heinous acts. Thousands upon hundreds of thousands were sent on death marches, forced to walk without water or food until they died. Young children were sold by Turkish soldiers or kidnapped by families and taken as slaves.

Turkish official teases starving Armenian children by showing them a piece of bread during the Armenian Genocide in 1915

An Armenian Child Starved to Death

Bodies of Armenian Children

 

 

 

 

Here is video testimony of Astrid, a Genocide survivor.

These events were widely accounted for, documented by, and written about by English, French, German, and American witnesses, including Henry Morgenthau, the United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He formed the Committee on Armenian Atrocities to raise awareness and to supply aid. Unfortunately, nothing stopped the Turkish government from carrying out their campaign of annihilation, especially as World War I served as a cover for their crimes. armenian poster

Despite Turkey’s plans to annihilate an entire ethnicity, a few Armenians survived. One was my maternal grandmother, Siranoush. She was very young at the time of the Genocide, perhaps three or four, so young that she could not remember her surname. She was a survivor of the battle of Musa Dagh (Musa Ler, Mountain of Moses) and stayed in a refugee camp in Egypt. She was sent back to Musa Dagh as an orphan after the Genocide was over. When she got married, she moved to Antioch in Syria and from there to Damascus and then Beirut, Lebanon. None of this was an easy life. She was widowed at a young age and left with five children. The youngest is my mother. Despite terrible economic hardship and having to flee yet again due to Lebanon’s civil war, my Nana didn’t just survive, she lived. She had many grandchildren and was honored by her family until her death.

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My maternal grandmother

Had Turkey been stopped, perhaps my grandmother and other grandparents would have had much easier, happier lives. Perhaps the millions of Armenians would have been saved. Perhaps the country of Armenia would not struggle economically-—had more men and women survived to till its soil and build its industry. Perhaps my heart and those of my fellow Armenians would not have to grieve for the horrors our ancestors faced. Perhaps my grandparents would not have been orphaned. Perhaps my parents and I would not have been products of the Diaspora. Perhaps my children would have happier stories to tell about their history. Perhaps April 24 would be a date of celebration instead of commemoration.

But the Genocide happened. Despite Turkey’s denial, despite its campaigns to revise history, despite its attempts to extricate itself from wrongdoing, Turkey murdered 1.5 million Armenians.

BUT Turkey failed in its attempt to wipe out a culture. It failed because the Armenian culture is alive and strong and well. It failed because millions of Armenians around the world recognize that they must continue despite a tragic past and the burdens of such a history. It failed because we still sing songs and listen to our music. We still recite our literature. We still pray our “Hayr Mer” (Our Father). It failed due to the bravery of those who stood against it. It failed because I, like so many others, am here today. It failed because my children and their generation know their history. It failed because the Armenian Genocide will not be forgotten.

And that is why, 99 years later, April 24 matters.

Genocide memorial

POSTSCRIPT

To this day, Turkey does not recognize the Genocide and actively teaches against it. Twenty-one countries and 43 states of the USA do recognize the Genocide.

Please consider signing the Change.org petition urging the US Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

If you would like to learn more:

Facing History, Facing Ourselves: The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian National Institute

The History Channel: The Armenian Genocide

The United Human Rights Council

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian, a National Book Award finalist

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response by Peter Balkian

The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Powers, Pulitzer Prize winner and currently the US Ambassador to the United Nations

The Sandcastle Girls by New York Times bestseller, Chris Bohjalian

Zabelle by Nancy Kricorian

(While the above books are linked to Amazon for book descriptions, please consider purchasing them from a local bookstore.)

The HIMYM Series Finale Hate Fest

The How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) series finale may well be remembered as one of the most hated episodes in television history. The Twittersphere erupted as #HIMYMfinale tweets spewed the vitriol of anger and, ultimately, disappointment. Fan boards and Facebook were aflame with opinions (no hard facts on numbers, but astoundingly negative) on how the writers messed up.

And they did. They really, truly, absolutely did mess up. I don’t know what went on in their minds as they wrote that convoluted disaster, but an understanding of what the audience wanted and expected wasn’t in there. That much is clear.

