Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Transgression Smackdown

Copyright © 2011, By C.L. Smith
Word count: 200

Your blue-jeaned legs were too long for your boy’s torso. You were hot to prove to everyone how high you could roundhouse to kick the top of Mrs. Johnston’s doorway.

“I take karate,” you puffed.

Your eyes were as pale as your skin, as still as your soul as you budged desk after desk aside with your hips. Occasionally a scrape skittered across the floor, a small stab of mouth pouching open, then a sudden shush.

The nearer you prowled, the more your mitts parted the folds of forgiveless air around a girl-shaped space.

Six, seven, eight times you tried. Target moving, gone; low center of gravity, your reptilian brain labored, and you susurrated as you tried connection from behind, in a gambited vise.

Then, as a balloon ooooking out oxygen, your breath is denied you. An arrow-end upends you below the sternum as the power hourglass flips in front of your ineffectual face.

While you’re bent over, your quarry glides tête-à-tête with you. After another vicious knee-kick--with compliments to your self-described sweet spot--her victory is iron-willed.

The breach that you intended to spread wide has held. And your lips forevermore trap the tale of your toothless puissance.

This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.

Girls Run Wild

Copyright © 2011, By C.L. Smith
Word count: 200

As we stretched, I overheard Jason chiding another guy: “You run like a girl.”

That’s when the girl who was once so helpful as to be verbally savaged by a blind man surged into vigilante mode.

“Oh, yeah? That’s a compliment.”

In some cross-country events, both genders blast off simultaneously. This was one of those races. It was also one of those races that makes people outside running wonder “what the frack makes them do it?” That is to say, it was a hellaciously hilly course and a wet slurp of a day.

I sprung my trap as mile two bloomed nearly into mile three. Jason and his friends--hell, let’s just call them the Argonuts--were bunched together like sheep until the last hill. As I powered up, I knew he could feel somebody close. It was a quick, narrow-pathed hill, then we descended and the way flared. It got guttural as I sprinted him down—and gazelled past.

“You run just like a boy,” I taunted after he’d heaved himself across the line 21 seconds later.

Truth is, I never ran as fast as when I carried, proudly, on my shoulders what it means to be a woman.

This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Canvas Runneth Over

We heart art. We're daft for crafts. And we most definitely have a crush on the paintbrush. But if the kids receive one more coloring book--thankful though I am that you have given pause to consider the rug-art-rats--I just may be able to wallpaper the entire house in a pastiche of princesses, Potato Heads, and pandas. And, if driven hard enough toward the starry-nighted precipice (some might snicker that it's a short journey), I might even be compelled to do my own Salvador Dali "Persistence of Memory" impression. (Think melting clocks. Substitute coloring books [or my head, on a bad day] for clocks, et voilà!)

Just when you were thinking Edvard Munch might be more apt for my frame of mind, yes?

Parenting Epiphany #103

First, let’s make sure the kids’ bedroom doors are shut. You ready to roll yet?
Good. Now, I'll share an epiphany that’s little known in any hood besides the parent one.

Coloring books breed like Tribbles. If you’re not acquainted with Star Trek or close, personal friends with a geek . . . what the Spock are you waiting for?

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

It all began about 2006 B.C. (before children, that is). Somehow I acquired a Mr. Potato Head coloring book. Then generous relatives and friends, bless their hearts, began to chip in as the babies dropped.

Flash forward to 2011. Now that Mr. Potato Head has sprouted eyelets of Sesame Street and Toy Story, Bambi has begat Fancy Cats and Chuggington the train, and the pandas of Animal Planet have lent a tear or two to the feel-good teddy bears of the Chicken Soup coloring book (complete with some inspiring aphorisms, to be truthful), I am ready to declare a moratorium on coloring books.

If you knew me in real life (aka, Facebook), you’d know I’m incredibly cheap thrifty. Yes, that was me in the story about the woman who saved her kids’ bottom-of-the-bowl, breakfast-cerealy milk and strained it into her morning coffee.

So it ain’t for nothin’ that frugality and green are intertwined. The more frugal you are, the greener you are (and vice versa), and this premise includes your purse or wallet.

Though I’m not certain that the charity to whom I intend to give the stack of unused coloring books will be able to make use of them, I certainly hope they will. That goes doubly for the kids who receive them. In my mind, I see them sitting with a favorite adult and imagining new worlds as they discuss colors, tones, shapes, numbers, or whatever’s on the page or caught up in their emotions.

