Archive for July, 2012

On Men’s Obsession with Bodily Functions

Monday, July 30th, 2012

I wasn’t going to say anything. Really, I wasn’t. But then a Twitter friend, Emily, commented that the “dudes” she was sharing a cabin with talking about “how long it takes them to take a dump.” And at breakfast, no less. I couldn’t help myself. I had to respond.

Screen shot 2012-07-30 at 9.10.13 PM

So what is it about dumps and deuces, farts, leaks and writing one’s name in the snow that so engages the “men” among us?

As I pecked out my response, I recalled A.J. Jacobs's 2010 Esquire article on how to raise sons, which includes a list of behaviors commonly associated with having a Y chromosome, including “intrigued by bodily functions.” Unfortunately, Jacobs does not explain why bodily functions are so central to male bonding…er, tribalism, according to the article.

Emily and I are not alone in wondering why the tail end of the human digestive system so often figures prominently in male conversation. Early this year, Margo Kelly asked pointedly, ” What is it with men and poop?”

Another dad (that is, in addition to Jacobs), Craig Grella, points out that men are simply “proud of their flatulent abilities” and consider “bagging” one’s first pull-my-finger victim to be a right of passage. In Grella’s experience, men’s pride in flatulence and related bodily functions is the result of their parents’ failure to teach them manners.

Interesting. That is exactly what contemporary guys say. In response to a girl’s query about the import of a male friend’s unabashed discussion of farts, a couple of guys say that this friend has no manners. Or he’s just really comfortable.

Despite men’s apparent comfort with their own bodily functions, many of them continue to have issues regarding the just as natural, and far more predictable, bodily functions of the women with whom they share their lives. Yashar Ali likely goes to far by claiming that men’s interest in women’s reproductive biology is limited to the function of their vaginas in sex; however, I’m guessing that the reality of everything they heard about in sex ed. does not hit a lot of men until the first time they purchase tampons – solo.

Trial Run: Mt. San Gorgonio – 11,500 Feet

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

IMG_1001One of my daughter Reiley’s goals for her 15th year was to climb Mt. Whitney, which at 14,505 feet is the highest peak in the lower 48 United States. “Okay,” I said, completely oblivious to the annual lottery process used to allocate hiking permits, the near certainty that my assent would entail donning a backpack again for the first time in more than 20 years, and the reality that hiking a 14er from home at roughly 1200 feet might just require more training than I’d bargained for.

We really lucked out. Just about the time we’d figured out how to enter the lottery, a friend who’d scored a permit for this summer posted on Facebook that he was looking for four more hearty souls to join his group. Within weeks, we were hiking regularly – with weighted packs. For the record, when you need to carry little more than water and a wind-breaker, even ultralight feels like hell over 10,000 feet at the end of a long, hot day.

Thankfully, we actually needed our packs this past weekend. We hiked Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. We loaded up with everything we expect to need on Whitney, sans fleece and a bear canister, and headed up the Vivian Creek Trail. Of the many trails to the San Gorgonio peak, none is as steep as the Vivian Creek trail, which climbs more than a vertical mile in less than eight miles to the summit.

I’m happy to report that with the exception of Reiley’s bout with altitude sickness, we did okay. Setting out after noon on a 10+ mile round trip hike from camp to the peak may not have been our brightest move. (That made day one a 13+ mile hiking day!) And the final half mile or so was pretty hellish. But I learned the value of salty, reconstituted food eaten directly from the bag it cooked in, and easily earned my two-hour post-hike nap.

Facts about Mt. Whitney:

Description of the Vivian Creek Trail to Mt. San Gorgonio:

Overview of Altitude Sickness:

I Never Thought I’d be Dumpster Diving

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012


I know, I know. I should be more sympathetic. After all, I have actually accidentally tossed my own retainer into the trash. But I just did not relish starting the day with trip to Hangar 18 rock climbing gym to root through their trash for my daughter Reiley’s retainer. While her little sister, Olivia, was climbing last night, Reiley went out for a taco (and grilled onion) snack, which required her to remove her retainer, and she accidentally threw it away. Unfortunately, whoever Reiley talked to at the gym last night failed to leave a note for the opening staff and they emptied the trash can into the dumpster. “Ugh!” I thought, when I heard. Lucky for us, whoever was at the front desk this morning hopped into the dumpster and followed Reiley’s instructions regarding “where” to look and “what” to look for.