Perhaps they were burnt out. Maybe the pressure was too much. Could be that they realized that they wouldn’t be able to please everyone, so they just did what they wanted. However, my hunch is that they were so busy trying to be clever and leave a for-the-annals-of-television-history finale that they overlooked one very important piece of psychology: you cannot ask an audience to commit nine years to a premise and then not deliver it. You have, in essence, cheated your loyal audience. And not only have you cheated them, but you’ve done it after you have asked them to wait for almost a decade. That makes people mad, and angry people have long memories.

Would it have been so bad to deliver what was essentially promised? No. Ted’s happy ending with the mother would have been enough because that is what the audience wanted, that is what the premise (and title) suggested. This is a clear example of less is more.

Here is a popular fan-created ending.

So now, when (former) fans remember HIMYM, they won’t just remember the fantastic moments like Ted’s battle with the goat or the play book or Marshall and Lily’s relationship. No, they will remember that the show ended with the played-out, unwanted pairing of Ted and Robin in a much-derided episode.

The hate fest is so vast that there is even a petition to get CBS to re-shoot the finale. (At the time of this post, it had over 10,300 signers and growing by the second.) If you are so inclined, you can sign it here.

R.I.P. HIMYM. Your finale will go down as a legen–wait for it–dary disaster.

 

When English Isn’t

In my former role as a high school English Language Arts instructor, I would teach the students a (brief) lesson on the history of the English language. After all, students ought to know the origins of the language they use and change and edit and manipulate on a daily basis. Some of the students found the origins of the language from native Britons to the introduction of Latin via the Romans to the influence of the conquering Germanic tribes to French in the court of William the Conqueror worth their while. Almost all of the heads on the desk (of which there weren’t many; I ran a tight classroom) paid attention, however, when they realized that words they commonly used weren’t English or even European in origin.

The lesson usually went something like this:

Me: “Hey Johnny, do you like pancakes? Yes. Alright, what do you pour on them?”

Johnny: “Syrup.”

Me: “Where’d you think the word syrup comes from?”

Johnny: “I dunno. Canada?”

Me: “It’s from the Arabic word, sharab, which was then adapted by the French and possibly the Italians to sirop.”

Class, somewhat disbelieving: “Really?”

Me: “Yep. I’m not making this up. And what about ketchup? Where’d you think that word comes from?”

Class, thinking hard: “Here?”

Me: “Nope. It comes from a Chinese or possibly a Malay word that sounds like catsup.”

Class: “Whhaaa?”

I’d then proceed to list off other words that the students were very familiar with but had never given much thought: magazine (Arabic, again), shampoo (Hindi), zombie (West African and then the Caribbean) and dollar (German). This was news to them. Of course, they knew that words such as taco or pizza weren’t English in origin, but had entered the English language due to common use. Magazine has an origin that was often more difficult to follow: Arabic to Italian to French to English.  The students associated Seventeen or People with the word, so the idea that magazine isn’t of modern American origin was hard to grasp.

This enlightening lesson ran a close second in interest level to the “discovery” that Shakespearean English isn’t Old English, but is, in fact, considered the onset of Modern English. I’d play a recording of Beowulf, which is Old English, and the Canterbury Tales, which is Middle English. Then I’d watch as their minds were blown: “That doesn’t even sound like English!”

I’d like to think that these lessons opened the minds of the students to the notion that English really contains a mix of many words of different origins. It is an ever-changing, adaptable language, one that they adapt and change themselves. Selfie, anyone?

Now, go read the dictionary. It’s a good book.

(Taken from my RitatheWriter website.)

Men Aren’t Boys, so Why Are Women Called “Girls”?

Rita Zobayan:

Updated from my original version.

Originally posted on The Writable Life:

Have you ever heard a man refer to himself as a “big boy”? I’m betting no. Now take a second and think if you’ve ever heard a man or, worse, a woman referring to a woman as a “big girl.”  I’m betting yes. Why the difference?

Men rarely ever reference themselves in a fashion that detracts from their manhood. The last time a man in your life was going through a rough situation, did he ever declare, “I’m a big boy! I’ll get through it!” I somehow doubt it.

Yet, turn on practically any episode of “The Bachelorette” and listen to both the male contestants and the bachelorette herself refer to her as a “big girl.”

“I’m a big girl. I can handle myself.”

“She’s a big girl. She knows what she’s doing.”

And, of course, there’s Lena Dunham’s equally lauded  and bashed show, “Girls.” While it’s true that some of the…

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