For the holidays especially, I wish them all as large a gallery
as possible--even if ‘only’ a super-cool Louvre like we have.

Caption Credits: First photo falls under Fair Use, I believe. I used the small, unintrusive, and not-intended-for-profit, screen-grabbed image found at Wikipedia for this infamous original Star Trek episode. All other photos courtesy of the author.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nationwide ground beef recall for Escherichia coli contamination hits Walmart, Sam's Club, Publix, Kroger, Winn Dixie stores

Where's the beef? For your health's sake, I hope it's not in your refrigerator--or, worse yet, in your or your child's gastrointestinal system--if it came from National Beef Packing Co. LLC, of Dodge City, Kansas.

In a news release from 12 August 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), noted that the aforementioned company is recalling approximately 60,424 pounds of ground beef products that may be adulterated with Escherichia coli strain O157:H7.

The ground beef products have been sold nationwide, but largely in the southern portion of the United States. So far, the only stores believed to have distributed the beef are Sam's Club, Publix, Winn Dixie, Kroger, and Walmart, but stay tuned to media for further updates. The Sam's Club stores affected, however, include the states of Virginia, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, and Michigan; for Walmart, the stores include Nebraska and Colorado. View the complete list of affected stores and their associated states on the USDA's pdf here.

Unfortunately, they also "may have been repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names."

So, how do you suss out the skinny on your beef products?

The scoop on the affected products

Following is the FSIS itemization of the affected products:

1. Ground beef chubs produced on July 23, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 12, 2011:
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 483.
• Boxes containing eight 5-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 684.
• Boxes containing twelve 3-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 782 or 785.
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 787.

Each box and chub bears the establishment number “Est. 262” within the USDA mark of inspection.

2. Ground beef chubs produced on July 25, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 14, 2011:

• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 81/19 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 431.
• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 90/10 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 471.
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 86/14 Fine Ground Round.” These can be identified by the product code 494.

Now what the heck is E. coli, and why should I care about this recall?
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, you have no cause for alarm. But if you're like other Americans, you might eat beef either at home, during visits with friends or family, or while in a restaurant.

E. coli is found within the healthy intestines of all animals, humans included. Like a sort of bacterial weedeater, they keep harmful intestinal flora at bay.

As you will also remember from your basic biology classes, E. coli is a Gram-negative bacterium with a facultative anaerobic metabolism. The basic form of E. coli, which is implicated in urinary and intestinal tract infections and neonatal meningitis, is highly scrutinized in biology, yet strikingly little is known about its ecology--in particular, these questions relate to why it is so commonly associated with humans, its effects on its host, and so on (Todar's Online Textbook of Bacteriology: Bacterial Pathogens of Humans).

NOTE: This paragraph is not for the super-squeamish. The aptly named Bad Bug Book tips us off to the blood-based background of enterohemorrhagic infection such as that with E. coli serotype O157:H7, which is thankfully uncommon. It educates us that "E. coli serotype O157:H7 is a rare variety of E. coli that produces large quantities of one or more related, potent toxins that cause severe damage to the lining of the intestine. These toxins [verotoxin (VT), shiga-like toxin] are closely related or identical to the toxin produced by Shigella dysenteriae [essentially, dysentery]. ... The illness is characterized by severe cramping (abdominal pain) and diarrhea which is initially watery but becomes grossly bloody."

Needless to say, if you suspect E. coli contamination--or that of any other foodborne bacterium--get thee to a physician. Quickly.

Time is especially of the essence if you or the other afflicted person is elderly, immunocompromised (as with AIDS, cancer, and so on), or young.

That is to say, it's not for no reason that the FSIS has classified this as a Class I (high health risk) recall, meaning "This is a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death."

Sadly, all in the name of and quest for a great burger.

Where can I get more information?
The FSIS tells us that shoppers and reporters with questions about the recall should contact the company’s Vice President of Marketing, Keith Welty, at (816) 713-8631.

A few final words on food-safety and preparation
In the meantime, please check your shopping carts and refrigerators for ground beef chubs. Note also that each box and chub is marked with the establishment number “Est. 262” within the USDA mark of inspection.

The FSIS advice also includes the following (and more at the initial press release link):

"Color is NOT a reliable indicator that ground beef or ground beef patties have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7.

The only way to be sure ground beef is cooked to a high-enough temperature [a temperature of 160° F or above] to kill harmful bacteria is to use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature."

In short, the food-safety mantra of "clean, separate, cook, and chill" should be on every home cook's lips (Partnership for Food Safety Education), for an ounce of prevention can easily be worth a pound of cure with regard to food storage and handling safety. After all, who wants to be so sickened by food mishandled at home, which is preventable, that they have to go to the hospital or, worse still, have to take their child?

Even given the high cost of beef to the struggling American middle-income and lesser-income families today, I wanted to share this story with you. I'd like to say that I hope you find it useful, but then that might mean that you or yours is sickened by this foodborne illness. So I'll instead wish that you find it intellectually fascinating but have no direct experience with it.

Additional Reading:

WebMD, Escherichia coli: Infection Overview

Walmart stores, press release on recall

Photo captions:
Ground beef photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Escherichia coli image is a scanning electron micrograph courtesy of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten Children Dead So Far This Summer in the Gunited States of America

"A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill someone in self-defense." (American Academy of Pediatrics)

I’ve got a bur under my saddle, and I aim to pry it out.

Amigos and compadres, we’re officially living in the Gunited States of America.
And in the G.S.A., the Summer of the Gun has started off with a bang. Several of them, unfortunately.

Keep in mind that, as of this writing, summer began just over a month and a half ago, on June 21, 2011.

And now, let me take you for a good, old-fashioned boot-scoot down the streets strewn with children’s dead or bloodied bodies.

Oh, and mind the brain matter and bone fragments, please.

July 28, 2011
Boy, 13, accidentally shoots self in chest with pistol and dies at grandparents' home (adults not present), Boulder/Whitehall, Montana. Story here and here.

July 28, 2011
Boy shoots self in head; bicycle helmet damaged but “teenager” (no age given) is okay, Avon, Conn. Story here and here.

July 24, 2011
3-year-old boy shoots self in face, Huntsville, Ala. Child in critical condition as of August 3, 2011. Story here.

July 22, 2011
Eight-year-old boy shot once in chest and left arm by 12-gauge shotgun and killed; two other children, including a younger one, were present. His twin brother is devastated. No charges will be filed, Ripley, Miss [story dateline misstates this as Tennessee; Tippah County is in Mississippi]. Video above. Story here.

July 21, 2011
4-year-old boy shoots self dead at liquor store (yes, a liquor store), Beecher, Ill. Story here.

July 20, 2011
10-year-old boy shoots, kills 5-year-old brother, Belleville, Ill.
Story here.

July 19, 2011
A sad aberration: Cop's son, 3, shoots, kills self with officer's firearm, Maryland Heights, Mo. Story here.

July 18, 2011
11-year-old boy in coma after being shot in head at neighbor’s house. Boy was playing with two others, Clinton, Ind. No updates as of Aug. 3, 2011
Story here and here.

July 15, 2011
10-year-old boy shoots 12-year-old boy in side. Kids were playing with older boy’s parents’ unsecured handgun, Rupert, Idaho. Boy said to have been treated and is recovering at home. Story here.

July 14, 2011
Four-year-old boy shot to death while adults in the home, Philadelphia, Penn. Investigation underway to find gun and determine who shot him (self-inflicted or not). Story here and here.

July 14, 2011
5-year-old boy shoots, kills 2-year-old brother, Connersville, Ind. Story here.

July 12, 2011
Girl, 3, fatally shoots self in head, St. Louis, Mo. Story here.

June 30, 2011
11-year-old boy shoots, kills brother, 6 years old, Martinsville, Ind. The 11-year-old allegedly had threatened siblings before. Story here. Update: Boy's mother and her boyfriend have been charged with multiple counts of child neglect; story here.

June 26, 2011
2-year-old boy accidentally shoots, kills sister, 6, Fresno, Calif. Father reportedly in home at time of shooting, as were 3 of the 4 other children. Story here.

Death toll: At least 10 children, chiefly boys, lay gunned down in about a month and a half. And these are only the reports I could locate via a Google search that was not exhaustive. Goodness knows how many go unreported, underreported, falsely reported, or otherwise.