Amazingly, “we” actually found Reiley’s retainer! Saved – to the tune of $200+.

The Hardest Part was Peeing in the Woods

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Reiley and I had company on our Mt. Whitney training hike yesterday. Two of my other children, 16-year-old Quentin and seven-year-old Olivia, and family friends joined us for what was billed as a "super easy short hike" to 8,201-foot Bertha Peak near Big Bear. It was actually a moderate seven-mile hike that culminated with a strenuous climb up a steep access road to the summit.

IMG_0980Olivia had to “go” well before we reached the almost-two-mile marker where the Cougar Creek and Pacific Crest Trails meet. After several unsuccessful attempts to assist our youngest hiker in mastering the art of peeing outside, I gave up and hoped she’d hold it until we could get back to the trail head located right across the parking lot from the Big Bear Discovery Center. When Olivia parked her skinny behind on bench intended for taking in views of the lake, and proceeded to tell us repeatedly and in increasingly frantic tones that she "just" wanted to potty indoors and it "doesn't feel better" to keep walking, I thought it prudent to regroup. The teens went ahead to the peak, while the adults waited with Olivia, with the intention of hiking to the peak once the older kids returned to "run" Olivia back.

Though my co-leader, Don, would protest, I swear the kid's ensuing tantrum could be heard back in town. Ever sensitive to my fellow hikers, when one of them was prompted by Olivia's despair to offer tips on the "buddy system" option for peeing outside, I nearly waivered, grabbed the little monster's hand, and marched her back to the trail head. But then I would have missed Don's valiant attempt to reason with Olivia to the tune of, "opting to pee in the woods is very likely less uncomfortable than 'holding it.'"

And...I would have deprived Olivia of, finally, and desperately, if not willingly, peeing in the woods - back up against a tree, or "throne," with a view of the valleys below.

Her business complete, we continued up the trail, passing the teens on their way back and trailing Olivia to the peak. "We made it!" she exclaimed, looking "back" at us as we finished the climb. IMG_0981

The Girls' Guide to Peeing Outside offers the following advice:

- Find a secluded spot to do your business that is at least 200 feet away from flowing water.

- Avoid slopes, so that liquid landing on the ground does not flows towards your shoes.

- Bring toilet paper with you if possible.

- Never let your pants drop past your knees, or you’ll have to explain the wet spot to your friends.

And it provides this handy list of top-rated positions for peeing in the woods:

The Squat: Move you feet apart to find a good balance, pull your pants down but not past your knees. Crouch/ squat down as if you are sitting in a very low chair. Use one hand to pull your pants which are around your knees towards your knee caps to keep everything out of the line of fire. Make sure you keep your bottom out and low. Just think of yourself as sitting on a very low chair or stool.

The Buddy System (referenced above): Stand face to face with a friend or family member who isn't freaked out about seeing you pee, and lock hands. Then lean away from each other and squat so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. And go!

The Throne (Olivia's preferred method): Press your back against a tree, so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure your feet are squarely planted on the ground so that you are sitting on an imaginary throne.

The Tripod (Buddy System with a tree): Find a tree with a thinner trunk (but not a sapling that may not support you) and grip it tightly. Your feet should be at the base of the tree. Stick your bottom out and go.

The Assist: Sit down on a fallen log, stump, or rock and scoot forward as far as you can without falling off and let loose.


Girls' Guide:

Post on Climbing Bertha Peak:

REI guide on hiking with children:

Two Under Two is Madness

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

While my 18-month-old daughter, Alexandra, and I were visiting my sister Terri in Colorado last week, I agreed to watch her 9-month-old son, Everett, while she was at work. Even so, I was a little apprehensive because Everett is breast fed and doesn’t take a bottle well. So Tuesday, all of us piled into the car at 7:30 AM – the kids an I still  in our jammies – to take Terri to work at REI. Although it should have taken an hour, tops, I got lost and we weren’t back at the house until 9 AM.

