Nice guys finish last (if they think being nice entitles them to jack)

This is a brief diversion from DIY talk and recipe testing, but not at all, unfortunately, irrelevant to the Army family. As the #yesallwomen and #notallmen battle rages, opening up a much needed, if hotly contested, conversation in our society, I have some thoughts I cannot keep to myself. Although many military spouses feel some pressure from somewhere to keep controversial or political opinions to ourselves so our service members are not affected negatively by those who disagree with us, this ambivalence that often leads to cautious silence has fed the beasts of domestic abuse and sexual assault. They need to hear our voices, they need to be reminded this is personal, it isn’t about a character in an overdramatized video or feminist politics, it is the safety of the women they care about. And women they don’t even know. The freedom of women and all Americans to not live in fear or be treated as second class citizens IS a fundamental right our spouses fight for, is one of the freedoms we sacrifice so much for them to defend and it cannot be fully realized until we talk about it in all the dank and dimly lit corners its failures still hide.

As I witness the response to the mass murder that went on in California recently, I’m really glad there are people, both women and men, willing to call it what it really is: an act of terrorism against women. “You won’t date me? I’ll teach you to fear for your life if you reject narcissistic creeps like me, if you stand your ground about unwanted attention.” He is not alone. He is not the first and will not be the last. He was a sick individual, but all he really did was take a message too many of our boys learn two steps too far. We acknowledge murder is not a solution to your dating difficulties, and stalking is just bad form, occasionally criminal, but what about the deep, insidious entitlement? Our culture only sees it as a problem when it is examined more closely and named for what it is, in every day use it’s treated as normal. I want to be clear that NOT ALL MEN have bought into the attitudes I am about to describe, but many, many have and I will tell you just about every woman I know has encountered, often routinely, the ones who have, and the experience keeps us on our toes, scanning the environment for threats, taking proactive measures to avoid such unpleasant, even scary encounters. That is not the America our armed forces fight for.

If he had only stalked these girls, he would have been “infatuated” and “misguided” despite the real effect of terrorizing them and making their lives a living hell until he crossed a line the police could not ignore. That would have been one step too far. But in our world, too many men feel entitled. Entitled to companionship and sex based on how awesome they are, with NO regard for the right of a woman to just not be attracted to what he has to offer. “She’s just not my type” is fine, but a woman who doesn’t like YOU is a little bit crazy, a cold bitch who doesn’t recognize quality when she sees it.

I know it happens because it happened to me freshman year of college, and I was terrified. True story. As a naive, idealistic 18 year old, I had an open door policy on dating: not everyone makes a stunning first impression, give a guy a chance, a first date doesn’t commit you to anything, right? Well, most of the time. Most boys are raised with enough manners that even if they feel irked, like they wasted their time because it didn’t “go anywhere” they have enough class not to say it to your face. But then, there is the guy, who on a first date, despite your offer to split the bill insisted on paying and gives his card to the waiter who shrugs as you say no really, dutch treat. Who insisted on walking you home when you’d really rather he not and told him so. Who then texts half an hour after you say thank you and goodnight and pull the locked door close behind you, to ask what happened, and didn’t you have fun? Who tries to insist on a second date, because obviously one was not enough for you to see his enchanting personality and good looks. Yes, he is fit and tan, a collegiate scholar athlete with a pretty decent brain in his head, and he opens doors and pulls out your chair, but he is just too cocky for you, he cuts you off during conversation and spends much of the date singing his own praises. He sees your lack of interest as a problem with you, an error in your perception that he can correct with persuasion. His father told him so. His father after all, convinced his mother through persistence and now look how happy they are!