Gun Culture Etiquette: Lock Up Your Guns--and Your Sons?
How much higher does the child body count have to go? When will people begin to realize that this once-great country is headed straight down into the abyss? But, oh, thank goodness we’ll take our guns with us. You’ll have to pry them from the cold, dead hands of our children, yes?

You can blame the parents, grandparents, stepparents, babysitters, or guardians. Absolutely.

You would also be on firm ground faulting a society that allows rage to rule. Couple anger with lax to nonexistent gun laws and you have 65 accidental child deaths caused by firearms in the Gunited States (2007, the most recent year full data were available). These 2007 data even include one child under age 1 year (CDC report).

Gun Rights Don't Make it Right
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for children ages 1-4 and 5-14, the leading cause of death was accidents (unintentional injuries) in 2007. Of course, falls, drownings, and other terrible accidents figure into these data. But in the case of firearms, why not remove, or at least indict, the instrument whereby death is visited, accidentally or not, on those so young?

Here are a few ideas. Why not make guns more difficult to obtain for those with documented mental illness or antisocial behaviors, require locks and gun-safety classes for all gun buyers, counsel new parents about gun ownership in the hospital at the time of birth, empower pediatricians and other child care providers to ask parents and guardians about gun ownership, and have more transparency about who is buying these deadly weapons?

Oh, that's right. It's all about rights. My right to blow your friggin' head off at the drop of a Stetson trumps any darn rugrat's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Simply view the National Rifle Association's attempt to block disclosure of semi-automatic rifle sales along the U.S. border.

The Wild West isn't Best, Especially for Children
If we take these steps and others offered by those more learned than I, perhaps someday we can salvage our dignity and pride and once again become the United States of America, not the Wild West that we currently are.

And, just for the record, the Wild West was brutal, bloody, and miserable, not some romantic or wondrous ideal where spurs jingled in the purple-saged majesty and singing Caucasian cowboys sparkled astride perky Palominos. Scalps were hacked off; people died of toothaches, coughs, and cuts; men routinely had their heads blown clean off. Let’s not return to that crap, okay?

Parents, know where your children are, even if they’re at a relative’s house. Ask if guns are present and demand to know or see how they are stored. Is the ammo stored apart from the gun? Are gun locks used? When will the children be unattended, and where are the guns kept--in a safe, in a drawer? If the answer is under a bed or a pillow, on the wall, on a shelf, in the closet, or in the car, that doesn’t cut it.

While we're on this important topic, be sure to check out the article “How do you ask other parents if there are guns in their house?” by Jessica Ashley here.

Our sons and daughters, grandkids, step-kids, nieces, nephews, kids’ playmates, and family friends are counting on us to get this right. Let’s not ignorantly lead them into a second coming of the Wild West. I’ll gladly fight tooth and nail sans guns--sorry, cowards; you need not come forward waving your firearm angrily--with irrational “gun activists” for the promise of children’s lives.

Yes, children are that important. Take a look at the video and the dead children’s faces and I defy you to debate me on this. Please, show your anger and ignorance--and through your vehement defense of your gun "rights" (a Creator-given right to murder; ain’t that grand?), make the argument that children don't matter.

Additional (re)sources:
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
The Children’s Trust, Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Day

Gun Photo Caption: The image is of a third-generation 9-mm Glock 17 with a cable lock. It was provided, copyright- and royalty-free, by flickr user Kencf0618 here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wanderlust Wednesday

"An agreeable companion on a journey is as good as a carriage." -- Publius Syrus

An ode to the summer traveler. What was it Twain snarked so long ago about traveling?

Oh, yes. Here it is. "I have found out there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them."

Are you on the cusp of real-world travel? Perhaps you're a writer like Twain, even preparing to travel aloft the magic carpet of your own imagination.

Whatever the case, I wish you every success. Remember to take deep breaths if you're traveling with children or a spouse--that goes for my spouse in dealing with my temper flares, too!--and to always be prepared.

Yes, it does help to have a Boy Scout outlook to travel with children. Or with pets. Or with both, which I so happened to have done, through a heavily flooded zone, as it so happened. The dog was calmer than the kid, believe it or not!

If you're instead stuck in the work vehicle or office, at home or otherwise, my condolences. I know we're going stir-crazy with the heat keeping us lidded inside our little breadbox.

For those quicksanded in the office or with an interest in work-life balancing, I ran across a series of short excellent videos from author Juliet Schor, who wrote Plentitude: The New Economics Of True Wealth, which I'm now itching to pick up after viewing the videos.

The Globe and Mail of Canada provides several Schor videos, but I'll only mention one here. Get past the annoying commercial, and it's called "Why cutting back on working hours works." Unfortunately, it's not available for embedding, but you can find it and other videos by Schor (and other thought leaders like primatologist Jane Goodall, in fact) here. The start of Schor's videos currently occurs four videos down, with "Shorter hours pay for themselves."

She makes a great case for "time affluence," as seen in countries like the Netherlands and Germany. When work hours decline, guess who benefits? The planet and its people. (The average worker, anyway. CEOs and high-paid staff get enough perks already without reduced hours.) She notes a correlation between fewer work hours and "reduc[tions] in greenhouse gas emissions, lower unemployment, and higher quality of life."

In Germany and the Netherlands, the average person works more than 300 hours fewer than we do in North America.

And, so, please let overwork be a sort of inspiration for you this Wednesday. If you can bear to part the curtain of your particular kind of chaos, please go out and enjoy your lives and families.

Note & Caption: My posts will be irregular for the next two or so weeks, owing to my own family commitments and downtime. Meanwhile, enjoy our daughter's quizzical expression from a past excursion at Nauticus (a museum of naval history and seafaring), in Norfolk, Virginia.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do Good Fences Make for Good Writing?

"Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down."
-- American Poet Robert Frost

I suspect that if Robert Frost stopped by my words on a snowy evening--or a summer morn--he would squash them under his heel like they were the proverbial fat, white spider.

That said, I find that I work better in my writing life by having the "good fence" provided for me.

What do I mean by the good fence? I'll show you.

Writing Rules and Figuring out How You Work Best

Wherever you look, you'll find writing advice. In my writing about not giving writing advice, alas, I am dispensing nuggets of worth (at least I hope so), too.

But you really, truly need to find what works for you.

Some say you have to carve out an hour a day or at least set up a time slot that you always fill with the coin of your particular realm at the same time daily. Others enjoin the following: have an actual desk in an actual office even at home, hang a "do not disturb" sign on the door, dress up as if it were a workplace, or don't multitask.

All have their validity. Some may work for you. Some may not.

I find that I benefit by having rules established for me, as with writing contests and competitions or submission guidelines. The open page is so much more daunting than, say, that white space which has to be framed by the rules of a particular publication or contest.

If they say a thousand words tops, it behooves me to put my horse within those borders rather than letting her run amok, to crash through the fence at 1,001. Even if she knows the editor or has a cracking-good story, she is likely to be put back out to pasture if she can't follow the rules.

The Woods May be Lovely, But Keep Your Eyes on the ...

. . . Prize that is the hard-won task of writing and its bosom buddy, editing. Are you missing the forest and the trees if you scatter your talents around, desperate to latch onto some writing gig or inspiration? Any project will do, you might think. And there are definitely some writers who can write about anything and make the words work wonders for them.

I want to provide a for-instance here. But I will instead digress. I am going so far as to suggest that you diversify your writing to improve your main genre, niche, or focus.

If you don't normally write poetry, sit down and reel off a haiku before you get your writing started one day.

If you're a poet or playwright, instead pen an opinion piece or work on crafting a fiction story told from the perspective of a person lacking one or more of the five senses.

But remember to occasionally let yourself get outside the comfort zone of that fence, too.

With the good fence, all bets are off. You can stretch and roil and toss tempests around a bit, but keep it all corralled within the rules.

A Writing Prompt to Help You Negotiate the Fence

Instead of feeling like the captive in a pit-and-pendulum-type narrative, view the fence as a friend or, as Frost suggested, a good neighbor.

It will keep you honest. Keep you working, plugging, focused, and trained.

And, finally, I thought it might be good to suggest a fence-building outfit. You might have heard of The First Line. They sponsor quarterly writing contests wherein you take a supplied writing prompt--the first line of a story--and spin a world from within it.

Their latest fence, for Fall in this case, has been rolled out here, and your stories are due 1 August 2011. Please let me know if the fence framework frees you up, as it did for Frost, evidenced by his mastery of rhyme and meter, or feels more like a literary tether.

And, meanwhile, it's well worth your time to read or listen to the Frost poems I've only tidbitted here, in order of mention:

"Mending Wall"

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (audio)