Once the kids were settled after breakfast, I figured I had two options: (1) work, or (2) clean the house. My brother Brian, who usually watches Everett while Terri is working, had told me about all the work he does around the house when he’s there. He planted the garden, vacuums, sweeps, etc., and was curious if I would be as efficient a babysitter as he is.

Uh huh, I opted to work, knowing very well that the kids’ attitudes could take a turn for the worse at any time, and I might never get to it otherwise before picking Terri up.

It started well. I worked at the kitchen table while the kids were in the living room playing…keeping a very watchful eye on Alexandra, who doesn’t like to share, and throws things when she gets angry. I needed to make sure Everett did not end up in her line of fire.

That lasted about an hour, by which time, both kids were crying. I gave Alexandra her bottle before attempting to feed Everett his. Still, Alexandra got really angry because I was holding Everett – not her – and started screaming. Everett spit his bottle out and spit up breast milk everywhere, then joined Alexandra in screaming. And there I was with both of them on my lap screaming.

The kids were still screaming when I put them in the car at 11:30 AM so that I could head back to REI, where Terri would be able to nurse Everett. Of course, by the time I got there, both kids had stopped crying! Alexandra ran around the store, while Terri’s co-workers passed Everett around until she was ready to take a break and nurse him.

Although Terri was supposed to be off work not too long after this extended nursing break and family visit, I ended up driving the kids around until they fell asleep, and then waited in the car with them for over an hour. By the time Terri arrived back at the car, both of our little darlings were awake, dripping with sweat, and angry. She got in the car, I turned the key, and the car would not start! While Terri went back into the store, looking for someone to help jump-start the car, the car alarm went off. Fantastic! At least, we knew then that it wasn’t the battery.


Back at home, we made lunch and poured ourselves drinks. Can you blame us?

Lesson learned: being responsible for two kids under the age of two is madness. I don’t know how our mother did it – repeatedly.


Why more space between children is a good thing:

Religion, physicians, and parents agree that 3+ years is best:

International consensus on benefits of longer intervals between children:

Strange Society at 10,069 Feet

Monday, July 9th, 2012

My teen daughter, Reiley, and I hiked Mt. Baldy yesterday. For the uninitiated, it’s a relatively short trek (6.4 miles round trip) from the Mt. Baldy Ski Resort, but steep – beginning and ending on poorly marked trails over slippery gravel. Consequently, much of our own hiking conversation, as well as our exchanges with other hikers, consisted of deliberations on just when would it end, and tallying slips and falls.

That changed when we reached the top. There it was all about socks.

P4210040The Mt. Baldy summit consists of a large gravel mound pock-marked by wind breaks constructed from rock. It’s not unusual to find virtually all of those who reach the peak huddled behind these stone structures to avoid the customary high, cold winds. I’m happy to report that, yesterday, it was cold, but far less windy than usual on top. Hikers swarmed around the windbreaks appeared less interested in avoiding the wind than the sun while they enjoyed summit munchies and conversation.

One large group was particularly chatty, and loud. It included a woman whose voice featured an annoyingly authoritative tone and carried as if by intention. Her afternoon discourse was on the necessity of “changing” one’s hiking socks at mid-day, which she explained referred to the practice of switching socks from one foot to the other at mountain top before heading back down. Our hiking sock expert supported her instructions by reference to a sales associated at REI.

“Huh?” I thought. In all of my years hiking, not to mention many, many conversations with my sister, Terri, who works at REI, I have never heard such a thing. Of course, in addition to wearing sock liners, changing socks everyday during a multi-day hike can help prevent blisters. Similarly, carrying extra socks to change into in if your feet are likely to get wet – either due to weather conditions or sweat – is prudent.

Reiley interrupted my musings to ask if I’d ever heard of “that,” nodding to “sock lady” for emphasis. “No,” I said, looking over my shoulder at the woman and her hiking companions. Yep, every one of them was taking off his/her boots and socks, apparently with the intention to swap socks from one foot to the other.