He arranges chances to bump into you on campus. He texts and calls, you say, “I really don’t want another date, it’s nothing personal, it just didn’t click for me. Please don’t ask again.” You say, “If you call me again, I’m going to block your number, I’m not interested.” But your carrier only lets you block a number for 30 days at a time. Every 34 days or so the texts come back and you have to go into your account and block him again. The carrier says when you call to try to block it permanently that your only choice is to change your number completely. You threaten to call the police, knowing, in fact, that there’s nothing they can do until you ask him in writing to not contact you, and then he continues to, and then if the police take it seriously which they rarely do, he might eventually months later get a slap on the wrist. You tell him in writing, and that you will show the email to the police if he doesn’t quit. He gets angry, then slowly gives up, you’re not worth risking his scholarship. The calculated run-ins taper off over a year, and you start feeling safer, you stop looking to see if he’s hanging out within eyesight of your dorm. You’re in a serious relationship with the man who will be your husband, and one day he sees a call come up on your phone as “DO NOT ANSWER” (the way you have saved this number in your phone) and asks why you don’t want to answer. So he decides to put an end to this once and for all. He puts on his scary voice and picks up on the last ring, and tells this guy he will not be calling again. And the calls stop. Forever. Because he didn’t respect you, didn’t respect your right to say no, but he respects your boyfriend’s right to date you exclusively without interference. He respects another man saying “no” once, not your dozens and dozens of “no”. This is not a composite made up story, it is a true story, and I am not exactly a shrinking violet.

The fact is, it’s intimidating even for not easily intimidated women. Your space is violated yet he never really broke any laws, and he is considered a normal guy, maybe a bit pushy, but not a serious problem. The truth is, I was lucky. You are far less likely to be raped by a stranger who pulls you into a dark alley leaving a bar. It will be the guy you leave the bar with, who bought you a drink or two. A charming guy who offered to walk you home since you’re a little tipsy and he just wants to make sure you get home okay. He paid his dues, now he’s in. You’re not even of drinking age, the story is the same but a frat party and he pushes his way into your room behind you. Even more likely. It’s the high school boyfriend you’ve been seeing for 6 months who decides it’s about damn time. It’s a story every woman knows. If it didn’t happen or attempt to happen to you, you have at least one friend it has. Think I’m wrong? Do you have 5 female friends and you’ve  never heard one of these stories? One of your friends is keeping something to herself (and has every reason not to want to recall).

I don’t now how we expect sexual assaults in the Army to be dealt with by a “Just don’t do it” campaign. When you mix stress, loneliness, alcohol, desire, a culture of entitlement, a veneer of machismo over inevitable insecurities, and power, especially given the relative youth of many of our troops, it is bound for disaster, and no threat of consequences will stop it. The root causes are still there. Self medicating stress with booze. Being torn away from social support systems again and again. A young demographic that does not exactly foster emotional maturity. And that pesky entitlement, the way power interacts with even a vague, mild sense of entitlement can have tragic consequences. The efforts to more clearly define consent are helpful, but limited. And truth be told, I’m not sure the Army can parent young adults who were raised without clear and nuanced messages about sex and respect. We have to teach our children, especially our sons, that they do not have rights to other people. You do not have a right to someone else’s friendship just because you are nice to them. You do not have a right to date someone just because you like them and they should see how great you are. You do not have a right to get physical with a woman because you’ve bought her a drink or dinner and she seemed to have fun. You do not have a right to a second date or a thirtieth date if she just isn’t that into you, just because you put effort into getting to know her. You do NOT have a right to have sex just because it’s the third date, or you’re exclusive with her, or you’re married, but she’s not in the mood.

I highly encourage all parents to have their children pre-teen and up watch the clip below, language and all, it’s worth it. Girls–you don’t owe him anything. Guys–relationship with women is a privilege, not a right, and SHE decides if and when you have earned her trust and affection. To everyone who is dating or looking for a mate: give people permission to not be into you and not take it personally. You’ve been on the other end: perfectly nice guy/girl that you kind of wish you were into but you just don’t click that way. It’s ok–there will be someone else who does see in you what they desire. If it keeps not working out, maybe it won’t happen until you’ve looked in the mirror honestly, gotten feedback from friends, and decided to make some changes in yourself, instead of calling each of your ex’s crazy.

Love comes when you give freely of yourself to another with genuinely no expectations of them in return, love can’t be earned by quid pro quo. I’ll tell you a secret guys: that’s often how sex comes too. Genuinely. No. Expectations. When you just wanted to see her happy because her smile lights up your world, because you believe she deserves good things, and she feels special and loved and trusts you to have her best interests at heart, that is where true, deep passion comes from.


Screaming Eagle 4th of July Cake

Screaming Eagle cake decorating

My favorite childhood memory of 4th of July is the neighborhood parade that ended with a bbq and cake contest. I won’t be home this year, but I still made a cake

I used this classic white cake recipe which I then divided in 3 and to make red, white, and blue cake tiers. Again, avoiding non-stick pans because of the chemicals, the old fashioned way still works great for releasing cakes from pans (in fact, it works better in my humble opinion). Just use the wrappers from the butter and maybe a few pieces that get stuck in the corners to grease the pan. Then add 1T of flour and shake the pan until the flour sticks to all the butter. Then add batter to the pan and bake as usual. I filled the layers and frosted  with plain old classic buttercream frosting, because there is nothing better. I always do a crumb coat, which is when you spread the frosting very very thin over the cake and it will be full of crumbs and that’s fine, that’s it’s purpose. It is kamikaze frosting.  It sacrifices itself to trap all the crumbs. Then you wash off the spatula and do a thicker coat over it. No crumbs in the frosting!

cake 4cake 5

Edible Clay:

  • 1/4 c coconut oil
  • 1/4 c light corn syrup
  • 2 c powdered sugar, plus up to 1/2 additional cup
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 t rum
  • food coloring

Mix up the first 4 ingredients, adding additional sugar after it is mixed until it reaches a clay-like consistency. This will vary based on room temperature and humidity in the air. In general, refrigerating will make it harder, and kneading will make it softer as needed. Use three additional bowls, for red, yellow, and “black” colored clay.

cake 3

Black clay: mix 1/4 c clay and 1/4 c leftover bakers chocolate mix. Add 5 drops each blue and red food coloring until it is a dark blackish brown. The chemicals it takes to make true black are not worth ingesting, trust me.

Roll out the black clay about 6″ by 6″ by 1/6″ thick. Use a paring knife to cut out the shapes indicated in the insignia. You can ball it up and re-roll it as many times as you want to get the shape how you want it. Start building the eagle’s head with the other colors, and use a tooth pick and/or paring knife to manipulate the clay. To make the letters, roll very small ropes of clay about 1-2″ long at a time (any more will just break). Again, use the knife gently to shape the letters, the flat edge of the blade to straighten and the point to push.

cake 2Chocolate edible clay

The next step is to make the chocolate dog tag. I  used 4 squares bakers chocolate with 1t coconut oil and 1/2 c powdered sugar, melted the chocolate, and poured into a mini pyrex pan lined with plastic wrap. This will give it a little bit of texture, but since I antique it with dark gunmetal luster dust anyway, it’s not incongruent. Put in the fridge to chill. Once it is cold, use a skewer to first lightly mark the letters and then evenly scrape the letters so that they appear to be imprinted like a dog tag. I sprayed with duff cake graffiti in silver because I saw it on clearance a while back. It’s a very light shiny silver, and if thats the look you want, that’s your product. I then dipped my fingers in gunmetal luster dust (edible glitter) and antiqued the dog tag, working the darker especially into the letters. Then I rolled balls of the leftover black clay and rolled in the leftover luster dust to make a ball chain for finishing the cake.

cake 7

Then it’s a fairly simple matter of rolling out the red and blue clay between sheets of wax paper and slicing strips for stripes and cutting out “stars” with a straw. If the clay doesn’t stay stuck in the straw and come right out, just use the tip of your knife to pop it out. Pop the insignia on top and you’re nearly there. Add a light fresh layer of buttercream to the sides and stick the metallic beads side by side around the top and bottom edges, careful to cover any seams. Use any leftover clay to make a little stand for your dog tag to hold it in place so it doesn’t fall over or slide. Fini! Er…Done! I guess even though the French played a critical role in our bid for independence, since that whole “freedom fries” thing it’s de rigueur (shit, sorry again) not to use French when we talk about ‘Merica.

Things I learned from my grandpa

Grandpa at my baptism

My favorite picture of us, at my baptism

Today would have been his 90th birthday. And one of my most profound lessons from him is in relation to this birthday he did not reach. One summer a few years back, my mom found the first ever bottle of maple syrup he had made on their farm in upstate New York. I want to say it was from 1967. And he had saved that syrup all these years, for a very special occasion, perhaps a momentous birthday. But he decided upon seeing it to bust it open and make pancakes, because all the special things we keep for “later” you might not get to enjoy at all if you save them forever. It was his last summer. And they were the best pancakes I ever had. Lesson: enjoy what you have while you have it.

He and my grandma raised the kind of children that, when before my wedding I said how sad I was that he wouldn’t be able to dance with me, my uncle wore a pair of grandpa’s old shoes to the wedding so I could still have a dance with him. He taught us so much about love, being good people, working hard and not doubting our abilities. My cousin sweetly stated this morning the things she learned from him and I couldn’t have said it better myself:

“Work hard, love the people around you, waste not want not, make homemade ice cream with those you love, rebuke those you love in love so that they can grow to be a better person, wear shorts even in the middle of winter, and eat strawberry short cake whenever there are fresh berries to pick.”

My grandpa’s birthday: the year I forgot to bring a fork with his plate and he just couldn’t wait. Lesson: never take yourself too seriously.

My grandpa taught me nearly everything I know about carpentry, electrical work, and home improvement. He was a man who would say, “I won’t do it for you, but I’ll show you how” and guide you with gentleness to the solution. He did things the hard way if it was also the best way or the right way. He had a quiet righteousness about him that came out in the way he “grandparented” us cousins. He did not tolerate meanness in any form from anyone. At his funeral someone shared the memory of being on his school bus as a little girl (he was a school bus driver for many years) and kids were teasing her because she had a nosebleed. Grandpa stopped the bus, got out of his seat, and explained to the children that he would not tolerate meanness, as he used is own handkerchief to stanch the bleeding. It was not a problem again.

Making ice cream with grandpa

One of my favorite memories: The ice cream could have been done five times faster with his big muscular arms cranking away, but he did not suffer us to do things for us when he could teach us.

He and my grandma were both heavily involved in Grange, even as state leadership. They taught us to be community minded. Church and civic organizations are a foundation of family life, if not for what they provide for you than for how you serve others. I didn’t know until after maybe my third sermon that my grandpa had been a lay preacher at their church and had filled in sometimes when the pastor was gone. My mom mentioned it in an offhand way as if it was the most obvious thing about him that of course I already knew (I didn’t). I guess it runs in our blood, I guess that is where my vocation ultimately traces back to. In fact, I have a hard time figuring out what good qualities I have that can’t be traced back to my grandparents. I know my mischievous streak comes from him and my dad’s mother who both had blue eyes that twinkle when they’re up to no good.

He also gives me a lot of insight into DH, although they never met, which is one of my great regrets. Grandpa served in WWII and Korea and he did everything his country asked of him, even when he was called up again with just weeks left on his inactive reserve time. He was a plane mechanic, and actually knew how to fly. He could have, and should have been a warrant officer but the Army kept him where they needed his big strong hands and sharp mind: as a corporal fixing planes. He spent much of the war in India with the planes that flew “over the hump” to resupply (He blew us all out of the water in his 80s at an Indian restaurant when he started chatting with the waiters in their native tongue). This, from the same man who on the way to a Yankees game in 2003 told the conductor it was his first time on a train since his troop transport home from WWII. There are parts of  his service he wouldn’t talk about. All his ribbons and medals were found tucked away in a manilla envelope after he passed. “Veteran” was not a big part of his identity, he served because that’s what men did, and then he quietly put it behind him. When DH struggles with serving the needs of the Army, when he is put in roles that massively misuse his particular talents, I see a kindred spirit in his reaction. They serve out of duty and honor, and while they didn’t sign up for the glory, it grinds away at a person not to be allowed to live up to their capacity. I see two remarkable, commendable men who give their all because it is the right thing to do even when it hurts. Things I didn’t understand about my grandpa’s war experience also start to make sense in light of DH’s time with the Army. I am coming to know each of them  better through the other. Their servant hearts bless me, and my grandpa’s spirit lives on in my husband with his big strong hands and wise eyes.

Grandpa in India

One of the few photos from his service overseas.