Even funnier, as we crossed the summit to head back down, I noticed other hikers crouched in shelters nearby the sock lady’s group were also changing their socks! “Look!” I whispered to Reiley.

Later, I did a little research on hiking sock protocol. There is a lot of information on sock selection out there, followed by a good deal of advice on how to avoid blisters and other hiking-related debilities, but not a word about the utility of swapping socks from one foot to the other.

Routes to the top:
On the value of clean, dry socks:
100 things you may not know about walking, hiking, running:

Legs or Cleavage, but Never Both

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Unless you're a super-heroine, Marilyn Monroe (look alike), or very, very young.

courtney_stodden_marilyn_monroeMy sister and I returned to the club scene well in the wake of fashion gaffes by St. John's own Kate Winslet and gawks spawned by Courtney Stodden's Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Contemporary fashion police cited both of these women specifically for NOT heeding the maxim of sexy, not slutty, dressing: show legs or cleavage, but never both. Though we both erred well on the side farthest from slutty, there was  plenty of evidence in the casinos and on the dance floor to suggest that modesty is unlikely to will out in Las Vegas.

I know, I know...we must have been crazy to expect Las Vegas club style to reflect sophistication, let alone grace. Still, it got me thinking...To whom, exactly, does the "legs or cleavage" rule apply? And where, in a culture where Disney proteges appear nude or nearly so in public as a rite of passage, are young women supposed to learn how much skin it's appropriate to bear? The waters are muddied further as soon as we admit that we'd prefer a world in which any woman is free to wear what she wants, playfully experimenting with her identity and exploring her sexuality.

Unfortunately, we do not yet inhabit that world.

To that end, annual Slut Walks provide venues for standing up to women's oppressors, those in society who persist in blaming aggression against women on what they wear, how much they drink, and where and how they choose to spend their time. Slut Walks represent a 21st century incarnation of Take Back the Night, a 30-year-old tradition of marches and related demonstrations against rape and other violence against women. The first slut walk channeled women's outrage against Canadian Constable Michael Sanguinetti's admonition that "...women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

On April 3, 2011, 3,000 provocatively clad women gathered and marched  year in Toronto. A year later, Slut Walks had become the most successful feminist action in 20 years!

So can we say that the "cleavage or legs" maxim is passe? I personally wouldn't go that far. I would hazard to suggest that the 50-ish woman in the spandex sheath mini and five-inch heels is no more asking for it than she is necessarily trying to regain her youth.

To be honest, I have only very rarely been positioned to judge a middle-aged woman's evening wear. Rather, it's weighing in on the length of my teen daughter's hemline or the necessity of a (sports) bra for my seven-year-old. Admittedly, I do opine too quickly and adamantly at times...Yet, I trust that I overall convey that while the age- and occasion-based norms governing how we dress provide important guidelines, any one of us is perfectly within her rights to violate them. When we do deviate from such social norms, we invite criticism, but in no way justify rape or any other form of violence.


Take back the Night:

Slut Walk and Feminism:

In Retrospect…

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Maybe I was a little harsh in my judgement about the severity of the Waldo Canyon Fire.


I arrived in Colorado Monday, in time to bear witness to the impact that the fire has had on Colorado Springs and nearby areas. The Waldo Canyon Fire is small – almost tiny, by California standards, but nonetheless devastating to those affected by it. When I got to “the Springs,” the fire was 70% contained. (It’s now nearly 90% contained.) I went with my sister, Terri, to visit a friend who had lost her home. I was honestly at a loss of what to say. I mean, what can you say? My sister, friends, and co-workers were delivering food and clothes, and doing everything they could to minimize the heart ache.

Terri tells me that the difference between California’s seasonal wildfires and the Waldo Canyon Fire is that so much of the city – nearly a third – is in the fire zone. 350 homes were destroyed and the deaths of two people – so far – have been confirmed. As of today, 900 of the 32,000 evacuees have been allowed to go back home.


Information about where to send/take donations: